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Lost no more!

41Gyiatp+JL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Last week at Grace we considered the journey people often take in coming to Christ. We used the book, “I Once Was Lost” as our learning guide, and discovered that individuals with no real knowledge of Jesus typically come to a point of surrender by passing through 5 thresholds.

Everts and Schaupp discovered these thresholds in their work with thousands of students on college campuses over the past two decades.

To download a pdf of my book notes, click this link: I Once was Lost – Everts and Schaupp.

You can click here to order the book from amazon.

A Prayer for Teachers

images-2The school year is upon us, and teachers, coaches, assistants, specialists & administrators are hard at work. Whether in the public schools, in private schools, homeschools, colleges or tech schools, they are preparing to invest in the next generation.

Here is a prayer to pray for this upcoming year, and to commission teachers et al., to the task ahead.

Father at the start of a new school year, we pause to give thanks: that all knowledge comes from you, all truth, all facts, all wisdom and clarity. They are good gifts from you.

You also have given to us teachers who will help the next generation learn the way your world works, and how you have wired each of them.

Dear Lord, we pray for our teachers, and all in influence over our kids—coaches, assistants, administrators. Will you grant them to have your heart for kids, and for truth.

Grant that each classroom is filled to overflowing with grace, peace, wisdom and truth.

Grant that every homeschool mom and every football coach and everyone in between would exhibit the gentle, strong character of Christ.

We pray for our campuses – that they would be havens in a tough world.

Grant safety, protection, and real goodwill. Grant students to grow into maturity this year.

Grant that the schools in our area would be tops in the state. Lord, that seems like a tough prayer, but you have put in place a teaching faculty of your choosing. Thank you, and use them to form the character of our kids, as well as their educational goals.

We pray that these schools would bring you glory, bring students lasting growth, and bring teachers joy at a job well-done, and because of a calling lived-out by your grace.

We ask this in the matchless name of The Teacher of Righteousness, even Christ Jesus. Amen.

God’s Grace and Porn

imgres-1Friends,

Many, way too many, are fighting this battle. All of us are tempted to sin–this is universal. And different sins lure us with greater or lesser strength. For some, it’s envy. For others, it’s bitterness. For many it’s lust.

The inner drive (which is from God–he created sex, after all), the Fall into sin which warps all of God’s good gifts, the cultural moment of highlighting the human body and sexuality, and the near-universality of private and portable screens… well, these 4 factors combine to make porn and lust a real problem for so many.

Three tools for you today:

A) At Grace today, we tackled this subject.  You can watch the sermon by clicking here.

B) We also emailed out the following to our congregation. Read it and take it to heart.

Grace family,

Today, as part of the “Any Questions” series, Jason addressed pornography and God’s grace.  We want you to know that there is hope and help in this area of struggle.

If you would like help, there are several ways you can get started.

  1. Personal assessment: There is a downloadable pdf available on our website. Just scroll to the bottom and you’ll see it. www.gracekinston.org
  1. Accountability: We find greater success in this battle when we are not in it alone.There are caring, grace-filled folks at Grace who would come along side in accountability with you. If you’re interested in getting an accountability partner, you can email kent@gracekinston.org (men) orSusan@gracekinston.org (women), and they will connect you confidentially with someone.
  1. Further resources: 

At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry – Steve Gallagher (Pure Life Ministries). A simple and helpful introduction to the dynamics of sexual sin, and how God brings us toward Christlikeness. 

Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain – William M. Struthers (Intervarsity Press). A focused look at how porn re-wires (physiologically) the male brain, and how God’s grace can un-wire it!

Grace for Shame: The forgotten gospel – John Forrester (Pastor’s Attic). Porn is like many sins, it brings a deep sense of shame. While the ‘gospel of forgiveness’ is crucial, it’s also rational and often doesn’t touch our inner sense of shame. The gospel is also ‘acceptance’ before God… not based on what we’ve done, but based on God’s grace.  It’s God’s grace for our shame.  This book is not strictly about porn or sexual sin, but is a real help for apprehending a the fulness of the gospel’s blessings.   [end of church email]

C) Don’t miss investigating and installing filters and blockers and parental guides on your screens.

