All posts by Stephen

Ten Questions to Ask Your Spouse on a Date Night

One important sign of a healthy relationship is good communication. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each other.”

Salt not only adds flavor, but slows down the decaying process in food. What the Apostle Paul is saying is both our words and tone of voice should be pleasing to the ears and edifying to the soul. We should avoid harsh, critical, and dirty speech that tears others down and use our tongue instead to build up.

In the spirit of Donald Whitney’s excellent “Ten Questions” series of handouts, here is a list of ten questions I compiled to ask your spouse to promote good communication, such as on a date night…

1. What are a few of your favorite foods?
2. What are a few of your favorite hobbies?
3. What is one thing at home you wish you did better?
4. What is one thing at home you’d like me to do better?
5. Who is someone you deeply admire?
6. What is one of your favorite memories of our time together?
7. What is one thing I do that sometimes irritates you?
8. What character qualities do you most admire in me?
9. What is one lesson God has been teaching you?
10. Read 1 Corinthians 13. If I could better serve and show my love to you in one way, what would it be?

You can download a printable version of this discussion guide here.

Photo credit: Cody Black via Unsplash

Loaves, Fish, and Jesus’ Free Gift

Of all the miracles Jesus performed, my personal favorite is the feeding of the five thousand. Do you remember that story? After a long day of teaching in Galilee, Jesus noticed the people were getting hungry. Rather than send them into a seaside village to scrounge for food, he accepted a little boy’s sack lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish. He thanked God for the food, then began to break the bread and the fish, handing it out to the disciples, who distributed it among the crowd.

People were invited to eat “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11), and when it was all over, there was more food than when Jesus began. It was the first meal in history where the leftovers amounted to more than the original meal itself! “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten” (John 6:13).

The response was electric. “When the people saw this miracle and tasted the food, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:14). Some even tried to forcibly make him king right there. Jesus had no choice but to withdraw from the mob. His time had not yet come to publicly announce his kingship.

I’m not sure why this miracle is my favorite. Maybe it’s because it is the largest scale miracle recorded in the Gospels. More eye witnesses saw this event than probably any other in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Maybe it’s because I like to eat, and I think it’s cool that Jesus cared about the hunger of his listeners. Maybe it’s because of the underlying spiritual lesson that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and if you want to have your spiritual hunger satisfied, you must trust in him alone.

There’s one more reason I like this miracle so much, and it goes back to a childhood memory. When I was in second grade, the teacher at my little Christian school conducted an experiment to show us how big the number 5,000 is. She sent home a letter instructing us to collect as many aluminum soda can tabs as possible (“pop” can tabs for all of us in Michigan). By next Monday, kids were already pulling Ziploc-bags out of their backbacks that contained soda can tabs. We huddled close, counted them up, then listened to them clink into an empty metal desk at the front of the room. Week by week, the desk began to fill more and more, until it reached the brim, and the desk lid would barely close. Still more tabs were brought and placed on top of the desk, until finally, we reached our goal of 5,000 soda tabs. The class went wild. We had done it! And that staggering number of aluminum can tabs represented the same number of people Jesus fed with a little basket of five loaves and two fish.

The feeding of the five thousand is just one of the many amazing miracles or “signs” Jesus performed, proving he is the Son of God. These were not cheap magic tricks or legendary fables. They were real-life events that defied the laws of nature and became indisputable proofs that Jesus was sent from God. The people who ate that meal were right to acknowledge, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” What about you? What will you do with Jesus? Are you willing to check out his claims for yourself — or maybe even accept his free gift of eternal life?

This article first appeared in the Minister’s Message of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

A Glimpse at the Wrath of God

I wince every time I see images of Hurricane Irma barreling toward the Florida mainland. All of this while the Pacific Northwest fights massive forest fires, Mexico reels from an 8.2 earthquake, and Texas cleans up unprecedented flood damage. As I watch these disasters unfold and pray for my friends who are affected, I cannot help but think of Romans 1:18-19, which our church studied just a couple weeks ago.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

When I read these verses and preached on this passage back on August 27, I noted how natural disasters are a preview of the wrath of God that should point us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here’s a transcript of my words Sunday morning two weeks ago. Little did I know just how dramatic God would put his wrath on display in the days ahead…

“Do you understand that when you see human suffering — when you see viruses, and influenza; when you see bacteria; when you see wars and natural disasters — you are seeing in a sense the wrath of God revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness?

Those things didn’t exist in the pre-fall era. When God looked at his creation after six days, he said, ‘It is very good’ (Genesis 1:31). There was no suffering. There were not wars, there was no sin, there were no diseases. Everything was perfect. But God gave a curse upon this world, and now we all groan under the weight of God’s punishment against sin.

