Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing


Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People came on the market again last May with a 30th anniversary edition.

The New York Times best seller—over 40 million copies sold—may be known best for one quote in particular. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

If we will practice “Habit 3: Put First Things First,” then we must determine our ultimate priorities and stick to them.

This matters for us as individuals, but it is true as well for our churches. The apostle Paul addresses a first order of business in a letter to young Pastor Timothy:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Every pastor’s solemn responsibility is overseeing the proper conduct of corporate worship. Paul’s exhortation about how to do that involves keeping the main thing the main thing.

What is that?

All Kinds of Prayer

He piles up four different words for prayer, each with a different nuance, to emphasize that churches must prioritize prayer in their public services.

For whom should we pray?

All Kinds of People

We must pray for all kinds of classes and types of people. But Paul singles out one group in particular—governing officials at every level. Intercede for men and women with the greatest obligations and the widest powers for evil and for good.

Why pray especially for leaders?

All Kinds of Peace

We should place such a high value on societal calm that we make it a regular focus of corporate prayer.

In these days of COVID-19 disruption and racial injustice protest/rioting, we need our churches asking God more than ever for the wisdom, courage, and integrity of civil authorities to govern well for our peace.

This is good and God will be pleased.


Three Strategies for Staying Sane for the Holidays

young girl shout because of christmas stress

Christmas may well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful. Some research even suggests it can cause a heart attack!

Many variables contribute to the craziness—including the tensions produced by the dynamics at family gatherings.

Luke 10:38-42 gives an account of a household meltdown that can help us navigate the challenges which threaten a peaceful holiday.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Here are three takeaways for staying peaceful and calm the rest of December from this tale of two sisters.

One, monitor personal desires. Kudos to Martha for showing hospitality to Jesus and his followers.

But her desire to pull out all the stops (a common temptation for serving types) got Martha a loving but firm rebuke from Jesus. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”

Luke says she was “distracted”—literally pulled in a zillion directions—”with much serving.”

Her desire, not bad in and of itself, went south when it deteriorated into a demand leading to an outburst. That’s precisely how idols work, if we don’t watch over our hearts and control their passions with the Lord’s help.

Two, resist critical judgments. Ken Sande has blogged about the progression of idols from desire, to demand, to judging, and punishing. Martha makes for a textbook case.

What puts her version of this slippery slope into a whole other category is her criticism/demand not just of Mary but of Jesus! “Lord, do you not care? Tell her to help me.”

Good grief, talk about an awkward moment around the living room. David Powlison writes:

We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn— because we literally play God. This is heinous. . . . Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. . . . When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.

Three, guard spiritual priorities. Jesus defends Mary for choosing “the good portion,” not to be taken away from her.

Much serving at the expense of much worshipping leads to much worrying.

Regularly choose the one thing necessary this Christmas for keeping your idols in check and your peace in place.

Question: How do you choose the good part during the busy holiday season?


Now Live: TGC Podcast About “The Peacemaking Church” 


“Surreal” was the word Jan used when I informed her this morning that my interview with Collin Hansen was now available for listening at the Gospel Coalition website.

True enough. It continues to strike me as surreal that only fourteen days remain before the release of The Peacemaking Church.

If you would like to learn more about the story behind and the tools contained in the book, you can listen to the thirty-six minute podcast here.

Many thanks for your interest and valuable time.


Resting on God

Josh Wedding

One month ago today my beloved firstborn, Josh, breathed his last.

Our lives have changed forever. Bereavement leave has come to an end. I’m back to my second week of work doing what God has called me to do. Each day differs. Some days I feel more productive than others. Mostly I feel like I just get by with the best I can do with the things that matter most. Support abounds. Comfort flows. Grief throbs. Grace suffices.

In all of the new normal, whatever that is, nothing better describes how I’m pressing through the Titanic ache in my soul than this Puritan prayer of old, from the Valley of Vision, entitled “Resting on God.”

