Our God is a Gardener

Our God is a Gardener

Many Christians are familiar with Jesus’ I AM statement in John chapter 15, but few remember Jesus’ “my Father is” statement in the same chapter. Many of us have  memorized John 15:5 in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” But have we memorized verses 1 and 2 of the same chapter? They read:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Did you know the Heavenly Father is a gardener? He’s got pruning shears in His hands. And according to Jesus, He actually uses them. He checks on each of His branches to see how they are doing. If they aren’t bearing fruit, He simply takes them away. Why? Because they are already dead. They can’t and won’t bear any fruit if they are dead. Jesus teaches that these branches will eventually be gathered up and burned (John 15:6).

Now if a branch is bearing fruit, the Father doesn’t just leave it alone. He doesn’t walk on by. No, he starts pruning and does so in love. He rejoices to see that the branch is producing fruit, but like every good vinedresser He desires to see even more. A vinedresser glories in the fruit of his labor, right? He doesn’t want just any fruit— He wants to see healthy, ripe, and abundant fruit. It should be our desire to bring glory to the Father by bearing the most beautiful fruit the world has ever seen. After all, this is how we prove to be His disciples (John 15:8). But, if this is going to happen, the Father has to use His shears. It can be a painful process; in fact, it will be a painful process. But ultimately, if it for our good and His glory. English theologian and Bible commentator, John Trapp, had this to say about God’s pruning:

And if it be painful to bleed, it is worse to wither. Better be pruned to grow than cut up to burn.

This is true, is it not? What is a cut compared to fire?

In the end, this all boils down to bearing good fruit. But, don’t forget the verse I said you probably already memorized, John 15:5. We can’t bear any of this fruit on our own. We must be abiding in Christ. Like branches to a vine, we must be attached to our source of life if we are to live! Praise the Lord for sending us His Spirit to help us to abide in Him.

Finally, remember that when the Father is pruning, Jesus never leaves us. He is with us through all the pain. He clings to us ever so tightly. And it isn’t just that He is close by or near in proximity. Rather, we are truly in Him and He in us.

John 15:4 “Abide in me, and I in you…”

Baby Bird Christians

Baby Bird Christians

Are you a baby bird Christian?

Do you live comfortably in a nest that was prepared for you by someone else? Do you situate yourself high up in the trees away from all the creatures that creep and crawl below? Do you spend most of your time crying out to be fed? Do you live off what others have regurgitated instead of taking time to chew your own food?

At one point in time it was cute, right? You were this little born again hatchling. But that was years ago, decades for some. You’re suppose to be grown by now. Your supposed to be flying around, sowing seeds of the Gospel. You’re suppose to be helping others learn to soar in their relationship with the Lord. Instead, you’re still where you were on day one. You’re still crying out to be fed baby food. It used to be a sweet sound in the ears of other Christians. Now it is just, well…annoying.

If this describes you, it is time for you to leave the nest. It is time for you to eat solid food. Furthermore, it’s time for mature believers to encourage them to do so. Pastors and teachers, we aren’t helping them by giving in to their demands. Would I be a good father if I only gave my daughter cookies (her favorite snack) to eat? No; if she is to grow up to be healthy and strong, she is going to have to eat some fruits and vegetables. The same goes for baby bird Christians. Occasionally, spiritual parents are going to have to show some tough love.

I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh or judgmental. Listen, I had to be told these same things at one point in time, and I am better for it. I thank God for the more mature Christians He used to help me grow up in the Lord. And believe me, I still have a lot of growing to do, but it won’t be from the nest. I’m taking to the skies.

1 Corinthians 3:2 “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready…”

Hebrews 5:12-14 “Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to reteach you the basic principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained their senses to distinguish good from evil.”

3 Reasons Why Your Church Needs an Online Presence

3 Reasons Why Your Church Needs an Online Presence

Is it okay if I step up on my soapbox for a moment? This is a subject that I am very passionate about. In fact, one of the main reasons I freelance as a web designer is because I want to help churches develop their own online presence and ministries. I believe it is important for three reasons. Let me tell you why.

