Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opinions Are Like . . .

I have often thought about the centerpiece of Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistene Chapel, this picture of God reaching out to man. Notice that man is shown essentially lounging with his arm propped on his knee and that his finger is only partially reaching out to God. I don't know what Michelangelo's theology was regarding this, but the picture paints an accurate picture of man. Before God quickened our spirits, we wanted salvation, but we wanted God only half-heartedly.

I hear the same half-hearted desire for God today. It sounds like this, "Well, I think..." Opinions are like necks. Everyone has one, and like our necks turn our heads so our opinions turn our hearts. It is understandable that an unbeliever has an opinion that he follows. He, after all, is an unspiritual person, and the unspiritual man does not have the ability to understand God.

It is frightening, though, how often professing Christians value their opinions over that of God. How often do we hear (in our small groups, Sunday Schools, and other conversations with Christians)... how often do we hear, "Well, I think..." or "Well, my opinion is..." And, how often do we hear, "Well, the Word of God says..."?

We conservative Christians have blasted politicians, entertainers, the media, and higher education for its overwhelming moral relativity. Yet, is it not exactly the same when our Bible studies are filled with more personal opinion than they are with a whole-hearted search for God's opinion? We are spiritually lazy, unwilling to dig and do the hard work of Biblical study, much like Michelangelo's depiction of the lazy Adam, while God has moved the scope of human history to give us His inspired Word.

John the Baptist knew that he must decrease in order for Christ to increase. May his confession become ours and may our opinions decrease so that Christ may increase in us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Brutal Assault

"But, if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:15)

A father stands in a courtroom and says, "I forgive you.," to the man who murdered his wife and children. The assault upon his family was merciless and brutal. They were totally innocent victims of this depravity. Others, thousands, have stood in courtrooms and demanded justice, flinging their anger and spitting their vengeance at those who victimized their family members. "We demand justice," we often say, when we really want vengeance.

There is another brutal assault. It is an assault on a not so innocent victim. It is the assault of a Holy God upon our sinful flesh. When we are wronged and God demands that we forgive, His demand assaults our flesh, our egos, and our sense of personal justice. His demand that we forgive will either destroy us as we hold onto our right to be right, or it will destroy the flesh that keeps us from being right with Him.

We are assaulted and God says, "forgive." We are wronged and God says, "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Mt.5:12) People hate us, do all they can to destroy us, and our flesh cries out for justice and vengeance, and the Spirit of God pierces our flesh and says, "love your enemies, bless those who cures you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;" (Mt.5:44)

Whenever, not just when the wrong is great, but even when it is small . . . whenever we are tempted not to forgive those who have sinned against us, we only need to say, "Since Jesus forgave me, and my sins put Him on the cross, do I have any right not to forgive them? Even if I were crucified, I would not be innocent." And, beyond that, we must trust that God is enough, more than enough than vengeance will ever be.

This demand to forgive is assaulting and insulting to our egos and our flesh, but in light of our own assault on the Son of Man, and His forgiveness of us in spite of that assault, we can never claim to be faithful followers of our Savior if we will not forgive any and all sins against us. This does not mean that we are unsaved. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. It does, however, mean that we will never have a right relationship with God as long as any unforgiveness remains in our hearts. And that will always be an assault upon our old, fleshly nature. But, when we forgive, as Christ commands and enables us to do, we will experience freedom from our flesh and from the burden of vengeance, which belongs to God alone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Don't Make Them Beg

I was thinking about a new big screen TV that has sound (the sound on our TV sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't). I was thinking about the cost, and I was thinking about the fact that I really don't have time to spend watching an additional several hours of TV a week. Then I was thinking about this verse, "But whoever sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) and I was thinking about how comfortable I am physically and financially, and I was thinking about the word, specifically the word, "sees."

The impetus for Christian charitable giving is the love of God. If I don't give to brothers in need, I don't have the love of God abiding in me. Now, sometimes, God's love is in me, but I try to guard it in order to feed my flesh. I practice a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I mean, there is need all around, so just don't ask and you won't have to feel guilty that you aren't giving. But, the verse didn't say, "if anyone hears about a brother in need." No, it said, "whoever sees his brother in need." So, the only way to keep the love of God selfishly hemmed up in my heart is to literally walk blindfolded through life. Why do you think that it is so hard to walk past a beggar on the street? Why do you think we tell our children, "don't look at them."?

It is not the responsibility of my brother in need to come begging. It is my responsibility to keep my eyes open to my brother's needs. If I have anything at all, it is given to me, not to waste on materialism, but to invest in others.

Don't make them beg.

