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Stand Firm in the Faith!

30 Sep

I have continued to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the last several weeks, but have fallen down on the job of blogging about it.  These two verses are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Stand firm in the faith” has taken on new meaning for me as I have been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran over the past several days.  This young Iranian pastor has refused to recant his faith in Christ.  As a result today the Iranian courts have sentenced him to death.  Whether this will stand, or will be repealed, remains to be seen.  The international community has risen up in united outrage over this blatant violation of basic human rights.  With this outcry and God’s people in earnest prayer, hopefully Pastor Nadarkhani will indeed be released.

This man is a living example of what it means to “stand firm in the faith.”  He willingly risks losing his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.  He would rather die than deny his Lord and Savior.  THAT is true faith!  C.S. Lewis once said,

“You never know how much you really believe anything
until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

I hope that you will join me in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani and all Christians facing persecution for their faith.  Here are some other things you can do with your church and youth group:

  • PRAY with your youth, Sunday School class, and church.
  • Educate them with help from Voice of the Martyrs and many other organizations out there.  I’ve recently discovered a powerful documentary entitled Love Costs Everything.  Below is the trailer:
  • Discuss with your group the difference it would make if they lived in a place where being a Christian was dangerous.  How do they stand firm in their faith?  How does that compare to how people like Pastor Nadarkhani stand firm in the faith?

Audacious Faith: Preparing for Victory

30 Sep

Here is my 3rd sermon in the series I preached in May and June of this year.  It’s taken from Joshua chapter 5, when the people reaffirmed their covenant relationship with God by circumcising the males, and then observing the Passover for the first time since Mt. Sinai.  This sermon lead up to our own reaffirmation of our commitments to God and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. o

Audacious Faith sermon #3: Preparing for Victory

Audacious Faith: A Crossover People

27 Jul

Here is my 2nd sermon in the series I preached between our pastor retiring and our interim beginning.  It’s taken from Joshua chapters 3-4, when the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  I hope it challenges and encourages you today.

Audacious Faith sermon #2:  A Crossover People

Audacious Faith: A Lifestyle of Promise

18 Jul

From May 22nd to June 29th I had the honor and privilege of filling the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Thomson, GA, where I serve as Minister of Students. Our pastor retired from active ministry on May 15th. The Pastor Search Committee approached me to fill in while they looked for a long-term interim pastor. I humbly accepted the opportunity and holy responsibility of bringing a message from the Lord for His people on a weekly basis. And it gave me a whole new appreciation of the challenge of preparing weekly messages in addition to all the other demands of ministry. Wearing the hats of youth minister AND preacher at the same time is no easy task! But by the grace of God, I survived. More than that, I think I actually thrived. I truly enjoyed the opportunity.

And so, I thought I would share these messages with a broader audience. I will be posting the links to the audio of these sermons here on my blog. I will try to post a new one every couple of days. When the committee approached me to preach, I was reading Steven Furtick’s book, “Sun Stand Still,” and was prompted to further study the book of Joshua as a result. These sermons came out of this study, with some inspiration from Furtick’s book (which I highly recommend). I felt that where our church was in this time of transition was similar to where the Children of Israel where as they transitioned from being a people wandering in the wilderness to a people conquering and settling the Promised Land, from following Moses to following Joshua. May you find encouragement and words of challenge as you listen to these sermons on “Audacious Faith.”

Audacious Faith sermon #1:  A Lifestyle of Promise

Recognize Your Roots

28 Nov

This blog is a long time in development, thanks to my constant distraction by a little person who has taken up residence in our house.  😉  But, better late than never!

You know the old expression, “You can’t go home again”?  Well, back in September, I did just that!  I enjoyed having the honor of preaching on “Homecoming Sunday” at the church where I grew up.  It was more than a little surreal riding into that parking lot in the back seat of my parents’ car…the only thing that would have made it even more nostalgic would be a good old-fashioned Sunday morning argument between my brother and me.  But once I stepped into the church building, it became clear that this wasn’t a trip back in time.

