Big News for the Earls!


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This past Sunday at the conclusion of my sermon, I made an announcement to the members of my church: in early March, the Earl family will be leaving North Carolina and will embark on a new ministry journey.  My last preaching Sunday will be February 28, and we will ship out sometime in the following week, Lord willing. I realize this may come as quite a shock to some of you, so allow me to detail what God has been doing in our lives.

When we first moved to the North Carolina High Country, Michelle and I agreed before God that we would remain here, serving His church for as long as He desired.  We never had any intentions of making any ministry changes, and we resolved to stand fast – even if we faced difficulty. This Sunday, I will celebrate five years as the pastor of Higher Ground Church of God.  Those times of difficulty have been rare, and we have come to know and love a church family that, I would imagine, can be found in few churches in America.

Changes

But several years ago, I began to sense that God was going to be moving us. It’s kind of a long story really, but I began to feel a burden for the city of Chicago. Now at the time, I knew this had to be God because neither Michelle nor I have ever been there, and we zero connections with it. So, we made this “urging” a matter of prayer.  For the last several years, we have sought God and His specific purposes for our family.

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The Biggest Lie in the Universe

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Sales receipts.

Every January, Michelle and I comb through the previous year’s receipts and tally up what we spent in order to file our taxes. This is an arduous task, forcing us to look over every last one with the hopes of finding 50¢ there or $1 there that we can deduct from our taxable income.

Currently, those receipts are in a large pile, staring at us, laughing at us. It’s a job we’re slowly working through, Michelle having done most of the “combing” thus far. The other day I learned, though, that those receipts will not only reveal in the end how much of a tax refund we’ll get, they also revealed the ugly pride and selfishness in my heart. Let me tell you the story.

Michelle and the kids were getting ready to go somewhere one morning. I was helping the kids get their coats on and Michelle was gathering some things to take with her. As I awaited their exit, Michelle asked me a harmless question: “What are you doing today?” Immediately, I could feel a subtle but noticeable irritation welling up within. I had work to do, and I could tell it was about to be interrupted.

“I’m doing office work.”

“What kind of office work?”

“Office work!”

Seeing my irritation, she graciously responded, “I wasn’t trying to question what you were doing, I just wanted to see if you could work on some of those receipts.” Ashamed – and still irritated – I said a teeth-clenched prayer requesting safety over my family, and I climbed the stairs to my office. I’m just glad that right then Jesus was interceding for them at the right hand of God.

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Recovering What Matters Most

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I subscribe to a daily email subscription from a website called Of First Importance.   The premise of the site is simply to post quotes from both current and past theologians, pastors, and authors with the intent of keeping its readers focused every day on the core and most important message of Christianity, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  If you liked Higher Ground’s Facebook page, you have likely read one of these quotes.

Paul the apostle, in his first letter to the Corinthians, reminded them, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, ESV).  Christ’s death is at the very center of the Gospel message, and for Paul, there was no more important message that piloted his life and ministry.  Since April of this year (2013), I have been preaching this same message weekly in church.  My one greatest desire as a pastor is to encourage every man, woman, boy and girl to live their lives in the power of the Gospel.  The Gospel message is not, as Tim Keller has said, the “ABC’s of the Christian life,” but rather, “the A to Z of the Christian life.”  Christ’s perfect life, atonement, and resurrection is the power of God unto salvation, not only when we are raised to new life in Christ initially, but every single day after that until we see Jesus face to face.  When you and I can begin to grasp, even just in a small way, that every facet of our lives can be wonderfully impacted by the doctrines of the Christ’s work, we will begin to experience a joy, peace, and contentment that most have never known.

All this to say, I really wanted to share the Of First Importance entry for December 26, “The Amazing Graciousness of Grace.” It is an excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson’s article, “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection.” Have you been a Christian for some time, but have lost your affection for Christ? You may need to return to your first love.  Ferguson helps to place us back on the old path of renewed affection for Jesus in this brief excerpt.  I encourage you to shut out all distractions and read it slowly and thoughtfully.  Afterward, simply call on your God who desires to pull you back into His love.

