While we're away from one another in body, we can still remain connected to our Lord as well as to one another in spirit (and on screen). Here are some resources to help you stay close to the Lord during this time of quarantine and social distancing.
Some Online Southside Studies...
Here are some studies and devotionals from three beloved mentors of mine...
And here are some other resources from Southside...
The discipline of Christian apologetics holds a place near and dear to my heart. It was one of the primary means by which God strengthened my faith and called me into ministry. Like many others, I remember having conversations in college about my Christian faith. I recall discussing the tough issues that college students love to spend time talking about. These discussions were not quite on the level of whether or not God could create a stone too heavy for him to lift (Dr. Ronald Nash would later tell me the answer to that question is, “no.”). But we did deal with some very practical questions about Christianity, especially as it relates to other belief systems. I was a very unprepared Christian college student. That realization, however, led me to read. I began reading a book on world religions and cults by Josh McDowell. I next remember buying and reading a book on a strange ”thing” called Christian apologetics by some guy I had never heard of named, Norman Geisler.
What I learned in the years that followed was that almost all I really needed for most “defenses of the faith” was a better knowledge of what I believed. This drove me to dig into God’s Word as well as systematic theology. The rest, as they say, "is history." God used the study of Christian apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) in my life to drive me to a deeper understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith as well as how to communicate those truths more effectively.
As a pastor, I’ve discovered over the last couple of decades that there are very few new questions. Instead, more often than not, there are the same questions asked in different ways. My mentor, Ken Boa, once told me while I was a seminary student that it’s okay to be asked a tough question by someone and not have the answer… the first time. But, he said, you should never be asked the same question twice without having an answer. In other words, being “stumped” once is virtually a rite of passage. Being stumped by the same question twice is lazy.
The first time we’re stumped by a tough question should encourage us to read and study to find the answer. What I’ve tried to do over the years is to get back together with folks who asked me the tough questions and use those opportunities to share my faith with them if they were not already a Christian, or to disciple them if they were. One of the worst things you can do is try to bluff an answer. It seldom works and I’ve learned folks respect your honesty when you say, "I don't know."
Having said all of that, I need to be clear: There are indeed some very hard questions about the Christian faith. These questions relate to evil, other religions, science, the Bible, just to name a few. By God’s grace I’ve learned there are some very bright and gifted Christian thinkers who have thought and prayed long and hard about those questions and what God’s Word has to say about them. These very capable apologists have written extensively on most, if not all of those issues, and many have some very helpful websites.
The following websites on this list are general apologetics websites. In other words, they are my favorite websites that address a little bit of everything. Make sure to check these sites out. I think you’ll find them a big help.
PS – There are many outstanding apologists who will not be found on the list below because they either do not have a website or because their site is not much more than a storefront or a calendar of where and when they will be speaking. They are being used of God in mighty ways, but the sites below are the ones I believe will be the most useful to you online.
PSS - New apologists and apologetics websites are popping up regularly. If I've left anyone off of this list, please share their information with me and I'll take a look. Thanks.
1.) Reasonable Faith.org (William Lane Craig’s site)
2.) Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
3.) The Veritas Forum
4.) Stand to Reason (Greg Koukle)
5.) Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry
6.) Apologetics 315
7.) Apologetics Press
8.) Ankerberg Theological Research Institute
9.) Gary Habermas
10.) Christian Research Institute
11.) Lee Strobel
12.) Mary Jo Sharp (Confident Christianity)
13.) J. Warner Wallace (Cold-Case Christianity)
15. Always Be Ready
16. Sean McDowell
Hey guys, check out this week's lesson that we're calling, "Your Deepest Desires Realized." This is Lesson 4 in our ongoing series, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times," based on the Book of James. Our Scripture for this lesson is James 1:13-18.
There's a little connection issue during the first two minutes of the video as there was a storm passing through, but it clears up in time for the content. Enjoy.
I love Acts 20! As a shepherd entrusted with the care of a local church, I get a lot of mileage out of these farewell words of the Apostle Paul to the church leaders in Ephesus. Paul spent three years shepherding and building the church in Ephesus – longer than he spent with any other church. He poured out his life as he invested in theirs.
As he prepared to depart from them, Paul left the elders with important words for all who would shepherd God’s people.
Paul reminded them that he had never hesitated to preach or teach anything that would be helpful to them. I get the sense here that Paul did not focus on their felt needs, but instead, ministered to their actual needs.