1. People will ask Google before they ask you.

If we have a question about something we know nothing about, what is they first thing we do? We pull out our smart devices, open our browsers and search for the answer. We trust Google with everything nowadays. Where’s the closest library? Is there a swimming pool nearby? Where can I find a Thai restaurant in Atlanta? And about 90% of the time, we find exactly what we are looking for. So, if someone in your neighborhood searches for “churches near me,” you want to make sure your church is listed. Not only that, your church needs to have a good looking, winsome website. In today’s world, your website is essentially your church’s first impression. It tells people everything they need to know about your congregation before you go. Your church could have the best music, best preacher, and the sweetest people in the world; if your website looks sloppy, people will not want to visit. It is as simple as that.

2. Believers are spending more and more time on their phones.

According to the Barna Group’s “State of the Bible 2018” study:

More than half of [Bible] users now search for Bible content on the internet (57%) or a smartphone (55%), and another 42 percent use a Bible app on their phones.

We live in a day when people don’t have to wait until Sunday or Wednesday night to hear a sermon. We have 24/7 access to Bible teaching via the internet. I have heard from several pastors that they are working on developing blogs and podcasts to keep up with the growing need for biblical resources online. Your church’s online presence isn’t just for nonbelievers; it is also for your members. Your church’s website and social media pages should serve as a tool for helping your congregation grow in spiritual maturity. With a website you can upload sermon audio, post your church’s statement of faith, explain the Gospel in a video, etc. And your members can access these things at any time. Don’t waste this opportunity to edify and strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. The Gospel is in everyone’s pocket. They just need to be notified.

Let’s just admit it. We all love seeing that we have notifications on social media. There is something about that little red bell that makes us feel like others care about us. Most of our notifications are simply likes on our selfies and comments on the funny meme we shared. Church, we are missing so many opportunities here. Through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat we have a direct connection to our friends’ lives. We have been given a digital soapbox to share the Gospel with them wherever they are. Someone’s eternity could change with one post, message, or share.

This has huge implications for missions as well. In fact, I know of many people here in Thailand who live in very remote areas in the mountains. They may not have cars or fancy homes, but they have Facebook and email. I should note that nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face witnessing and evangelism. But, God is doing some incredible things through Internet evangelism ministries like GlobalRize (who are always in need of volunteers, by the way).  We would be foolish to neglect this incredible opportunity in the history of world missions.


I hope this has helped you understand how important an online presence is for the local church. If you are interested in learning about how to develop one for your local church, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would love to talk with you. In the meantime, feel free to check out my web design portfolio for some examples of websites I have designed in the past. May the Lord bless you as you seek to make Him know all over the world [wide web].

Who's the Next False Teacher?

Who’s the Next False Teacher?

I have this tendency to get carried away about things. Whenever I hear a new song I like, I tend to obsess over it. I will listen to it over and over to the point where I start to annoy myself. Whenever I sample a new food that I like, I go back to it again and again until I am physically sick of it. But, it’s true of my spiritual life, as well. In my efforts to discern  truth from lies, I will spend hours researching about certain doctrines/topics in order to come to a “proper conclusion” about them. This may seem like a good thing at face value, but there exists a danger. The problem isn’t really the research; it is the obsession. If you swim out too far from shore there is always the danger of getting carried away.

Today much of our discernment takes place online. We look to Google, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels to find out who’s the latest false teacher. I am not saying that these things are bad. In fact, they have helped me a lot, especially while I was maturing in my walk with the Lord in college. However, we need to be careful that we don’t call people false teachers who really aren’t, as well as, listen to people who are false teachers just because some other person says that they are okay. I think many of us have this tendency to think we know God’s Word well enough to not be deceived. Yet, by thinking this way we have already been deceived by our own pride.

Yesterday, my wife gave me a profound analogy about staying grounded in the truth of God’s Word. She described the essential truths of our faith as a long hall. There are doors along this hall that open up into many rooms. These rooms represent the nonessential doctrines we hold. Anyone can explore those rooms to learn and discern, but be careful. You never know who you might meet while you are in there. 2 Peter 2:1 says this:

False prophets were among God’s people in the past, as false teachers will be among you. They will secretly bring in their own destructive teachings. They will deny the Lord, who has bought them, and they will bring themselves swift destruction.

