Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Hope

In my last entry, we stood on God's Presence as a solid reason for Hope. Obviously, God becoming Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ is a magnificent display of God's Presence. Emmanuel, a title given to Christ, literally means "God with Us!" He's with us! And because He's with us, we have hope. But His presence isn't always pleasant. Sometimes God loves us so much He hurts us. The great Bible Teacher, Warren Wiersbe, says God will hurt His own, but He will not harm his own. What does that mean? Well, when Christmas tree farmers grow their trees for the season, they often have to prune them. In other words, they cut off diseased or unnecessary branches in order to grow healthier trees. Sometimes God prunes us.
Listen, God doesn’t just give us His presence and make promises in order to give us a free pass to be stupid and lazy. Hope requires disciplined cooperation with Him. That’s called pruning.
Dr. Rick Warren says the following:
“Pruning involves cutting off not only dead branches but also living ones as well in order to improve the shape of the plant and stimulate growth. Pruning is essential for increased productivity. It’s not optional . . . If you’re going to be productive . . . God will put you through times of pruning. God prunes you for fruitfulness . . . You might struggle to understand why, but the reason is He is preparing you for even greater ministry.”
Jesus says in John 15:2:
"He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit." John 15:2 (GW)
Christmas (or any other season for that matter) can be a time of pruning. So if you’re struggling with hopelessness this season, remember God’s Promises, trust in God’s Presence, and submit to God’s Pruning and you will find hope really does have its reasons! God will produce fruit in your life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Hope Reasons

In my earlier post, we stood on the foundation of God's Promises as our first reason for hope. Another great reason for hope is God's Presence.
God has not abandoned the human race. He sees us and, if we let Him, He’ll see to us. Some time ago, there was a very painful situation in my life. It was excruciating to me and it felt as if every close friend in my life had abandoned me. So one day, I did a Forest Gump and started running. As I ran, I prayed desperately to God for help. After I stopped, I bowed before Him and tearfully put my forehead on the ground. Tears were coming down my face mixed with sweat and grime. But then I felt it--the Presence of the Lord. In that moment, my spirit heard God whisper, “It’s going to be okay Rusty because I’m here with you.” And guess what, He was faithful. Years later, I've found that every whisper from God during that painful period proved to be true. God was with me the whole time and continues to be my greatest source of tangible hope.
Look at what Caleb and Joshua tell a frightened Israel:
" . . . the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." Num. 14:9 (NIV)
Hope has its reasons because God does not abandon His people! He is with you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hope's Reasons

Rebecca Pippert, in her book entitled Hope Has It’s Reasons asks the question, “Is life merely one long absurd pursuit of things we can never have, or does hope have its reasons?”
Good question. Is hope really something on which to base our lives? Evidence everywhere suggests otherwise. For example, we just ended the bloodiest century in history. The economy is crippled with tremendous debt. Children are shooting each other in our schools. And we are still at war (will it ever end?)!
Someone said, “I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.” Is life just a big joke that we don’t get? Or does hope actually have its reasons?
Well the answer is a resounding “Yes!!!” And there are at least three reasons why. Let me share the first in this post and give the other two later:
1. God’s Promises.
God has never violated a promise, ever! I wish I was like that. I’m a man of my word, but I’m not perfect. Months ago I promised myself that I would lose ten pounds. Guess what. I gained ten!
But God always keeps His promises!
A few of my favorites for His people are:
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those who are crushed in spirit."
Psalm 34:18 (NLT)
And Jesus says: [14:1] "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me." John 14:1 (NIV)
God’s promises give hope because He always keeps them!

