Family is a big thing in our society. And well it should be. God designed and created family to be the building block of society. Family is so important that we use the imagery of family to address a big variety of the relationships we have. When I was a teenage boy, there was a lady (who happened to be part of our local church) who spent her career as a “lunch lady.” She was so loving and caring to the community of children she ministered to through the local public school that she was not “Miss”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” to anyone who knew her. Nor was she called by her first name (which was the beautiful name of Shirley, by the way). No, to her two biological daughters and to the entire church and community, she was “Mama.” Why? Because she lived out the family-style love built into all of Christ’s children, and we saw it.

Family is also important in the church. It may be why we call our home church our “family” even if we aren’t related by birth or marriage. And because we are family, and family is so important, it is the responsible for Christians (starting with Christian dads) to actively seek out church participation and lead the family to be constantly in and among God’s people. Being family has less to do with what we prefer, and more to do with how we choose to relate to one another. And this, too is important for the church.

So let’s be family, bring our family to church, and enjoy our relationship with Christ and each other.

“As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.”  —Joshua 24:15c

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As you read these words, my family and I will be in the big middle of our life-changing trip to Vietnam. By this time, barring any hiccups along the way, we will have taken custody of our Esther Noelle, and be finalizing all the details to bring her to her new home, AMERICA!

For many who are reading this Vietnam is a blip on the history channel, a bad memory of a rough time, or the source of some pretty amazing Asian cuisine. I would like to share with you some spiritual points that you can use to make this small corner of the world a part of your daily prayer cycle:

The country is increasingly opening up as economic progress continues. Most of the population was born after the Vietnam War and are more interested in capital gain and the outside world than Communist propaganda. They are proving responsive to the gospel – for reasons good and bad. At the same time, newfound prosperity has opened the door to rampant materialism and other competing ideologies. Pray that the Truth might be clearly and effectively proclaimed, particularly among the growing masses of young professionals.

All open Protestant missionary work ceased in 1975. CMA had laboured for 64 years (for 50 years as the only Protestant mission). Other agencies arrived in the 1950s, notably WEC, IMB, and UWM. In 1974 there were 280 missionaries in South Vietnam from about 20 organizations. Those years of sowing are today reaping an abundant harvest. Current economic development gives opportunity for Christians in business as well as for English teachers. Christian NGOs who propose legitimate aid projects are increasingly invited to work here. Literally hundreds of organizations from both Asia and the West now claim some kind of work in Vietnam. Many of these organizations work in deliberate partnership together. Pray that Vietnam may become fully open to Christian workers, and that many committed and prepared workers may respond. (from Operation World)

At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  — Philippians 2:10

A picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that is Shakespeare or someone much older than the Bard, but if in our mind’s eye we can catch an illustration to attach meaning to the words we hear, then we really begin to grasp the concept.

Take baptism for instance. Many people of the world would see this action as a ritual practiced by the very religious. But baptism is a graphic picture of what has already happened. In undergoing the ordinance of baptism, a believer is visually shouting that they believe the Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and then rose again to provide life. The picture also depicts the joining up of the believer with Jesus—now being dead to sin, buried with Him, and raised to walk in a new life with Jesus. That’s a significant picture—worth a thousand words.

Another super picture of spiritual life and walking with Jesus is the one provided by adoption. We were not born into the family of God. Sure, He created us. And He loves us. But in order for us to be fully and truly His, He had to identify us, choose us, and pay an exorbitant price for our adoption.

In the process of adoption, prospective parents make a determined decision to welcome someone into their family. They identify a child in need, choose them, and then pay a long, arduous, and even sacrificial price to make that child fully and truly their own. In many respects, our adopted children are tied more strongly to us than had they been born into the family.

God offers this picture of adoption to us to help us realize how important our eternity is to Him, how desperate He is to make us His own, and to what extravagant lengths (even to the dying on a cross) He is willing to go to finalize our adoption into His family.

Have you accepted God’s gift of adoption? Have you thanked Him for adopting you? Have you shown it through the picture of baptism?

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. — Galatians 3:26

I was twelve years old when God placed a particular call on my life. A junior high student in Kemp, Texas, I put aside my grandiose plans of being either a homicide detective or a cracker-jack lawyer and surrendered to be a minister of the Gospel. From that humble (and humbling) moment God has led me on an interesting story that turns pages almost as often as a good novel switches chapters.

