Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Shepherds Left, Now What?

Contrary to popular story-telling, the only people present on the night of Jesus' birth were his immediate family and the shepherds. The wise men did not come that night, but some time later.  It would have been highly unlikely that Joseph would have travelled with a nearly-ready-to-give-birth wife without a mid-wife, so one may have come with them from Nazareth.  Other than that, Jesus' birth was a small, dirty, common happening.  After the miraculous arrival of the shepherds, the telling of their story, and their amazing praise service, Joseph, Mary, and the baby would have been left all alone.

It's like Christmas. Months of build-up, family, friends, activity, and then . . . what?  As I look across at the tree in our living room, it has no presents. The stockings have been emptied. The Christmas Eve service is over. I am preparing to preach the last "Christmas" themed message, wondering if our members will bring their families to church today, or if family will trump. The Shepherds have left, now what?

Now, Christ. Now, Jesus. The shepherds were amazed and the event was amazing, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)  She didn't know that she was supposed to have a tree, and decorations, and lights, and gifts, and feasts. She just had Jesus, and He was more othan enough. There was another Mary, whose sister was Martha. She didn't care about feasts, or festivities, or meals, just Jesus, and Jesus said that she "has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her." (Luke 10:42)  And, at the end of Jesus' life, there was just one disciple at his feet, John, the one who loved Jesus and who Jesus loved.  He and Jesus' mother were there, and Jesus entrusted them to each other.

Christmas is perhaps the most wonderful time of the year, unless you know and abide in Jesus. Then, the time of the year is not the issue. Post-Christmas-Depression is not an issue, because once everyone and everything has gone, your life continues. Your life continues because it has always been about Him. You have learned that the only way to celebrate the incarnation of God is to abide in Christ.  And, abiding is not about holidays. Abiding is about every day, every day, every moment a holy-day, a holy-moment, because it is spent in Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Can't Get There From Here: From Emily Litella To The Battle For Christmas

Be warned. This post is going around the mountain before we get to the top.

1st . . . "Merry Christmas!!!"  I just wanted to start with that in case someone thinks that what I'm writing means I'm antiChristmas. I have always battled a bit of a Scroogitude, but I am not antiChristmas. I am all about Christ in Christmas. I wouldn't celebrate it any other way.

2nd . . .  "Never mind."  If you were an early Saturday Night Live fan, you saw Gilda Radner do the Miss Emily Litella sketch. Emily was an old lady who did an editorial rant on the news. The problem was that every time she was ranted, it was about the wrong thing. For instance, she did one on "Why is everyone so upset about all the violins on TV. If they don't show violins on TV until after 10, how will all the little children learn music appreciation?"  Chevy Chase broke in and said, "Miss Litella, it was violence, violence on TV."  To which she responded, "Oh, well, that's different. Never mind."

3rd . . . "The truth shall set you free."  Truthfully, the vast majority of what we do at Christmas has nothing to do with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Truthfully, the way we celebrate Christmas actually distorts the Biblical narrative and purpose of the birth of Christ.  Think about it.  Tree . . . not there.  Three wise men . . . not three, and not there at his birth but two years later, so there were no gifts given on the night of his birth.  Lots of family. . . not there.  Big Christmas meal . . . didn't happen.  Happy times . . . not so much since Mary didn't even have a clean room to have the baby in.

4th . . . "Never mind . . . not commanded." No place in Scripture tells us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and certainly none of it tells us to do it like we do it. I know, I'm a Scrooge.  No, not Scrooge, truth . . . and only the truth really sets us free and makes us live. Jesus gave his church two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper.

5th . . . "The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It's Christmas, and the war of words has once again been fought.  You know, "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays."  We have once again ranted about the Christ in Christmas, but understand this. Christmas as we know it is a cultural creation of the Christian faith. It is not a God-ordained, Scripturally mandated or instructed function of the church or the Christian life. 

The birth of Christ, the incarnation is pivotal. It should in no way be minimized, but Christmas as we do it cannot be Biblically defended.  We do not have  a Biblical sword to draw to fight this battle.  This war is not a war against the tree, gifts, and family time. It is a war against the incarnation, without which there could have been no redemptive blood spilt, and no bodily resurrection accomplished.  Without the incarnation, there is no gospel. Without the gospel, there is no hope.

I wonder if the battle for Christmas is wrong, and we have misunderstood what He really wanted just like Miss Emily Litella. God didn't say, "fight for Christ in Christmas." He didn't say, "post anti Xmas posts on Facebook."  He said, "preach the good news to all men."  What if Christ doesn't really want Christmas.  He didn't come to have a birthday party. He came to give new life to all who would believe. 

"Oh, well, it's probably just me. Never mind."

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Could Never Work In Sales

Mike comes to our church office every Monday morning asking if we have an order. EVERY Monday morning. He works for the company we order food from for our Wednesday meal. For several months, we didn't have the Wednesday meal. Mike still came every Monday morning and asked if we had an order, for MONTHS. He brought sales sheets, new product information, etc.,etc., but he did not make a sale for months.

Then one Monday morning everything changed. We decided to restart the Wednesday meals, and so we had an order for Mike. He did not know that we had changed our minds. He was just doing what he was supposed to do... coming to our church on Monday morning and asking if we had an order.  He walked in, and asked, "Well, do you have an order for me today?"  Teresa said, "Yes, we do." and Mike had made a sale. That is a tough way to make a living. Mike must ask us for an order at least a dozen times for every order we place, but if he stops asking . . . well, if he stops asking, we don't order.

Could you do that? If you are a faithful follower of Christ, you do. You offer the gospel to people dozens of times before they ever say yes. AND, IF YOU STOP OFFERING, they will not just walk up to you and say, "Hey, you look like a Christian, tell me how I can have Jesus, too."

You can tell them about your faith. That's good advertising. But, they don't need your faith. They need THE faith. We don't need the food at Mike's house. We need the food his company will deliver to our church, and the people around you need the gospel of Jesus Christ, presented again and again until they say yes.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Re-Gifting For Christmas

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” ~ Luke 2:14

The shepherds were simple nobodies living in the fields with their sheep. There was nothing special about them, nothing that warranted God’s announcement, no reason that the Angelic host should announce the birth of God’s Son to them rather than to any other group.

That is what “with whom he is pleased means.” It doesn’t mean that if we live life well enough, God will be pleased with us. It means that God is pleased with those who, by faith receive His gift. He fills our souls with glory and peace just for receiving the Greatest Gift Ever Given.

We know they received the gift because they acted on their faith, quickly making their way to Bethlehem to see the child. They worshiped him, and then did exactly what God intends each of us to do with the Gift. They Re-Gifted. They walked outside the manger and began to tell everyone about Jesus. They Re-Gifted the Greatest Gift Ever Given, and their hearts were filled – both by receiving the gift and by giving it away.

I have lost five friends this year. I knew four of them were dying, but the fifth died suddenly. It has been especially hard because one of those people was not a believer. However, in the middle of this loss, I have peace in my heart.

I have peace because I have received Christ. I am a simple nobody, but it pleased God to make Himself known to me and to give me life. I also have peace because I Re-Gifted this gift to each of my five friends. I have Re-Gifted the Gospel to everyone that I can think of in my life who may not know Him. My friends are gone from this earth, but I have the peace of knowing that they heard the Gospel from me before they died.

It is God’s pleasure for you to Receive the Gift, and to give it away. There is peace in receiving the gift, but there is no peace if it is not Re-Gifted. There is no joy in knowing that someone died who I could have told about Jesus, but did not tell.