Don't make your brothers and sisters in need beg.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shallow Spiritual Warfare

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks abut like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11)
God’s purpose in everything is His glory; even in the attacks of the enemy on God’s people. The enemy does attack the people of God, regularly. Satan is not omnipotent (all-powerful), not omnipresent (all-places-at-the-same-time), not omniscient (all-knowing), nor is he able to do anything that he is not allowed to do. He rebelled against God, as did one-third of the angels in heaven, but he lost, was cast out, and is still on a leash held by God. Sometimes we have a wrong view of Satan, demons and spiritual warfare.
We think and say, “Well, I must be doing something right because I’m having all this trouble.” Sometimes we are having trouble because we are doing something wrong. Sometimes we are having trouble because God is testing our faith (James 1). We think and say, “The enemy is attacking because we are really having lots of sickness right now.” Sometimes sickness is caused by spiritual attack, but often it is just because we live in a fallen world with a fallen nature which includes sickness. We bind Satan, ask God to bind him, speak words against him and do all sorts of things in an attempt to avoid the pain and suffering that Jesus Himself said we would encounter.
God tells us that the purpose of all things, including the attack of the enemy, is that God would use the suffering of it all “to perfect, establish, strengthen and settle” us so that He would be glorified. So be aware of the battle, Satan is real. Don’t freak out, speak incantations over the Devil, or try to shout him out. Instead, resist him by trusting God, knowing that you are not the only one going through this, and knowing that the grace of God is more than sufficient for you to endure and even be transformed by the battle into a person who gives God glory.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Emptiness Of Common Spirituality

And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:2)
We are spiritual people because God created us spiritual people. It should be no surprise that, while interest in traditional religion has waned, interest in personal spirituality has continued and perhaps even increased in recent years. But, the spirituality that most seem to have, including many who claim faith in Christ, is nothing more than common spirituality. Common spirituality is based on commonly held beliefs, myths, and personal preferences. It is self-directed, self-defined faith, even when that definition is held by a large group of people.
This is nothing new. In His first advent, Jesus encountered the same kind of common spirituality in His own disciples. They first revealed it when they called Him, Rabbi, rather than Lord. Now, He was their teacher, but if Jesus were teaching a seminary class, I cannot imagine calling Him Doctor or Professor. He would be Lord. They then expressed the commonly held belief that anyone born with a disability was born so because of sin, either their own or their parents. Sickness equaled sin to them. How empty that belief is, even as it is expressed today in many churches and healing conferences.
With just a few words, Jesus revealed the emptiness of their spirituality by revealing the glory of His own, when He answered their question, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in Him.” (John 9:3)
Would you rather hold onto self-defined and common spirituality? If you do, if you define your own belief system, then you must also hold it up. If it fails, if you are sick, or if you encounter trouble and tragedy, then you must be the cause of it since your spirituality is defined by you.
Or, would you rather hold onto an uncommon spirituality defined by God Himself, through His Son, Jesus Christ? Since we are all born dead in our trespasses and sins, the only truly spiritual people are those born again by the Spirit of God into the spirituality of Christ. And, when that happens, no matter what we face, it is for the glory of God, not the condemnation of man . . . or of self. Christ takes common spirituality, buries it, and replaces it with the glory of God.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Denial And Forgiveness

I am part of a group of men who are building a band of brothers, true brothers in Christ. We are using the tool of Men's Fraternity right now to help us and are at the point of dealing with our memories of and relationships with our fathers.

I become so cautious here, partly because I spent years blaming my father for my failure, partly because many times men's groups become father-bashers, partly because our society so devalues true fatherhood, and partly because I am a father and know that if my children's futures are dependent upon my ability to father, they are doomed.

Yet, "The glory of sons is their fathers, (Pr. 17:6)" and we must deal with this most important person in our masculine lives. To fail to do so with adequate humility and respect would end, not in health, but in soul sickness. To fail to do so at all would most likely end in failure to become the men God desires us to be. Too often we deny our past and call it honor, or worse, we deny a sin against us and call that forgiveness. It is not. We must face not only our own sin but those sins committed against us and bring them all to the cross.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

One Step Closer

God has granted me a rare gift for a full-time pastor. It is rare that I get to have an ongoing conversation with someone who is an atheist. But, I have been having a conversation with a man who does not believe in God. He is under no illusion about where I am headed, and I am completely honest with him about my desire for him to believe. He is not new to this. I am not the first Christian to attempt to convince him to believe. At first, he was an atheist. "There is no God," he said confidently. Well, several conversations later, I found out what I suspected. He does believe there is a God, but he is not ready to believe in the one true God. My hope and prayer is that he will. And, until that day, I am thankful for this step. If you pray, pray for me that I will be wise and faithful, and that I will love this man as God loves Him. If you pray, pray for him, that all he will believe in Jesus Christ, the one who died for him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why I Am A Creationist

This may seem overly simplified, but here are a few of the reasons I am a creationist.

"My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (Ps. 121:2) "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (Ps. 124:8) "Behold, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord, the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion!" (Ps. 134) "And You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands." (Heb. 1:10)

I do not believe that God created the earth as the Bible says just so that I can be right, or legalistic, or conservative. I also believe it because the foundation of my hope is laid in the foundations of the world, that God Himself laid them down and then scattered the heavens with His Word, and I trust that He did that. If I doubt He created the World as He said, then I must be willing to doubt what Jesus said. I do not doubt Jesus, nor do I doubt the Father. While there may be wiggle room for some in believing that the days of Genesis were figurative, believing such does not strengthen my faith. It weakens it. Perhaps my faith is too immature, too uneducated to accurately dissect His Word, but I find more in the Word that commands us to believe than to doubt. And, I have found that believing results in the transformation of my heart and life. Doubting does not.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This Is A Good Thing

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Larger Life

"How easily we convince ourselves that we are praying to the Lord when in reality we are locked in our own thoughts. We need to ask: If I'm happy, am I really rejoicing in Him, or am I rejoicing in my own self-satisfaction? If I'm worried or afraid, am I truly and humbly asking Him for help, or is my mind busy trying to work out some plan (however spiritual it may seem) for getting myself out of trouble."
(Mike Mason, The Gospel According To Job)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Deluge . . . Of Grace

I was exhausted when I crossed the jetway to board the plane to Honduras. It had been about six weeks of solid work. The day before, someone asked if I was excited about the trip. I told them I would get excited in Honduras. Bad attitude, maybe, but reality. We weren't sure what would happen in Honduras. Our shipping container with all the supplies for a team of 100 people was locked up in customs; the victim of a computer foul up. When we boarded the bus for the mission home, we got news that God had answered affirmatively and the container was on its way. My heart was still not in Honduras.