  • Covenant Eyes or x3watch are two tools for computers.
  • SafeTeens is a service that allows you (as a parent) to know exactly what activity is happening on your teen’s phone (sent and received: texts & photos, deleted texts/photos, etc.).
  • Netflix, Hulu – install the parental guides and keep the code a secret.
  • Computer, phones and TVs in a public place at home. Bedrooms and screens are too tempting.

These are helps for the journey.

The biggest help is this: you are not alone… so talk to someone about your own struggle. Get a Christ-following friend in this with you, and together you will see God’s grace and growth in this area. (listen to the sermon for more on this!)

Let’s watch God grow us into greater Christlikeness, more victory over sin, and greater reliance on him.

A Pastoral Letter about Human Sexuality

imgresAttached is a letter for the body of Christ at Grace Fellowship Church.

The elders are Grace are shepherds first–our desire is that each believer grows in Christ, and is protected from harm.

To that end, I drafted this letter, and the elders & staff & a few friends have made edits & suggestions.

It is filled with hope, truth, guidance and the grace of the gospel. I encourage you to read it, to pray through it, and to ask God to lead us into greater alignment with his will (aka, obedience in our lives!).

Click this link to read or download the pdf.  Human Sexuality

The Captured Thought Life

pastor_flowers_final[This originally appeared in the Kinston Free Press, July 30, 2016]

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of joining with brothers and sisters at Church of Faith and Deliverance’s noontime service. Pastor John Flowers  (pictured with his wife) is a dear brother in Christ, and a strong leader for the gospel in our community.

Again and again, I’m so thankful to serve alongside so many gifted ministers in this town! Men and women who long for Christ to be All in All in our community. Pastors who shepherd—in a dozen different church traditions—but all with a desire that the good news of Jesus’ rescue is available to all!

Pastor Flowers brought us truth and grace from 2 Corinthians 10:5 – “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. And we take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ.”

He drove home the idea that that so much of the battle in our lives is won or lost in the minds. The battle with hate. The battle with anger. The battle with greed, pride, lust, envy, jealousy, bitterness. The battle with prejudice. We each win or lose it in our minds.

Why? Because thoughts pass in and through our minds so quickly, we have no control over them as they enter in. We do have control over how long they stay there, and how much credence we give to them! I remember someone saying it this way: you can’t stop the birds from flying through the tree, but you can stop them from building a nest.

So he challenged us to focus our minds on the grace of Christ. “Salvation is our weapon.” That God would adopt you or me into his family truly is astounding. That he would invite us, while we are still rebels to him, to receive grace and kindness from him is unbelievable. “This is too good to be true,” as one of my co-workers told me 20 years ago. That he would change hearts and lives from self-centered to Christ-centered and then other-focused is truly a miracle of his grace. (I know how selfish I am! I won’t judge you though…)

And Pastor Flowers urged us with this: when you are facing hopeless situations, intractable people, dire circumstances, “if God was able to change you, why do you think he can’t change someone else?” Amen and amen.

I agree with Pastor Flowers and St Paul in 2 Corinthians 10. The battle over sin is won or lost in the mind. I suppose that’s why the New Testament so often challenges us to “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2), and “have this mind among you that was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), and “set your minds on things above where Christ is seated.”

I bet more of us fill our minds with banal stuff, set our minds on my agenda, and allow our minds to wander to dead end streets. How are you at taking your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ?

The Greatest Gospel, the Greatest Medicine

prescription-orderI remember the first time I was challenged to define precisely what the gospel is. It was 20 years ago, and I replied something like this: “It’s admitting you are a sinner, and receiving forgiveness from God because of Jesus’ death.” Definitely Good News!

That day, I was challenged: is this the sum total of the gospel as Scripture lays it out?  In fact, you might term what I wrote above as “the plan of salvation”… which, again, is good news. But is it the WHOLE of the Good Announcement in Scripture?