In other words, if we aren’t careful in our research about these false teachers, we may end up believing in what they preach. You ask, “how could that happen?” It can happen because these false teachers are among us. They look like regular people. They are in some of our congregations. They are at some of the conferences our youth groups go to. They are singing on some of the albums we really like (this is hard one for me to deal with). Have we ever stopped to consider how these people arrived at such destructive doctrines? Is it possible they got carried away themselves? If it can happen to them, what makes you think it can’t happen to you?

The enemy knows he won’t lead us astray with obvious heresy. To point back to the analogy, the devil doesn’t meet us in the hall. Instead, he tickles our ears while we are exploring the rooms. If he can get to you while you are in there, he just might be able to get you to turn around and leave the hall of orthodoxy altogether. You may have entered in order to become a more mature follower of Jesus, but now you have emerged as the one thing you were trying to avoid—the next false teacher.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Come to your senses and stop sinning; for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:33

 

What Do I Believe About...

What Do I Believe About…Christology?

Hey everyone! I didn’t have much time to write today, so I am posting something I wrote for one of my seminary classes. I have had many people ask me what I believe over the years, so I plan to post some academic posts like this every now and again. Please don’t shy away from asking any questions you might have. Also, if you see something that concerns you from a theological standpoint please let me know. I am not inerrant. Blessings to you and yours!

Christology Confession

I believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man can approach the Father except through Him. He has eternally existed as the second person of the Holy Trinity; He is the Alpha and Omega. Jesus is the Word made flesh and the Creator of all. Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Savior of the World. Jesus is the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (John 1:14; 14:6; 1 John 4:14; Revelation 19:16; 22:13).

I believe that the Son of God can be seen in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. The Son of God appeared at various times prior to His incarnation, carrying out the will of the Father. In addition, the prophets of God foretold of Jesus’ coming, life, death, and resurrection hundreds of years before His birth (Genesis 3:15; 22:11; Psalm 22:1; Isaiah 53; Daniel 3:25).

I believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Jesus is not simply a good teacher or a great prophet. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. He grew in stature and wisdom as any earthly man would. Jesus was tempted in every way that humans are tempted, yet He never sinned. Jesus Christ is the only person who successfully and perfectly fulfilled the Law. During His ministry, Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, made the lame to walk again, and raised the dead from the grave. He taught and spoke as one with the authority of God. Jesus is the only one with the power and authority to forgive people’s sins (Matthew 1:18-24; 5:17; 9:1-8; Luke 2:52; Hebrews 4:15).

I believe that Jesus laid down His own life that the world might be saved through His death and resurrection—no one took His life from Him. Jesus was falsely accused by the Sanhedrin, and condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. He was beaten beyond recognition, then was nailed to a Roman cross. Jesus suffered the wrath of God the Father for the sins of the world—past, present, and future. He truly bled, died, was buried, and rose again victoriously from the dead three days later (Matthew 28:5-6; Luke 23; John 3:17; 10:17-18; 1 John 2:2).

Following His resurrection, I believe Jesus appeared to His disciples and many others. He ascended into Heaven where He sat down at the right hand of the Father. Now and forevermore Jesus Christ intercedes on behalf of God’s children to the Heavenly Father. He is the only mediator between God and man. Jesus Christ will one day return to judge the world and destroy evil. He will one day cast the Devil, demons, and every person whose name is not in the Book of Life into the lake of fire. He will make a new heaven and a new earth where the redeemed of the Lord will dwell with Him for all of eternity (Matthew 25: 31-46; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12).

The Blessing of Taking Up Your Cross

The Blessing of Taking Up Your Cross

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with my Thai tutor about Christians who only seek God’s blessings. These Christians love to cling to the promises of Scripture, yet shy away from keeping the more difficult commands like taking up your cross daily and following Jesus. My friend was specifically referring to a trend he has seen in the Thai church, but I have seen the same thing happening in churches all over the world.