The worst is yet to come for unbelievers. But all of these forms of suffering, and trials, and disasters, are but a foretaste of a future and eternal suffering that awaits the wicked. Oh yes, God’s wrath is already manifested and revealed from against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But ultimately, the greatest demonstration we have seen thus far of the wrath of God took place at Golgotha 2,000 years ago. When God sent his one and only son into this world, and Jesus hung upon that cross, and the sky went pitch black, and God crushed his son and wounded him so we could be forgiven of our sins. People saw the wrath of God being poured out. Even the Roman centurion – a pagan up to that point – said ‘Truly, this was the Son of God.’ …

The wrath of God has been revealed many times throughout history. Why? Because there’s so much ungodliness and unrighteousness. And perhaps the greatest demonstration of that unrighteousness is the willful and deliberate suppression of the truth.”

Our world is hurting. The suffering is overwhelming. My question is this: What is it going to take for God to get our attention?

Oh that God would use these disasters to shake us out of our spiritual stupor, and bring us to repentance, before an infinitely greater wrath arrives.

Our Ministry Vision … Ten Years Later

In September 2007, I took a few deacons up to the mountains of Idyllwild on a Prayer and Strategic Planning Retreat. We had no elders at the time, so these men were essentially my partners as shepherds and overseers of the local church.

This was a difficult season for our church. Attendance had dwindled down to about 50 people, and we were running a $2,000 monthly deficit. Some were afraid the church would have to close its doors.

During our weekend sitting on those musty couches in the mountain air, we discussed ministry and prayed for the future of our church. We also used the SWOT method to do some strategic planning (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and laid out a long-term vision for the ministry. It was too early to share some of these ambitious goals with the whole congregation, so early on, they were just desires of our heart, expressed through prayer.

I was going through some old files the other day, and came across the notes from that meeting. Now, exactly ten years later, I’m overwhelmed to see God’s goodness and the fruit of those prayers. With nearly every item on our list, the Lord either met or exceeded our expectations.

Goal: Be using present facility at full potential or already in new building across the street.

Ten Years Later: Our auditorium has reached full capacity, and we are in the process of renovations and expansions.

Goal: Deeper exposition of God’s Word at all levels, in all classes and worship services.

Ten Years Later: God has given our church a hunger for God’s word, and continues to grow me as an expositor. We have studied together the Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, Titus, Ecclesiastes, 1 John, the Gospel of Mark, and now Romans. In addition to our online podcast, the Lord recently opened a door for us to broadcast our sermons on the local radio station Z107.7 every Sunday morning at 8:30.

Goal: Possible classical school.

Ten Years Later: This is the one item on our list that received very little attention. But we are blessed to see many more families and children attending our services.

Goal: Possible Bible institute of some kind, equipping pastors and lay people.

Ten Years Later: The Lord has given us a strategic partnership with California Baptist University to train up young men going into pastoral ministry. We also have a growing list of members who moved on to pursue seminary and vocational ministry.

Goal: That we would radiate Christ, His Gospel, His love, and His book; that there would be an energy, vitality, joy, and excitement, that would be noticeable to others.

Ten Years Later: We continue to be a work in progress, but many people have visited the church and say it is one of the most loving, friendly churches they have ever attended.

Goal: A growing influence on our Inland Empire Association, on other local churches, and on pastors.

Ten Years Later: By God’s grace, I have served on several denominational boards and committees, and was given the opportunity to preside over the Pastor’s Conference several years ago.

Goal: A plurality of elders providing leadership while still retaining some level of congregational involvement; begin to move toward biblical pattern of church polity.

Ten Years Later: In 2015, our church voted unanimously to adopt a biblical polity that involved a plurality of elders. These men are both good friends and wise counselors, and I cannot begin to measure their love for the body of Christ, or the joy of doing ministry together.

What will our ministry look ten years from now? Only the Lord knows! But may we never forget the power of prayer, or the vital role of patience in gospel ministry.

Do You Ask Good or Bad Questions?

Last Sunday, we concluded a sermon series on evangelism. I do pray this will be a turning point in our church becoming more evangelistic, and seeing more people saved. May this not be the end, but rather the beginning of a new culture of evangelism in our lives and in the church.

When preaching on “The Conversation of an Evangelist” a few weeks ago, I shared several ways to have more fruitful, gospel-centered conversations, as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.