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Some time ago, I was challenged by a church member concerning the concept of the tithe. The assertion behind the challenge was, basically, that the tithe was an Old Testament law that is no longer in force with Christians. The following response from me may prove helpful in the discussion: Let me begin by thanking you for attending our church and giving sacrificially to this ministry . . . As for your study of the tithe, you make some good points. However, for me personally (and, I want to be clear, this principle is something I both preach and practice), the fact that the pattern of the tithe preceded the law (as did the pattern of the Sabbath rest), that Jesus reaffirmed it himself in the Gospels (which I consider a post Old Covenant dispensation, otherwise Jesus’ would not have made such radical claims of fulfillment of the law at the time-see John 6:29 where Jesus clearly presents belief in Him as the basis for salvation before He dies and before Pentecost--Some scholars describe the period of the Gospels as sort of an intermediate dispensation with elements of the Law still in force and elements of grace newly in place. I would say that the radical nature of Jesus new commands (ex. Jn 13:34) suggests that from the moment of His birth, a new dispensation occurred), and the clear teaching of the Epistles to give “bountifully” or “generously” (ex. 2 Cor. 9:6) suggests that a tithe is a minimum amount. Paul clearly had this in mind when he uses the pattern of Old Testament tithing as the New Testament pattern of local church support (note the pattern of tithing under the law in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14: “Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? IN THE SAME WAY, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”). It is true that the Bible does not teach the tithe, it suggests that the tithe is just the beginning of giving. Actually, Jesus wants it all. It is hard for me to fathom one day standing before the King when He says “How did you give for my Kingdom purposes and provide for my Bride with the resources I gave you?” and answering “I gave less than $1 out of every $10 You gave me.” I don’t want to say that at the Judgment seat of Christ. I’d rather say “I gave abundantly.” The overwhelming testimony of the early church fathers (that is, the disciples of the disciples, some of whom sat at the feet of the original 12) is to, at a minimum, tithe. For example, historian Collin Hanson states: “The early church's views on tithing foreshadowed many of today's stewardship debates. The Eastern Church began tithing out of obligation because they believed Jesus' conversation with the rich young man demanded sacrificial generosity. Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus pleaded with the church to surpass even the Old Testament tithe since Christ had freed them from the Law. Later church fathers—John Chrysostom, Cyprian, Origen, and Augustine among them—complained from time to time that their followers lacked Christian charity. Chrysostom even shamed his stingy church for marveling at those who tithed. He contrasted their amazement with the dutiful giving of Old Testament Jews. The early church's expectation that every Christian would tithe found formal expression at the Synod of Mâçon in 585 . . “ Another pastor writes: “Irenaeus, was a disciple of the Apostle John & Polycarp. He wrote that “systems of giving like tithing never ceased to be taught” ...but that the focus was not on "what's the minimum amount the Bible commands us to give." Rather, he writes: “Instead of being taught the tithe, we were taught to give all our possessions...” (See Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-36). Other historical writings show that the Apostles taught tithing as a "starting point" for those whose faith was too weak to give more than 10%.” I think the early church fathers got it right. Certainly God expects His church to be more generous than the Israelites under obligation to the law! (Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ). But, you’re right, it’s your decision and is between you and God. Pray about it and do what God tells you. My job is to teach what I believe fully to be consistent biblical teaching, for which I will give an account before God. Your job is to evaluate said teaching before the Lord and do what He tells you to do. May the Lord bless you brother. Again, thanks for the honor of pastoring you! In Him, Pastor Rusty

