Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016: The Year in Review

Here we are in December! We’re in the midst of preparing for and celebrating Christmas. But my mind is already going toward 2017 and at the same time, looking back and remembering 2016. This year gets a mixed review. A lot of good things – very good things – happened in 2016…and a few not so good things. God doesn’t promise that all will be easy. But He does promise to be with us and see us through every experience. In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (ESV). Even when we go through tough things, even harmful things, God promises his children that He is with us, and nothing surprises Him!

Here at Marshfield First Baptist, we have had a year of growing stronger. “Stronger” has been our theme for the year. I pray that we have, in fact, grown stronger; stronger prayer lives, stronger faith, stronger families, stronger as disciples of Jesus. I believe that simply having an overarching theme like “Stronger” has given us some greater unity and cohesiveness. We saw several individuals choose to follow Jesus and be baptized! They joined in on this journey with us as we follow Jesus together – a journey where we have grown stronger. And we’re not finished growing stronger. It’s a lifelong endeavor!

Before the beginning of the year, our ministry staff prayed together as we planned to go on this “Stronger” journey. As we prayed, we realized that there would be some challenges to getting stronger. In fact, the very desire to be stronger means one has to face challenges and be pushed farther than before, even farther than you thought you could go, or farther than you wanted to go. We have experienced some of that. Early in the year, over a period of about nine weeks we walked with several families in our church as they experienced the death of loved ones. Many of those had followed Jesus for decades and lived a full life of honoring God. One in particular was in the prime of life, impacting many for Christ, and yet his days on earth were suddenly over. Chris Lorenz’ funeral was one of the most uplifting worship services I’ve ever been a part of! His testimony is still impacting people!

On a personal level, 2016 marked my third trip to Israel to be involved in a new love: archaeological digs with a group called Associates for Biblical Research. And in another week I’ll be back in Israel with them to finish out the year. I love being in the land of the Bible, learning more and seeing the archaeological evidence of what Scripture says. But ten days after returning from Israel, I had a new and not so welcomed experience – an unexpected and unexplained cardiac event in which my heart stopped for 48 seconds. God had me in the presence of a trained paramedic who saved my life! A few weeks of recovery and learning to deal with stress in some new and better ways and I feel stronger (speaking of stronger) than ever! God spoke to me through that episode and is still teaching me about the urgency of honoring and obeying Him with every part of life. And in June while I was recovering, my sister and her family moved in with us as she received more cancer treatment. They came back to the States from Canada where they had been serving the Lord. In September Deidre went to be with the Lord. It was a painful time, but through all of that, God has shown His great love and mercy, to my brother-in-law and the kids, and to my family through a very strong and caring church! It is gratifying and humbling to be on the receiving end of ministry. I am so very thankful for Marshfield First Baptist! In the midst of these challenges, two incredible blessings arrived in the form of our second and third grandchildren, Theo and Liberty, who add so much joy to our growing family!

Not only does God say “I know the plans I have for you…” but He also says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Being stronger means being stretched, being challenged, and even being tired; but it also means God equips us to keep walking with Him. He gives us the strength to do what He has created us to do! God has an amazing way of turning weakness into strength. The Apostle Paul said it like this: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV).

2016 has been a year of growing stronger with our church family as we have worshipped together, studied the Word together, and served together. Growth has also come through things we would have never chosen, but that is really where the growth comes. We don’t get stronger without resistance and discipline and learning to trust God through all of it! How have you grown stronger this year?

