Stressed Out and Burned Out!

December 11th, 2014

We live in very stressful times. Our hectic schedules are often full of difficulties, deadlines, and demands that can leave us all full of frustration. For far too many of us, stress has become commonplace. All the medical data seems to support the conclusion that when we are constantly running in emergency mode, our mind, our emotions and our bodies pay the price. In addition to our already stressful and hectic lives, the holiday season can compound stress levels.


The medical world defines stress as a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or that upset your balance. This stress response is the body’s way of protecting us. When our stress response is properly working, we are able to stay more focused, energetic and mentally and physically alert. This is one of the very few ways that stress has a positive purpose. When managed improperly, stress has many negative affects upon our lives. In a medical or biological context, stress is defined as a physical, mental or emotional circumstance or influence that causes physical or mental tension.


Let’s be honest - It's hard to recognize when the level of stress you are under has gotten out of control. Much has been written about the heavy toll stress can have on our homes, our health and even our hearts spiritually. The effects of stress upon our minds, our bodies, our relationships and our behaviors are different for everybody. There seems to be universal agreement that the results of being overwhelmed by stress can lead to serious mental, physical, spiritual and relational problems. Stress can overload us with havoc that takes a toll on our families, our marriages, and our own peace of mind.


Author John Grey says, “Men handle stress by becoming increasingly focused and withdrawn, while women become increasingly overwhelmed and emotionally involved.” I find this observation very enlightening. It does not matter if our stress is caused by being a caregiver to a sick loved one, financial losses or reversals, relationship breakdowns or conflicts or simply having more work to do than daylight to do it in; stress manifests itself with many negative consequences.


I find it amazing how our thoughts can direct both our feelings and actions. When negative and overwhelming thoughts creep into our minds, I fear we are not aware of how truly damaging they can be. The Apostle Paul instructs us in II Corinthians 10:5, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Stress has an amazing way of messing with our minds. Think about how many times you and I imagine something about a particular situation, only to find it is not even true or never comes to pass. We think someone must feel this way or that way about us and then our imaginations begin to run wild blowing everything way out of proportion. The Scriptures commands us to “cast down those imaginations.” We all need to stop jumping to conclusions, and to quote our teenagers, “stop stressing out.” My friend, remember this, our imaginations are in a general sense not truthful and are usually harmful. I believe that the root cause of harmful imaginations is our tendency to store away negative, harmful and untrue thoughts that trouble us, especially when they are mingled with stress.


Fear is a very real, sometimes helpful, but often harmful emotion. When we are faced with any apparent danger or we are in the midst of worrisome or anxious situations, stress only compounds. We often find ourselves in the midst of stressful situations through no fault of our own. It may be sickness, the death of a loved one, trouble in our marriages, problems with our kids, a job loss, financial difficulties or any number of complicated issues that make us feel fearful. Do you know that the wrong kind of fear can make people physically sick? Fear can be both overwhelming and debilitating. How often have we felt fear about such questions as - How will I survive? What if someone finds out? Where will I live? What will people think? I wonder what people are saying? How will I ever pay this debt? Will I even survive this?


Fear is not always brought on by the adrenal rush that comes when we are facing stressful situations. Sometimes fear invades our lives like an early morning fog, playing with our imaginations and thoughts and pulling us in to a mindset of constant dread. It can be very difficult to live under constant emotional and mental pressure. This kind of pressure and stress leads to a sense of being overwhelmed. David said in Psalm 61:2 “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”


Do you remember the Bible story in the Book of Ruth? There was a famine in the land of Bethlehem. In other words, economically, it was a time of recession. Elimelech and his wife Naomi left their home in Bethlehem and moved to Moab. This proved to be a terrible mistake. While they sojourned in Moab, Elimelech and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion died. Eventually Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth returned to Bethlehem. Listen to Naomi’s honesty after their return in Ruth 1:21, “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty…” Wait a minute, I thought Elimelech and Naomi left Bethlehem because times were tough and jobs were more plentiful in Moab. Yet by her own admission, when Naomi and her husband moved their family to Moab they were not bankrupt and in desperation. She said that they “…went out full….” They did not move to Moab because of the Facts but because of Fear. So many Christians today make foolish and often life altering decisions because they are operating in Fear not in Faith.


