Love is a very splendid thing

It has been said that “love is a very splendid thing.”

Of the endless list of splendid things I could say of my love, Shirley, one that comes to mind today is all the love and care she has put in over the years to record our lives in pictures. We have a cabinet full of photo albums that hold the treasure of our journey together.Cabinet of Photo Albums

Every once in a while we will pull out an album, sit side-by-side, and look through the pictures and talk about our memories of each picture and how much fun we had. When we finish that album, usually one of the three of us will suggest looking at another specific vacation or event. The pictures are a reminder of the love, joy, happiness, adventure, fun, and laughter we have had throughout the years. It also reminds us of how far we have come over the last 22 years.Family Photo Albums

The love and anticipation that we felt when we stood at the altar and exchanged vows doesn’t compare to that which we have now. Why? Because now we have experienced the events of life that have been built upon the foundation of the love and anticipation we felt all those years ago. We now have hindsight into what it took to get to this point.

It is remembering that in all the joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, peace and pain, accomplishments and failures, hopes and disappointments that we can make it through together until death do us part.

There is another picture album I like to look through when individually I am struggling—it’s the Bible.

In the Bible I see one picture after another where the grace of God empowered and equipped men and women just like me to accomplish great things, even in the midst of fear, pain, and tragedy.

Some of the pictures of grace I see are:
• God’s grace upon Adam and Eve after they sinned. (Genesis 3)
• God’s grace upon Cain after he killed Abel. (Genesis 4)
• God’s grace upon Noah of wisdom for the message to preach and how to build the ark. (Genesis 6)
• God’s grace upon Moses to be able to speak and stay humble in the midst of great victories. (Exodus)
• God’s grace upon David to go from shepherd to king. (I Samuel 16)
• God’s grace upon the 12 disciples to leave their possessions, follow Jesus, overcome fear, preach the Word, spread the good news of Christ, and endure martyrdom. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts)

Regardless of what we are going through, we can pick up the Bible and find pictures of God’s grace being poured into the lives of His children to help them through every possible challenge.

God’s grace still empowers believers today, just as it did those in Biblical times.

God’s grace is truly amazing. But not only is God’s grace amazing, it is also timeless.  In tomorrow’s post, we will explore 1 Corinthians 1.4-9 and see pictures of God’s Timeless Grace.

What challenges have you walked through where you found God’s grace poured out into your life? What struggles are you currently going through that you need an extra measure of God’s grace to help get you through?

God’s Timeless Grace is Part 2 in the Sermon Series Church 101: A Study of 1 Corinthians at Living Oaks Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK.

Join us at 10:45 AM each Sunday for contemporary music and worship as we continue the series Church 101.Saving a seat for you

Living Oaks Baptist Church 8855 E 91st St
Tulsa, OK 74133

The Joy of Family

Church FamilyBy Bob Pittenger

Wherever you go as a disciple of Jesus you will find family. Regardless of whether life leads you to a new city, state, or country you will always find a Christian family waiting for you at the nearest Bible believing church.

Yesterday, we closed out our study of Philippians with the sermon “The Joy of Family.” In the sermon we looked at several of the reason why Paul’s Christian family gave him such great joy. Paul found those who served with him indispensable because they were a vital part of his Christian family.

To listen to the sermon and learn more about how you can experience the joy of family please follow this link: The Joy of Family.

Is Your Church Happy?

i love my churchThis morning Thom Rainer posted “Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches.” It is a wonderful blessing to pastor a loving and happy church. When we gather together as a body of believers we should have fun. Worshipping, serving, singing, teaching, listening, caring, sharing, or any other “ing” you can come up with should be a joyous occasion.

The nine characteristics Thom Rainer listed below can be found in any church where all the people work together as one body.

  • The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader. He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation. In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located. Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made it a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.
  • The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together. If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.
  • A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
  • Business meetings were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
  • A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
  • The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
  • The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

How do these nine characteristics compare to your church? What would you add? Which of the nine “jumped out” at you the most?

Please leave a reply, I would love to hear your thoughts.

How Many Hours Can I Work?

Tim Challies puts a different spin on our responsibility to balance the time we spend between work and our families.

Challies writes:

A few weeks ago I linked to an article from Nathan Bingham titled Fathers, Stop Stealing From Your Children. Nathan was writing to fathers who are raising families in this busy and distracting world and telling them to give their children the time they need and deserve. He said that many fathers are guilty of stealing from their children: “You’re guilty when you skip breakfast with the family to prepare for that early morning meeting, when you’re distant at the dinner table because you’re resolving an issue at work in a long email conversation on your smartphone, and when you forfeit a healthy family night-time ritual because you’ve got something important to do—like write a blog post.”

This article generated some interesting and thoughtful responses and, because I had linked to it, some of them were sent my way. Some expressed frustration that Christian pastors or leaders were constantly telling them they were negligent fathers if they were not home every day on time to enjoy dinner with the family or, even better, breakfast and dinner. Another commented on the long hours many employers demand and asked, “Is that just a love of success and money? And is that feasible for a Christian to be working long hours, let’s say 50 hours week, without compromising on their faith?”

These are good questions and helpful comments. Let me sketch out just a few of my thoughts on the matter.

This Is Not a New Issue

When we look at the issue of long working hours, we can take too narrow a view of it, assuming that it is uniquely twenty-first century and first-world. However, if you look back through history you will find that it has always been the case that fathers have had to work long hours outside of the home. A man who farmed would have to give just about every waking hour, every daylight hour, to his crops and his animals. The shepherds and farmers and fishermen of Jesus’ day were not working 9-to-5 jobs. Most of them would have been working extremely long hours just to scratch out an existence. Few of these people would have had to concern themselves with an hour-long or two hour-long commute from the suburbs into the downtown core, bookending their actual work day with two or three hours of travel time.

