By Art Fulks –
This month finds my life in transition. After nearly eight years of planting and pastoring a church, God has chosen to move us to a new ministry in a new city. As I pondered my final message to the people I so dearly love, one of our elders challenged me to review our ministry with some final statements of challenge for the path forward.
Included here are those five thoughts, most that will be credited to those who have invested in my life and ministry over the years. But they form some of the deepest core spiritual values of my life. Maybe they will help you on your journey as they have mine.
#1 – “God’s glory is our singular goal.”
I have heard many people say that God’s glory is our primary goal. However, it has been clarified in my heart that I have no other goal or mission in life. The question I used to ask when facing challenges was if my decision would bring God glory. The question has grown to be, “Which choice would bring God the most glory?”
#2 – “We need to take God seriously” [Dr. Tony Evans].
In our culture, we have lowered our perception of who God is and what His expectation is for our lives. God certainly is loving, caring, and merciful. However, He is still the same God who destroyed the earth with a flood and will one day do it with fire.
#3 – “Investing in others provides the greatest return” [Donald Pope].
If all that I can personally accomplish in this life is all that I have to lay at the Master’s feet when I die, it will be an incredible loss of potential. The meditation that brought this to reality in my life was when I took time to remember all who had invested in me.
#4 – “I’ve never missed anything I have given away” [Otis Scruggs].
I did not have the privilege to meet Mr. Scruggs. But one of my mentors, Dr. Johnny Hunt, knew him well and shared this statement with me. He taught me that an open hand allows more of God’s blessings to pass through it than one that holds on tightly. This has proven to be one of the greatest joys in my life; to be a channel through which God can bless my life by allowing His resources to bless others.
#5 – “You cannot coast, even for one day” [Dr. Page Patterson].
We all need rest from time to time. But life is short, especially when compared to eternity. Satan does not take a vacation, but he is looking for you to be on one so he can attack. Neither is God on vacation. Aren’t we glad for that? Every day, whether at work or rest, we should be aware of the Divine and the enemy…and the opportunity to make a difference for the eternal Kingdom of our God.
By Art Fulks –
Our congregation has been active in serving our schools collectively and last year, we were blessed to be a part of seeing many students receive Christ on campus. It was the most joyful year of school as a parent or pastor that I have ever experienced.
Statistics suggest over 90% of all who trust Christ do so before age eighteen. Our typical strategy has been promoting programs at church through which we hope to see life transformation. But four years ago, I stopped by the principal’s office and simply asked how I could help him personally and if I could pray for him.
Four years later, I still battle with the same attitude that suggests that I pay taxes for the school to serve my child. That may be true. But my approach should be different.
Let me share a few examples of my struggles.
We have four children. Two will be in college this fall, one in high school and one in middle school. But, with no student in the middle school, would I still be willing to serve and build relationships with students and faculty? With no child in the high school band, would I still provide snacks during summer camp? Although our son finished his senior season, would I still volunteer at a fundraiser for next year’s team? Would I help stack chairs on my child’s last day at the elementary school?
I am sure that God still has work to do in my life because my first response to each of these opportunities was not positive. It is certainly easier to convince myself to serve when it benefits my child or to give their teacher a positive perception of our child/family. But He is challenging me to look for opportunities that would reap no personal benefits. I need to consider serving to give people a better perception of my God. That is my calling as a follower of Christ, to reflect Him to the world so that they might know Him.
A new school year is about to start and I am excited to see what God will do. Will He allow me to engage in new partnerships and relationship for the Kingdom? Who’s life will He change?
I know that He will continue to change me. It’s back to school, Believer!
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NASB)
By Art Fulks –
A commonly known example in the Bible of someone getting ahead of God is found in Genesis 16. Here, Abram and Sarai have been waiting for God to give them a son who will be their family heir and the one through whom the Messiah will come. After waiting for ten years, they agree to use a surragate mother named Hagar, a servant. As a result, they experienced personal strife that still exists in national stuggles today.
Why did they get ahead of God? For many of the same reasons we do today. First, they sensed that God’s timing or lack of action was a sign of His abandonment. Sarai even blamed God. In God’s seeming silence, Abram listened to Sarai’s alternate plan and they both agreed that God needed their help. It does not take much for me to see instances from my own life that directly correlates to their experience.
When we get ahead of God, our relationships with Him and others are strained by our sin. Often, we even blame others for our circumstances. But God pursues and responds by showing up personally and exhibiting grace. Yet His call is for us to repent and return from our detours to trust His plan and timing again.