Is fear stressing you out, my friend? Are you on the verge of burn out? Fear multiplies when we let it. Fear has the incredible ability to squeeze the life-breath right out of our lungs and to cripple our hearts with doubts and questions. If we are not careful, fear can completely overrun our minds and literally take over our lives. Remember this simple fact - we cannot operate in Faith and Fear at the same time. If we are full of Fear, we are at that same moment empty of Faith. Praise God, however, for when we are full of Faith, at the same moment our Fears subside.
Let me encourage you to meditate on these stress-releasing verses:


John 14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”


John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”


Proverbs 16:3 “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”


Isaiah 26:3 “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”


Proverbs 3:5–6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”


Psalm 16:8 “I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved (The Word “Moved” Means “To Be Shaken”).”

Psalm 46:1–2 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”


The Baby & The Blood
 
December 9th, 2014

 
Some of the most amazing words ever spoken were recorded by the Apostle John in I John 1:7, “…And the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” We must never misunderstand that the Babe born in Bethlehem was born to die, and die He did on the Cross of Calvary for all mankind. As we celebrate the Birth of Christ, this Christmas season, may we equally celebrate the Blood of Christ.

 
It must be understood that the blood of Christ cleanseth, not has cleansed, or shall cleanse. This notes a continued act. There is a perpetual pleading of it for us, a continual flowing of it to us. It is a, “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath its flood lose all their guilty stains.”

 
1. The Baby’s Blood Has Virtue To Cleanse.
 
 
It does not actually cleanse all, but only those that believe. There is a sufficiency in it to cleanse all, and there is an efficacy in it to cleanse those that have recourse to it. The apostle ads nothing to the blood. It has the sole and the sovereign virtue. The whole of cleansing is ascribed to His blood, not anything we can do by way of our own righteousness or works can partner with the blood to merit our forgiveness. It alone is the universal remedy. The blood of Jesus Christ, absolves from the guilt of sin, and shelters from the wrath of God. This blood purges not some sins, but all sins. I sure love the words of Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

 
The cleansing of His blood has a duel meaning.  There is a cleansing from guilt, and a cleansing from filth, both are the fruits of this blood: the guilt is removed by remission, the filth by purification. Christ does both: he cleanses us from our guilt as he is our righteousness, from our spot as he is our sanctification; for he is both to us. I Corinthians 1:30 says, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” This is the fundamental doctrine of the gospel. The apostle wrote about Christ in I John 3:5 when he said, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”

 
2. The Baby’s Blood Has Value To Cleanse.  

 
The blood shed at Calvary was not just the blood of a Good Man but the God Man. It was the blood of the “only begotten son of God.”  Hence our sin is perfectly cleansed by this perfect blood. The blood of Christ perfectly cleanses us from sin, in regard to both condemnation and punishment. Though the nature of sin does not cease to be sinful, yet the power of sin ceases to be condemning. The sentence of the law is revoked, the right to condemn is removed, and sin is not imputed to them who believe. Where there is a cleansing from the guilt, there necessarily follows a removal of the punishment. What is the debt we owe upon sin? Is it not the debt of punishment, which is righteously exacted for the fault committed? When the blood of Christ therefore purifies any from their guilt, it rescues them from the punishment due to that guilt. Herein does the pardon of sin properly consist, in a remission of punishment. The crime cannot be remitted, but only in regard of punishment merited by it. If God should punish a man that is sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and pleaded for by the blood of Christ it would be contrary both to his justice and mercy: to his justice, because he has accepted of the satisfaction made by Christ, who paid the debt, and acquitted the criminal, when he bore his sin in his own body upon the tree; it would be contrary to his mercy, for it would be cruelty to adjudge a person to punishment, who is legally discharged, and put into the state of an innocent person, by the imputation of the righteousness of the Redeemer.

