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Friday, February 27, 2009

Got Mold? I Do!!!!!!

On Sunday, I preached a message highlighting lessons our church could learn from a persecuted/suffering NT church called Smyrna. You can listen to the sermon online here, Sunday Sermons.

It’s a part of an expositional series I am doing from the book of Revelation. A well-known inside joke of pastors is “Be careful what you preach about because God might apply the same message to you.” Well, God in his mercy, has given my family and me a little suffering of our own to strengthen our faith. We found mold in our house, a lot of mold. And we keep finding it. Mold was in the walls of the master bedroom and under the carpet, and today it was confirmed that it is in our bathroom.

Now this is nothing like the suffering the Christians in Smyrna went through, but it has certainly become a test of our faith. In order to get mold out of your walls and floor, you have to tear them open. When mold spores get in clothes and on other things, you have to clean each item or throw it away. We’ve had to clean a lot of things and throw away a lot of irreplaceable personal items. All of that gets very expensive and very labor intensive. But the worse part about mold is that it makes you sick. It is troubling to realize that the place you come to for refuge is causing your health maladies. But I thank God that for every trial He ordains for Christians to go through, He provides the grace for us to withstand it and the means to grow from it. Here are three blessings I have experienced so far from “I’ve Got Mold!”

Our insurance adjuster told us our policy would cover everything if the specific source of our problem started within the past twelve months. Guess what I found from our receipts? Our problem started fourteen months ago, exceeding our policy limit by two months. The man working on our mold remediation (which I think means to tear apart your house) advised us to just pay someone to produce a receipt dating within the twelve months. I smiled and told him I couldn’t do that, we would tell the truth and trust God to provide. Upon learning the start date of our mold problem, our insurance adjuster formally rejected our claim. Our mold specialist was so moved by our honesty (God of course moved him). He appealed on our behalf to our insurance adjuster that you don’t find honest people like that anymore. In turn our insurance adjuster using a second source of mold rewarded us on a second claim for ¾ of the cost of cleaning out the mold in the master bedroom. That was a sweet blessing. The Psalmist says of the righteous man “He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” Well that removed only part of the mold and part of the cost, but it really encouraged a weary man trying to protect and provide for his family.

My second blessing came from my kids. All six of them befriended a general contractor working on our street. When my three year old sees him half a block away, she belts “Hi, Mr. Barry!” at the top of her lungs. He really enjoys all of them. He teases them when they rollerblade past him, telling them they “can’t skate.” He really won their hearts when he started giving them treats from the 7-eleven. They all have a great relationship with him, but my point is that he is really a highly skilled and sought out contractor (one I am sure I couldn’t afford). When our mold problem erupted and the demolition of my master bedroom started, all of a sudden I was in desperate need of a contractor -- the cheapest one I could find --not a pricey exceptional one. But God again had favor on us. I called to get a couple of bids on the work, and my kids pleaded with me to ask “Mr. Barry.” I did, and I am glad. Barry by far gave the lowest bid and offered to do by far the most comprehensive remodeling.

One last story: Today, I went to my hiding place (on a semi-secluded peer at a local beach) to pray. I wanted to plead with the Lord for help from my favorite prayer verse Psalm 9:10, “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.” This peer has been my hiding place for over fifteen years. And although people walk by, not once has anyone ever interrupted my prayer time. But today, a man saw my Bible opened and asked if he could pray with me. This Christian brother began to pour out his heart to me and made my mold woes look small. He asked me to read all of Psalm 9, and then I prayed for him and me. He was deeply moved. As he left, he continued to thank me and shared how it could not have been by accident that he came across me with my Bible open. He wanted my phone number because he wanted to stay in touch with me so we could share how God, our Father, (as he said), would give us victory.

Well, my mold woes are still far from over. We won’t even start to look into the bathroom mold until Monday. And like everyone, I don’t like trials, but I count it all joy that through it God is strengthening me with undeserved blessings. Having said that though, if the Scott family comes to your mind in the next couple of weeks, please pray that we experience God’s grace and love to endure our test of faith.

Grace and peace to you

Monday, February 16, 2009

Got Debt? I've Found the Book for You! Zero Debt

What if I could give you a foolproof plan on how to get out of debt, would you take it? If you’re interested, I think I’ve found the plan. I confess that I didn’t write it, Lynnette Khalfani-Cox did. It’s not new either. With the wisdom the Lord Jesus Christ said believers need to have in dealing with money, Lynnette explains and applies to everyone who’ll listen biblical financial principles in common-folk language. Having presented her learned insights to the world as a Wall Street Journal reporter for CNBC, and as a frequent guest on national TV and radio programs, God burdened her heart to share what He had entrusted to her with her spiritual family—the church.