This means that the biblical writers could have addressed this issue head-on. Paul could have written to one of the churches and said, “Fathers, you need to prioritize being home for dinner every night.” He did not. He could have mandated a forty hour work week. Again, he did not. There are commands that pertain to fathers, but none that get anywhere near this explicit. This tells us that the instructions we find in Scripture are sufficient to guide us even here and it also tells us that we have freedom in these matters—freedom to determine what is right and best in our context.

Work, Work, Work, Die

One consequence of Adam’s sin was a curse on his vocation to earn a living by tending and keeping the ground.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife   and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,   ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you;   in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;   and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face   you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,   for out of it you were taken; for you are dust,   and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

In other words, because of your sin, the land will now be opposed to you, it will fight against you. You will spend your whole life toiling to beat back thorns and thistles from off the soil and then at the end of it all, you’ll return to the soil. There is a kind of inevitability to it, and a kind of hopelessness. A man’s lot is to work in this world, knowing that he can never beat the system. He will eventually work himself to death.

That curse has extended far beyond farming and reaches to every vocation. The farmer faces the weeds, the pastor faces tired eyes and dead hearts, the lawyer faces long commutes and traffic jams (and that before he even gets to the office). None of us will have a life free from backbreaking (or mindbreaking or heartbreaking) labor. Work is long and hard because work is meant to be long and hard on this side of the curse. There are very few who escape it.


You Are a Father Before a [Insert Vocation Here]

I’ve always found it instructional in my own line of work that a man is qualified to be a pastor on the basis of his family life; he is not qualified to be a husband or father because of his successful ministry. It is true in any field that being a father takes priority over being a doctor or pastor or author or athlete or truck driver. Every man will need to remind himself often that his higher priority is his marriage and his family; he will need to ask himself if he is prioritizing well. He may well need to ask his wife and children and trusted friends if his priorities reflect biblical priorities.

A father needs to be willing to make difficult decisions regarding his vocation if he finds that it is interfering with his higher priorities. He may need to abandon a career or accept a lower-paying position if his current vocation is keeping him away from his wife and children too often.

You Are An Idolater

We are, as John Calvin told us, idol factories, constantly giving our ultimate loyalty to things other than God. We typically make idols out of good things—good things that rise to the status of ultimate things. Work is just the kind of good thing that constantly threatens to become an idol. Just as a man needs to ask himself where his priorities are, he also needs to ask himself where his loyalties lie.

I have known men who have worked extra jobs and extra shifts in order to allow their children to attend Christian schools, something these men determined was important enough merit time away from family. I have known men who have worked extra jobs and extra shifts in order to maintain an otherwise unsustainable lifestyle that was more than their families wanted or needed or because they wanted to rise up through the ranks, achieving status and power. Long hours may reflect good motives or bad ones, God-ward loyalties or self-centered ones. We may make an idol out of family and we may make an idol out of being away from family. The human heart is so tricky, so sneaky, so idolatrous.

Your Context Is Unique

Every family, every job, every relationship, every life stage is unique. It is up to the individual to determine how many hours he can work while still dedicating an appropriate amount of time to his wife and children (not to mention his church, his evangelistic efforts in his neighborhood, and so on). These can be difficult decisions. Thankfully the Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us through the Bible, and he has given us Christian community where we can learn from and depend upon the wisdom of others. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

One thing to keep in mind: There are many jobs and many vocations, but the Lord gives you only one family, one opportunity to love your wife as Christ loved the church and one opportunity to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

I’m Back!

I have been on vacation for the last two weeks. During this time I turned off my email feature on my phone and refused to pay for WIFI service at our hotel. While we were away I had spotty service on my phone, so I was only able to post a couple of times on Facebook. I am a little surprised, but I didn’t die from not having contact with the outside world. The church didn’t come crashing down without me being here to “hold everything together.” My computer and iPad didn’t self destruct from a lack of use. And I didn’t suffer one minute of boredom from having to spend all my time with my wife and son!

I honestly had a great time, well except for Shirley and William dragging me to the “World’s Largest McDonald’s.” It was nice to be together uninterrupted and just enjoy each other’s company. Several times my son said how glad he was that I didn’t have to go to work and that we were able to be together so much.

I used to imagine all the things I wanted to give my family—new cars, fancy homes, elaborate vacations, all the best toys, or anything else their hearts desired. Over the years I have discovered all they really want is for us to have time together. Don’t get me wrong, William would love to have almost every toy that you can find in Wal-Mart or Toys R Us. But what he wants most of all is for me to play games with him. When he gets a new toy he wants us to enjoy it together.

Shirley is the same way, oh yes she enjoys her time alone; however, what she really wants is for us to have time together. It may be watching a moving, enjoying a game, racing Hot Wheels, playing with trains, or any number of things just so long as we do it together.

This type of relationship takes a lot of special attention, determination, and commitment. You have to decide that your family, the people right in front of you, are more important than those you are networking with socially. You have to give of yourself, seek to impart joy in someone else, and realize the importance of your family. That is what I learned from this vacation. There is always going to be stress, busy schedules, email, Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, tablets, cable, and many other distractions. Nevertheless, there is nothing more important than people; especially those right in front of you.

This time away with my family would not have been possible had it not been for several people in my life who knew the importance of me taking some time off. These friends hold me accountable. They know that I cannot lead our church family if I am not leading my personal family. So, I want to thank my church staff and the deacons for filling in for me in my absence. I also want to thank our church family for allowing me to get away, rest, and enjoy some time with my family.