There are only a few days left till Christmas. It is time to Re-Gift.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quotes For My Fly Fishing Friends

"Bragging may not bring happiness, but no man having caught a large fish goes home through an alley." ~ Anonymous

"There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process." ~ Paul O'Neil, 1965

"The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope." ~ John Buchan

"There's no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm." ~ Patrick MacManus

"I'm not against golf, since I cannot but suspect that it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout." ~ Paul O'Neil

"Many men go fishing all their lives not knowing that it is not fish they are after." ~ Henry David Thoreau

"I fish better with a lit cigar; some fish better with talent." ~ Nick Lyons, Bright Rivers

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Linchpin Of The Christian Faith

"In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better. Resurrection was not a private event. Jewish revolutionaries whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest themselves, had two options; give up the revolution, or find another leader. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was. " ~ N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Weight And Wait Of Sin

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. ~ 2 Timothy 4:9-11a

Before we met Christ we walked, comfortably, in the darkness. Then one day, we became aware of a light. We saw it in creation around us, and it began to stir in our hearts as we recognized that Creation must have a Creator. We recognized how dark our existence really was, how sad and sick and sinful. Then one day, someone told us the light had a name, that the light had come into the darkness to deliver us from it by His death and by the power of His resurrection. We believed and found that the light we had seen in the darkness now filled our dark hearts with life. And almost all of us believed that everything would be good now, right and perfect, but it was not - not quite fully light.

We are full of light and we see the evidence of it all around us, but we still experience the weight of the darkness. We now know what it is like to be a stranger and a pilgrim in a world in which we do not belong. Within us there is a longing for a world that is not just illuminated, but filled with light. Yet we wait, and we experience the weight of waiting.

We long for relationships that never end, just as Paul did, and we wait. We long for deliverance from all temptation, and we wait. We grieve as our sons and daughters and friends and husbands and wives and even our enemies are crushed under the weight of sin, and we pray, and we preach, and we wait. We long for maturity and stability in our own lives, and we wait. We do not wait willingly but in submission with all of Creation, because we wait in Him.

In Him we find freedom from the weight of sin. In Him we find endurance for the weight of the effects of sin in this world of darkness. In Him we find the friend who endures, who never fails. In Him we eagerly wait for the day when His enemies are made His footstool and the darkness will flea before the light of His glory.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When Praying For Rain Isn't The Answer

As a boy growing up in rolling plains of west Texas, I regularly drove 20 miles down dusty roads to hunt and fish. The average rainfall in my county was about 18 inches and most of it came in two or three huge gushes. Now I live in the middle of two forests, the Kisatchie and the Sabine, where annual rainfall amounts approach 60 inches. I've always loved these forests, but right now it's as dry as it ever was when I was a boy in Texas.

Getting to a hunting spot only takes me a few minutes now, but I had to pull over and let the truck I followed out the other night get far ahead. I couldn't see or breathe through the dust. So, we've been praying for rain, and this morning it did rain . . . but not enough to even wet the dust. And, for some reason, I thought, "We need more than that. We actually need more than rain." That may sound crazy. How can we need more than rain?

Well, there are times we pray for rain, when rain is not our answer. Sometimes we just need to stop driving so fast down the road, stirring up the dust.

Think of what God said, "When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or sent pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." (2 Chron. 7:13-14)

Sometimes the dust in our lives is simply God trying to get our attention to the sin in our lives. There were those who went to John the Baptist to be baptized who he called a brood of vipers attempting to escape the fire. They were not coming to be baptized as a sign of repentance and change. They were just trying to make sure they had all their religious bases covered.

There was another time when people were looking for spiritual rain, and Peter, preaching, told them "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord," (Acts 3:19) Often, the rain we long for in our life is not the answer, but rather the fruit.

So, where's the dust in your life?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Are People Still In Jail?

There have been laws against the taking of a life for as long as there have been human beings. Why, then, are there still murderers and manslaughterers in jail? Why has the law not stopped murder? Could it be that no law can stop crime?

That certainly doesn't mean we don't need laws. Think of the anarchy, the chaos, and the fear that would fill a world without laws. There are examples throughout history of societies without government. Today, there is one brewing just south of the Rio Grande in the nation of Mexico. There are daily reports of mass murder there, Mexican citizens and government officials living in fear of the drug lords who live with no regard for the law.

While laws cannot stop crime, they can define acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They are necessary to teach citizens how to behave in society. They restrain us. Without them, any nation would descend into anarchy. Why? How could a law-abiding citizen become a vigilante overnight? The answer is simple.

Even the one who prides himself on keeping all the laws of the land is lawless at heart. At some point he has failed to come to a complete stop, and worse. If he will be honest, he has wanted to assault someone, steal someone's wife, run the stop sign, failed to pay his taxes. So, his heart has betrayed him. It is only the fear of the law that has kept him in line, but it has never really completely transformed who he is.

So, even if we are not in jail, we should be? Who will deliver us from who we really are? "Who will deliver us from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25)

Monday, October 25, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Do these words resonate with your soul . . . zebra midge, BWO, copper john, pheasant tail, foam wing, big macs, jujube's, and comparadun? I know, you may think I have lost my mind, but these words . . . they call to me. They reach deep down in my soul and stir a desire in me to stand in the middle of a freezing stream for hours, casting, and re-casting, snacking on trail mix and dried beef, drinking stale water from an old bottle in my vest, moving from swift to slow water, tying and re-tying tiny flies that I cannot see without 3x readers. Oh, may the week after Christmas come quickly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can I Be Thankful In All Things, Even Hell

Should I be thankful for Hell? I cannot be thankful for a single soul who finds himself there. I can, however, be thankful that one day, this place created for Satan and his angels will be full of them, and the rest of creation will see them no more.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Worship And The Avoidance Of Dread

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Recent studies have proven that human beings cannot multitask. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that our brains are so vast, that and we use so little of their capacity, that we can actually work like a multi-core processor and handle several tasks at the same time. Scientists have proven that we simply cannot do two conscious things at exactly the same time. We may be able to do them so quickly that we delude ourselves into thinking we multitask, but we do not.

I write this article on a Tuesday morning after a long weekend. How many of us dread returning to work after our extra day off? You could be headed into a difficult conversation, or off to the doctor's office to find the results from a test, or into the classroom to receive the grade from the test you took last week, or there is a meeting at work today to tell you who will be laid off. What you dread could be as simply as going home today and having to mow the lawn or do the laundry.

God has given us an answer to dread. Since we cannot do more than one thing at a time, if we would simply make His glory our goal in all situations - well, we could not dread a situation if we are glorifying God in that situation. Do you recognize and acknowledge the worth and sovereignty of God in all things? Do you make the glory of God the object of all of life, even the things you dread to do? No matter what you dread, do you believe that the situation does not change who God is or who you are in Him? No matter how mundane or tragic your life today, do you believe God is still worthy of worship?

You cannot dread and glory in the Lord in the same moment.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just How Far Can You Go?

Just who can we, who follow Christ, ally ourselves with? This question has been brought to the forefront because of the nature of one Fox News personality, Glenn Beck. This Mormon held a rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday that sounded more like a call to Christian revival than a political statement. His values sound conservative and they sound Christian, at least to the American Christian ear. Yet, most of the values he preaches are also conservative Muslim values, at least to the American Muslim. I like Beck. I like some of the things he has said on his TV show. I like a call to return to conservative Christian values in our country, but I have questions. If you are an orthodox Christian, you should to.

If you want to think through this, from an orthodox Christian perspective, I ask you to do three things. First, read my previous blog. Second, read this article by Dr. Russell Moore. He is the dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Third, don't drink the kool-aid. What I mean is, don't just accept everything at face value. Don't buy in just because it sounds good. Think your life through with Bible in hand and Jesus in heart.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Privilege Of Bearing The Gospel

In July 2004, nine U.S. soldiers were returning from Iraq for a two-week leave. The soldiers had tickets in coach class. Before they boarded, one of the first class passengers went to the ticket counter and arranged to exchange his first-class ticket for the soldier's coach class fare. As the plane boarded, eight more first-class passengers did the same so that all of the soldiers came home in first-class, not coach class. The flight attendant on the American Airlines flight, Devilla Evans said, "it was a privilege to be flying with those two groups of unselfish people: those who would put their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens' freedom, and those who were not ashamed to say thank you."