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

Run, Don't Walk, in This Race

I used to be a runner. Well, not really. More like a lumberer actually. In previous decades of my adult life I did jog for exercise. Hard to believe, but I actually competed in a 5K once, many moons ago. I took second place in the Faster Pastor division there in Winter Park. Of course, I think only two of us entered. I still have a picture of me outrunning a teenage girl at the finish line. Nothing seemed more mortifying to me than to have that girl beat me to the end of that race. I nearly had a heart attack right on the spot.

Now I walk for exercise. Far more dignified for a sixty year old with aging knees and too little time for working out. I like it better. Besides, Nancy doesn’t care to race. We just talk about our day and enjoy covering our four-street neighborhood.

However, if I read my New Testament right, and I hope I do, there is one place among others in which I must always be willing to run the race. And that is in making peace within the body of Christ, my church family. Hebrews 12:14 says this: Strive for peace with everyone. The Greek reads like this: Peace strive with all. The object comes before the verb (an imperative or command) for emphasis.

So where does this all fit in with the notion of running? It has to do with the particular word the writer uses for the English strive. It’s the word “dioko” which means to pursue, seek after, or to aspire to something. A literal cognate of the verb includes the word picture of running fast towards some goal or object. The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word in Isaiah 5:11.

Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
See those words “run after.” That’s how the ESV translates the same Greek word in Heb. 12:14 translated “strive.” The imagery speaks volumes. In the body of Christ the gospel of Christ will compel the follower of Christ to make haste (every eager effort as another version puts it) to pursue the peace of Christ with the people of Christ. And please note, we cannot afford to be selective. You can’t determine that some believers warrant your vigorous pursuit of peace while others don’t. The exhortation pertains to all. Strive for peace with everyone.
Do you find yourself at odds with someone in the body of Christ? Be careful now. You might be tempted to excuse yourself on the basis of what that person has or hasn’t done in the pursuit of peace. What about you? In your honest evaluation of your efforts to close the gap and build a bridge of peace between you and that person have you run like the wind in pursuit of reconciliation with the same zeal you might run to a gourmet meal or a vacation in Idaho?
If not, it’s time to put on your peacemaking sneakers and go for a run in the race for unity and harmony by getting back into fellowship with your estranged brother or sister. The One who ran to the cross for you and me to make reconciliation between us and a holy God would want it that way.
Let us strive for peace within the body at OGC.

Why Now Was the Time to Build

As we anxiously await the granting of a CO from the city so that we may occupy our new building (sorry, no green light as of this writing), it occurred to me this morning why, at least in part, in our twenty year history as a church, now was the time to get this project accomplished.

The insight came in the course of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading this morning from 1 Kings 5:1-6. Solomon has assumed the throne in the place of his father, David. He desired to build a temple for worship, a dream his father never got to realize. So in this chapter he writes Hiram, king of Tyre, with whom David enjoyed a close relationship, to request materials for the project. Here’s how he explained the circumstances that gave him the go ahead where his father experienced only disappointment:

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians (emphasis added).”
I found myself very grateful for a similar sentiment with respect to the last few years at OGC. God has given us rest. We have enjoyed peace. There has been neither adversary or misfortune, at least in terms of ministry-arresting plans for the advancement of the gospel through our work. Lord knows, we have had our share of that in the past. That kind of thing frustrated our building plans before. But God has blessed us as of late and for some time now so that we could actually get to the point of planning, building, and now soon occupying our own facility for executing the mission God has given us.
We have seized the opportunity afforded by fair winds and sought to make the most of it. Matthew Henry, the Puritan commentator would congratulate us to this end:
Satan does all he can to hinder temple work (1 Th. 2:18; Zec. 3:1), but when he is bound (Rev. 20:2) we should be busy. When there is no evil occurrent, then let us be vigorous and zealous in that which is good and get it forward. When the churches have rest let them be edified, Acts 9:31. Days of peace and prosperity present us with a fair gale, which we must account for if we improve not.
Let us not forget to give God much thanks for such days as these while we revel in the excitement and satisfaction of finally taking possession of our own church home.
As long as He gives us peace, let us give ourselves to improvement that results in great reward at the Last Day. God help us to sail on with the help of every fair gale.