During that message, I shared several tips for asking good questions, and promised I would send it out to everyone. As you can see, one of the keys to evangelism is becoming a better listener. Here’s the list for any blog readers interested…

NINE TIPS FOR ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS

By Will Metzger, Tell the Truth

1. Take every possible chance to ask a searching question, then keep quiet.

2. One thoughtful question is worth a dozen interrogative ones. The prod-and-pry approach makes people clam up.

3. Questions that come close to people’s true interests get the best answers, provided we are interested.

4. Be prepared to wait. Sometimes a long silence can be more rewarding than another question.

5. In every case, the quality of an answer depends on the quality of attention given by the questioner.

6. Questions must spring from honest inquiry, not from attempts at flattery or efforts to manipulate people’s thinking.

7. Questions that deal with people’s feelings are more provocative than those that deal with facts. Listen for and encourage all expressions of feeling.

8. What is our motive in asking questions? Are we just leading people on in order to argue or to trap them, or do we really care for them?

9. Ask questions to help people tell their story, not just about what interests you or things you want clarified.

“Only a listening, loving heart can remove the mask we all wear”

Question: What kind of questions help you have gospel conversations with unbelievers?

Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Advantages of a Small Church

My wife and I both grew up in small churches, and I pastor one now. I’ve long felt they are overlooked and misunderstood in ministry training and support.

Most small churches, I think, struggle with an inferiority complex, looking with a certain degree of envy at their “big brother” down the street (or on YouTube, or the radio, or conferences). Big churches appear successful (“They must be doing something right to attract all those people!”). Small churches draw looks of sympathy.

But let us not forget the majority of churches in America, and throughout church history, have been small churches. It appears Christ will always accomplish a large amount of kingdom work through small churches.

In a 2014 Shepherds Conference workshop entitled “Small Church: Big Impact,” Lance Quinn shared several advantages to a small church. These include:

• Small churches should be able to do a few things well.
• They are able to more effectively know and care for the entire body.
• They can more effectively practice the one-another’s of scripture.
• They can be easier to manage due to a lack of complexity.
• It is possible to know and affirm leaders in a more intimate way.
• They can be a close-knit body of prayer warrior.

Question: Do you agree with these points? What advantages would you add to the list?

When Heaven Celebrates

Jesus tells three stories of lost items – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, better known as the prodigal son.

Each of these parables capture the perilous condition of the unbeliever as “lost,” but also the inexpressible joy in heaven when a person repents.

Luke 15:10 says “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This suggests that angels and saints in heaven rejoice when a person is saved. But more importantly, it teaches that God himself celebrates every time an unbeliever turns from sin and trusts in Jesus.

What a thought! God loves to save people! Are we equally enthusiastic?

Our church is starting a summer series on evangelism that will teach us how to overcome fear and share our faith, with the goal that God would be glorified and more people in our community would be saved. I invite you to follow along online.

The first sermon, “When Heaven Celebrates,” is now available for free download from our church podcast.

Summer Conferences

I’ve noticed there are several great conferences coming up this summer that may interest you. Here’s a list with links to more information. Although I didn’t include it on this list, you may also want to attend the SBC Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting in Phoenix on June 11-14.

Discovering the God of the Bible
Los Angeles, CA – June 9-10
Featuring John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, and more. Topics include God’s sovereignty, holiness, love, etc.

Great Homeschool Convention
Ontario, CA – June 15-17
Topics: homeschool 101, classical learning, homeschooling teens, planning for college, etc. plus a huge exhibit hall

Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World
Nashville, TN – August 24-26
Topics: raising counter-cultural kids, addressing the problem of porn, championing adoption and foster care, etc.

Biblical Counseling Conference
Laguna Hills, CA – Three weekends available: Aug 25-26, Sep 22-23, Oct 27-28
Topics: how to change, key elements of counseling, issues of the heart, common counseling problems, etc.

Photo credit: Hubspot

From Sadness to Gladness

Last Sunday, we had the joy of observing both Christian ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s supper. It was an extra special day for me because I got to baptize Heidi and watch her share her testimony before the congregation.

I don’t always preach topically on a holiday, but since it was Mother’s Day and we are in-between sermon series right now, I chose to preach on Psalm 113:9, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”

This passage captures the heartache of barrenness, but also the redemptive love of God, and the power of answered prayer. I was struck how a childless mother illustrates the theme of “great reversal” woven throughout scripture.

It is a painful topic, yet it reminds us God will one day wipe away our tears and correct every injustice. The same God who is “high above all nations” (verse 4) also “raises the poor from the dust” (verse 7).

I loved this note in The ESV Study Bible: “God’s majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful.” Praise God that he is both transcendent and immanent!

Sunday’s sermon “From Sadness to Gladness” is now available for free download from our church podcast.