You see, I had left my friends Dollie and Gerald at home. Dollie was dying, and Gerald was watching the love of his life die. I had felt like this before, when my father was dying in Texas and I had to go back to Louisiana to preach a funeral. Dollie died the next day. I knew I was where I had to be, but I was not sure I was where I was supposed to be. Little could be done. Then my associate pastor's sister-in-law died suddenly. He would attend to Gerald and then drive to Florida for a tragic funeral while I was in Honduras. Then someone stole my bag with cell phone, glasses, and Bible. Then someone stole my pants. While my associate pastor was at his sister-in-law's funeral, he received word that his nephew back in Louisiana had died. I flashed back in time four years, when Katrina devastated our state while we were on mission in Uganda. While in Honduras, three drowned in the local lake. Then, three young men, were killed in a senseless wreck. The grandparents of one of the boys are some of the faithful ones here at our church. All three funerals were Saturday. Aweful. A friend said, horrific.

Sunday we gathered, and I was tempted to preach about grief, death, fallenness. Instead, I preached about worship, the power of God to lift us out of all this mess, especially once each week when we gather together in His name. Psalm 122 was alive and living. Sunday night we gave testimony to what He had done in Honduras. Then we remembered the price of our redemption at His Supper. Then I lost my voice from some strange Honduran infection.

My wife has not died. My brother in law is still alive as are my nieces and nephews. I have not lost a child. I have merely been the pastor and friend of those who have lost, but my heart has broken with theirs. This is part of the privilege of Christianity; the privilege of partaking in the sufferings of Christ as we suffer with others. And, in the midst of it the deluge of it all, to be deluged with grace greater than our sin and greater than the trials. God is awesome and to be His child is beyond compare.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Brothers, Brothers, Everywhere

Local brothers . . .. Last Friday, our men's ministry had a fish fry, primarily just to get the men together out in the country, enjoy some good food, and build stronger relationships.

Distant brothers . . . I arrived at the farm, drove down by the pond and started getting my fishing gear in order. I looked across the pasture and saw a golf cart headed for me, thinking it was some of the guys from our church. But, I couldn't recognize the men in it until it was about 20 yards away. I was shocked. It was four brothers from Abilene. They had driven 450 miles to be with our men again, after a great trip together to Oklahoma this Spring.

Servant brothers . . . We spent the weekend together, and then we worked together Sunday morning. A small tornado tore through our community as we were in a men's breakfast. Power went out. Church was cancelled and we went across the road to remove two huge oak trees from two homes. New brothers came with saws and served.

Faithful brothers . . . Monday night we gathered for men's group on the back porch. We shared, studied and prayed.

Trusting brothers . . . A good friend here who I knew had been struggling, shared what was going on in his family. He had wanted to talk to me about it, and God presented the time. We prayed together.

Fallen brothers . . . A brother fell. I hope and believe that there are many around him who will pick him up, if he will take their outstretched hand.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fly Fishing

A local Bass Club partnered with a Baptist ministry here on Toledo Bend to do a children's fishing tournament today. I took my kids. My 12 year old son wanted to fish. My 16 year old daughter wanted to hang out with friends. I enjoyed helping the kids catch fish, but when they were mostly done I found myself standing calf deep in the lake fly fishing. A little boy waded out beside me and asked, "Why are we standing out here in the water." "Habit," I replied, "I guess." I just like it. Fly fishing feels natural. I'm not saying I would never want to fish from a boat again, but if I did I would probably want a fly rod in my hands. It is one of the most relaxing, restful things that I do. I saw an old man this week, rolling his wheelchair down the sidewalk outside the nursing / retirement center. He had a chipping wedge and a putter in his lap, and his left pant leg was empty from the knee down. I asked him where the practice green was. He told me he wanted to go to the golf course, but couldn't get there today. He wheeled down to the end of the sidewalk, locked the brakes on his wheelchair, and stared at the clubs in his lap. Everything in this world is so temporary, and yet we get so attached.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Honor Where Honor Is Due

"We ought to abhor the thought of obtaining honor by compromising our faith." - Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Political Church?

This is a lesson evangelicals ought to know from church history. Whenever the church has focused on evangelism and preaching the gospel, her influence has increased. When she has sought power by political, cultural, or military activism, she has damaged or spoiled her testimony. (John MacArthur)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Big Fish Birthday

I love catching fish, but I love helping other people catch them even more. And, since my 12 year old son asked if just he and I could go to the river together to fish for a few days for his birthday, I really wanted him to catch a big one. He did. A 19 inch rainbow is never anything to scoff at, but on the Lower Mountain Fork, it is a fine fish. And, he caught it. Sweet!