Not long ago I was asked to stop by and see Doretha. She is dying and sent word that she wanted to see a preacher. That can mean many things. For Doretha it meant she was scared to die. She had no idea what would happen to her in eternity. She knew she had not been what she should have been and knew that somehow she wasn't going to make it once she died. I told her what God said about her condition and his offer of forgiveness and hope for her. She believed. We prayed and cried. All through this encounter, I kept thinking, "Anyone, anyone can do this. Anyone can carry the gospel and share it. What a privilege to carry it. What a privilege to be here with her."

Jesus is the hero who laid down his life for the world. He is the soldier who defeated our mortal enemy. And, He has offered us the incredible, incredible privilege of carrying the gospel, the good news of His salvation to the world. Anyone can do it, anyone. Every believer is commanded, but the only ones who experience the joy of the gospel are those who give up their privilege to accept His. Those who do find that coach class is the best seat on the plane.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Dreams May Come

I was at a multi-day conference with several people I know. We made a side trip to a beautiful river. At first, we were the only ones there.

Then two women, fisher-women came to the stream and geared up. Before they began to fish, another older man came down from the parking lot and moved below the riffles which were just below the pool we were standing beside. He stepped into the water, waded out, and on his first cast caught a beautiful trout. Just a moment later, one of the women, had a monster on.

I talked with both of them, found out what they were using, and decided I would skip the last day of the conference and fish instead. Another one of the men who was with me had never fly fished. We went back to our hotel suite, got him geared up and made plans to stop by the local fly shop on the way to the river.

Just at the moment I found my sunglasses in my equipment bag, my alarm went off. My first thought, this morning, as I woke up in own my bed and not on that river was, "This just ain't right."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Can Be Thankful And Not Give Thanks

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ~ Romans 1:21
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~ G. K. Chesterton
I cannot be thankful and not give thanks. What would that be, thankfulness without thanksgiving? The thought of it is too twisted to even exist in the rational mind, and yet it exists in the practice of us all at some point. We "think" about the goodness of God but fail to thank Him. We appreciate the goodness of another but fail to open our mouths and say, "thank you." What is that? What can I possibly mean if I say "I am thankful" and yet do not give thanks? No wonder so few of us see the power of God manifested in our lives. We forget to practice the spirit-filled life by the giving of thanks for and in all things.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Can Praise God And Not Praise God

Ask the earth and the sea, the plains and the mountains, the sky and the clouds, the stars and the sun, the fish and animals, and all of them say, "We are beautiful because God made us." This beauty is their testimony to God. ~ Augustine of Hippo

These objects have no choice but to worship. They are created by God, but not in His image - not with a will, an ability to choose. And now, involuntarily, creation is subjected to a curse because of our sin. Yet, even cursed by sin, it accomplishes its purpose - the praise and glory of God. We are not earth or sea, plain or mountain, sky or cloud, star, fish, or animal. We are created in the image of God, meaning that we have been given a mind and a will. Sadly, outside of the devil and the demons, we are the only things in creation that do not praise Him.

We are the only ones who can enter a house of worship and refuse to lift our voices in praise. We are the only ones who can look at the purple, red, orange, and yellow hues of a sunset and fail to praise the Creator. We are the only ones who can sit down to a meal and mumble a meaningless prayer without even thinking of the good God-given gifts of food, and table, and roof over our heads. We cannot praise God and not praise God. Woe to us when we excuse our silence because of a pitchless voice or a shy spirit. Woe to us when we remain silent because we do not like "the song." Woe to any who refuse to lift their voice in praise and thanksgiving to the God who gave us our voices, and the will to use them or not. And, praise be to this God who made us with the full knowledge that most would fail to follow Him, and more still would fail to offer Him the praise and thanks due Him.

I Can Practice Sin And Still Expect God's Blessings And Power In My Life

Mark Souder resigned as an Indiana congressman after confessing an affair with a staffer. WORLD magazine reported some of his comments as he reflected on his moral failure. He shared how difficult it is to keep people in power in check, "Politicians and many top professionals are skilled manipulators and smooth with words. Holding us accountable is hard." "My sin," he wrote, "while forgiven, is greater in that God put me in a position of public trust, so I deserve whatever criticism I receive." He talked about his life while in the middle of this affair, "I prayed multiple times a day, sang hymns with emotions and tears, felt each time it would not happen again, read the Bible every morning . . . So, how in the world did I have a torrid - which is an accurate word - many-year affair? How could I compartmentalize it so much?" He then said, "Bottom line, however, is that the problem is sin . . . the problem is getting the will subordinate to the Holy Spirit early enough that the Spirit is not quenched."

Comedian, Fred Allen, said,"Most of us spend the first six days a week sowing wild oats, then we go to church on Sunday morning and pray for a crop failure."

It really doesn't work like that with God. Grace is not permission to sin. Grace, when understood and received frees us from the power of sin and motivates us to hate our sin by loving the One who died for our sin.

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" ~ Romans 6:1-2

I Do Not Need Church To Follow Christ

D. L. Moody was visiting a prominent citizen of Chicago when the issue of church membership came up. The man said, "I believe I can be just as good a Christian outside the church as I can inside of it." Moody said nothing, but stood and moved to the hearth where a fire was blazing. With the fireplace tongs, he removed a single coal and placed it outside the fire on the hearth where the two men watched it quickly cool. "I see," said the man.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." ~ Hebrews 10:24-15

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Reasons I Don't Believe In Luck

Three months ago I decided that I would preach a series of sermons about the family between VBS and the start of school.

Two weeks ago I was preaching about the powerful influence of the submission of a Christian wife to an unbelieving husband. A young Christian mom happened to be there. Her husband is resistant to the gospel. She followed me out of church, gently touched my arm and said, "Thank you so much. I really needed to hear that. It has helped me so much."

A week and a half ago, our satellite went out. They sent another receiver. It was messed up, too. They scheduled a technician for last Monday. I rescheduled because I thought I had an appointment for that afternoon. I felt stupid when I realized I had looked at the wrong date. They could have come. Oh well.

Yesterday I taught about God's plan for singles, including the struggles of being married and serving the Lord. I had prayed for God to bring singles to church. There were alot. A mother, whose children were about to go to college, stopped me after and said, "You could not have picked a better Sunday. I'm so glad my kids heard that right before we take them to college."

Today the satellite troubleshooter showed up. He was a young believer. He believes that unless a conversation begins and ends with God, it's not worthwhile. His wife and his pastor don't understand his passion. As he talked, we talked about taking care of our wives. We prayed for wisdom for him as he serves his wife. We talked about some ways he could use his home and his life as it is to minister, without planning events that take him away from home so much.

These are some reasons I don't believe in luck.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Long Would You Love?

Mike Walker is a friend of mine, because we share a common interest in seeing people who do not believe in Jesus become His followers. For the last three and one-half years he has been praying for just One person. He has reached out as a friend, hoped, tried, and prayed.

Last week, he had his first real spiritual conversation with the man he has prayed for for three years. They took an hour and a half walk. During those 90 minutes, they talked about God. Mike shared the gospel. In the end, his One said, "Well, you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe." While you might consider that a failure, Mike considers it a success.

It took three and a half years but he finally got to talk to a dying man about life. Mike is still praying for that One. He will try again. The only way Mike could have failed is to have quit praying, quit trying, quit being a friend, and quit sharing the gospel. That's not my opinion. It's Gods, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9) And, Jesus said of those who do not quit, "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary." (Rev. 2:3))

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Is It To Glorify God?