If our life is hard, we say that it must be because of the devil. “Surely, God wouldn’t let me, His child, go through these financial troubles. This has to be spiritual warfare. I actually read a book about this very thing. Huh, what’s that? Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know God allows certain trials in order to test our faith, but this is different. I can just tell, you know? Also, my really godly friend told me that my blessing and breakthrough are on the way.

I apologize for the sarcasm, but does this sound familiar? I think many of us have thought this way before. We associate easy things with God and difficulties with Satan. Success, wealth, and prosperity in life is what we use to gauge our standing with God. If these things are coming in then we must be doing really good. Otherwise, we must not have enough faith, or something.

A few years back, there was a song on the radio that I think helped Christians change the way they think about suffering in this life. It is a song called, “Blessings” by Laura Story. You are probably familiar with it. In the song she talks about all the difficult things we pray for God to take away from us to no avail. In the last line of the chorus she poses this question: “What if trials in this life are you mercies in disguise?”

What a remarkable question. Could it be that the things that cause us the most pain are actually bringing about the most healing? Is it possible that the things that are hard to endure are actually the only things worth enduring? To be clear, I am not talking about the difficulties and pain that comes about from our personal sin. We know God disciplines those whom He loves. I am talking about the times when your world is falling apart all around you and you don’t understand why.

Let me encourage you not to run from the pain. Bring it to the feet of Jesus. Don’t try to solve your problems on your own. Bring them to the Lord in prayer. Finally, brothers and sisters, it is time we stop viewing our crosses as a curse. They are not the same as Jesus’. Jesus took the curse of our sin upon Himself when He died on His cross. Sin is the true root of humanity’s problems. The daily call to die to ourselves and pick up our crosses is actually the greatest blessing in the world because by following Jesus we inherit eternal life. God could take away more things in our earthly lives than He did with Job. If we have Jesus, then we are truly blessed for all eternity.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Building Character Before Ministry

Building Character Before Ministry

Today I want to discuss the importance of prioritizing character before ministry. In other words, learning how to walk before you run. I see so many young Christians my age constantly asking, “how do I know what God is calling me to do?” They want to know so desperately what kind of ministry they should go into. But few, if any, ask the Lord how to build their character.

Would we send a soldier into battle without any training? Would we hire someone to teach who had not first been taught? That wouldn’t be very wise, would it? Likewise, if we want to minister for God, first we need to be trained and taught by Him.

I have been a Christian for about 12 years now. I became a believer and was baptized when I was 13 years old. I have grown so much over the past decade, but I’ve got to be honest; a majority of my spiritual growth as a Christian has taken place during the past 2 years or so. Why? It is because God has been developing my character. I had learned a lot of things about God, especially in Bible college. But, I had failed to devote myself to actually living and looking more like Jesus. I wasn’t really talking with Him; I was talking about Him. I wasn’t so much concerned about ministering to Him (Matthew 25:40); I was more concerned about calling myself a minister for Him. Holiness was what I preached, but it wasn’t necessarily what I practiced. It is funny how mature an immature Christian believes himself to be.

To fast forward to now, God has been showing me what it means to put Him first. Ministry is so important, but it will not last forever. However, my relationship with Jesus will. Furthermore, our ministries are only as genuine as our characters are. I have seen ministers who failed morally, and years and years of ministry went down in flames in an instant. If you want a long-lasting, fruitful ministry, you have to be committed to walking with God in public and in private.

You also need to be patient. Don’t dive headlong into ministry before it is time. You will drown from all of the worries and hardships that come along with it. Learn how to dive into God’s Word, to plunge to the never ending depths of its truth. Learn how to pray, brother. Learn how to rest in the Lord, sister. God will use you to bless the nations. He will use you mightily. But, first you’ve got to know His heart and understand His power. Joseph spent many years in prison for a crime he did not commit. It was during this time, when it seemed like God wasn’t doing anything that He was actually doing His greatest work. God was preparing Joseph to become the second-in-command of all of Egypt. He was making Joseph into a man of god. It took time; the process did not happen over night. But, when the appointed time came for Joseph to minister to Pharaoh…everything changed in an instant.