On my journey, I see three basic steps that generally lead to unpleasant detours. First, I begin to struggle with His timing and get impatient. Then I begin to allow culture to impact me into walking by sight and not be faith. Third, I begin to second-guess God and believe that He needs my help. My experience agrees with the old preacher, Vance Havner, who said, “The detour is always worse than the main road.”
The invention of the GPS has given us new options in a traffic jam. You can always hit the ‘Alternate Route’ button. But I often find that the barrier to free flowing traffic is not as far ahead as I thought. The detour keeps me moving, but with more energy and struggles than if I had stayed on track.
Three questions have helped me discover if I am walking by faith or not. (1) Am I willing to wait for God’s timing? (2) Am I most concerned about God’s glory or my happiness? (3) Am I obeying God’s Word in the process with inner joy and peace?
One of Satan’s greatest tools is the detour…trying to get us to move ahead of God. And one of his greatest lies is telling us that our ‘disobedience detours’ must become the permanent road for the rest of our lives. But God is waiting to help us get back on track.
“And He said, ‘Where have you come from and where are you going?’” (Genesis 16:8a NASB).
By Art Fulks –
In following Christ, most (if not all) of us experience dry times when we feel like a failure. Due to testing or sin, we feel far from God, at least from the perspective of an intimate relationship. There are times when I would rather people not know that I am a pastor. If they saw the caverns of my heart, they would not find much evidence that I am pursuing God.
When dry times come, it may seem like the thing to do is to try harder or to be more disciplined. And it may be necessary. However, I am reminded in the Scriptures that trying harder is rarely the answer to a spiritual drought. The Book of Genesis gives us two examples that have really helped me on the journey.
The answer: Go back to Bethel.
Where is Bethel? It may be the place where God made a promise to you, like Abram in Genesis 12. It may be the place where you made a vow to God, like Jacob in Genesis 28. But you are confident that you met with God there. It is the place where you experienced His grace, forgiveness, encouragement, correction, or conviction. No matter what the original circumstance, you know without a doubt that you connected with God.
For some of us, the physical Bethels may be geographically unreachable when we need them. But it probably was less about the geography of the circumstance and more about the context of our heart. For some, Bethel may have been a painful place on the first trip and a bit uncomfortable to revisit. However, we are not looking to relive a memory. We earnestly desire to encounter our faithful and loving Heavenly Father in an intimate way.
In my life, one Bethel was a hillside in Southern Ohio where I went to camp as a teenager. Another was a chapel in North Carolina where God gripped my heart with a desire to do something impactful for His Kingdom. One was the first tee on a golf course in Georgia where a mentor taught me the concept of investing in others. And one was a church parking lot on the other side of town where God called me to the ministry where I am today. Even a pastor has need to go back to Bethel sometimes.
“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Genesis 35:1 NASB).
“And he built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him, when he fled from his brother” (Genesis 35:7 NASB).
By Art Fulks –
As a a father of four, I love being a Dad. When my kids were little, we watched all of the Veggie Tales videos we could find. With grandparents living far away, we watched (and I listened) to every song and line as we drove. We knew them by heart. Our children learned many of the great stories of the Bible, especially from the Old Testament.
Recently, I was teaching about the Great Flood in Genesis and a particular line really caught my attention. It said, “All flesh on the earth that moved perished,…and all mankind.” (Genesis 7:21) As I pondered this verse, I realized that all of the animated ark pictures with smiling faces emerging from under the frame of a rainbow were not realistic portrayals of what really happened. Imagine stepping off the ark after a year and being overwhelmed by the fact that you are one of only eight people on the face of the planet.
Certainly the faith and obedience of Noah teaches us a great lesson about following God. Surely, the grace of the Father was poured out on his family and the rainbow is an incredible reminder of God’s covenant to never destroy the earth by flood again. But if we allow it, we realize the serious nature of the holiness and judgment of a righteous God.
Every child is different and matures at varied pace. However, I have come to realize that as they grow up, we need to give them the most accurate pictures of God, our enemy, real life, and the cost of following Christ.
I still find myself at times humming the tune to: “O where is my hairbrush.” But there is no real Island of Perpetual Tickling as told in the Veggie Tale version of the story of Esther. The Jews were faced with imminent death. We want our kids to know that God is a loving Father. But I am learning to be careful about my characterizations of His nature.
God is not a Veggie Tale character. He is the glorious Creator, Savior, Judge, and King to whom we are all accountable. It is only when we begin to grasp His righteousness that we can see our sinfulness. And when we begin to recognize His holiness, we can experience His grace. That is an amazing story!