It is not possible to add to the glory of God. He is perfect, infinite and eternal. His glory fills the heavens and the earth (Isa. 6). So, how can we glorify Him if we cannot add to His glory? Creation manifests His glory passively, meaning that creation does not make a conscious choice to glorify Him. It merely does so because He has created it to do so, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom.1:20). In this way, the heavens and the earth declare His glory. The creation of man, the intricacies of the human body and mind, declare the glory of its creator, but our purpose is not to passively glorify God. We have been created in His image with a will and a mind, and we must choose to glorify Him. We are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pet. 2:9) This is how we accomplish our chief end. (1) We strive to fill our hearts with confidence in Him, the greatest love for Him, and the greatest honor for Him. (2) We glorify Him with our lips, lifting His praise out of our hearts and minds and going public with our praise. In short, we live a life that praises Him with open mouths that praise Him. If the exaltation of His Name in our lives and with our praise is not our chief end, we are not truly enjoying Him. If it is our cheif end, we will enjoy Him forever.

The End Defines The Means

The shorter Westminster Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Jesus said that the greatest command and aspiration in the world was for a man to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. That is glory to God and that is joy.

Joy in Him and glory unto Him are found by working to provide for ourselves and our families. (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Joy in Him and glory unto Him are found in eating, drinking, sleeping, marrying, making babies, raising children, loving grandchildren, and all other lawful things when they are done for His glory (1 Cor. 10:3). Joy in Him and glory unto Him are found even when we enjoy the things of life, in moderation, and when they are enjoyed for His glory. (Ps. 123:25-26).

All men die, but not all men truly live. Faith in Christ is not the end, but the beginning of life. Life is not what you do, life is why you do it and who you do it for. All men work, provide, eat, drink, marry, procreate, and die, and they do it for a million different reasons. Those who know Christ, and whose chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever live. They really live, because they know why they live; for the glory and enjoyment of God.

Don't just live. Live!

* adapted from The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture, by Thomas Vincent

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Real Men Pick Their Battles

Jesus never threw a punch, yet never backed down. It's hard to put those two thoughts together. We think that a failure to engage in a fight, physically or verbally, is backing down. We think it's cowardice. Picking your battles is not cowardice. It's wisdom, and a real man is wise.

Jesus had nothing to prove to those who were against him, because he was already approved by God. He was on a mission for the glory of God, "If I (Jesus) glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, 'He is our God.' Yet you do not know him, but I know him." (John 8:54-55a) So, he picked his battles to glorify God. More than once he avoided confrontation because it was not time for confrontation. More than once he told people not to proclaim his identity, because it was not yet time for that. The timing would not have glorified His Father, it would not have fulfilled God's plan.

A real man, like Jesus, has nothing to prove, because he knows he is already approved by God. A real man, like Jesus, has nothing to prove, because he is living a life that is greater than himself. His mission is the glory of God in all he does. A real man is a "thinking man," not a "reacting man." He picks the battles that God picks and he fights them in a way that glorifies the One who has already approved of him.

Pick the hills you are willing to die on, and die only on those hills that will glorify God.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jesus, Real Man, Never Threw A Punch

"Son, if you've gotta fight, fight to win and fight dirty. If you think he's gonna hit you, kick him in the groin as hard as you can. He'll go down and the fight will be over." Coarse, but sound advice if you want to win a fight. After all, a real man has to stand up for himself. Right?

Wrong. The real man, Jesus, never threw a punch. I know, he made a whip to drive moneychangers out of the temple, but two things about that. First, scholars say he did not hit the moneychangers, he merely drove the animals. And second, he wasn't upset about himself, but about the people who could not get to God to pray because of the business that was set up in the court of the Gentiles. It was about God and people, not him.

The only fist fight Jesus was ever in he lost so badly that, after it was over, he was so beat up he didn't even look human. He had every reason to throw a punch. They questioned his character, called him a liar, and basically called him an illegetimate son. "Yes, but he was Jesus. He had to do that because it was part of his suffering." Yes, it was part of God's plan, but if you think that Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek" was some sort of object lesson, look again.

Real Christian men follow the example of their Captain. They let their lives do the talking, because, in the end, the only proof about the manhood of any man is in the life he lives.

Jesus, Real Man, No Truck

Ok, I know this is really random, but humor me. I was just thinking about the real man, Jesus. I don't mean, "He he was a real historical person." I mean that he was a real man, the living example of real manhood. Amazingly, he had no truck. He walked everywhere he went, except a couple of short donkey rides, and he didn't have a pair of Skechers or Nike's. Think about it. The average American male walks about 900 miles per year. Some estimate Jesus walked over 6,000 miles per year. That means that Jesus covered as much ground on foot in his 33 years as three average American men cover in an average American lifetime. Jesus, real man, no truck.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pointless Testing

Four years of radiation, chemo and hormone therapy have not stopped the cancer. The doctor finally tells the family what he has known for months. The patient, tired of the treatment, has begun to accept his prognosis. Then, after months of hospice care, a family member shows up and insists on a new round of testing to determine how far the illness has spread. The tests are pointless. They change nothing, and the family member will not likely find the peace they think the results will give them.

God never tests us pointlessly. From our perspective, His testing sometimes seems to be so that He can diagnosis our hearts. He needs no test to see what's in our hearts, but we sometimes need to be tested to find out what we are really made of. And, we need testing to see what God is made of, for when He tests our faith He proves Himself. He proves He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in us.

His testing is not for diagnosis, but for the completion of our faith. So, we can rejoice every time we are tested, knowing that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness in us. That steadfastness, or patience, has its full effect in us making us perfect and complete so that we do not lack anything that is required for a life that glorifies the one who never tests us pointlessly. (James 1:3-4)

Monday, July 26, 2010


On the 11th of June, 1963, Thic Quang Duc had himself set on fire to protest the abuse of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. He sat in the classic lotus posture meditating, apparently in complete peace as another monk poured five gallons of gasoline over him. The monk then led a trail away from him with the fuel, bowed, and lit the trail. Duc maintained his pose until his body gave way in the fire and he fell. The picture of his death has become an icon, not just of his protest against religious persecution, but of the whole peace movement that swirled around the War in Viet Nam.

Buddhist monks give away all they have, and they regularly burn themselves alive in protest because they are passifists. Though Duc looked at peace, I could not help but think about what Paul told the Corinthians, who were incredibly spiritual, but apparently lacking the love of Christ, "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor. 13:3)

Once I shared my struggle with the way things were. The person who listened, a follower of Alcoholics Anonymous, quoted this passage from the A.A. Big Book, "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly as it is supposed to be at this moment." There is good counsel in accepting the things I cannot change, but there is no real peace. How can I accept that which God does not accept and find true peace?

The monk may have appeared to be at peace, but was he? True peace, that given by Christ, passes all of understanding. It is peace, but it is not passifism. It is peace but it refuses to watch an innocent person die without doing something. It is peace, but not at peace with sin or the effects of sin in this world.

The peace of God is not found in the acceptance of all things as they are. It is not found in the refusal to take action. It is not found in becoming a monk. It is found in faith in the sovereignty of God. That faith does not always result in immediate peace, but it does lead us to pray. We cannot meditate ourselves or passify ourselves into peace. We can turn to God and ask for His assistance in anything that causes us to be anxious, trusting that even if we do not feel at peace His peace is actively guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phi.4:5b-7)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jesus And The Lowest Common Denominator

There was never a time when Jesus settled for less than best. He loved those who were less than good His whole life on this earth. He mixed with them, touched them, ate with them, was identified with them, and He was their friend. But, He never made peace with their sin, nor did He ever allow them to make peace with their sin or settle for less than His life-giving standard for life. He loved people without ever lowering the bar.