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a lot on a deeper and fuller grasp of the Gospel. In the NT, it’s an announcement (Jesus is Lord!), it’s an event in history (the death, resurrection, & ascension of Christ that changes everything), it’s an invitation (the plan of salvation above), it’s everything. John Piper wrote a book a few years back entitled, “God is the Gospel”.  All true.

So, over the years, I’ve tried to conceive of the good news in different ways. I thought of it this way the other day:

The Gospel is this: “In Christ, God did for us what we could never do: he brought us to himself.” 

“In Christ” It all centers on Christ. No Christ, no good news. This is the event part… The Cross is our forgiveness, the resurrection is our power and guarantee, the ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of God is our hope that he will take care of all things well. The gospel is always, only, fully, greatly Jesus Christ! Amen and Amen.

“God did for us…” The gospel is start to finish God’s work. He thought it up, he accomplished it at the cross, he applies it by his Spirit. He woos us and brings us to the point of surrender. We were dead in sins… can’t make ourselves alive. We were rebels in heart… wouldn’t consider terms of peace. We were lost, blind and stubborn… no chance on our own.  So, “God did for us what we could never do…” The gospel is God moving toward us.  Amen and Amen.

“He brought us to himself” This points to the actual and eternal benefits of the gospel: forgiveness of sins (clearing the way to come to him), adoption into his family (giving us an eternal belonging), indwelling of the Spirit (giving us a guide, a power, and a friend), sanctifying us (so we CAN please him in our lives), giving us Spiritual gifts (so we can make a different in this world with him) seating us with Christ in the heavenly places (hope and confidence forever).  Union with Christ is the greatest and most fundamental benefit of God’s action on our behalf, and we rejoice in its many fruits!

Ok.  So, when you think about ‘sharing the gospel’ or ‘sharing your testimony’, anytime you are pointing out Christ’s life, death and resurrection, you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out how God has met you, healed you, led you, provided for you (because you belong to Christ) you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out the forgiveness, adoption and all the other benefits of belonging to Christ, you are sharing the good news.

One final thought: who can you share part of God’s story in your life with today or this week? Take the chance and watch God lead through you. And, in that sharing, invite them to surrender to God like you have. At the end of the day, the gospel is news that changes the world… IF someone steps into it. Invite them into it. Powerful medicine on the counter is useless; it’s got to get into the one who is sick. “Why don’t you come to church with me this week?” or “Would you read the story of Jesus’ life?” (and direct them to Mark’s gospel in a bible app.) or “have you ever thought about this? does it make sense? Do you want to think more about it?” Be courageous and ASK the question you want to ask.

Watch God do miracles as you bear witness to him! He’s in the business of using the gospel to change the world. Are you?

 

Cops, Christians and Healed Communities

imgresFriends,

At the Dallas Memorial service today, former President George W. Bush said this, “Too often we judge other groups by their worse examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”  I think he’s right.  Let’s keep humble and thoughtful about OUR role in the coming healing of our nation and communities.

Here are 3 links you can read for help.

First click here for what I read aloud on Sunday morning to shepherd our body – from John Stonestreet on BreakPoint.

Second, super-effective & respected Dallas pastor Tony Evans wrote a brief comment that we need to hear and heed.  One of his paragraph: “Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians. One of the real tragedies today is that the church as a whole has failed to advance God’s kingdom light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.”  (emphasis added; read it again). Click here to read Evans’ whole blog post.

Third, a former police office and detective, Jim Warner Wallace who runs an apologetics ministry called “Cold Case Christianity” offers some good and helpful thoughts about the posture of police officers as they go out into the world.  Click here to read that.

God has a new day coming; healing and peace and meaning and hope.  IF… and it’s a big IF… God’s people step into the hurt.  I read someone who quoted Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

 

How to vote in 2016… My Thoughts

imagesI have written before about this year’s election, and how to discern among the candidates.  You can read that here and here and here.