In the wake of our economic crisis, all Christians can use a Joseph in our lives to show us how to survive the long season of drought we might be entering into. But don’t just take my word for it. Attend one of her Zero Debt seminars yourself. And if one is not in your area, then get her New York Bestseller Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom and read it yourself. It was so good I read it in one day. Just couldn’t put it down. Then I shared it with a member of the church I pastor. She said that when she called her creditors with the script Lynnette laid out in her book, she got everything she asked for. Her book is loaded with helpful tips, shrewd counsel everyone should know about their creditors but don’t, and a biblical blueprint that is clear and simple to implement. It’s been said that there is power in wisdom, and Lynnette has a lot of it. I also encourage you to visit her on-line at The Money Coach for more resources.

If I sound like a cheerleader, well I guess I am. I have been to more than one financial seminar, and as a pastor I have taught about biblical stewardship on more than one occasion, and I can honestly say that Lynnette’s, Zero Debt book and seminar are empowering because of their clarity and the wealth of practical resources. The Zero Debt tour is coming through, and I strongly encourage you to get on board and learn the secrets of an expert who'll help you become a wiser steward of God's money.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Striving to Make the Church a Porn-Free Zone

This post also appears as a guest blog on Covenant Eyes.

With arid dry weather and hot winds that gust up to 85 miles per hour, parts of desert-like, sunny California are a powder keg ready to explode into flames. It is one of the worst wildfire areas in the US. Yet according to FEMA, the fire death rate for California is one of the lowest of all the states in the US.1 That’s an amazing stat. While a lot of factors contribute to that result, one reason why the death toll is so low is the enormous attention California pays to both raising fire awareness and combating wildfires.

I think the church needs to apply a few lessons from California firefighters. Too often the church responds as if the fire of porn addiction blazing through the spiritually dry lives of unbelievers won’t jump to the church and start burning down our house. Last week I was invited to address a small group of Southern Baptist pastors in Southern California around the topic of “Preventing the Pornography Fire” from burning down your ministry. Of the many strategies pastors and church leaders can implement to lead their congregations in combating pornography, I will offer the three that I shared with these pastors.

1st Churches need to be equipped to become Fire-Preventers

Clearly, the best strategy for avoiding the lethal danger of porn is to implement thorough fire-prevention measures in the church. Without playing Holy Spirit and assuming that everyone in the church is secretly struggling with porn, pastors need to take preemptive steps to keep the church they shepherd away from porn. Before a single false teacher snuck into the NT church of Ephesians, the apostle Paul said “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

In helping the church combat the schemes of the Devil, did you notice the preemptive strategy the apostle employed? Churches need to know that we live on the front line in a war against Satan, and therefore, we need to be equipped to ward-off his insidious attacks, including the enticing sin of pornography. The duty of a faithful shepherd is to warn the flock of potential dangers before they fall, because afterward might be too late.

Last Fall, after being interviewed about Secret Sex Wars, of which I am the general editor, the Christian co-host told me a sobering story off air. She recounted the sad and tragic story of a man who was introduced to porn at the age of twelve while living in a Christian home. He immediately became addicted, and as he aged, his life spiraled downward deeper and deeper into enslavement to immorality. Churches need to remember and apply this wise adage, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and pastors need to take the preemptive step of equipping their members to be fire-preventers.

2nd Churches need to be encouraged to become Firefighters

Before any fire turns into a blaze, you usually will see smoke first. My plea is: don’t ignore the smoke by telling yourself that the members of your church could never have a problem with porn. Remember, the sad reality that binds all people together is that we will sin until the day we die. This includes Christians. We can sin in any and every way unbelievers can. In fact Christian leaders can sin in any and every way unbelievers can. The difference between Christians and unbelievers is not that Christians can’t commit certain sins. The difference is that because we have the Holy Spirit to empower us, we can resist yielding to any sin, and because we love Jesus we can commit ourselves to be firefighters who strive to live free from sin (Romans 6).

The key is that many Christians need encouragement to fight against the flames of pornography that are seemingly everywhere present. From pastors to parishioners, from adults to teens, this is where a tool like Covenant Eyes can be invaluable. Once we have encouraged believers in our church to flee from the temptation of porn, we need to show them wise practical ways to become spiritual fire fighters.

3rd Churches need to be educated to become Fire-Burn Specialists

With the flames of porn blowing all around us, every church needs to train fire burn specialists. We need to accept the fact that even with the greatest efforts to be fire preventers and fighters that some in our churches will still get burned, and some very badly. The big problem with porn is that it brings such shame and guilt that those who fall victim to it often run and hide from help. Churches need to do all that they can to avoid the sin of self-righteously labeling those who struggle with pornography as unhelpable modern-day lepers. We need to reach out to all sinners like our gracious Lord did. Please do not misread my point and misinterpret the demand that believers deal with all sinners humbly as suggesting that churches accept sin (Gal 6:1-3). All sin carries consequences, and unrepentant sin the gravest. But when we reach out to those ensnared by sin the way Jesus did, then the church can be assured that we, like Him, will see prodigal sons and daughters turn back to God. When that happens, all of heaven will rejoice and so should we (Luke 15:11-24).