Monday, April 6, 2009

I'm Stoked - Caddis Beadhead Larva

Ok, I'm really pumped about this fly. Caddis are hatching and the fish are hitting cream colored midges on the LMF. So, I wanted to tie something other than the simple cream midges that I already have a ton of. So, here it is. I love it. I hope it catches fish.

Hook: #20 caddis

Thread: Cream

Body: Ginger hackle, stripped, just the quill

Dubbing: Sparkle blind cahill cream

Head: Glass bead

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Just Deserts

No person ever deserved more and received less than Jesus. When we contemplate the cross, we begin to understand than no one ever deserved less and received more than we who believe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amazing God

As I tried to guide the 7x tippet (2 pound test line) through the tiny eye on the trout fly I was amazed at God. A size 24 hook has a 1/16th inch gap. I don't know how small that makes the eye on that hook, but it's really tiny. I need 3x magnifying glasses to get it done. I was about to cast this tiny fly into rushing water, foaming white and transluscent green when the thought hit me, "How in the world can a trout see this thing?" And the answer came, "Because God is awesome." He created the tiny bugs the trout eats, and made the trout to perfectly match his environment (rushing, frigid water), to be able to see his food. And, He made man with the insane ability to manufacture a graphite rod that weighs only a few ounces, a specialized line that carries the tiny fly on the end of a flourocarbon tippet down into the water. He created man with the ability to imagine how to create all of this and to tie the fly that would so match the natural food of the finicky trout that the fish would attack it as food. I am not amazed at the trout, or stream, or the man, but at the God who created them all.

Parenting, One Minute At A Time

In the last few weeks, I have become aware of how much I do not deserve the wife and children God has given me. My inadequacies as a parent are too numerous to list. Given our families of origin, the statistics say we should be divorced and have dysfunctional children. We do not. Pastor's children are expected to live rebelliously, even though statistics show they are less likely to do so than others. And, while we have advanced education in working with families and children, and that training has given us some tools, we have learned that tools aren't all we need. We home school, yet we know that homeschooling is no more a guarantee of godly children than public school is a guarantee of ungodly children.

In my life of inconsistent living, I've tried to figure out what has worked. What is it that God has taught me that I need to keep doing. First, I think that He has taught me what the supreme goal of parenting is. It is not earthly success, but eternal character. We have kept our eyes set firmly on this future for our children; that they would, above all, be a man and woman with the character of Christ. Again and again I have told them that what they do in the future is of much less concern to me and God than who they are in that future. If they have the character to follow God faithfully, they will do what God has planned and it will be the best future for them.

The other things is this. I have learned to live one minute at a time, especially in my relationship with God, my wife, and my children. Too often, our answer to a problem is an event. When church is cold and lifeless, we schedule an event. When we are bored and burned out, we schedule an event. When we sense our children slipping away, we often schedule an event like a vacation or a special outing.

When I sense distance between me and God, or me and my wife, or me and my children, and I schedule an event, the distance usually follows us there. When I sense distance and I simply take a minute to repent, listen, and love, the distance disappears. Any Christian can be a Christian parent one minute at a time. Once we take a minute, we find that the time melts away. Soon, parenting is no longer a chore or a fear, but a joy. Minute by minute we live. Minute by minute we must parent. Minute by minute we help our children build a foundation of faithfulness to God that He will use for their future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Killdeer Parenting

I recognized the two immature birds as Killdeer Plovers. I moved toward them to get a closer look, their parents saw me as a threat and began performing the "broken wing" maneuver. They flew a short distance, called out loudly, fell on the ground and began to flash their wings sideways in an attempt to entice me, the supposed predator, away from their babies. Even if I had caught one of the baby birds, the Killdeers would not have attacked me. They would simply have continued to attempt to distract.

Some people parent the same way. They never really protect, they only distract. Those parents use the TV, computer, school, community services, and even the church as a distraction. Church leaders often hear it this way, "We need to do something at church to keep our kids off the street."

Children do not need Killdeer parents. They need real parents who protect them by building parenting relationships with them; i.e., loving parents who are more concerned about their child's best than they are with being their child's friend. God has assigned the rearing of the child to its parents; not to the school, the church, or the village. Parenting is the hardest job anyone could ever do, but the good news is that it is temporary. It lasts only to the child's adulthood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 3

One afternoon, he drove up to his home to find his wife and children standing in the front yard with eyes and mouths open, staring blankly at what had been his perfect house. As he looked toward the house, he was shocked. The center section had fallen three feet. Rafters were protruding from the roof on the right and the left. The front door was splintered. How could this have happened? He did not know that the house had been built on top of an underground stream. He knew there was a spring that came out of the hillside down below, but he had not been aware that the water had slowly eroded a sink hole under the center of his house. That day, however, in a catastrophic event, the center of the house had fallen into the hole. Years of erosion had done their work.

Lenin said that the west would fall without a battle of arms. He said that the last great western power would fall from internal corruption whose roots was in the selfishness of capitalism. Of course, his empire fell first from the corruption of the selfishness of communism. I wonder if the constant criticism of the local church has been reform or erosion.

How can I correct, how can I hold the church to account without eroding its foundation? I must first hold myself to account. I must awake each morning and look into the mirror for the log in my eye. I must hold myself to accountability. All church change in the New Testament came in the context of the church. Leaders are held to account by elders and by the body. Elders and the body hold members to account. Brothers and sisters go to brothers and sisters personally, via their relationships, when correction is needed. The worst possible discipline of the local church was excommunication, removal of a member from the church. Today, we are much more likely to perform congregational excommunication, removing the church from ourselves.