To the healed man who had been lame for 38 years, He said, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." To the woman caught in adultery and delivered by Jesus from a murderous crowd, He said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."

There are several reasons we lower God's standards. First, we lower them for ourselves. We believe we are unable to ever reach the bar set by God, so we set it lower; within our grasp, not within His. Then, we do this for others. We know we have failed, and we don't want to become one of those condemning, hateful, prideful Christians. So, we make the universal excuse, "Well, no one is perfect," and then we accept that as our new standard.

That, you see, is the danger. Setting the bar low because of our fallenness is not an admission of humility, or a recognition of human frailty. It is an admission that we do not want to be like Christ. We do not want to be holy as He is holy. We do not want to struggle against our human condition. We want to make peace with it. We do not want to learn how to love the sinner, while hating their sin, including our own sin. And, then we just live common, ordinary lives. My grandmother used to call this kind of living vulgar. Vulgar, by the way, means ordinary.

We must not settle. We must find peace within the will of God, because there is no real peace with God outside of His will. We must learn, and mature so that we find ourselves constantly reaching upward for His glory. It is not an easy life to live, but no life worth living is ever easy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bill's Belch

The string quartet played each quiet note perfectly on pitch. Each table was covered in the finest white linen. The staff were immaculate, and each patron dressed in the best formal dining attire. Every crystal glass sparkled, every silver spoon glistened, and every fine china plate glowed. No table had been reserved for less than a month, and no one mentioned that there were no prices on the menu. The food, the wine . . . everything about the evening was exquisite. Everything and everyone, except Bill.

Bill looked like everyone else, but something was boiling in Bill's belly. Something he had eaten earlier in the day had given him the worst case of indigestion he had ever had. His wife knew he did not look well, "Darling, you look pale." Bill's one word response drained the blood from her face, "Indigestion." "Oh, no," she whispered. You see, Bill had never belched quietly in his life. It simply was not in him, or rather, when it was in him it was simply not within his ability to let it out quietly. And, if Bill had a character defect, it was that he did not care. He was still a man and belching was his last act of masculine rebellion in the primped and polished world in which he lived.

That evening, that perfect evening, Bill did not disappoint. The water boy dropped his pitcher. Plates full of perfectly placed morsels spilled across the floor as waiters stumbled and fell. The maitre d' thought a wild animal had somehow found its way into the restaurant. One woman near Bill screamed from pain. The belch had so stunned her that she had stabbed herself in the cheek as she took a bite. Red wine spilled across tables and into laps, staining perfect linens and clothing. The cellist broke his bow. Only the buss boy in the corner smiled.

The face of Bill's wife, once pale from loss of blood, now looked like an overripe tomato. She said, with venom in each syllable, "Excuse You!" Bill, looking at the shock and disgust of the room, replied, "No, I excuse myself." He stood, dropped his napkin on the table, and walked out grinning from ear to ear . . . self-justified, self-assured, and all by himself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Discerning Or Determining My Calling

Is my passion equal to God's calling? Suppose I surrender my life to the will of God, ask him to use me, and I have a great passion for a certain ministry. It could be anything from teaching to preaching, from playing an instrument to leading in worship, from working with the elderly to working with children. Does that passion mean I am called to that ministry? What if I want to be a physician, or a pilot, or a mechanic, or a guitar player, or the president? Does that passion mean I will be, or am called to be, or am gifted to be what I want to be?

I was passionate about medicine and spent all of Jr. High and High School preparing myself to enter a pre-med program, but that was not God's will. I was passionate about "fixing" people, and have degrees in counseling, but that was not God's will for my life. The apostle Paul was passionate above all his peers for the law, to be a Pharisee, but that was not God's plan for his life.

Knowing your passion is knowing a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the whole picture. Your passion does not determine your calling. Discernment is required, and discernment for a calling is never found strictly in our emotions and is never found outside the mutual submissiveness of the local church. Read the Word. Elders could desire to shepherd, but unless they were affirmed by the church, they could not, nor could deacons or missionaries or even the Apostles. As independent as Paul was, his calling was confirmed by the elders and the church in Jerusalem.

We can be misled by our passions, even when they are righteous. We need the body of Christ to help us, not to determine our course, but to help us discern the will of God for our lives.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Answer Is Not Always Prayer

I am sure that we, self included, do not pray as we should. We pray too weakly, too timidly, and too infrequently. Yet, there are times when another prayer is not the answer.

The LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground." ~ Ex. 14:15-16

Sometimes we need to stop praying and start doing, stepping out in faith onto the road prepared for us by the One who we have prayed to. There are times when we can pray till we are hoarse and nothing is going to happen, because the answer is awaiting our trusting obedience.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bonitas Non Est Pessimis Esse Meliorem

I wish I could shout, BONITAS NON EST PESSIMIS ESSE MELIOREM!!! into the the heart of every person I ever hear say, "We are all just trying to get to the same place." Try, try all you want, but only the grace of God, granted through the blood of Christ, will remove our lack of true goodness (our sin). And, only faith in that Christ will save us.

I wish someone would shout it into my own ears the moment I think I am excelling at Christ-likeness above the rest. The same Christ who saved me is the only one who can make me what He wants me to be, and I walk by faith in Him as surely as I was saved by faith in Him.

Someone should daily shout, BONITAS NON EST PESSIMIS ESSE MELIOREM!!! in the halls of Congress and on the lawn of the White House and in the Supreme Court, because the only truly blessed nation is the one whose God is the Lord and his only begotten Son's name is Jesus the Christ.

Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem is Latin meaning, "It Is Not Goodness To Be Better Than The Worst."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wrong Prayer Is Always Unsanswered

For years I've been praying a silly prayer. This thought just occurred as I offered 5,000 unreached people to a young man who says he is called to the ministry.

He is looking for what he's supposed to do with his life, and people are asking him to go to their exotic locations and serve. So, I threw my hat into the ring. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 unreached young adults who live within about 20 minutes of our church. That may sound like a small number if you're from anywhere but the rural south, but when it's about 1/4 of the population of your area it's a big number.

That brings me to my silly prayer. I'll throw down with anyone who thinks they don't need a local church, but for years I've prayed each Saturday night that God would send people on Sunday to worship. I prayed for attendance. I knew it was a bit self-serving, but I know that people who aren't faithful to a local church are not faithfully following Christ.

Look, it's not a bad prayer. It's just the wrong one. Jesus never prayed for attendance. When he saw the lostness of the world around him he told his disciples to pray for God to send laborers who would go out into the harvest.

The church does not survive or thrive on attendance. It survives and thrives on mission, and mission isn't what we do when we get on a plane. Mission is what we do when we get out of bed. By the way, I have prayed right on Saturday nights. It is a regulary prayer I believe is right, and completely un-silly, "God, send us one person tomorrow who we can help know you, and send one more who help us make you known."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Faith, Works, and Are

Just spent some time reflecting on the whole salt and light passage in Matthew. The one word that captures my attention every time I do is the word "are." Jesus doesn't say we should "become" salt and light, that we should work on "brighter" and "saltier." He just says, "You ARE already salt and light."

Have you ever heard it said, "We are human BEings, not human DOings"? How about this one, "God is more concerned about WHO you are than about WHAT you do"? That sounds good. After all, isn't Christianity an inside-out job? I mean, Jesus criticized those who thought following God was about looking good rather than about having a right heart. On the other hand, there's that whole "faith without works is dead" thing that His brother James wrote about. So, what gives? Am I supposed to just focus on BEing or should I focus on DOing?