 “How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amazing’ to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.”

If you wish to begin your journey of a deeper and richer personal impact from the Gospel, may I suggest reading Living the Cross Centered Life, by C.J. Mahaney?  I picked it up in April and read it in under three hours (I am a slow reader, too).  It’s simple but powerful message made me hungry – really hungry, for more of Jesus.  If you attend Higher Ground Church, I have several copies available in the Pastor’s Library for those who wish to borrow it.  You will be blessed, and dare I say, changed as you read.  

If you have lost (or have never found) what matters most, come back to the Gospel.  Immerse yourself in Scripture (like Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, et al), read Gospel-centered books (like what I have put in the Pastor’s Library), and rediscover the one simple fact that Christ’s grace was and is poured out on you, even in the midst of your own sin. 

Grace and Peace,

Josh

Running This Race

Dear Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter-using, Homeschooling mothers of 6 with one on the way, yet still an avid blogger, food blogger (with pictures of recipes step by step), and all those other people that seemingly have it  “all together.”  And Tumblr-using moms.   Whatever that is:

I confess to you that I can’t keep up.  I don’t know how everyone does it.  I try to keep up and I end up just feeling extremely inadequate and beat down at the end of the day.  I would love to blog regularly, sew my kid’s clothes, refurbish an old dresser, cloth diaper and puree all of Malacai’s baby food.  But who has the time? It’s an effort for me to keep the house clean, laundry done, menu plan, spend time with the kids and apply proper love and discipline, do devotions, and take care of church stuff – all the while striving to be a patient and loving mother and wife who displays Christian qualities and enjoys the everyday repetitions of life.

It’s true that I love and enjoy reading blogs.  I follow quite a few awesome mommies who love the Lord and seek to be more like Him in the midst of their chaos.  I find encouragement and fellowship in their writings.   It’s true that I think all of the above mentioned social media platforms can be wonderful.  It’s no lie that I have spent way too much time moseying around on Pinterest or scrolling my Facebook feed just because I want to do something mindless.  Meanwhile, my 9 month old is whining in his highchair and my 4 year old won’t stop interrupting my research of the latest status updates, the amount of “likes” my kids’ pictures have gotten, and what political platform meme someone has shared.

So, what is the problem here?  Why do I feel that I can’t keep up? The problem is ME.   My focus is always on me, my inadequacies, and my failures to measure up with everyone else.  I don’t like it.  I don’t intend to be so selfish.  I don’t wake up and think, “How can I magnify Michelle today?!”  Unfortunately, my flesh always creeps up and rears its ugly head.

In January 2010, Josh and I attended a Passion Conference with the college and career group from church.  Beth Moore preached a sermon using a word picture that I will never forget.  (All credit here goes to her.)  Although I remember it, I don’t often apply it.  Lately, it has been resonating in my heart and I need it to revive my selfish soul.  According to Hebrews 12:2, this life is a race we are running.  And though we have a tendency to look at everyone around us, we need to keep our eyes on the finish line, on Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  The only thing I need to do is run and focus on Him.  Keep going, eyes fixed on HIM (not the homeschooling mother of 6, all the blogs writers that I wish I would be like, and the moms who seem so much more patient, and kind, and creative with their discipline).  Stop focusing on all the other runners in this race and what they are doing, and look to the One who makes all my inadequacies adequate by what He did on the cross.  If we only realized the glorious justification that was accomplished when HE arose from the dead, we would stop trying so hard!  We would stand in the grace of God knowing we are totally okay!  Totally set free of false expectations.  Totally set free from the bondage to this world and all the temporary pleasures it teases our minds with daily.

So I am going to read and re-read Hebrews 12:1-2.  I am going write it on a Post-it and place it in front the window where I do dishes (because you know we spend a lot of time there), and I am going to soak in the truth of where my focus should be.

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“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”