One of the most exhilarating chapters of my story set my boots on foreign soil. It was the turn of my call from minister to missionary that crossed my path with my Blushing Bride. And then we got to experience the adventure of sink or swim cultural immersion in the former soviet state of Ukraine. My heart for missions expanded during those short years, and one of my constant prayers is that I can continue to keep my spiritual eyes focused on the big picture that God has: seeing all nations of the world have an opportunity to trust His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son.

That same calling that put me in service of the church, then drafted me for international service, eventually brought me back to American soil to continue my ministry. Included in that ministry has been the heart-wrenching, hope-finding journey to adoption—a mission field in itself. This week I pray, while a real-life missionary fills my pulpit, that I will keep my eyes opened to Gospel opportunities while we are again in a foreign land for the express purpose of meeting and receiving our new baby, Esther Noelle Potter.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  — Philippians 3:14

In recent months, I have heard of and/or counseled with friends (fellow pastors) who have faced discouragement, firings, or left the ministry altogether because of struggles with discord in their church, personal burn-out, or any variety of other issues. As I look back over these months, I think of how stressful and difficult it is to be a local church leader in our day and age.

In a time when it is more fashionable to let church commitment be a matter of convenience rather than conviction; when members are looking for all manner of reasons to excuse their lax attitudes; when society at large has all but turned her back on the church (making decisions to make church a preference rather than a persistence all the easier), it is no wonder that those who are called to spend their lives and their livelihood in God’s service are feeling crushed to the point of abandonment.

In such a time as this, it is more important than ever for us to rally together to lift up our leaders in prayer. Pray for lay leaders who volunteer their time to prepare and guide Bible study lessons on a weekly basis. Pray for others who fill important places of leadership within the local congregation. Pray for staff members who have given their lives to a calling (whether they serve in volunteer, part-time, or career-level capacity). Pray for all the spiritual leaders that you can think of for protection from the battles they face. Particularly pray for your pastor (and other local pastors) who feel the pull away from their calling often.

Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”  —Jesus, Matthew 9:38

We’ve been taught the Golden Rule since we were little children. For those of us who were reared in a church environment, we learned that it came from Scripture (see Luke 6:31). Even those who do not have a heavily churched background were encouraged with this proverb from an early age: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It is just a sensible rule of thumb. But somewhere along the way, our selfishness takes over and we adapt a “Do unto others before they do it to you” mentality, or maybe a “do unto others because they did it to you.” At any rate, the Scriptural enjoinder is still as promising today as it was for the first century Christians who read it for the first time.It is more like Christ to think of others than it is to hang onto my own selfish desires. It only makes sense, then, for me to consider the needs and desires of others without any regard to what I want. Perhaps with one blaring exception. I want others to know Jesus. I want others to experience the salvation that God has granted me through His Son. And so, while I am in the middle of trying to meet this one important need of my own, I want to let thoughts of others rule my actions and my words. I want to make the Golden Rule a guiding principle in my daily activity. How about you?

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.—Jesus, Luke 6:31 (ESV)

Growing up in a Southern Baptist home, then studying church history with that same Southern Baptist bent, I learned a couple of things about church members: (1) everyone has an opinion, and (2) Baptists love to fight (especially over opinions).  While we may even get over a fight as to how prone to fighting Baptists are, history shows us that churches can have wedges driven down the middle of them for any number of reasons. People fight over the color of the carpet, the use of choir robes (or not), the pastor’s style of hair, or so many other things. I think I know why. Satan likes to get and keep us distracted.

Throughout his classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the title demon advising his young protégé, Wormwood, to keep the soul the younger demon is responsible for distracted with minor things. At the point that the soul is lost to the enemy (i.e. becomes a Christian), Wormwood is cautioned to double his efforts so that the new convert will not influence others into the faith. That is the way of the devil—to keep us arguing about insignificant matters so that others will not come to Christ.

With this in mind, let us make a greater effort to achieve a common goal: unity. As we spread the heart and soul of unity we will not be driven apart by the myriad things that distract us. We can concentrate on the ultimate prize of Christ-likeness and as we draw closer to Him, we will draw more people into His arms.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  —1 Corinthians 3:6-7