Well, it may not be my “official” anniversary, which comes in September. But for me May 4, 2014 remains in my mind as the day I came home to First Baptist Palos Verdes. That was the day I came to preach for Pastor Joel as he was candidating for his new church to be. I must say that knowing the announcement would be made for the first time at the end of the service made me a bit nervous! After preaching here through June and July, it was actually tough to wait through August to see if the call would come. Kelly, Almaz and I had become so comfortable here, we didn’t want to leave.
After a 15 month journey seeking my next pastorate, I was somewhat confused about what God wanted me to do. Everywhere I turned, I was encouraged. My qualifications, preparation, preaching, teaching and discipling skills were constantly being reinforced by friends and mentor pastors. No church, however, seemed interested in calling me.
Here’s what I’ve learned through that process; God’s plan is the best plan! When Jeremiah spoke to the exiles in Babylon, they were focused on when God would redeem them and return them to Israel but God tells them to wait (70 years!). Then he reminds them:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
I believe that the long wait for me was that the church family I was destined to join was in good hands and God had not yet made the opening. I needed to wait until one Godly man was rewarded for his service so that my first Senior Pastor roll would be prepared and waiting for me. But the Lord is merciful. He taught Kelly and me some valuable lessons, stretched our faith considerably, and graciously opened a new door of ministry in a church we’ve been blessed by the reception and faith of the people in this congregation.
So here are some thoughts about my experience so far. First, FBCPV is not what anyone would expect from a small, older congregation! You are not resistant to change. You have been very gracious to let me do what I want in the pulpit and outside of Sunday. When I started the Thursday night classes, my hope was to just get a few of the working people who couldn’t come for Wednesday morning Bible study to come participate. Surprise! Twenty plus people including folks who don’t attend on Sunday fill up the Fellowship Hall, get involved, ask good questions and participate fully. We even had someone come on the first Sunday in May who hadn’t attended before but had been coming to Thursday nights. Praise God!
I still have a few challenges as your pastor. In my heart, I now we need to grow our church and I carry that burden with me all the time. I know, however, that God brings the increase, not me. So while I still want this very much, I need to give that up to Him and at the same time look for ways to open our doors to new members. Pray for me and for us that all will share this burden.
This year has also shown me what many other pastors have shared that carving out time just for Christ is a real challenge. As pastors, it’s easy to think we’re spending time with God because we spend so much time studying for sermons and classes. But while our devotional reading and our sermon preparation may overlap some, there is still a distinction.
I need time with the Lord in His Word that’s focused not on what I’m going to say to others but on what the Lord is saying to me. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” The 30 prayer challenge organized by Jackie Hitt will be a great help to me and I want us all to come to Wednesday night, June 3 to share our experiences
Someone else once told me that most churches can handle about one major change a year. I’ve made four or five changes in less than a year. Luckily, these have been well received. Our prayer cards each Sunday, it seem to me have been a blessing to all. Thursday night classes seem popular and folks are bringing people. And movie nights! I never realized how good it was to wrap up and intense study with a relaxing fellowship night.
Now what? Pray for me. Pray for guidance and discernment about ideas for the ministry. Because I have a lot of new and different ideas doesn’t mean they are the right ones for us at this time. Pray that the best ideas for getting ourselves known in the community and bringing in new folks will be the first ones on my mind. Pray for yourselves to continue as you have been. Any success I’ve seen in this past year has been a result of your love and support of me and my crazy ideas. Let’s all get together and take this hill for Jesus! Love you all, Pastor Rich
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are God’s provision for the perfect and final sacrifice for man’s sins. Whether it is called Easter or Resurrection Sunday is not as important as the event and purpose of the resurrection. However, the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection is significantly meaningful. God used the timing, which occurred just after “Passover” and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to illustrate the ultimate sacrifice He made for sinners. Without this sacrifice, Christianity would be an empty religion. Every purpose of Jesus Christ, His atonement, His payment for our sin, would be unfulfilled and the foundation of Christianity would fall apart.