Above all, I must make sure that my motive is love, not rightness; love, not selfishness; love, not power. I must be more concerned about building up the church on Christ than tearing it down around me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 2

Dr. Carle Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught at Harvard for years, wrote the book Family And Civilization, demonstrating the connections between the rise and fall of various social and family structures and the rise and fall of the Romans, the Greeks, Medieval and Modern Europe, and the United States. He identified eleven symptoms of final decay. Here are a few of them; increased disrespect for parenthood and parents; defamation of past national heroes; widespread attitudes of feminism, narcissism, and hedonism; propogation of antifamily sentiment; rebellious children.

For at least the past 30 years, the church in America has been criticized by a constant, gnawing form that some have called reformation. Yet, there has been nothing as noble and majestic as Luther's 95 Theses nailed to the door. The Charismatic renewal divided and weakened. The Revival decade wrecked as many lives and churches as it healed. The Conservative Resurgence, while doctrinally imperative, brought no new Spiritual Awakening. Somewhere in the battle for the Bible, we seemed to have lost the high ground. Emerging, emergent, reformed, and neoreformed seem just as likely to criticize the local church as to serve it, to look down upon as to lift up.

I do not speak from the position of observation, but from the position of participation. I have spent time examining each movement, talking with its leaders, and listening. And, I have heard one constant through the last 30 years. Criticism of the local church.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 1

This big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she gets where she's going. Always has, always will, until the end of time. with or without you. - J. F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green

I have been an adult for the last thirty years, and a pastor for half that long. Those three decades have been a time of tremendous change in the church. The first, the late seventies and early 80's was the decade of the Charismatics. While the movment had been around for some time, its fervor was at its peak. People of all Christian denominations were dissatisfied with what they perceived as a lack of spirituality.

The second decade, the late 80's into the mid 90's were characterized by revivalism. Many who had sought exprience were now dissatisfied, and they sought more. The mantra of this age could very well be the song, More Love, More Power, More, More More. Our own church and community experienced a movement of God in which hundreds were born again and hundreds changed. However, the fires have now cooled.

The last decade is hard for me to define. It has been filled with the reformed reaction against the revivalists, the emergent reaction against the traditional church, and the missional reaction against perceived complacency. Barna gave up on reformation and espoused revolution. Eldridge decried the local church as the great emasculator. MacLaren tore down the Bible and enshrined the culture, and here we all sit in the middle of a declining and diminishing Christian community.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Apprenticed To Christ - Part 2

A few months ago I began tying flies for fishing. I purchased a book, read, and tried to tie a few. They were pitiful. So, I found some men who have tied flies for years and watched them. Then I tried again. The result was a little better, but not much. So, I continued to read, and then I found videos on the internet about how to tie flies. I apprenticed myself to professional fly tyers through these videos. On our last fishing trip, I supplied the flies for the men who fished and we actually caught fish. It was awesome.
When Christ called His disciples, He did not only call them to a new philosophy. He called them to a new life, a new way of life, and the only way they could learn that life was to follow Him. Too often we think Christianity is a belief system. While we must know about Him, we must, more importantly, know Him. The disciples were able to physically follow Him, and in that they were blessed. Yet, God says that we are more blessed, who follow Him without seeing. To those of us who have apprenticed ourselves to Him through faith, we follow in the Spirit. Yet, we must follow, and not merely believe. Faith without the expression of that same faith is dead.
Eugene Peterson knew something vital about following Christ when he wrote, "A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith." (p.18, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, 2th Anniversary Edition).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Apprenticed To Christ - Part 1

I built cabinets for several years to help put myself through college. I knew nothing about cabinet building when I started, but learned by apprenticing under a master craftsman. He ran a mill shop that made virtually all the furniture for the university I attended. When someone needed something, he would design the furniture to meet the need and then I would build it. As I grew in skill, and awareness of our ability to build furniture grew, we hired others who apprenticed under me. I was never a master craftsman, but I learned enough in his company to basically run the mill shop in his absence. And, in every case, the furniture we built was built to meet the needs of the university. While our expertise helped design and create it, it was only created to meet an existing need; not because we wanted to be creative. And, while I did build furniture for myself, the greatest joy I had was in building a piece of furniture or cabinetry that perfectly met the need of the university. When I went back for my college homecoming last year, I took my family to see some of the things we had built twenty-five years ago. Even though none of those students have a clue who built those cabinets, I do, and I have the joy of seeing them accomplishing their purposes over two decades later.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In The Company Of Men

It is not possible for a man to learn how to be a man in the company of women. He can learn much from the women in his life. Timothy learned of the faith through his mother and grandmother. Yet, God put Paul in his life as a spiritual father. This weekend I spent time in the company of men. We left home, journied to the river, and spent time with God, in prayer and in the Word. We experienced the powerful call of God to live as men of valor, men of God. It was a sovereignly ordained event, drawing us to this place away from our homes into this company of men. There we learned more of what it means to be a Christian man, and it was good. It was very good. From the Gadites there went over to David at the stronghold in the whildernesss mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions and who were swift as gazelles upon the mountains. (1 Chron. 12:8 - ESV)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Breakfast With Christ

I wonder what it was like to get up early in the morning and begin the day by the campfire with Jesus. Groggy, stiff from sleeping on the ground. No coffee. Wake to Jesus tossing a few pieces of wood on the fire, wood He created. Parch some grain on a stone by the fire. Pass around a crust of bread and the water skin. Maybe some dry fish. Perhaps a date or fig. Then, as we wondered if we would break a tooth on the grain, wondering what He would do or say today.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's In A Name - Part 2

Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Mormon, Pentecostal, etc., etc., etc., etc. So, what's in a name, and does it matter?