What sorts of things would be included in a list of actual needs? Well, the “10,000 mile high” answer would be, “the whole counsel of God.” Here are a few particulars: The character and will of God. The person and work of Jesus Christ. Our sin and need for Christ’s Gospel. The person and work of the Holy Spirit who comforts, ministers, and guides us – who molds and shapes us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. How to live godly lives in a fallen world. How to bear witness for Christ. All we have to do is read Paul’s epistles and the Book of Acts and we get a pretty good idea of what Paul covered in his preaching and teaching.
Furthermore, Paul didn’t preach only from a pulpit to the masses. Like the pastoral giant, Richard Baxter, who would use Acts 20 as one of the foundations of his ministry some 1,600 years later, Paul went from house to house – teaching both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance as well as place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ if they would be saved.
His work in communicating this message was the cornerstone of his ministry in Ephesus. He said in verse 24,
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
His faithfulness to this blessed task was what enabled him to say in verse 26 that he was, “innocent of the blood of all men.” For he did not hesitate “to proclaim to [the church at Ephesus] the whole will (counsel) of God.” In other words, there were no essential doctrines of the Christian faith omitted. Paul covered everything that would build them up in their faith and bring glory to God – when his words were popular and even when they were not.
I’ve always admired Paul, or any pastor, who ministers so faithfully. Preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God can be hard, especially when it’s what a person would rather not hear. Yet it’s part of a shepherd’s call – whether that shepherd watches over and leads a congregation, a family, a small group, Sunday school class, or a Christian friend.
I’ve heard it put this way before: If you knew you only had five years to minister to someone, what would you want to make sure they heard, understood, and began to put into practice before they left your influence? Paul had only three years. And we don’t have to guess what he spent every minute preaching and teaching. We need only read the Book of Acts and his epistles to know the heart of Paul’s focus.
The Question for Us
That leaves us with this question: What are we teaching the people entrusted to our care during the time we’ve been given? That is a question that is not only for pastors, but also for parents, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, and mentors, just to name a few.
We could apply the question to any of us who have Christian influence in the lives of others. In that sense, we are all shepherds who need to ask ourselves that penetrating question. We are all called to pass on the whole counsel of God to this generation of followers and would-be followers of Christ, as well as the next. It’s what Christ meant in his Great Commission when he told us to make disciples by teaching others to obey everything he commanded. He also said in John 8:32, that if we would hold to his teaching, then we are really his disciples.
God’s Word, the “whole counsel” to which Paul referred, will soothe the wearied soul. It will be a balm to the hurting. For others it will encourage, build up, lead, guide, correct and convict. For the rebellious and hopeless it can present inexpressibly good news. For others it will prick the conscience and even stir up anger. Yet we can be assured it will accomplish what God desires for those whom God has entrusted to our care, to our spheres of influence. And that, along with the joy of obeying God in such things, should be all the motive and affirmation we need.
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.  So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? …  Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. (2 Corinthians 12:14–15, 19)
There are many examples of bad shepherds in the Bible, those with misguided motives and self-centered behavior. However, the Apostle Paul is by no means counted among them. Like anyone placed in leadership, he was occasionally under criticism or suspicion. But his life was a continual witness to the purity and goodness of his motives and obedience to his Lord.
Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that he did not want their possessions – their money and material goods, their power or influence – he wanted them. He had labored alongside them for the sake of this church. He told them not only would he spend his own money on them and give them what he had, but he would even spend himself – his very being – for their sake. That’s how much he wanted to see them grow in grace.
Paul told them that all he had done, and was doing, was for their strengthening, for building them up in their faith. His great desire was to equip and edify them to know and follow Christ Jesus the Lord.
This should be at the heart of every shepherd of Jesus Christ. And that list of “every shepherd” is a long list indeed. For it is not merely those who have been ordained by the church who are shepherds, but also those who are mothers and fathers, Bible study teachers and small group leaders, youth counselors and Vacation Bible School volunteers, just to name a few.
I wonder how many shepherds today are “spending and being spent” (as the KJV puts it) on behalf of their flock – those entrusted by God to their care. I wonder how many would look more like those chastised shepherds of the Old Testament who worked from unworthy motives.
To help you discern where your heart is on this, take some time to reflect on the questions and next steps below. Ask God to search your heart and weed out any impure and ungodly motives. And ask him for a fresh filling of his Spirit to renew you and give you the same heart that animated the faith and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
It’s good for us to ask ourselves these tough questions. The discernment process is not about self-condemnation. Instead, it should serve as an aid to help us see our need for renewal in this vital calling to shepherd others. Let us recommit ourselves to be faithful shepherds for our Good Shepherd, that we may be counted worthy to serve him and be a blessing in the lives of others.