As it stands right now, American voters are faced with two political parties that have settled on two presidential candidates who, it seems to me, are not the best America can come up with. There are very few Democrats who are enthused about Hillary. And, Republicans are even more uncertain of The Donald.

For many of us in the middle, we are wondering where this is leading and what to do. As we follow Christ in the world, we want to please him, and be salt and light. Perhaps our usual voting pattern won’t be enough for us to rely on.

So what are we to do? Here are some thoughts.

  1. We must be purposeful about election day. You must vote or consciously choose not to. But, please do not be part of the 93 million eligible voters who just didn’t show up in the 2012 presidential election![1] If you are not registered, google “board of elections” for your county and register right now. (Otherwise you have to call people in dictatorships around the world and tell them why you didn’t care enough about your country to vote!!).
  1. There are 5 options for voting for the president: The candidates of either party, a third party, a write-in candidate or abstaining. Do your homework, both on the positions of each, and on the likelihood of what a 3rd party vote will mean for who actually gets elected. (You might guarantee the election of your least desired candidate by voting 3rd party or abstaining.)
  1. Tactical Voting is not wrong. If you can’t wholeheartedly support any candidate, be tactical. Let’s say you find both major candidates distasteful and aren’t sure what to do. I think it’s appropriate to ask: which candidate, in my best estimate, will do more damage to the country if they get elected? Perhaps a tactical vote for the other candidate would save more grief in the long term. If you don’t have the luxury of “believing in a candidate,” that doesn’t mean your vote and voice is futile.
  1. Remember down-ticket races too. Who is running for Congress and the US Senate, State races, judges, governor, local level public servants, etc. Even if you are having trouble figuring out the presidential race, make sure you give studied voice to the many other important races that will determine much policy over the next 4 years. And get out and vote (see #1).
  1. There is lots of time before the election. You do not have to come out for or against a given candidate today. Consider what they stand for, what they believe in, how they fare over the next 4 months. You can make up your mind at the ballot box. Be praying about it, and considering it now.
  1. God is in this. This means two things: Ask him for leading. He will lead you. You will have a clean conscience on election day, as you seek his leading for you. Secondly, it means he’s in control over all things. Romans 13:1 says that God appoints governing authorities. Dan 2:44 says he sets up kings and takes them down. You do your homework and trust God to accomplish his purposes.

 

[1] According to http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/2012-voter-turnout/ , accessed 7.5.16

3 Requirements of Freedom

Os-Guinness-Free-Peoples-Suicide[NOTE: I sent this today to the “Prayer Committee of 100” in Lenoir County – a group of people who pray for this county. If you would like to receive weekly emails with 3 requests (most of them focused on Lenoir Country), please leave me a comment, and we’ll add you to the list.

Happy July 4th week!  A thought and then a prayer request arising from that thought:

Thought

In his book A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness writes that there are 3 necessary components for liberty/freedom: winning it, ordering it, and sustaining it. We are celebrating this week the “winning” of freedom – the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War.

The “ordering” of freedom refers to the formal structures of our country – the constitution, the separation of powers and checks-and-balances, the federal-state dual sovereignty. All of these things (and more) help to structure things to minimize the ability of a tyrant to rise up. And, for 240 years this structure has worked well.

The “sustaining” of freedom relies on the people of the country. Guinness notes that “freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith”… in order for there to be a broad freedom from laws and external restraints, the people in general have to be able to govern themselves and their appetites.  In other words, they are required to be virtuous (a word that is not given much credit at all in our culture!). An inner ability to stop when the opportunity to continue presents itself seems to me a perfect definition of freedom. 

And, virtue comes from… where? Guinness says from faith: from an acknowledgment of God’s power above our own, and a recognition that our role is to live before him in the ways he calls us to. In other words, live virtuously.  “Do unto others”, “Love is patient & kind…” “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” “hate what is evil, cling to what is good”, “prefer one another above yourself.” All of these New Testament phrases are virtue lived out in daily life. Who lives this way? The faith-filled one – the one who clings to the Lord. Faith leads to virtue, which enables freedom. 