And God requires no other payment! With this provision, mankind is granted opportunity for new life by the forgiveness of sin and escape from its bondage. Just as Spring is connected to new life and new beginnings, the Resurrection means we have a chance to start over, do better, be better. This great opportunity is ours for the mere acceptance of this gift.
In Luke 24:46-48, the risen Jesus gave His disciples a greater understanding of the resurrection when He told them: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus foretells of His resurrection in John 16; then to one of the doubting witnesses, Thomas, He says the following in John 20:29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We have not seen yet we are called to believe.
While Jesus was admired and praised as a teacher, healer, and for performing miracles, He was put to death on the cross. But God raised Him from the dead. Had the witnesses not believed what they saw, Christianity would not have spread across the globe and remained a profound belief to this day.
He is risen! We are Saved! Now, what do we do? We are not just called to sit around and wait for Jesus to come back. Because He is risen, we have a new beginning, a new opportunity to become disciples that conform ourselves to the image of Christ and call others to Him.
As I write this article, so many things cry out for attention that it is somewhat difficult to pick one to highlight. March leads us into Spring with the themes of renewal, coming out from the cold of winter, looking ahead to soft, warm springtime weather. It’s also birthday month with the Holt family. As you read this I’ve just turned 63 years young, my daughter Megan has just crossed the 21 year old milestone and at the end of the month my son Marcus hits 37.
We’ve also the church events to consider, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Easter (Resurrection) Sunday. What to think about? What comes to me is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your path straight”.
Why this verse? The renewal of Spring time in the world should reflect a continued renewal in our hearts because, without fail, not only is the world renewed each Spring but we ourselves are constantly renewed in Christ. In 2Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If we trust in the Lord He will constantly renew us and shape us to His image. Notice, however, the admonition to ‘acknowledge Him in all your ways’. All that we are, all that we have, every time we are rescued and renewed, give praise to the one who does it for you.
As for birthdays, as I grow older the remembrance of how long it’s been since I was born back in Ohio seems less and less important. I have another birthday and so do you. My most important birthday is Father’s day. It was on Father’s Day 1997 that I gave my life to Christ with my wife at my side and my 3 year old daughter Megan at my side. Now THAT is something to celebrate because it is only through trust in the Lord that I stand where I am today. And even my son Marcus’ birthday is a critical reminder. Marcus is a strong man, wonderful husband and father and Marine veteran. Marcus, however has never accepted Christ so his birthday keeps reminding me of the urgency to ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). I trust the Lord to work out Marcus’ salvation in due time and because I do not badger him about it, he listens when I talk about it. Please keep Marcus in prayer with me.
Finally, the holidays. We look forward to Palm Sunday this year because we look forward to having Baptisms of our Beacon Light friends. I have been trusting in the Lord each month when I have one short opportunity to preach the Word to them that He will do something with my words. If you have been with us on the third Wednesday of each month, you would hear a somewhat different Pastor Rich who gets wound up and preaches it hard in the name of the Lord. Maundy Thursday is a time of preparation of our hearts for the major event of Resurrection Sunday. It reminds us that the great news, ‘HE IS RISEN’, comes on the heels of Christ’s Passion on the cross in our place. And, of course, on Resurrection Sunday we should be not only celebrating Jesus defeat of death but acknowledge Him in all our ways as the one who renews us in His sacrifice, every Spring, every day, every minute. (Colossians 1:17)
May God bless you and renew you,
I found a statistic this week that stated that nearly 1 billion Valentine’s cards are exchanged each year. Webster’s defines a valentine as “a gift or card sent to a loved one on Valentine’s day” and they are generally reserved for those who we love. So as we observe this day dedicated to those that we love, let’s examine the greatest love story of all time.
In 1 John 4:7 we read; “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.” This call to love is one that needs to be heard today. As a result of God’s love for us, we should have that same love for others. Just look around you at the attitudes and actions of others. Turn on the news and notice how many robberies, assaults, murders, and other crimes are reported on a daily basis. Why? Because of the absence of love. Many people in our day do not love because they have not grasped the love of God. What is the significance of this love? It is evidence of our salvation. In 1 John 5:1 we read:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” Notice also that when Paul lists the fruits of the spirit, the first on the list is LOVE. (Galatians 5:22)
Now we can all love our parents, our children and spouses on Valentine’s day. This isn’t hard to do. How about those not so close to you? In 1 John 4:20, we are told that if we say we have love but hate our brother, we are a liar! That’s pretty harsh.