Conciliation Anniversary Sunday

This Sunday marks the 8th anniversary of a landmark weekend in the history of OGC.

Following a devastating conflict amongst our leadership in the summer of ’02, everyone involved in that struggle met for a weekend retreat with two trained mediators from Peacemaker Ministries for a conciliation retreat.

God gave me the privilege of participating in that event. I will never forget it. Emotions ran high. Hurts went deep. But God worked mightily among us that Friday night and all day Saturday such that all fifteen men came out of the weekend reconciled with one another. Forgiveness was granted. Fellowship was restored. Much has changed since then but each of those men, as far as I know, remain in fellowship with one another as a result of a commitment to do biblical peacemaking for the glory of God and the good of His church.

I refuse to let us forget. On my watch, Lord willing, we will remember. Every second Sunday of September I depart from the regular sermon series and preach on some aspect of biblical peacemaking. Few objectives matter more to our church than the development and maintenance of a culture of peace within our midst. I will preach this Sunday from 1 Cor. 6:1-8 a message entitled How Not To Resolve Disputes Among Believers. I want us to maintain a high regard for the peace and purity of our church so that the testimony of our fierce love for one another in this regard redounds to the fame of Christ and the renown of His name.

You can contribute to the ongoing development of a culture of peace at Orlando Grace by subscribing to various free electronic publications from one of my favorite groups, Peacemaker Ministries. I received this sample from their weekly PeaceMeal publication this week:

Being a peacemaker is difficult. There is no other way to honestly speak about it. It is hard, humbling, and sometimes humiliating work. But consider this: The peace that Christ achieved for us was hard. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). It was humbling. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). And it was humiliating. Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb.12:2). All this was done so that peace, not just an appearance of peace, but the reality of peace would be achieved between God and human beings.

We may never act more like Christ, more reflect the character and person of Christ, than when we engage one another in love and fight for the peace and purity of our church.

As we observe the anniversary of this landmark event that set us on a course for cultivating a culture of peace at OGC, may we pray and labor for this reflection of Christ in our midst for many, many years to come.

Making War on Anxiety When War Is Made Upon You

I had hoped to finish volume two of Ian Murray’s biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones these three weeks in Idaho. I made it past page 500. There are still another 300 or so to go.

As with volume one, the Lord challenged me on several fronts with this portion of the life of arguably Britain’s greatest preacher of the 20th century.

Particularly fascinating to me were accounts related to the man’s ministry during WWII in London. He served alongside the spiritual giant G. Campbell Morgan, for whom he later took over in the pulpit at Westminster Chapel.

The two met weekly. Not much got recorded of their conversations. But Murray does relate on pp. 11-12 of volume two how Morgan feared in the early years of the conflict with Germany for the end of the work of his church and that nothing would remain for Lloyd-Jones to pastor.

For fifty-seven nights in succession, an average of two hundred German bombers were over London every night. Churchill later wrote, ‘At this time we saw no end but the demolition of the whole metropolis.’ Before the end of October, 1940 the Bishop of London was to state that in his diocese alone 32 churches had been destroyed, and 47 seriously damaged. What hope had Westminster Chapel, standing as it did so close to Buckingham Palace and other primary targets for German bombing? . . . The old veteran did not hide his dismay over the situation into which his friend had been brought. It was not so much that Morgan was concerned for himself. “Although I confess it is not easy,’ he wrote, ‘I am constantly hearing in my own soul the words: “In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God”.’ But he did fear that Lloyd-Jones might be left without work and without a pastorate.

I find it difficult to imagine living night after night under such perilous circumstances. The temptation to worry would certainly threaten to overwhelm the best of servants. How did this man of God wage war on anxiety while the Third Reich made war upon him, his church, and all of England? He took up an all-important weapon in his spiritual armor to keep worry at bay. He brandished the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Eph. 6:17).