To some people in some groups it does. It clearly doesn't mean much to the First United Methodist Church in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, since they are apparently comfortable doing joint ministry projects with the Mormons. By the way, the name does matter to Mormons. While they want orthodox Christianity to accept them as Christian, they do not accept the orthodox doctrines of Christianity.

Does it matter what you call yourself? If you say you're a Baptist, what does that mean? If you say you're a Catholic, what does that mean? I know Baptists who think like Calvinistic Presbyterians and Baptists who think like Armenian Methodists. I know Catholics who think like agnostics, and Catholics who pray the Rosary daily.

Some will fight for the name. One pastor told me, "If I wasn't Baptist, I'd be ashamed." Another Pentecostal lady said, "You can pray for me, but you ain't Pentecostal." One guy told me, "Oh, yes, I'm a Christian. I was Baptized when I was a kid, but I do what I want now."

So, bottom line, there's not much in name, at least not the names we call ourselves. There is, however, something in one name. What you call yourself is a virtual non-issue in the grand scheme of things. What you do with Him, His commands, and His life is the only thing that matters when all is said and done.

His name is Jesus. He is not the Jesus defined by men, whether they call themselves Christian or not. He is not the brother of Satan named by the Mormons, or the prophet Isa named by the Muslims, or the still-suffering Christ re-sacrificed at each Catholic mass, or the systematized Jesus explained by the hyperCalvinists, or the legalistic political Jesus campaigned by right wing Baptists, or the culturally inclined approver of all sinners oozed from liberal pulpits.

He is the Jesus named by the Father, the only Son. He is self-defined, self-sufficient, and glorious. And, all that will matter in the end is not what we have called ourselves, but what He calls us on the day we each stand before Him. And, that will depend, not on what we called ourselves, but what we did with Him, with the one named Jesus. And, the intent of His heart, expressed in His own Words, is that He is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's In A Name - Part 1

I live in the rural south. The Confederate flag flies freely alongside the US flag on many flagpoles. I have always wondered how they could fly side-by-side, but I am a native Texan and we flew our flag alongside the US flag, too. Understand that those of us born Texan remember the Alamo and that we were an independent Republic before we were a United State.

Churches here where I live are rural. That is not to mean they are bad, or backward. They are simply rural. So, when the new family, who had moved from a metropolitan area came to our church and the mother said, "You're not like any other Baptist church we've been to here," it didn't bother me. We are solid in our doctrine. We just do things a bit differently, a bit less rural than others here (but very rural compared to "city"churches). If we were in a metro area, we would be just like many other churches, and more country than many others. It's all relative, but everyone assigns some set of expectations to the name, Baptist.

Presbyterian used to mean conservative, reserved, Calvinistic, Christian. Last week three in a growing number of churches left the Presbyterian Church USA because it has refused to affirm that Christ is the only way to God and it has refused to condemn sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage. What does Presbyterian mean?

Martin Luther campaigned to clean up the Catholic Church, was excommuicated, and hunted for believing in the Scripture alone and Grace alone. Today, the Evangelical Luthern Church in America is deciding to allow local congregations ordain homosexual clergy. What does Lutheran mean?

Saturday the mormons came by the house. I declined their offer to discuss the "restored" truths of Christ. They were polite as they handed me a photocopied ad for a Mormon photographer's exhibit on the life of Christ. At the bottom of the ad, I read this, "Sponsored by First United Methodist Church of ******** and The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints." John Wesley, if he were not in heaven, would certainly roll over in his grave. Methodist used to mean holy, evangelistic, firey. Now it means Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors and apparently, in at least one church, open to the heresy of a cult. What does Methodist mean today?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 3 (Yes, I know there were only supposed to be two parts.)

How do we overcome the world with Christ? How do we consistently trust Him, evaluating Him worthy of worship, worthy of praise, worthy of absolute obedience?

Ignoring the world is not an option. The world is bad and getting worse. Surrendering to despair is not an option. Adopting a positive attitude, that everything will work out, is also not Scriptural. A positive attitude, in and of itself, is not Biblical. Jesus was not positive about the Pharisees. He called them white-washed tombs. He was not positive about the Jewish people. He wept at their disobedience and pronounced a prophetic curse over them that they would not see Him again until they repented and worshiped Him as Messiah. Woe to Chorazin, woe to Bethsaida, and woe to Capernaum were not positive affirmations of their inherent goodness. He was not altogether positive about people in general. Remember, "broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. . . and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt. 7:13-14)

He was, however, absolutely convinced that His Father would triumph and that He would triumph. I know He was the Son of God, but how did He stay there? He faced the hard facts about the fallenness of man. He faced the hypocrisy of religious leaders. He faced the grim prospect of the cross. And, He faced it all filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy. How did He do that?

