Category Archives: Shepherding

Righteous Rules


If you ever plan to visit Singapore, be sure to leave chewing gum off your packing list. “Smuggling” gum into the country carries a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail. This is just one of many legal oddities around the world. It’s also forbidden to feed the pigeons in Venice, to play pinball in South Carolina under the age of 18, or to spit publicly at Daytona Beach.

I’ve been reading lately through the book of Deuteronomy, and some of its laws sound equally strange: Do not plow with an ox and a donkey together (Deut. 22:11). Do not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together (22:12). Do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (14:21).

So many rules! But none of them were arbitrary. God was not a cosmic killjoy trying to make life miserable for the ancient Jews. He was looking out for their well-being. “What does the LORD your God require of you … but to keep the commandments and the statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut. 10:13). God was protecting His people from their pagan neighbors and setting them apart as a holy people. He was trying to spare them much guilt, pain, and regret.


Many Jewish customs and laws no longer apply to us today because they were fulfilled in Jesus (Matt. 5:17). Yet the New Testament still includes many duties: We are called to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), to read our Bibles (Rev. 1:3), to stay sober (Eph. 5:18), to remain sexually pure (1 Thess. 4:3), and to gather for worship (Heb. 10:25).

God’s rules are always for His glory and for our good. They test our faith and prove our allegiance to God. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

Even if we don’t understand God’s laws, we can rest assured He has our best interests in mind. And that should turn any duty into delight.

This article first appeared in today’s edition of our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star.

Question: What commands has God used to test and grow your faith? Click here to leave a comment.

Photo credits: Alissa Walker, Todd Bolen

Not Too Late to Register for Shepherd’s Conference

There are many ways to develop leaders in the church, but one of the most exciting is to attend a Bible Conference with your staff or lay leaders.

For those on the west coast, I highly recommend Shepherd’s Conference in Sun Valley, California. It’s usually the first week of March. This year, it falls on Wednesday thru Friday, March 5-7, 2014. The speakers include John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Steve Lawson, and Tom Pennington.

I’ve attended the conference many times over the years and always return home refreshed. Last year, I took along my music intern, and this year for the first time, I’ll be taking a few deacons and lay leaders. I am so eager for this time together in the Word and fellowship.

Here’s a video promoting the 2014 Shepherd’s Conference. As of this afternoon, there was still space, but I expect it will sell out very soon.

Shepherds’ Conference 2014 from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Question: Have you ever attended a Bible conference with others from your church? What did you enjoy the most? Click here to leave a comment.

Three Tests for Eternal Life

ID-100196169“You can have anything in this world you want,” the cosmetologist Mary Kay Ash once said, “if you want it badly enough, and you’re willing to pay the price.”

Even with all the drive and discipline in the world, I seriously doubt I could ever slam dunk over Kobe Bryant or out-strum Eric Clapton. But there is truth in Mary Kay’s statement. Passion plus perspiration are a great recipe for success.

Jesus says that even getting into heaven demands serious effort. “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24).

He’s not talking about good works, for clearly, no one is good enough to earn their way into heaven. “None is righteous, no not one…For by works of the law no human being will be justified” (Romans 3:10, 20). Meeting all of God’s requirements is no more possible than a preschooler getting an A+ on a calculus exam. We fall miserably short of God’s perfect standard.

Nevertheless, Jesus does say we must “strive” or “agonize” to get into heaven. He speaks of urgency. Desperation. Helplessness. The same kind of zeal that would drive a man across the Sahara in search of water. It is an all-consuming quest for the only thing that matters.

Do we have that kind of passion for God and for eternal life? This isn’t something to gamble on — eternity is at stake. Thankfully, God tells us exactly how we can be saved. 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Know. What a beautiful word. We can know with absolute certainty that we are saved. Not wish, or hope, or pray. We can know! A closer look at John’s letter reveals three tests to see if we have eternal life.

First, the doctrinal test. We must believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only begotten Son of God, fully God and fully Man. “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). Do I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose again on the third day? Have I confessed Him as my personal Savior and Lord?

Second, the moral test. Real Christians don’t just say they love God. They show it by their love for others. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love, abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Children of God will resemble their spiritual father and develop the same kind of love, unity, and forgiveness he has shown us.

Finally, the spiritual test. “If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). The Holy Spirit gives a calm and steady assurance to genuine believers. He whispers His love into our ear and reminds us we are children of the King.

Pass these three tests, and God promises you are saved. Fail any one of them, and it would be wise to go back and search the scriptures for yourself. Eternal life can be yours, if you want it badly enough and you’re willing to pay the price.

(This article first appeared in The Minister’s Message of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.)

Question: When did you first become certain you were a Christian? What Scriptures or experience did God use in your life? Click here to share your thoughts.

Photo credit: dexchao

5 Secrets to Read the Bible in a Year

mountainLet’s be honest. The Bible is intimidating. It’s a big book and not always easy to understand. Reading the Bible from cover to cover sounds about as realistic as scaling Mount Everest.

Oh, we have reasons for not reading the whole Bible. We’re too busy. We don’t understand it. We’re not good readers. We don’t know how. But like any other good habit, it’s going to take effort and planning.