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Christian Liberty

"Someone may say, 'I'm allowed to do anything,' but not everything is helpful. I'm allowed to do anything, but not everything encourages growth." 1 Cor. 10:23 (GW) Recently, I've been engaged in a discussion involving Christian liberty. Questions have revolved around two primary behaviors: the use of alcohol and profanity. Is it permissible for a Christian to drink and cuss? Well, the answer is "it depends." For example, it certainly would not be wrong for a believer to drink actual wine during communion and if, for some reason, a Christian felt led of the Lord to speak a strong word to a persecutor, cursing may be allowed. For example, if a missionary was being murdered by Osama Bin Laden and felt he needed to warn OBL that he was headed for Hell, I doubt anyone would believe it would be wrong for the missionary to say, "Mr. Bin Laden, if you continue this ungodly violence, your soul will be damned." Some could argue that the word "damned" in such a context is a curse word and, yet, is not sinful in that context. I would agree. I also have no problem with a believer partaking in the use of alcohol in certain circumstances (i.e. privately, as a medication--ex. Nyquil, without drunkenness, and apart from settings where it is likely to lead to pain--such as where alcoholics are present or a sinful atmosphere is being promoted). But the bottom line is this: what is wise? In most contexts, the best that can be said of both behaviors is that they are dangerous and clearly lead to sin. This means that people will get hurt. And in many cases, these behaviors are without a doubt sinful in and of themselves. The Bible overwhelmingly condemns cursing because it overwhelmingly is crude and offensive to the ears of a holy God. The Bible also is very clear that drunkenness is a huge problem for hurting people, so why take the chance of drinking with a potential alcoholic in the name of some noble motive? (For example: "I'm going to drink at a bar to reach people for Jesus.") Wayne Grudem, theologian extraordinaire, says the following about profanity (which has obvious implications for drinking):

ESV Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude
joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
ESV Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
ESV Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
“Using the words commonly thought to be offensive in the culture seems to me to be sort of the verbal equivalent of not wearing deodorant and having body odor, or of going around with spilled food on our shirts all the time. Someone might argue that not wearing deodorant or wearing dirty clothes are not morally wrong things in themselves, but my response is that they do give needless offense and cause others to think of us as somewhat impure or unclean. So, I think, does using words commonly thought to be ‘obscene’ or ‘offensive’ or ‘vulgar’ in the culture generally. Plus it encourages others to act in the same way. So in that way it brings reproach on the church and the gospel.”
When I was younger, I pushed the limits of these behaviors. My attitude was that I'm a believer and nobody has a right to infringe on my freedoms. So I cussed every now and then and I drank openly. Then some people got hurt. An alcoholic who I drank with continued to struggle with alcohol and almost lost his family. The people I cussed with often engaged in unethical behaviors that hurt many. And I was ashamed. And God convicted me of my reckless attitude. As believers, our goal is to draw others closer to Christ. My freedom or the need to be seen as one of the guys is not worth the substantial risk of hurting others. And it's unnecessary. Ask any football player, construction worker, or sailor which guy they respected the most on their team, at the site, or on their ship and they will usually tell you it was the guy who worked hard, was brave, was not judgmental, and, you guessed it, didn't cuss or go to the bars. Matt. 5:17 "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Got Spirit?

Recently, I was asked why we don't celebrate the Holy Spirit more. Why do some movements within the Evangelical church not have holidays like Christmas and Easter for the Holy Spirit (i.e. Pentecost)? Let me offer one possible explanation. The Spirit, by His vey nature, tends to shy away from attention. His role in the Trinity is often to magnify the first two persons. I’m not sure He would want a holiday for Himself, although to honor Him is certainly not unbiblical.
An example of the Spirit’s role is seen in Galatians 4:6
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who cries out, ‘Abba’, Father.” Note what the Spirit does once He is in our Hearts; He points to the Father and causes intimacy.
But the church universal has different views on this. For example, the Charismatics, in my opinion, tend to focus disproportionately on the Spirit while the“high church” rarely teaches on Him at all. I think there is a balance between the two extremes. Several years ago, I actually took a prayer retreat and spent the entire time talking to the Spirit. I thanked Him for the great work He had done in my life. As Sanders puts it, He is often the "silent Partner" of God's providential movement in our souls. It certainly couldn't hurt to thank Him for such marvelous grace from time to time.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Delightful Openings