 
Though the acts of sin are formally the same that they were, or put another way we still struggle with sin even after we get saved, yet the state of a cleansed sinner is not legally the same that it was; for being free from the charge of the law, he is no longer under the condemnation of the law. Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Jesus proclaimed in John 3:18 “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
 
 
Redemption was purchased by the death of Christ, offered in the gospel, and conferred upon the believer, hence it cleanses from all sin universally. For since it was the blood of so great a person as the Son of God, it is as powerful to cleanse us from the greatest as the least. Since it is the blood of the Son of God, it is both the blood of a holy and of an uncreated and infinite person. Is it not therefore able to exceed all the bulk of finite sins, and to cover the sin of every transgressor? Oh what a rich treasure sinful man has found in the blood of Christ. God’s word declares in Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Did you catch that? The sins of all believing persons, in all parts, in all ages of the world, from the first moment of man's sinning, to the last sin committed on the earth was put on the back of our suffering Saviour. Well might the apostle say, “The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” God collected all the sins from all parts of the world, in all ages of the world, bound them up together, and 'laid them upon' Christ's shoulders. The 'forgiveness of sin' is the fruit of 'redemption through his blood.' Colossians 1:14 “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

 
3. The Baby’s Blood Has Victory To Cleanse.  

 
Christ took our sins upon him, not thereby to become sinful, but in a judicial manner, to accept both the guilt and punishment for our sin.  II Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Listen as John the Baptist introduces him to the world in John 1:29 “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

 
He was made sin, as if he had sinned all the sins of men, and we are made righteousness, as if we had not sinned at all. By accounting the righteousness and sufficiency of his sufferings to us. If we stand upon our own merit, we are lost; our own rags cannot cover us, nor our own imperfections redeem us. I John 5:19 declares that, “…the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Divine holiness cannot but hate us, divine justice cannot but consume us, if we have no other righteousness than our own, but just then the apostle declares for all believers, “…the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”

 
We must be as willing to accept of this sacrifice as Christ was to offer this sacrifice. God requires only a willingness of us to believe, receive and acknowledge the depths of his wisdom and grace, and accept the redeeming blood of Christ as the full and sufficient sacrifice for all our sin. This makes up the marriage knot between the sinner and the Redeemer. By this the soul empties itself and clasps about a Saviour, and then Christ and the believer are counted as one person legally. Ephesians 3:17 “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.” Then in Christ we have the testimony of Colossians 3:3 “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

 
This victory is imputed to us through faith. Romans 5:1 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is in this way alone that the angelic prophecy at our Saviours birth can become your personal possession this Christmas season. Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

 
**This Blog was inspired by the writings of the great Puritan Preacher Stephen Charnock (1628–1680). Nearly all of the numerous writings attributed to him were transcribed after his death. It was in this spirit that I share his tremendous material about the Blood of Christ with you in this Blog. 
 

 

The Current Recession And Our Christian Responsibility!
 
October 29th, 2014
 
We have all heard the statement, “I’ve got some bad news and some good news.” Well, let me give you the bad news first - The recession has taken a toll on church budgets all over the nation. Giving is down and sadly, layoffs are all too common in many local churches. Now comes news that is even worse. After the economy recovers, if it ever does, it is unlikely that very many church budgets will quickly rebound to  pre-recession levels.

Down Sizing & Cutting Back

While many churches were able to make it through the past few years without too many major changes, the lingering, slow recovery from the recession has increasingly forced churches to make difficult decisions. Some churches have had to cut back on staff, close Christian schools, or at the very least, try to maintain their quality of ministry with less money.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, the Barna Research Group found that church budgets nationwide had declined about seven percent from the previous year. One out of eleven churches lost twenty percent or more from their budget. In the Barna study, about one out of every six churches indicated that they had to take such actions as eliminating positions, reducing salaries and cutting hours from full-time to part-time.

With the possibility that even leaner times may lie ahead, a sad trend seems to be cropping up in the hearts of the millennial generation. Many Millennials are saying, “I no longer believe in tithing.” This troubling development is more the byproduct than the cause of church financial dilemmas during these recession years.

In another Barna Research Group survey earlier this year, twenty-nine percent of church members said that they had reduced giving to their church in the last three months. The sad fact of this data is that many of the same people are doing as well financially now as they have in the past. Their giving decline is more Fear Based than it is Fact Based.