The words Campbell constantly heard, of course, come from the Bible in Philippians 4:6-7. Or he could have heard Matthew 6:25 as we had preached on Sunday. Or he could have heard 1 Peter 5:7 or any number of other texts.

But God brought to mind the Philippians passage in particular perhaps because it contains in its two short verses a seemingly complete package for waging war on worry.

First, there is the prohibition against worry, at all. The Greek text reads literally, Nothing be anxious. The object comes before the imperative for emphasis. God commands us not to worry about anything, including life-threatening danger.

Second, there is the prescription to fight against worry with prayer. The same word order emphasis holds true for the prescription as for the prohibition. The ESV reflects the literal version perfectly: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (emphasis added). As one writer put it, Anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water.

Third, there is the promise of God-given, beyond-all-human-comprehension peace in v. 7. Those who refuse worrying in favor of praying relentlessly can count on a supernatural peace that stands guard at the door of their heart even on the 57th night of pounding by the 200th bomber in the middle of a world war.

On what front presently do you find yourself tempted to give way to the sin of worry? You can’t fight against it unarmed. Take up the sword of the word and do battle with it. Put off your anxiety. Kill it. Put on in its place specific, continual, faith-filled petitions to God about your concerns all the while making certain to surround your requests with the sweet fragrance of thanksgiving for His many gifts to you and His sovereign control over all things that concern you. And take the massive promise of supernatural peace to the bank of your soul and let it stand guard over the contents therein.

If G. Campbell Morgan could do it in the middle of a global conflict, we can do it in the middle of whatever battles we must fight.

Nothing Matters More in the Battle Against Sin that Enslaves

Among the things I give thanks to God for this Thanksgiving week is the grace He has given in delivering me over the years from enslaving sin.

How does that happen? We find a significant key in Peter’s second epistle.

Second Peter addresses a threat to the church of Jesus Christ in Peter’s day in the form of heresy, false teaching. Chapter 2:1 says – there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them. Their error was libertinism. They promoted license. They preached a perverse understanding of freedom and grace that entice by sensual passions of the flesh (2:18). Anything goes was the name of the game for this bunch. Grace covers.

Peter aims in this book to take such foolishness to task and arm the church with weapons of warfare to counteract the attack. He begins this letter with the indicative before ever stressing any imperatives. He talks of what is before what should be. He lays out a grand description of what God has done in saving His people. He bases his prescriptions for godly behavior on an eloquent description of what God has done. 

In so doing he tips his hand at what makes for the key idea in the entire book. We see it in 1:2 – Grace and peace be multiplied to you. That’s not an unusual opening to any epistle. We find it often. The writer expresses a profound wish or hope that the letter to unfold in their hearing will prove to channel rivers of grace and oceans of peace to their lives – that such blessing be multiplied, be ever increasing in their lives. Where? Look at the rest of the verse – in (or through) the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord

Who doesn’t want the favor of God in his life? Who doesn’t want the peace of God in her life? Who doesn’t covet ever increasing doses of grace and peace? Such can be found in only one source – the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Don’t miss the connection in v. 2. You have no true knowledge of God if you do not claim Jesus as Lord. Jesus Christ is God. He is divine. In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. There is no true knowledge of the Father apart from an intimate knowledge of the Son. 

Grace, peace, life, godliness, all the things that truly matter, the ultimate treasures, come from the knowledge of God in Christ. So we don’t miss it he says it again in v. 3 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him (emphasis added). The words know and knowledge appear some sixteen times throughout the three chapters of this little book. Peter is trying to tell us something! It matters what you know. Perhaps it would be better to say it matters Whom you know.

There is nothing that matters more in our battle against sin than a passionately personal, thorough going, ever increasing knowledge of God and His Son the Lord Jesus. 

Do you want to win the battle over sin and its grip in your life? Give yourself to the vigorous pursuit of the growth of your knowledge of Him.