Seeing your childhood church through adult eyes is a sobering experience.  I haven’t been inside that building in 15 years.  It seemed smaller to me.  There were many welcome updates to the facilities, bringing it into the 21st century.  Many of the old feautres I remember were no longer there…the old 1950’s water fountain downstairs, the bamboo-print curtains in the men’s bathroom that acted as toilet stall “doors,” and the old memeograph machine.  But what trully suprised me where the things that hadn’t changed…namely the people.  I saw men and women who played such crucial parts in my childhood and adolescent faith formation.  Sunday School and VBS teachers, RA leaders (Royal Amabassadors, a Southern Baptist missions organization for boys), Deacons, and other men and women who simply loved and supported me and encouraged me in my calling to the ministry.

This church was the place I accepted Christ as my Savior, was baptized, embraced God’s calling on my life, was liscensed to preach and ordained into the ministry.  I preached my first sermon there, taught my first class, was incharge of my first church-related event, and held my first church job.  It’s because of one summer spent as an interim youth minister that I’m in youth ministry today!  This was, as they say, where it all began!

And to be back there after all these years, married and with a baby just a few weeks away…was more than a trip down memory lane.  It was an opportunity to revisit my roots, to see where I came from, to remember the formative years of my faith, and to say “Thank You” to those whom God used to teach me the basics of His word, and the power of His love.

But it was also, I believe, an important trip for the people at that church.  How often do Christian men and women poor their time, energy, heart, and tithes into the lives of children and youth and never see the fruit of their labors?  How many times have I as a youth minister wondered whether I was making any difference?  How rewarding is it for me to see my students continue to grow in their faith development and remain faithful to the local church through college and beyond?  How powerful is it when a former youth enters the ministry or even comes back home to become a youth worker?  Well, the people of my childhood church were able to see exactly that.   And it was an affirming and rewarding experience to be able to thank them and relate to them that they were in deed making a difference.

What about you?  Where do you trace back your spiritual roots?  Who were the men and women who believed in you, who saw something in you you couldn’t even see in yourself, who dared to trust you enough to give you a pulpit for a Sunday or entrust you with a church van and 14 kids for the first time? 

I encourage you to find the time to visit those people, to return to your spiritual “birthplace” and thank those people.  Let them share in the joy of your labors, tell them stories of lives changed through your ministry, laugh (and cry) about old times, and dream about the future.  It will be a blessing to you and to them.  And maybe, just maybe, down the road some young person will seek you out and do the same!

The Church: Is It a Family or Burger King?

8 Sep

There’s a nip of fall in the air, and I’m ready for the Holiday Season already!!!  Halloween…Thanksgiving…CHRISTMAS!  Bring em on!

However, I discovered last Christmas that our neighbors down the street have some pretty cool Christmas traditions that we don’t have at the Lambert Household.  I’ve tried to get my wife interested in trying some of these new holiday traditions and festivities, but to no avail.  She likes our old traditions.  So, I’ve come to a conclusion.  I’ve made a decision.  Julia can celebrate Christmas however she wants to this year, but I’m going down the street to the neighbors.

Alright…now before I start getting hate-filed comments about what a selfish, terrible, shallow husband I am, let me explain…the above scenario is entirely made up.  I have no idea how my down-the-street neighbors celebrate Christmas.  But just remember the ire that you felt as you read that paragraph.  Keep it very near the surface as you read this next one:

I believe very strongly that many Christians are doing the exact same thing to their churches.  We discover that some church family down the street is doing things differently in worship, or in their student or children’s ministry than our church family.  And we try to bring those new ways into our church family‘s context to no avail.  (Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m no traditionalist, and I think there are lots of great things we can learn from other congregations.  I’m a firm believer in constantly evaluating what and how and why we do what we do and making necessary changes…but not for the sake of “keeping up with the 2nd Baptist Joneses”.)  And then when…for whatever reason…it doesn’t work for our church family, we decide to just up and leave them to go down the street and join a NEW church family.

Now, just think about what you just read.  Did that picture make you more or less angry than the first one?  I believe that speaks volumes to your theology of the church.  We love to sing and talk about the church as the “family of believers.”  Several times throughout the New Testament that analogy is used (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 3:15, Heb. 2:11, 1 Pet. 4:17).

So, why don’t we do a better job of acting as if the church were our family?  We don’t give up families because of the music they like, the look of the house they live in, or what extracurricular activities they like to participate in.  So why do we treat the church family like this?  Why do we treat it more like a country club or a Golden Corral buffet or a Burger King (Have it YOUR way)?