It has to be simpler, much less esoteric, and much less white-washed-tomb-religion than most of us make it out to be. Once you believe, you are born again. You are who you are by faith in Christ. Now, if you don't focus on renewing your mind like Paul wrote in Romans 12, and you don't add the characteristics of Jesus to your life like Peter wrote in his second epistle, then you will shrivel and fail as a Chrisitan. On the other side, if you spend your life focused on becoming a better you, you won't actually do many of the works you are supposed to do so others "may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Mt.5:16) You'll just spend your life chasing your own tail.

Jesus didn't call us to a philosphy. That's internal medicine. And, He didn't call us to a life of good works. That's secular humanitarianism, join the Peace Corps and save the world stuff. He invited us to follow Him. Follow Him and you'll learn Him, and you'll learn you're not Him, and you'll change - internally. Follow Him and the works He did you will do, and even greater works than these.

Internal transformation and doing good works are not the opposite sides of the same coin. They are just equal parts of following Jesus. Make this life anything other than following Him and stay confused and mostly frustrated with life.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The First Command To Man And Woman

"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." ~ Genesis 1:28

The first blessing God gave to humans was impossible to receive unless both male and female existed. The first command they received was impossible to obey unless there was the consummation of the marriage of man and woman. The original created purpose, was not tending the garden, but having children.

We understand that homosexuality is a corruption of God's creative plan. One reason is that homosexuals cannot have children as God intended. They cannot receive the blessing or fulfill the command. The issue is not just homosexuality, but also selfishness. The couple that chooses not to have children also cannot receive the blessing or fulfill the command. And, the implications are far beyond that couple, because God's creative purpose in male and female was not just for personal fulfillment but for societal growth.

No culture or society has ever survived a birth rate of less than 2.1 children per family. No culture has ever reversed a birth rate of 1.9 and it is impossible to reverse a 1.3 birth rate. The culture simply de-breeds itself out of existence. If two parents have one child, there are half as man children as parents, half as many parents in the next generation.

The fertility rate in the European Union is 1.38 and the EU is crumbling. In France, the birth rate is 1.8 overall, but among Muslim immigrants the birth rate is 8.1. The trend is consistent across the continent. In less than one generation, Europe will be a Muslim continent.

Canada's birth rate is less than 1.6, and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the nation. Yet Canada's population has increased, but all the increase is due to immigration. The fertility rate of US citizens is 1.6. With the increase of immigrants from Mexico, the birth rate increases to 2.11. The vast majority of Latin immigrants are Roman Catholic. The southern United States will be Latino and a Catholic majority in a generation.

According to the Department of State and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there were only about 100,000 Muslims in the US in the early part of the 20th century. In 2000, there were approximately 1.5 million, and in 2010 there are almost 8 million. Because of birth rate, the CAIR estimates that in 30 years there will be 50 million muslims living in this nation. And, if this trend continues, in 80 years, this nation will no longer be a Christian nation, but a Muslim nation because as Latinos become more prosperous they follow the selfish American trend of smaller families. What was a Latin Catholic majority will follow the road of American Anglo-Saxon Protestant and become a minority. The culture will be transformed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eve Was Not An Afterthought

Adam was first, but Eve was not an afterthought.

"Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'" ~ Genesis 2:18

Creation was not complete until she was formed. Male is not complete without female. Male plus male does not make one whole, nor does female plus female make one whole. And, it is clear that this was not just in the procreative process, because when the male saw the female he recognized her as his unique companion; one who would complete him.

"And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, 'This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.' Therefore man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh." ~ Genesis 2:22-24

Whether he realized that she completed God's creative plan is unclear, but she and he together were the crown of creation. This companionship is the foundation God laid for human society. As a man leaves his family of origin and marries his wife and they form a new family, human society grows. No human society has ever survived that violated this order.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adam Was First

The first human created was male.

"...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." ~ Genesis 2:7

Some believe that the creation account is only poetic, but it is clear that the first Christians believed it to be literal.

"Thus it is written, The First man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. . . The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven." ~ 1 Corinthians 14:45, 47

It meant responsibility (it was the male who was first told to tend the garden before the female was created).

It meant authority, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercize authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;" ~ 1 Timothy 2:11-13a

It meant accountability, for, while the female bore the responsibility of being deceived, it was male who God called to first after their sin, "But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9)

It was the male, not the female, through which sin entered our race and marred our character, and it is through the male that salvation has come to humanity, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22)

Some Thoughts About Men & Women

Al Mohler recently wrote an article entitled, "The End Of Men?", that you can see by clicking on the title of that article. It raised some interesting thoughts and questions for me.

The maturing of my children, especially my first born who is a daughter and who is a spiritual leader, makes my theology of men and women in life and in church much more personal. The massive changes in society, not just here in this country but around the world, mean that what we once held as "given" truths are no longer accepted as such. That is the way much of our lives is today.

We were once able to "coast" spiritually, Biblically, and theologically because our society was much more homogenous and essentially in agreement with basic Biblical norms. No one can possibly believe it is still. We are no longer insulated by being in the south, or attending an "evangelical" church.

We must believe what God teaches and we must know why we believe it and we must communicate that to our children, our churches, and our communities. If not, we will be led wherever the world is headed, and, according to the Bible, this world system is headed straight to Hell. So, beginning tomorrow, I'll begin writing some simple observations about what the Bible says about men and women.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

At some point, the only answer a follower of Christ can give is, "No." Are you ready to give it?

When Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching about Jesus, that's what they said. "For we cannot help but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

What will you do when they tell you to stop talking about Jesus? It happens every day, even here in this country of religious freedom. Don't forget that the land of the free is also the home of the brave, and thousands of Christians each year bravely say "no". They bravely say it because it costs them. It costs them their careers, their friends, their status, and sometimes even their marriages and families.

But, before you charge off into the darkness with a torch and a cross, bring the focus in a bit. Every one of us who follows Christ faces the "no" dilemma every day. It's not the world to which we have to say "no", but our selfs, our flesh, our desires. The moment you follow Christ, you will begin to say "no" to self and "yes" to Him.

Before you steel yourself for the onslaught of Jesus-haters, you must say "no" to the one in you. Fill your heart and mind with Christ so that you will be able to say "no" to the lust of the your flesh, the lust of the your eyes, and the pride of your life. Lose this battle, and you will win no other. Fight it and Christ will create bravery, tempered with humility, in you and you will be able to stand and say "No!" to the world while you say "Yes!" to Christ.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm Done

It's funny how most temptations seem to effect the young. There is one, though, to which older Christians seem more susceptible. As a matter of fact, the very things we admire in people (faithfulness, sacrifice, and service) are the conditions that make this temptation possible.

It is a particularly ugly temptation. It does not draw us like the lust of the flesh or the lust of the eyes. It falls into the third category of sin, the pride of life. It is a pitiful, self-focused, and resentful temptation that lures us into the pit of smallness. Its victims are the hard-working Christians, the long-suffering spouses, the underpaid employees, the ones willing to do it "when no one else will." When this temptation sees those people, it sharpens its claws and licks its fangs.

Those who fall into this pit lose marriages and ministries. They sacrifice the prize that is set before them, tossing out a 30 year marriage because their spouse didn't appreciate them, quitting a 25 year pastorate because the church didn't honor them as it should, giving up the children's Sunday School class because parents just didn't appreciate what they did, sitting at home and skulking because the last time they helped in VBS, cleaned out a classroom, or worked the work day no one seemed appreciative enough. It's amazing how this temptation can lead you to walk away from a job just 2 years shy of full retirement.

These are the things you hear from the once-faithful-ones who have fallen into this pit; "Let's see how well they do without me down at that shop." "Let's see if they can find someone else who worked as hard as me." "Just see if they can find anyone else up there at that church to do that job." "See if she can find a husband who worked as hard as I did." "Forget it, I volunteered teh last time and no said so much as a thank you."