Economical Problems or Spiritual Problems

Allow me to make a pointed observation – The Church is facing a “Vision Crisis.” Many believers are turning inward and focusing on their own wants and desires rather than reaching out to a lost and dying world that still needs the soul saving message of the gospel. The economy may have started the downward trend in giving that we have witnessed, but it has now gone from being an Economical Problem to becoming a Spiritual Problem.

The New Testament (II Corinthians 9:6-7) still teaches Five Principles about giving:

1.    We Are To Give Bountifully – This means we are to give abundantly, liberally and generously. Bountiful giving is a much higher standard than just giving ten percent.

2.    We Are To Give Purposefully – This means giving with a plan; it implies intention, resolution and determination. This is really the type of giving that makes a difference. It is stewardship on a real mission. It is giving that unlocks the windows of Heaven over our lives.

3.    We Are Not To Give Grudgingly – This means a New Testament believer’s giving should not be done unwillingly, reluctantly or sparingly. To give grudgingly is to give with hesitation. It is stewardship reluctantly practiced and it is cheap Christianity.

4.    We Are Not To Give Of Necessity – This means you are giving in order to give and not giving to get. This type of giving is done regardless of financial hardships and without any expectation that God, who has already blessed you, owes you anything. This kind of giving believes that God deserves my best because He has already given me His best.

5.    We Are To Give Cheerfully – This means to give with absolutely no regret, no remorse, no reserve and no reservation. Giving this way is done with rejoicing. Giving with a thrill is worshiping God with our stewardship. It is not until giving is done cheerfully that it is done sincerely. May God help us all to stay faithful in our stewardship in these tough economic times. Do not rethink your Doctrinal Position because of the Financial Recession. Your church and my church have a Great Commission to accomplish – Let’s get back to being faithful stewards (I Corinthians 4:2).
 


What Is A Healthy Church?

September 30th, 2014
 
What does a healthy church look like? The most common answer to this question would be, "It looks like a large church or a growing church."
 
I believe that healthy churches are growing churches, but I also fear that this is far too simple an answer. Pastors and church leaders that focus on growth as the essential evidence of health may be trying too hard to concentrate on the externals. It never works out well when we do that.

Underneath, every healthy church looks the same – no matter what size it is. The principles that make Larger Churches Healthy are the same ones that make Smaller Churches Healthy. The same missteps can also kill that health.

A Biblical Model

One of the foundational principles of having a healthy church is to establish your model on a Scriptural Model rather than a Cultural Model. Your church will only please God if it is following the plan and the pattern of the Bible. Growth as a barometer of health, can lead to many unscriptural methods of ministry.
 
Every church needs a plan and a pattern to build upon, and that model is found in the Bible. In many contemporary churches today, success has become the model standard rather than using the standard found in the scriptures.

I do not think that there is one right personality for all churches, but all churches should be using the model based on the fundamentals the Saviour gave us – namely, the Great Commission and the Growth of Christians. Although every church has its own personality and its own flavor, it is essential that we pick a Biblically based model and stick with it.

Fortunately, much of this work has already been done for us. There are some great models to help a church understand what a Biblical approach to ministry looks like. Some of the elements that all healthy churches have in common would include these:

·         Servant Leadership – Illustration
·         Gift-Oriented Ministry - Motivation
·         Passionate Spirituality - Attraction
·         Efficient Organizational Structures - Administration
·         Inspiring Worship Service - Inspiration
·         Zealous Preaching Focused - Information
·         Compassionate Evangelism - Transformation
·         Building Caring Relationships - Association
·         Missions Minded – Collaboration

A church that has all of these elements in balance would obviously be a healthy church, and no doubt, a growing church. When a church has a strong Biblical model, it will also be a church with a great love for the Bible.

A Biblical Motive

Unfortunately, too many ministry leaders have an agenda, and that agenda is only Success Focused, not Saviour Focused. I know, because early in my ministry I struggled with this conflict of agenda myself. Why we do what we do is just as important as what we do. Look at how subtly our hidden motives can impact church health:

     Success Focused Motives Look Like This:

·         Worship – So The Church Will Grow Larger
·         Discipleship – So The Church Will Grow Lager
·         Fellowship – So The Church Will Grow Larger
·         Ministry – So The Church Will Grow Larger
·         Evangelism – So The Church Will Grow Larger

Any church that focuses on these elements with that agenda behind them will not be a healthy church, no matter how well they are done. Of course, growing the church is a great goal, but it is important, especially in church leadership, to do the right things for the right reasons.