No one on this planet has ever been more aware of the fallenness of man and creation than He was. His abode had been Heaven, spotless, perfect, immaculate, filled with the Glory and Praise of God. Then He walked here. If He had not been convinced in the performance of His Father, surely He would have been overcome at His first breath.

He filled His heart and mind with God, God's Word, and with fellowship with His Father. He did not begin His day with an hour of Fox And Friends. I cannot help but think that He filled His early hours with His Father. He regularly, consistently, and constantly sought out His Father. Hide from the world and you hide from your purpose for being here. Hide in Christ, abide in Him, fill your mind with the Word that inspires confidence and faith in the Father, and you will overcome.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 2

God has never sugar coated life. He made it abundantly clear that this world is evil, will become progressively more so, and that we will have trouble in it if we follow Him. He has also never failed to make known to us that if we trust Him, we will be more than conquerors.

Just before Jesus' crucifixion, He evaluated His Father's performance and found Him faithful. To His closest friends, who would abandon Him in His darkest hour, He said, "Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me." He then spoke to all of us and said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace." Jesus, the ultimate realist spelled out what life would be like as He said, "In this world, you will have trouble;" Jesus, the ultimate believer then made our choice clear, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:32-33)

Trusting God is not just a choice. It is an evaluation of Him. When we choose hopelessness, frustration, anger, or defeat, we have decided that God will not perform. We have decided to trust the trouble, not God. Even when we are the trouble, when we are he ones who fall short, when we point the finger at our own weaknesses and use them as an excuse not to change, not to try, not to strive, even then we are evaluating God. In those days of self-pity and self-loathing, we are still pointing a finger at God and saying, in essence, that He has not made us equal to the task.

No matter what the news, no matter what the situation, no matter what your resources, every choice you make reflects what you think of God. You either believe He has overcome the world, or you don't. Assess Him faithful, trust Him, and the peace that passes all understanding will fill and guard your thoughts and your emotions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 1

I watched the news this morning and was overwhelmed with frustration, but not that the new administration are opposed to what I believe. I was frustrated by what I perceive to be a rampant lack of integrity and a rampant epidemic of incompetence. "Pass this bill immediately or we will die," then head off for a weekend celebration or a trip to Italy? A new age of ethical reform, except for political appointees. A new era of change, except for those now in control. So many promises made have already been broken, and not even broken well. Some lie with style. Some deceive with flair, but not those leading our nation today. Lesser liars and deceivers have taken charge. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that there is no one in charge who has the character to competently lead us. I had hoped for so much more.

Then there are the masses, like the mob in Rome, who are frothing at the bit for another handout. It's like the movie Gladiator when Commodus fed the masses free bread and the spectacle of the coliseum, and they loved it, ignoring their poverty. Americans, deceived, en masse, elated with a scrap of bread and a morsel of moldy cheese. Anestheticized by the promise of handouts from their government, while others pay the price.

This effects me. My friends and parishioners are anxious, struggling as logging crews shut down, mills run at lowered capacity, hours are cut, and there seems to be no end in sight. That no end in sight thing is the catch.

A spouse at the end of his rope begs me to do something to change his mate. A deacon, struggling with the overwhelming need of a friend, shares that increasing helplessness and frustration. A friend who has gone above and beyond wonders if it will ever produce fruit, if there is ever an end. Yet, the underlying issue is not the government, or the unbelieving masses, or the economy. The fulcrum upon which my sanity and joy rests is my estimation of whether God is performing as He should? The underlying issue is what I think of God.

(Part 2 tomorrow.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Hills Upon Which We Live Or Die

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
I had a conversation with an judge yesterday as we talked about how to help a man get some treatment for substance abuse. The judge has to make sure the law is fulfilled, but wants this nonviolent criminal to have a chance at change.
The conversation turned to politics, then philosophy; the philosophy of change. The judge had been a conservative who considered being a preacher. I had been a liberal who considered becoming a lawyer. In the end, I made this statement, "The only time anyone really changes is when their hearts change, and only God can change hearts."
We look toward Capitol Hill for answers. The CNN headline reads, "How much stimulus $$ will you get?" Churches used to be built on the highest hill in the town, to draw people "up" to God. When David lifted his eyes to the hills, he may have been looking for an army, but then he looked beyond and realized that his help would come from the God who created the hills which he looked beyond and the same God created the heavens into which he gazed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toast & The Sovereignty Of God

In light of the current condition of our country politically, economically, and culturally, I'd like to voice my opinion. We are toast.
In light of God, His Word, and His involvement in all of human history, I'd like to state something beyond opinion. God is sovereign, even if we are toast.
One more thing. Jesus will return and straighten everything out. Until then, we have an increasing opportunity to trust and obey Him. The important thing is that we don't end up spending eternity looking like toast.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I still would plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther

The future is a skeptic and the past a critic. We cannot live well with either as our constant companions. There is only one companion who gives us true hope and true joy, and there is only one place we can experience Him. While God holds our future, and redeems our past, we can only know Him and His blessings in this moment, in this day. We can only know Him, walk with Him, enjoy Him, and make Him known today.