According to a recent poll, 80% of Americans still consider the Bible to be a sacred book. Nearly 9 out of 10 own at least one copy of the Bible. Yet less than 1/4 have read the whole book. How can we claim to know God’s will if we haven’t read His book through even once?

It’s not too late to change. Why not commit to reading the whole Bible in 2014? Here are five secrets to reaching your goal. Well, they’re not exactly “secrets.” But these basic tips may be just what you need to read all sixty-six books of the Bible in 2014 and beyond…

  • Start Now. Don’t make excuses and put it off until later. It will never get easier. You’ll never find more time. January 1st is the ideal day to start a new Bible Reading Plan. (But don’t be discouraged if you’re reading this post later in the year. A new habit can begin any day.)
  • Have a Plan. The best way to read a book is from cover to cover, right? Not necessarily. We don’t read dictionaries that way. And I wouldn’t suggest reading your Bible that way either. Certainly, you are welcome to go straight through from Genesis from Revelation. But be warned, the order can be confusing. Books are not always chronological, and you won’t arrive in the New Testament until September. It’s much better to alternate between Old and New Testament books. 1/8/14 Update: My good friend Bret Capranica has compiled a wonderful list of suggested Bible Reading Plans. Check it out here.
  • Listen Along. Try listening to the Bible while following along in your print Bible. Many e-readers have a text-to-voice feature, or better yet, invest in a good audio Bible like the Listener’s Bible by Max McLean. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to get through those hard-to-pronounce sections like family trees, census lists,  and city names. If you get behind, you can catch up quickly by listening to the Bible during your commute or workout.
  • Be Accountable. You’re much more likely to maintain a new habit if you tell others about it. Ask a friend to follow a plan with you. Announce it on Facebook. Blog about what you are learning. Set personal goals and keep yourself accountable in a journal. Most importantly, stay accountable to God and ask Him for help.
  • Keep Moving. If you stop to admire ever rock, bird, and flower, you’ll never finish the ascent. Don’t get bogged down. Write questions in a reading journal, then move on. The purpose of reading the whole Bible is not to pass a comprehensive ordination exam. It’s to better know God and gain a familiarity with the meta-narrative or “big story” of Scripture. Some things will sound confusing — maybe even contradictory — at first, but as you get to know your Bible and its Ancient Near East setting, you’ll be amazed at the wisdom, beauty, and consistency of God’s Word. Just keep moving. The good news is, if you begin a ritual of reading the whole Bible annually, you’ll be right back here next year, with a better appreciation for how this verse fits within the overall context of Scripture.

Question: What advice would you give for reading the Bible? Share your thoughts by clicking here.

Photo credit: siraphat

I See That Hand

aisleOne of the first decisions I faced as pastor was how I would conduct the invitation at the close of our worship service.

Many members in our traditional Southern Baptist church were accustomed to an “altar call,” but to be honest, I had never seen this done in an effective, biblical way. I was aware of the dangers of a drawn out, highly emotional appeal that could manipulate people or give false hope. There was no way I was going to tolerate endless refrains of “Just As I Am” and melodramatic statements from the pulpit like “No One Looking Around” and “I See That Hand.”

At the same time, the gospel does demand a response. I knew I needed to provide some kind of opportunity and clear instructions for people to put their faith in Christ. I just wasn’t sure what.

For the first couple years, we concluded the service with a simple “hymn of response,” and I hardly pushed the invitation at all. I cringed at the thought of someone walking down the aisle and making a spectacle. However, some of our folks yearned for more. As I listened to their pleas and asked their reasoning, I realized that many were looking more for an opportunity to pray with a leader than a full blown evangelistic crusade.

As I grew in confidence and better understood the needs of my people, I finally began to develop our closing invitation. These links by Justin Taylor and this article by Nathan Finn also gave me a historical and theological framework to build on.

Personally, I still feel there is too much theological baggage and risk of manipulation in formal altar calls. Instead, we make several provisions for people to respond to the gospel:

  • Weave the gospel through the worship service
  • Present the gospel during the sermon with a sense of urgency, and invite people to repent and believe right where they are sitting
  • At the end of the service, welcome people to come talk with a leader
  • Have a leader available up front, plus myself in the foyer as people leave
  • Have a space on our Guest Information card where people can express their interest to receive Christ
  • Equip believers to look for opportunities and share the gospel with people around them

Invitations are a sensitive issue, and each church will no doubt do things a little differently. But whatever we do, we must be clear that walking down an aisle or praying a sinners prayer does not actually save anyone. It is a matter of faith and repentance in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and only He can accurately know our heart.

On a side note, our church is also more cautious about baptizing new converts than many churches. Not because we don’t want more baptisms, but because we want to celebrate genuine regeneration and minimize false conversion experiences. In the short-term, our baptism numbers may appear lower than other churches our size, but in the long-run, we have a much higher retention rate and ratio of baptisms to committed members. And that is something to truly celebrate.

Question: How do you think a church should communicate the gospel and give opportunity to respond without manipulation? Share your thoughts by clicking here.

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Photo credit: camknows