(First published at www.MarshfieldFirst.org)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Get Stronger: Here are some exercises


We are one-third of the way through 2016. This year in our church we have been focusing on being stronger spiritually as individuals and as a church family. For our church family, I pray that you have been seeing some growth. And for those of you everywhere else, I pray you also will know spiritual health and strength in your life. Over these four months we have been seeking to be stronger in prayer, stronger in discipleship, and stronger in faith. These journeys of growth are ongoing. In this life we are never finished growing. So let’s do some exercises. Spend time today praying. Use Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 as your guide to pray about the things of God first, then for what you and others need after that. Make a decision to be a Jesus follower. Our decision to follow Jesus has to be more than just lip service. We must show that we are Jesus followers with our hands and feet, with our words and our attitudes. We live in a world that desperately needs to see and know genuine Jesus followers – not just “church-goers,” not just a demographic called “evangelicals,” but genuine Jesus followers whose actions and attitudes are in line with the Scriptures. If we will follow, Jesus has promised that He will help us. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” One of the greatest thoughts in that sentence is “I will make you.” If you will make the decision to be a Jesus follower, Jesus promises to make you into who He wants you to be. Choose to follow and He will teach you how. Trust Him. He will show you how to follow day by day.
To grow stronger requires discipline and commitment. It’s not easy, but it is simple. (I think we have often made things too complicated in church.) 

We encourage three simple things that will help you grow stronger as a Jesus follower:
  • Large group/small group – make a commitment to be in worship and Bible study each week.
    • Worship and Scripture are at the heart of all we do as children of God. Without worship and Bible study we will never grow stronger spiritually.
  • Mentoring – Seek someone to help you grow spiritually and, in turn, help someone to grow spiritually.
    • We are not made to go on this journey alone. We need each other.
  • Talk about it – Have a meaningful spiritual conversation with an unbeliever each week.
    • Develop the “habit” of including your faith in everyday conversations. Let’s learn to include Jesus in everyday conversations. And remember to have conversations, not just declarations. Engage people in conversation. Ask them what they think and talk with them. Don’t just unload what you think.

These are not easy things to do, but they are worth the discipline and effort to be on a path to growth and spiritual strength. As the year progresses, I look forward to hearing back from you about how you are growing stronger.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Signs of a Healthy Church

Signs of a Healthy Church
Philippians 1:1-11

One of my goals for us at Marshfield First Baptist is that we are a spiritually healthy church. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we see signs of a healthy church. They certainly weren’t perfect – no congregation is. But in Paul's opening words to this group of Jesus followers we find some signs of spiritual health which can help us in our own spiritual check-up.

Joy. Paul’s letter is clearly a joyful letter. Joy in serving the Lord is both a sign of spiritual health and a result of spiritual health. Paul rejoiced in what God was doing among these Gentile followers of Jesus. Paul said he prayed for them with thanksgiving and joy. This theme of joy resonates throughout this brief letter to these believers in Philippi.

Partnership. Paul said he prayed with joy because of their partnership in the gospel. A healthy church is marked by partnership – people worshiping, growing, and serving in community. We need each other. God doesn’t want us to serve him all alone. He calls us to serve him alongside other people.

Confidence. Paul expressed his confidence in what God was doing among them. Philippians 1:6 is a Scripture verse that has been a huge encouragement to me throughout my whole ministry career. At age 17, when I shared with my church that God was calling me into the ministry, my youth pastor shared this verse with me. It stuck in my mind and heart permanently. “Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will continue to perform it until the day Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul knew that God had begun his work among these believers and God would never give up on them. God had begun his work in me, and He would never give up on me. The same is true for you when you trust God and follow Jesus.

Grace. In verse 7 Paul writes, “…all of you share in God’s grace with me.” Grace – God’s unmerited favor – is an incredible thing. The Jewish disciples of Jesus were witnessing the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham: that all the world would be blessed through Israel. The good news of Jesus was going out to all nations. All who come to faith in the Messiah would share in God’s grace. A healthy church is a beacon of God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward us. We realize we don’t deserve God’s favor, but we don’t “wallow” in that undeserving state. Instead we humbly accept God’s grace and join the mission to proclaim God’s grace for the nations.

Love. One more marker of spiritual health here. Paul prayed that their love would abound. And it wasn’t ooey, gooey, touchy, feely love either. Look at the kind of love Paul prayed that the Philippian believers would have (verses 9-11). It was a love filled to overflowing with knowledge and insight that resulted in discernment, righteousness, and praise to God. The popular notion is that love is blind. God calls us to a love with eyes wide open that causes us and others to give glory to God!

Are these markers of spiritual health visible in in our lives?