Friday, January 23, 2009

We Walk By Faith

It is 60 feet from the light switch at the stairs that lead down to our fellowship hall to the back door through which I often leave. If I am a good steward of our resources, I turn off the light before entering the hall, making my way through the dark to the door. Sometimes I cheat. I reach out and keep my hand on the wall away from the two columns that are in the middle of the large room and away from the chairs and tables that seem to wander into my path in the dark. Sometimes, though, I do not cheat. Sometimes I look directly at the back door before I turn off the light. Then I flip the switch and walk directly toward the door in the pitch dark, keeping my hands out in front of me waiting to touch the door. I have never stumbled walking this way; always making it without hitting the columns, or falling over the chairs. I have, however, tripped while walking along the wall, not noticing the chair or trashcan that was in the way before the light was out; trusting my feelings rather than my faith. One way is the walk of faith. The other is by sight. Even though it is pitch dark, it is based on my ability to feel my way through the room like I have often attempted to feel my way through life. Faith is better, and it is also quite a rush in the dark.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life And The Failure Of Science

Eliot Mooney was not supposed to live. Fifty percent of babies with Trisomy 18 are stillborn, and most do not survive more than 10 days after birth. Eliot had Trisomy 18, but he did live until birth. He lived a total of 99 days, and his parents celebrated each and every day of his life. And they grieve his passing. I showed a video of their story in our worship services yesterday. You can see it at this link: After worship services, three different women came to me telling me their Trisomy 18 stories. One was a grandmother, whose daughter was told by doctors her child would have Trisomy 18. Another was a woman who was encouraged to abort her baby by doctors who told her it would have Trisomy 18. A third was a sister, whose sister had been pressured to abort her child because of a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18. 1 in 3,000 births has this genetic defect. But, in each of these three cases, the doctors were wrong and the children were born healthy. A grandson, a daughter, and a niece are alive today, because those women believed in life and the failure of science. Eliot lived 99 days because, in spite of the failure of science to be able to heal their son, his parents believed in the faithfulness of God in the middle of our trials.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Thousand Years And A Day

I am a purveyor of words. I most enjoy life, when I am teaching. As such, I have often been accused of purveying more words than my listeners can bear to hear in the time allotted. The nature of the words I purvey, the teachings of Christ, adds significance and weight to them. The preacher's passion and the weight of his content can contribute to creeping pride and arrogance so that he may think, if he does not say, "My listeners should be glad to listen, and it is more spiritual to hear me speak of the things of God for an hour than for a half hour." For the past several years, my church has become one that was less and less concerned about the time we "got out." The length of my sermons, around 45 minutes, and my style began to fashion us. Those who insisted in three points and a poem all in fifteen minutes or less have left. Those who have remained and who have come have not been bothered by time, but I have. During the last several years, I have asked God to help me be faithful to Him, to the calling to preach, and to the people I speak to each week, AND, to enable and teach me to do that in less time. Sometimes I find that people are so sated after a lengthy sermon that they want to take a nap spiritually, rather than digesting what they have been taught and then finding themselves hungry again for God. In the last several months, He has answered that prayer. My sermons are shorter, and I have still have passion, and God is still changing lives. And, low and behold, some have come to me and complained, saying, "Your sermons are too short. You need to preach longer." And I reply, in my heart, "Thank you very much. I'll be here all week."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Every Innovation Will Need Renovation

The Parthenon was once one of the most innovative, imaginative, and grand structures in the world. It is now in need of a complete overhaul. Eleven years ago, our church spent weeks in prayer, met, worked, and developed ministry priorities. God began to do a new thing here. It was wonderful. Shortly after that we installed some carpet in a hallway at our church. As I walked down that hallway the other day, I realized that it really needed to be replaced. It had served its purpose, but it was now worn and stained.
I'm not equating what we have done for the past many years as worn and stained, but I do believe that every innovation will eventually need renovation. For the past two and one-half months, our church has prayed, and met, and worked to hear what God is directing us to do now, today, not what we were to do eleven years ago.
Much of what we did 20 years ago, we are still doing. There are priorities for the church that never change, and will not until Christ's return. Many of the things God directed us to do 11 years ago are still His will for us today, and still there are other things that need renovation. I am thankful, in this process, that there is a grand architect who has a plan. And, I am thankful that His laborers hear His voice and they follow Him. I am thankful that, while I have responsibility as a pastor, I am not the sole proprietor of this church. Christ is, and it is a true joy watching Him direct us as we seek Him.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

If This Is Post-Christian America

As I sat in the restaurant, I overheard a conversation behind me. "Hey, it's so good to see you." "It's good to see you, too," and the small talk continued. "So, are you still faithful in church," that peeked my interest. "No, no, I'm not." "Well, you need to get back." "Yes, yes I know I should. Did you know that I had been diagnosed with cancer." "Oh, no, I'm so sorry." "Yes, well, it will be o.k." After church lady left, non-church lady went on talking, but not about God or prayer or anything remotely Christian in spite of the fact that she had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

A recent poll found that Americans believe, by a two to one margin, that religion in America is losing its influence. Many Christian writers warn that we have entered the same post-Christian slide that has left many of the churches of Europe empty. There has always been a healthy percentage of professing Christians that gave only lip service to Christ. Yet it seems that we have entered a new age of apathy concerning God and His truths.

The real issue is not the condition of our society, but the condition of my faithfulness. If this is the age in which America becomes like many other nations who have forsaken God, will I become one who dims until I die, or will I be one who faithfully carries the light and salts the path until He claims me?