Here’s an idea:  Instead of church shopping or deciding to go out and “start your own church” because there’s something you are unhappy about at your church…try the ancient Christian discipline of fidelity.  Be as faithful to your family of faith as you are to your husband/wife and children.  Pray for change to come.  Do what you can to bring change…if it truly is of God and not just your own personal preference.  And if it is just a preferential thing, or if the change doesn’t happen, then pray for God to give you the peace and serenity you need to continue to faithfully worship and serve at your church.  In other words…don’t treat your church family any differently than you would your flesh-and-blood family.  The only exception would be if your church is heretical or abusive…much like what I would recommend for a family (well, maybe not the heretical part).

Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Show me where I’m wrong.

If the Church Is Against Us, Who Then Can Stand For Us?

4 Jul

Why is it that so many Christians are against so many things?  It seems that we’re better known for the things we’re against than for the things we’re for!

I started to think about all the things that Christians, churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have been against at one time or another: dancing, rock n roll, card playing, restaurants that serve alcohol, drums in the sanctuary, women who wear pants (or make-up or jewelry), the NIV Bible, women deacons, women ministers, Disney, Twilight, Harry Potter, Democrats…I could go on.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t sins and social issues that the people of God should take a stand on and fight for what’s right and true.  And I know there’s a lot of difference of opinion among Christians as to what those issues are and are not.  What I’m taking issue with is the sheer number and superficiality of things Christians tend to be against these days.

So I got to thinking: What kind of things was Jesus against?  Let’s take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I can easily see that Jesus is against sickness and death, because He keeps healing people and raising the dead.  He’s apparently against hunger and thirst, because He feeds people and declares He is the Living Water with whom no one will thirst again. 

From Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus is against pridefulness, unforgiviness, anger and hatred toward others, lustful hearts, divorce, being untrustworthy, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, divided loyalty, worry, the illusion of self-sufficiency, being judgmental, and lip service.  Hmmm….not a single mention of drinking, gambling, secular music, or Harry Potter.  Interesting.

On multiple occasions, we find Jesus eating dinner with the worst sinners…among them prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gamblers, you name it!  And we never once see Jesus rebuke them, preach against the “wiles of the devil” to them, or even give them a “tisk tisk. Shame on you.”  Instead, Jesus loves them.  Jesus affirms them as human beings made in God’s image.  He FORGIVES them!  He tells their accusers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)  He doesn’t condemn!  He isn’t AGAINST them…He’s FOR them!

In fact, the only group I can find in all the Gospels that Jesus is against…are the religious leaders!  The pious, “holier than thou” Pharisees and Sadducees are the ones Jesus has the only things to say AGAINST.  He calls them a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33), they’re the “blind leading the blind” (Matt. 23:24).  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), not to be trusted. They actually make it hard for people to come to God (Matt. 23:13-15).  Jesus calls them hypocrites and the children of Satan (Matt. 23)!

I can’t help but feel that the Pharisees were known for what (and who) they were against.  They were against the Romans, the prostitutes, the drunks, the Gentiles, the tax collectors, those who work a little too hard on the Sabbath, and of course…Jesus.  Maybe they led boycotts, had protest rallies, and preached about everyone else’s wickedness.

Funny how Jesus and His followers didn’t do any of that.  Funny that when Jesus preaches a “Woe unto you” sermon, it was to the religious people.  I guess you could say that the only people Jesus was against were those who were against people.

Are there some things in this world worth standing against? Of course. Are there any people groups worth standing against? Certainly not!  The Church of Jesus must be very careful about what we stand against, lest we become white noise no one pays attention to.  And we must be very careful never to stand against anyone…for every person is a person for whom Jesus died.

Let’s be like Jesus!  He wasn’t known for what He was against, but for what He was for!  Even in the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned above, those things I said Jesus was against were framed in the positive.  He didn’t preach a bunch of “don’ts.” He laid out the kind of things we are to DO!  When we DO the right things, and love everyone, the “don’ts” become obvious.

Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but so that it might be saved (John 3:17). And in the verse before that one, Jesus reminds us God actually LOVES the world!  So if the CHURCH…the last, best hope for the world, is always standing AGAINST the world, then what hope does the world really have?  Satan is our enemy.  Not the people of the world.  Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)”  What about this question asked from the world’s perspective, “If the Church of Jesus is for us, who can stand against us?  If the Church of Jesus stands against us, who can stand for us?”  The World needs us! 

So…what and who are we standing FOR?  Let’s make the world sit up and take notice of those things!