We are to love the unlovable, we are to love the stranger and the one in need. Recall that the story of the Good Samaritan begins with a question, “Who is my Brother?” The message from Jesus is that our brother is everyone. There will be evidence of this love in your actions if you truly do have the love of God dwelling within you. True love is seen best in sacrifice. We give up much in the name of love; for our wives, husbands, children, even our church. We want the best interest of the ones we love. True love then is seen in true sacrifice and the greatest sacrifice, the greatest gift of love ever, is God’s gift of his only Son that we might have the opportunity to live with God forever.
There are different legends about the origins of “Valentine’s Day.” For our purposes, consider this popular version: Emperor Claudius I of Rome had banned marriages of his soldiers on the theory that married men made poor soldiers. Valentinus, a Roman Bishop, conducted secret marriages for which he was jailed and sentenced to die. The night before his execution, he sent a note to Julia, the daughter of his jailer. His farewell note was signed, “Your Valentine.” Thus even in this legendary story, the celebration was born out of sacrifice in the name of Love.
Who has sacrificed everything for you? Who would be your ultimate “Valentine” this year? Why not make it Jesus who gave His all in the name of love for you?
Happy Valentine’s Day,
I have been very encouraged in my time here about folks attitude toward change. I have seen little resistance but as we approach the New Year, we will need to really be prepared. With culture and church membership constantly changing across the country, that which was right one decade will likely be wrong the next decade. The worst case scenario, of course, is changing the things we should never change.
But holding fast to the things we should be willing to change can be equally harmful. In the book of Acts we see God trying to move out through the church to reach the oceans of lost people outside the church. But He was met by Christian believers who were not willing to change. In Acts 10 and 11 God practically forces Peter into preaching to Cornelius and his household. What provoked such a spirit of resistance in Peter? God was calling him to change!
Howard Hendricks wrote an article called “Good reasons for doing nothing.” Adapted from his list of reasons and his answers are the following:
- The proposal would set a precedent! – Change always sets precedents!
- There is no precedent to guide us! – How anything ever gets started must remain a mystery based on this objection.
- We haven’t proved the old method can’t be made to work. Anyway, how do we know whether the new one can? – You can’t prove that something that doesn’t yet exist won’t work. Do we wait until there is no hope of using the old method at all? If so, change would never happen.
- The time is not ripe. Members, our neighbors or the public aren’t ready for it. We don’t have all the facts. – These and others are, in fact, reasons for doing nothing—but that’s the one thing we dare not do!
The cost of not changing is worse than anything we will face as the result of carefully considered change. An error-proof system is also change-proof system. Appropriate change that advances the Kingdom is being obedient to the Great Commission and to God.
Let’s march forward together,
The story of the first Christmas is so beloved that singers and storytellers across the centuries have embellished and elaborated the story in celebration. Many people don’t know which details are biblical and which are fabricated. People usually imagine the manger scene with snow, singing angels, many worshipers, and a little drummer boy. None of that is found in the biblical account.
Christmas has become the product of odd ideas, superstition, fanciful legends, and plain ignorance. Add to that the commercialization of Christmas and you’re left with one big mess. To sort it out, let’s begin in God’s Word, the Bible. Here we find not only the source of the original account of Christmas, but also God’s commentary on it.
We begin to know and understand Jesus by understanding He is real. Mary and Joseph were real people. Their dilemma on finding no room to stay that night was as frightening for them as it would be for you or me. The manger, a feeding trough for cattle, in which Mary laid Jesus must have reeked of animal smells. So did the shepherds, in all probability. That first Christmas was anything but picturesque.
But that makes it all the more wondrous. That baby in the manger is God! Immanuel!
That’s the heart and soul of the Christmas message. There weren’t many worshipers around the original manger–only a handful of shepherds. But one day every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). Those who doubt Him, those who merely ignore Him–all will one day bow, too, even if it be in judgment.