Reality suggests that we will not see our increasingly secular society turn away from its love of porn. However, like Paul in Athens, we can walk in purity in a culture with thousands of cybernet prostitutes by relying upon the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, and wise ways to make the church a porn-free zone. Utilizing a prayerful and loving strategy of equipping fire-preventers, encouraging firefighters, and educating fire-burn specialists in our churches, God will protect His church from the danger of porn.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Romans, Race, and Reconciliation

This is a guest post from Bruce A. Baker. Bruce is the Senior Pastor of Jenison Bible Church in Hudsonville, MI. Listen to his podcast at The Word Will Stand, and enjoy more of his biblically insightful reflections on his blog at Becoming Mature. Also look for his forthcoming book The Road to Maturity.

First of all, I'd like to thank my good friend Bobby for allowing me to guest blog on his site. We were discussing this issue the other day, and he suggested others might like to listen in on our discussion. So here is a summary:

My outlook on life and ministry changed after I studied the book of Romans.

I realize that statement could have been made by nearly anyone down through the history of the church. But in my case, Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has caused me to rethink my attitudes towards racial reconciliation within the church. I have become dissatisfied with the status quo.

The church is still the most segregated place in America. Sunday morning is the most segregated time. Understanding Romans forces us to realize how displeasing to God this is.

Paul wrote Romans to address a problem: a racial problem.

In 49 AD, there was a race riot. The city was Rome, the rioters were Jews. While it’s not entirely certain, it appears that they were rioting about the Christians.

We’re not exactly sure what caused the riot, but we have some clues:

First, the Jews didn’t like the Christians to begin with because of their claim that Jesus was the promised Messiah, while the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem had been instrumental in his execution.

Second, while there were some Jews coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah, the majority of people being added to the church were Gentiles. The Jews considered Gentiles dogs.

Third, the church services (before the riot) were conducted as an off-shoot of the synagogue system. Thus the Jews who rejected Christ not only had to put up with the Jews who followed Jesus, but they also had to put up with more and more Gentile dogs coming to their synagogues.

Eventually the tension between the Jews and Christians became so great that the Jews rioted. This wasn’t a little disturbance. This so disrupted Roman life that Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome. There was a racial cleansing in the city, so to speak.

As a result, the Gentiles believers had no place to worship since the synagogues were gone. So they did the only thing they could do. They started their own churches. As the churches grew, they wrote their own hymns and started their own traditions.

Then in 54 AD, Claudius allowed the Jews to return to Rome. As they trickled into the city, the former synagogues were re-established. The Jewish believers continued to worship there. The Gentiles, whose churches were now well established, continued in their churches.

And so there was in Rome a picture of what we have in the USA. Two churches, divided by race and culture, by style and suspicion, that didn’t exactly hate one another, but had little to do with one another either.

In God’s providence, Paul had placed on his heart a missions trip to Spain (Rom 15:24, 28). In order to accomplish such a large undertaking, he would need logistical support from Rome. But herein lay an obvious problem. To which church should he appeal? In all probability, neither was large enough by itself to financially support such an endeavor.

So while Paul wintered in Corinth for three months in 56–57 AD (Acts 20:2-3), he wrote this divided church a letter. It was to be a letter of introduction since they hadn’t met him before (Rom 1:13) that would explain the Gospel he would preach in Spain (Rom 1:16, 17; 15:20). But it was also to be a letter of healing. It was meant to show that the Gospel transcends race and culture.

This explains where there is almost no teaching in the entire book about the person of Jesus Christ. One would think that a letter devoted to the subject of the Gospel would have Jesus’ name written on every page, but that isn’t the case. Except for a brief mention in the introduction (Rom 1:3-4), there is very little said about him.

Instead the book is written from the human perspective. While it doesn’t say much about the person of Christ, it tells us a lot about ourselves. In fact, Paul goes out of his way to show that everyone (regardless of race or culture) has sinned, that they have earned the penalty of death, and that the solution is faith in Christ. Additionally, the way to live righteously is the same for everyone (walking in the Spirit—Rom 8:4).

But what about those deeply-held beliefs that make us so culturally different?

Rom 15:5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

I’ve made it a goal for me personally and for the church I shepherd to break down the racial barriers which divide God’s people. The progress is slow and the steps difficult. Nevertheless, I look forward to the day when believers, regardless of race or culture, may, with one heart and one voice, glorify God together.

Now for the question: What can you do that you’re not doing to make this dream a reality?

I would begin by reading the book of Romans through in one sitting. That is the way it was intended to be read anyway. It will only take about 45 minutes. As I read, I would underline the all inclusive words such as “all,” “none,” “everyone,” “no one,” “the whole world,” etc.

Then I would try and meet other believers on the other side of the great divide. Make friends and fellowship with them. It is especially important to pray with them. Pray not only for racial reconciliation but also for their requests and concerns.

Finally, I’d ask my pastor what could be done in our community to partner with another church of like faith so that we could be a living example that the Gospel transcends culture and race.

I am convinced that God is displeased with the state of disunity that exists within his church—a chasm that is not caused by the tension of truth vs error, but one that is cause by tradition, suspicion, lack of forgiveness and apathy. We have an obligation to do all within our power to bridge that chasm.