May we revel in the approval of God when man forgets us and our service. May we work till Jesus comes, not till we get fed up with it all. May we never prove ourselves small by refusing to serve God, church, spouse or community again because we were not appreciated the last time. May we make ourselves small in this world, becoming the servant of all, so that our God will have reason to make us great in His kingdom to come.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm Good

"I'm as good as any of those people up there in your church, preacher." He had been a generous man all of his life, and didn't like it when anyone told him he needed a Savior to save him from his sin. Could it be that the greatest enemy of salvation is a man's belief in his own goodness? Is it possible to convince someone of their need for a Savior if they are convinced they are already good enough? Maybe that's one reason Jesus gave such a strange response when a young man called him good, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Mk 10:18)

I believe a friend of mine who is the early stages of Alzheimers has been sent to remind me that the only goodness in me, or about me, or around me is the goodness of God. Every Sunday he asks me, "How are you?" To which I usually reply, "Pretty good." And, to which he answers, "That's not what Scripture says. Scripture says there is only One good." He is right.

None of us is really good. The only goodness we have is placed in us, done through us, made possible only by our faith in Christ and His Spirit in us. Whenever we think we're good, we are really missing the boat, and a chronic belief that we are good may indicate we aren't even on the boat. In short, the only One who is good is God, and the only goodness we will ever have is a gift from Him to all those who are born again by faith in Christ.

This isn't some sort of spiritual self-degradation or self-abuse. This is the reality that sets us free. We need to hold onto the fact that all our goodness is filthy compared to Him. When we do get it, thankfulness fills our hearts and lives and we begin to live a life of worship and witness that calls attention to the goodness of God.

It's Personal

As I drove down a country lane, I noticed that house after house had flags with single initials hanging from pine trees, poles, and porches. Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but I quickly ascertained that the people living in those houses had last names beginning with those letters and that those houses were all estates. Why, you ask? Because those flags are called "Monogrammed Estate Flags."

I told my wife that the moment we get an estate, we must have one of those flags. However, I am not going to get a "C" flag, even though that is the first initial of my first and last names. I am going to get a "Z" flag instead. I just like the way the "Z" looks. Besides, "C's" are much too common. It will be a much greater challenge for people to figure out our last name if we put up a "Z" flag.

Have you noticed how we manage our privacy? We refuse to give out some information about our lives, while freely broadcasting other information. How we manage our privacy, how we "spin" our sin, says much about how we are currently related to God. Think about it.

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." (John 3:19-21)

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Joy Of Knowing

The teen was excited to tell her pastor about the encounter. Two Mormons had begun to witness to her, questioning her faith. She used the truths she had learned and began to question theirs. In the end, they admitted they had no answer. She was not excited that she had somehow shut them down or bested them. She was excited to share the truth about the real Jesus. She was excited because she wasn't just a Christians, she knew why and she could give an answer for her faith.

Another younger teen called his pastor about another encounter. This time Jehovah's Witnesses had come to his home when his parents were at work. While I cautioned him against opening the door to people when his parents were away, I was excited to hear that he had given an answer for his faith from Scripture. He was excited that not only did he know Jesus, but he could present him to people who did not know him. He then said, "I need to learn more about what they believe so that I can show them what Scripture really says. Cause they aren't going to heaven."

A man told his pastor about an encounter he had with a person who had questions about the goodness of God. This man not only gave testimony about how faithful God had been to him, but also knew the Scriptures that supported his faith and his testimony. He was excited to give an answer. I have watched this man for years. Almost every time he has a spare moment, he is adding to his faith the knowledge of the Scripture.

It is my privilege to be the pastor of those teenagers and that man. It is a joy to see them excited because they have an answer. They know that there is no bliss in ignorance, but there is great joy in knowing God and God's answers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Bliss-less-ness Of Ignorance

The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is thin, shallow and unsweetened. Most Christians cannot clearly explain the gospel of Jesus Christ, much less tell anyone why they believe what they believe about the rest of life. By and large, we cannot give an answer for our faith. And, apparently, we are living with a myth that is producing a nation of shallow believers. No one really enjoys a shallow person.

Only a few seem to care about giving an answer? You may be one of the few, the proud, the disciples who do, but you are few. Most have adopted a Christianized moral relativism. It goes something like this. They know what they believe. They encounter someone who doesn't believe like they do. They have a discussion. They have no proof for what they believe, even though they know the other person must be wrong because their preacher or Sunday School teacher said so. But, since they cannot prove what they believe, they just "agree to disagree." Practically, they are moral relativists, "Each person decides what is right for them. There are no absolute truths."

They say ignorance is bliss. It is not. For the believer, it is embarrassing, an admission that we have failed to be a true disciple of Christ. It is also an invitation - an invitation to fight ignorance with the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ found in the Word.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nostalgia In The Hands Of The Ancient Of Days

I have always loved music, and so I appreciate satellite radio. I enjoy channel surfing through all the genres and decade selections of music. That's what I was doing, and I was doing it with one of my favorite people to do it with; my 13 year old son.

My daughter is 17. She and I share a taste for many artists; Nora Jones, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and lots of contemporary Christian artists. But, she is not willing to tolerate my nostalgic tastes. Often, I irritate her with Elvis, Willie, Lynard and Led Zeppelin. I am fairly certain that is why her younger brother tolerates my "riding down the road while blaring Willie out the rolled down windows," not because he likes the music, but because it irritates her.

I think she enjoys the irritation, because it allows her to vent her female frustration at the childishness of the men in her life. These are good lessons for her, good training for her since most of us with male gender truly enjoy the latent boy within us. In other words, boys never really grow up and I'm helping her understand this.

Back to the purpose of this blog. I was in West Texas for the 30th reunion of the graduation of the class of 1980 from Knox City-O'brien High School. I was driving down the road with my 13 year old son next to me on a road I had travelled since childhood often sitting next to my father driving his truck. I was headed to lunch to see some old friends. I write all this to make this simple point. I was in full nostalgia mode.

While I drove, and listened, and remembered, we found Don Williams on the radio. I'm not a big Don Williams fan, but when I heard the smooth, baritone voice of this Floydada, Texas native, I was transported to other places and other times.

That's what happened that day. Don sang and I travelled back to my college days and a friend who is always in my thoughts, Phil, my college roommate who had a Don Williams album we used to "mellow out," to. Don sang and I was transported even further back to my childhood as my hand wind-surfed out the open window of Daddy's old avocado green Chevy pickup on a hot, dry, fall afternoon making our way to the country to hunt dove, or fish in Barney Arnold's ponds on the other side of the river. I looked over at my son in the vehicle next to me and poinently remembered my own childhood, and crazy as it sounds, God spoke, and I saw nostalgia as a tool in the hand of God. He was working in me through that experience, the memories, bringing joy, and healing, and transformation. And, above all, He reminded me that He is sovereign, in control, ancient, unshaken by my temporary setback, unimpressed by my temporary gains, and unchanging in His devotion to creating the image of His Son in me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Busy As A Caterpillar?

I have recenly become a fan of John Wooden, the deceased head basketball coach at UCLA. This Christian family man was one of the most successful coaches of all time, and I am amazed that I have not come in contact with him before now. Granted, I am not a basketball fan at all, but this guy has incredible wisdom, and he hit a Home Run (or I guess I should say, a three-pointer) with his statement, "Never mistake activity for achievement."

Bees are busy because each of them is doing exactly what they need to do for the hive to survive. We admire them so much that the saying, "busy as a bee," is used to praise someone who is not lazy.

Why don't we say, "busy as a caterpillar?" Well, caterpillars don't look busy, but they are. From the moment they hatch they eat and grow. Some, like the tobacco hornworm, eat so much they increase their weight 10,000% in just 20 days. And, even when they are in the pupal stage looking completely inactive, they are going through a metamorphosis that will transform them from a leaf-munching worm into a beautiful flying insect that defies gravity. We don't think they're being productive, because they don't look busy.