Here’s where the gospel intersects this conversation: Jesus was the only truly free person – no one lived a more free and fulfilled life in all of history. Why? Because he did “the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). In other words, he always pleased his Father. That is, he was virtuous to the highest degree… perfect.  Why? Because he had a vibrant relationship with his Father in Heaven.  Where we have all failed to live perfectly before God, he succeeded, and is our bridge back to the Father!

Freedom comes from virtue which comes from faith in the Lord. 

Prayer Request for this week

  • Will you then pray for a new faith in Christ to be embraced by countless millions in our country? Ask God to pour out his Spirit on hearts & homes, and grant many to come to Christ. (Habakkuk 2:14)
  • Will you pray for a renewed virtue to grow out of that faith? Ask God to reform our character as individuals, to make us (from the inside out) to look and act and think and speak like Jesus.  (Gal 2:20)
  • And, in this way you are praying for the continuing freedom that we have enjoyed in this country. Ask God to deepen our liberty by granting faith and virtue with sustain the liberty that was won and ordered so many years ago. (Gal 5:13)

Blessings,

Jason

for the Prayer C-100

“In Kent’s Words” about their Sabbatical

9b9c1872-a8d4-4951-93eb-47a898d9fa2aAs our Grace family knows, Kent & Mary have been on Sabbatical for the past 2 months.  He serves as Worship Pastor at Grace, and we rejoice in their ministry!  He posted this on FB last night, and in case you didn’t see it, it’s worth reading and taking in.  In Kent’s Words:

 

Our Sabbatical journey is now over. After visiting yet another church today, we recounted our experiences at 5 different churches. From urban/enormous to country/small. New England to the South. From extremely “reformed” to not so much. One with highly integrated variety of cultures & ethnicities, to the rest with mostly white people. One with mostly college/20-somethings to others with more balanced generational attendance. Worship styles from pensive to charismatic…We found the variety refreshing, and I think each can have a valuable impact for the Kingdom. That said, here are deeper takeaways:

1. There is no substitute for preaching the Word. I’m not critiquing each style, but this gave us great opportunities to affirm with our children why the centrality of scripture is SO important. Both in worship and preaching. I’m a huge proponent of congregational scripture reading (aloud) and expository preaching. I feel even stronger about this than ever.

2. There’s no place like home. We have fallen in love with Grace Fellowship all over again. I hope everyone feels this way about their church if it’s a biblical, Christ-centered, life-giving, equipping place! Our hearts are invested heavily there and we love serving and growing together in our local body of believers. I can’t count the times the kids asked “when can we go back to Grace?!”

3. Substance is more important than style in worship and preaching. Style matters, as does contextualization in ministry, but recognizing the difference is paramount. It was exciting to see this lived out in different ways across multiple settings in our country and discuss it w/ our kids.

4. The Spirit of God is at work in MANY different fellowships! We were both encouraged and humbled by this. Without going too far down the “we just all love Jesus” simplicity, OR the “they don’t use our _ _ V translation of the Bible, so they aren’t serious about the gospel” there’s a WHOLE lot of people worshipping in Spirit AND Truth! Many with a high-view of scripture as authoritative and compelled to missions I’m proud to call part of our family in Christ!

5. You MUST be plugged into a local church body if you expect to follow Christ with any seriousness. We are so refreshed by our sabbatical, but notice the lack of connectedness over time as we’ve been out. Scripture is clear about this, but we’ve experienced it like never before. Thank you, Lord, for reminding us of this joyful design for your body! Can’t wait to get back!

6. I’m so thankful for a fantastic group of elders and staff team, Jason McKnight, Kelly Harris Taylor, Davis Lacey, Susan McKnight and Amber Reed Stocks! Also, a great Worship leading team: Anne Grace Albritton, Justin Tilghman, and Tyler Bogert! Love serving with you!

We’re back!!!

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