     Saviour Focused Motives Look Like This:

·         Worship – To Tell The Lord Jesus How Much We Love Him
·         Discipleship – To Help Us Become More Like Jesus Christ
·         Fellowship – To Love Our Brothers And Sisters In Christ More
·         Ministry – To Meet People’s Needs As We Show Them The Love Of Christ
·         Evangelism – To Bring People To Jesus Christ

Doing the right things for the right reasons will always produce a healthy church, even if it does not always build a big one.

Expectations & Frustrations!

 
September 8th, 2014


This past Sunday I preached on the subject of Expectations & Frustrations. I was dealing with this question: What does an Eternal God Expect from us? What does a perfect, infallible, holy God Expect from imperfect, fallible, sinful men? 


Someone anonymously said, “Frustration is the conflict between expectation and reality.” Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing what someone expects!


Dr. John Lund has said, “All Frustration Comes From Expectations.” Think about it - whenever I am feeling frustrated, it is because there was an expectation somewhere in my mind that was never met. If I have no expectations of a person or situation, I cannot be disappointed. Relationships are a great example. We continually set up expectations for how the people we love should behave - what they should say, do, and should not do. We are often disappointed because they do not live up to our ideals. But how can they live up to our ideals when we have never communicated to them what we expect? This is the trouble with expectations. We often do not have a clear view of what we expect, and even when we do, we rarely communicate it. We then blame others for our frustration, crying, “You should have known!”


We all live in a Gap - the Gap between what we Expect and what we Experience. This Expectation Gap is where our dreams die and passions fade. So often, folks lose their vision, and this loss of vision is many times the birthplace of our frustration, our disappointment, and even our discouragement and depression!


Let me dig just a little deeper - frustration is born in the space between our expectations and our actual experiences. How often have we thought or maybe even said, "This isn't what I thought marriage would be like.” Maybe we thought the job was going to be different. Have you ever thought or said, "I never imagined that Christians would act that way.” We have all been there! We are overcome with frustration and left with nothing but unmet expectations. How are we supposed to respond when our expectations turn to frustration?


1. Do We Suck It Up And Get On With Life? 

2. Do We Simply Lower Our Expectations? 

3. Or, Could Our Expectations Of Others And Of Our Circumstances Be Connected To A Misunderstanding Of God’s Expectations?

 
What happens when God is at the center of our unmet expectations? Did you pray and find He did not come through? When it seems that the God who loves you did not provide for you in the way you had hoped - what are you supposed to do? Often when this is our reality, we hear this warmed over answer: “You failed to live up to God’s expectations, and for that reason, He did not meet your expectations! It was, of course, because of your failure that God did not answer your prayer!” While this may be the opinion of the brethren, I for one am trying to figure out when He ever answered our prayers based upon our merits.


Most of our frustrations begin when our own personal experiences are not meeting our own expectations, or not meeting what we perceive to be God’s expectations! What do we do when we are the ones not living up to the expectations of God and others? How do we avoid the weight of disappointment when we do not measure up? And what should our response be to our own negative opinions in our lives? What do we do when the expectations of others get between us and who we are in Christ?


Listen to the Apostle Paul’s greatest fear spelled out to the Corinthian believers in II Corinthians 11:3. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

 
Satan always moves men away from simplicity and toward complexity! Whenever things get complicated, get Back To The Basics. Focus On The Fundamentals!


Many of the disheartened, defeated, discouraged saints of God need a simplification of their expectations to conquer their frustrations! We simply need to get Back To The Basics! We need to Focus On The Fundamentals of what it means to be a child of God. I do not need to live up to anyone else’s expectations. First and foremost, I need to figure out what God expects and make that my focus.


(O. T. EXPECTATIONS) Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (THE FOCUS IS ON OUR DUTY)


(N. T. EXPECTATIONS) Colossians 1:10 “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;” (THE FOCUS IS ON OUR DEVOTION)