The famous theologian, Henri Nouwen, gave the following insight about discipleship: "The word discipleship and the word discipline are the same word -- that has always fascinated me. Once you have made the choice to say, 'Yes, I want to follow Jesus,' the question is, 'What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?' If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life. By discipline, I do not mean control. If I know the discipline of psychology or of economics, I have a certain control over a body of knowledge. If I discipline my children, I want to have a little control over them. But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means 'the effort to create some space in which God can act.' Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on."(source: "Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry" by Henri Nouwen). Although I don't always agree with Nouwen's theology, his understanding of the disciplines is profound. Recently, I found myself in a rut when it came to the daily discipline of what we as evangelicals call "quiet times." For years, I followed a daily Bible reading/prayer program and journaled. These times provided great strength for me as I connected with the Lord. But lately I've found a dullness creeping into the routine. The delight of spending time with my precious Father was being replaced with feelings of drudgery and guilt. Something was missing. So I've shaken things up a little. Since moving to Rockford, I now have a 20 minute commute (40 min roundtrip) daily. I'm using it to have open conversations with God. Instead of instinctively turning on the radio and filling my mind with the latest sports news on "King James," I'm talking to the real King and letting Him into the deepest places . . . the places where there's a little boy afraid of being a grown up, or where there's a wound of the heart that needs the Healer's touch. These prayer times are precious! I can feel Christ engaged with my soul and my delight in Him is awakened. I'm still regularly reading the Word, but these prayer times are lubricating the process with grace and opening my heart to more of the one who makes life work.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Calling

It is with great excitement and thankfulness that I have accepted a call to be the new Sr. Pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Rockford IL (Chicago area). After months of seeking God's will, this past weekend brought with it great clarity as Judi and I visited with this wonderful church and went through the final stages of the search process. As I preached to the congregation, God's anointing was evident as was an immediate sense of connection and love between the congregation and ourselves. We plan on being fully moved and engaged with the church starting June 15. But along with the excitement comes the realization that we will be leaving so many friends at the Bridge and the home we've enjoyed for almost a decade. As with any great move, there will be tears, farewells, and appropriate grieving. I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 20:36, "When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship." There are people in Atlanta that Judi, the kids, and I love as deeply as our own family. It's possible that we will never see some of them again. It's certain that we will not live next to them again. Such good-byes are, I'm convinced, a result of the fall. One day, in Heaven, we will never have to say farewell again. In some mysterious way, I'm positive we will be able to be with any of our loved ones in an instant. In the meantime, however, we struggle with the unsettled nature of this world. We've learned so much from the people of Sugarloaf, Stonemill, and the Bridge. God has taught us through high mountaintops and deep valleys, great accomplishments and youthful mistakes. We've literally grown up here as a ministry family. For this, I will forever be thankful. Atlanta, thanks for everything! God has used you greatly and fruit will be the result for His great glory. Blessings to you!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Now that the people of Stonemill are safely a part of The Bridge (it's estimated that 90% made the transition and attendance is at an all-time high), Judi and I are fully engaged in the search for a new calling. Currently I'm in discussions with six churches, three of which are in the final stages. I preached last month at a wonderful church in Charlotte and will preach on the 14th in Dallas at another. Last week, I worked at the FBC Woodstock Men's Conference for one of the speakers, Dr. Bob Reccord. This week, we begin renovations on our house and will soon put it on the market. To put it mildly, we're in transition.
I've been reading Exodus for my devotionals and have been struck with how many great things happen during transitions. Moses becomes a man of God while he's on "the back side of the desert" watching the sheep of his father-in-law. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the "prince of Egypt" to be reduced to a sheep herder employed by his wife's dad? That's a transition! But that is when God began the process of transforming Moses into a warrior for God that defeated the dominant world power of his day. Transitions can feel like a waste of time. They shake our identities and force us to see life in entirely new perspectives. You think a lot during transitions. Who am I? Where am I going? What am I supposed to be doing? Surely Moses asked these questions as he sheared sheep and stared many a night at the Midian sky. But God was working, putting together an epic plan of redemption that would be THE definitive God-story most recalled from the Old Testament.
If you are in a transition, know that God is using it. Not only is He transitioning your situation, He's transitioning you. In the unseen realms of His providence, you are being changed for His great purposes. Just trust. God's not done. As a matter of fact, He may be just beginning!