How much better to honor Him now with the worship He deserves! That’s what Christmas ought to inspire.
When Christ entered the world, He came to a place that had some of the smelliest, filthiest, and most uncomfortable conditions. But that is part of the wonder of divine grace, isn’t it? When the Son of God came down from heaven, He came all the way down. He did not hang on to His equality with God; rather, He set it aside for a time and completely humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-8).
Luke 2:8-20 describes the experience of the shepherds when Jesus was born. Think about that for a moment. Out of the whole of Jerusalem society, God picked a band of shepherds to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. That’s intriguing because shepherds were among the lowest and most despised social groups.
The very nature of shepherds’ work kept them from entering into the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t maintain the ceremonial washings and observe all the religious festivals and feasts, yet these shepherds, were undoubtedly caring for sheep that someday would be used as sacrifices in the temple. How fitting that they were the first to know of the Lamb of God!
More significant, they came to see Him the night he was born. No one else did. Though the shepherds went back and told everyone what they had seen and heard, and though “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds”, not one other person came to see firsthand.
The shepherds likely knocked on several doors and saw other newborn babies before they found the special Child lying in the feeding trough. At that moment, those humble men knew for certain that the angels’ announcement was a word from God. After their encounter with Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the shepherds couldn’t help but tell others about what the angels had told them. They became, in effect, the first New Testament evangelists.
The shepherd’s story is a good illustration of the Christian life. You first hear the revelation of the gospel and believe it (Romans 10:9-10). Then you pursue and embrace Christ. And having become a witness to your glorious conversion, you begin to tell others about it (Luke 2:17).
May God grant you the life-changing spiritual experiences and the ongoing attitude of enthusiasm and responsiveness that causes you to tell others that you, too, have seen Christ the Lord.
Church growth is on my mind this month. Not growth for growth’s sake but building our base to be able to make a difference in our community. The reality is that a church will not rise above the level of its pastor’s preaching. The pastor is the key ingredient in turning around a church. If there was nothing else to offer here, you should feel comfortable telling others, “come hear” what our pastor teaches.
Consider God’s vision of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel saw the valley filled with dead men’s bones and asked, “can these bones ever live again.” God’s answer was, “Start preaching!” (Ezek 37:9) As he continued preaching, the bones took on flesh and began to breathe again. Ezekiel asked God what to do next. God replied, “Keep on preaching.” (Ezek 37:12) So he continued preaching and the valley of people became a marching army.
Let me be clear that I don’t see a church turnaround solely as the responsibility of the pastor. What I do see is that when there is sound biblical preaching from the pulpit, that is, the word of God delivered as God wants, then restoration is possible. I have heard two different comments since I’ve been here, “I hope he’s not discouraged because there aren’t many people” and “he preaches like there’s a full church”. Ezekiel preached to a valley of dry bones. I preach on behalf of God and the attendance does not impact this. Here are some things I believe about preaching:
Preaching that turns churches around is Biblical
When people come to church they want to find it necessary to open their Bibles and dig in! A sermon that breathes life into a congregation is one that is filled with constant references to the text and its principles. Though most preachers are preaching the Bible, not all churches are coming alive. There are more ingredients in Biblical preaching that must be there as well.
Preaching that turns churches around must be relevant
My task is to give out more than Biblical information. I believe God wants me to make sure that the Biblical principles I share are the ones the people need in their everyday lives, not answering questions that nobody else but preachers are asking.
Preaching that turns churches around is understandable
A preacher who preaches over the heads of his people isn’t smart. He just has bad aim. My job is to communicate the truth so that the people will be able to obey God’s word.
Preaching that turns churches around is passionate
I’ve heard too many preachers who preach with all the enthusiasm of reading a two-week old newspaper. Our message is the best news the world has ever heard. It is a high privilege to preach the most exciting Book in the world. I ask two questions each time I preach: “Do I really believe what I am about to say.” Second, “Is what I am about to say really important?” It must be a message from one person’s heart directed to another’s heart.
We are all part of the solution in growing our church. I will do my best to deliver the kind of preaching I’ve described. Then we’ve all got to get the word out that we have something to say here that is worth coming for.