Most people think they are being productive if they are being busy. I know men and women who cannot sit still, even to spend time with God. A farmer-rancher I used to preach to in Texas was so busy that he kept time at church. At 11:55 a.m. he would ceremonially lift his wristwatch to his face and tap the dial to make sure I knew that time was almost up. Then at 12 noon, regardless of what was going on, he would get up and walk out to go and tend to his busy-ness.

Most churches think that being busy is good and that not being busy is, well, less than good. And, since the church is the people, most Christians feel the same way. We complain about how busy life is. We wax spiritual saying that our trouble is, "We are just too busy for God," talking about how busy our lives are outside of the church, when we may actually guage spirituality within the church by the standard of "busy is better."

The bottom line is that alot of us are like the cowboy in Texas. We don't give God much more than 1 hour a week. We can't sit still for a "quiet time." Quiet time is viewed as wasted time, and, besides, we simply cannot sit still. We think that life requires us to fill up 168 hours a week with activity. And, alot of us have transferred that workaholic attitude to our spritual lives. We will spend hundreds of hours doing "church" activities, hundreds working, hundreds doing family stuff, having convinced ourselves that activity is achievement. Never make that mistake. We must, regularly, be still in order to know that He is God.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

There's Nothing Like Being There

On May 1st, 1991, history was made. Nolan Ryan, the 44 years old pitcher for the Texas Rangers had warmed up poorly. The coaches were nervous, but called him out of the bullpen anyway. He took the mound that night and did for the 7th time what most MLB pitchers hope to do just once in their careers. He pitched a no-hitter. You can watch that whole game on video again and again, but if you were not there that night, you missed the experience and excitement of being in that stadium for that incredible event.

About three months ago I found out that my 30th high school class reunion was scheduled on the same weekened my associate pastor was scheduled to be out of town. If I went, it would mean that both of our pastoral staff would be out on the same Sunday. Given that he is also the worship leader, I was very hesitant to do that, but our elders were insistent that I go. "You need to go," they said. So, I scheduled it.

I am so glad they insisted and I am so glad that I did. Only 10 of our graduating class of 36 were there, but it was wonderful. I loved those people, and I still do. While we are planning another get together in the Fall for some who could not come, it will not be the same. There was only one night when this happened. If I had missed it, it would have been gone forever.

I think of that every time someone tells me they will be out next Sunday. I wonder, "What will they miss." I think of that when we schedule Bible studies, prayer times, VBS, mission trips . . . what will they miss? I can tell them what happened. I can share my excitement, but they were not there.

There is a myth that since God is a God of second chances, we don't have to worry about being there. We can "catch up," or there will be "another opportunity." A young man came to me Sunday and said, "I blew an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus. I just wanted to confess that and say I'm not going to blow another." We think that just because church is always there, God is always there, our sons and daughters and spouses are always there, we will get another chance. It's just not true. Sometimes, you only get one shot.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wheat Harvest

My daughter's friend made the same comment about the country where I grew up that almost everyone does from Louisiana. "It's so ugly and dry," was her comment. After living all these years in the sub-tropical forest of Western Louisiana, I feel the same way when I go back to the land of my birth - the rolling plains of West Central Texas. I recognize the beauty, but compared to where I live, it is dry and often ugly. That opinion, that impression, however, is a myth. It is not true.

We just happened to travel back there this time during wheat harvest. To the untrained eye, the ripe wheat fields look dead. But, every farmer hopes his fields are dry so he can harvest his crop. And he knows, too, that the fields are not full of dead crops, but full of green. When quality is decent, and the price holds, Texas farmers make hundreds of millions of dollars from the seeds held in the dry tops of the wheat. What looks like dry, dead, stubble is actually a whole lot of green.

I went back to my home town, Knox City, a place I had avoided for several years; not because I had bad memories, but because I had good memories. You see, the town I remember was alive, full of thriving small businesses, families, friends, and hope, but the last time I saw it it looked as dry as the wheat fields do to our friends from Louisiana. I avoided Knox City, because to me it looked like it was dying and that broke my heart.

My home town is not dead. Farmers are still harvesting wheat, and businesses are opening, and they had a wet spring so things were green. More importantly, I saw the people again. Families with children. Community leaders still loving their home. Old friends raising children and grandchildren. While I was there I remembered something Jesus said, "Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white with harvest."

Too many of us in our country, in our communities, and in our churches see only dryness and ugliness. Too many of us in our marriages and our jobs see no hope. Too many of us who lead churches see laziness or resistance or death where God sees the potential for life. We desparately need to lift up our eyes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 6th, 2010 - Louisiana Baptists, Day Of Prayer Concerning Oil Spill And Upcoming Hurrican Season

The current oil spill is not only causing harm to the coast, marsh lands, the gulf and the future of oil exploration but to the economic future of our state. Men have tried for weeks to stop the flow of oil and to date, all has failed. We need to call on God to stop the flow of oil now. Our God stopped the flow of water for Israel to cross the Red Sea and He can cease the flow of oil from this ruptured well.

The hurricane season is upon us and we need to pray that God will give us a calm year. Jeremiah 29:7 gives instruction to God's people at a time when they are facing crisis... "Seek the peace (Shalom - multifaceted well-being) of the city where I sent you... and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace (well-being)."

Day Of Prayer - June 6, 2010

  • Pray for God's mercy in dealing with the spill and the hurricanes.

  • Pray for Spiritual Awakening to sweep across our nation.

  • Pray for our Churches and our Pastors to experience revival.

  • Pray for our Louisiana Baptist Convention and all our Institutions.

Pastors, churches, directors of missions, WMU leaders, prayer leaders and LBC employees, would you make June 6 a day to remember? A day when across all our state, churches join in one mighty voice to cry out to God for His intervention and revival. This could be the beginning of an awakening in Louisiana.

Thank you,

Dr. Bill Robertson, Director of Pastoral Leadership

Dr. David Hankins, Executive Director

Dr. Rod Mastellar, LBC President

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coffee Milk

Most of us start our caffeine addictions by taking just a little coffee with our milk; something called Coffee Milk. I think my young friend at the left has moved far beyond Coffee Milk, but I digress.

After Coffee Milk comes heavily creamed and sugared coffee, as we quickly work our way up to a Grande Cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso. In that one large cup we consume the caffeine equivalent of four strong cups of coffee, hoping it will help us focus on our early morning computer screens. We work our way up from a little coffee with our milk, to a little milk with our coffee.

It is sad that our discipleship often works in the reverse order. Do a quick survey of the children and youth small groups, or Sunday Schools, in your church. You'll find that we start our children off on alot of Scripture, alot of church activity. Children's Sunday School classes have twice as many kids as most Jr. High classes, and most Jr. High classes have twice as many young people as most High School Sunday School classes do. People in the know know that the church loses most kids long before they graduate from High School and enter the black hole of American young adult spirtuality.

There is a myth that we hold onto that has helped us accept, and even feed the slow disappearance of Christ from our children's lives. Instead of slowly incresing their intake of Christianity, we slowly decrease it. Here is the myth that helps us do that, "If I require my kids go to church and to the things my church does for kids and youth, they won't want to go when they are adults. And, besides, it's just not worth the fight."

Our reasoning seems sound, "They have to make their own choices," we say. We require them to go to public school with little thought to their choice. We make them pick up their clothes, clean their bodies, all to teach them discipline. We have glorified choice and neglected discipline, and both are taught in the Scripture.

While I am not advocating legalism, I would like to point out that this myth is patently untrue. Children and students who are required to attend church with their families (please don't miss that "with their families" bit), are several times more likely to follow Christ as adults. The only accurate predictor of future behavior is present behavior.

The Most Expensive Coffee In the World

The most expensive coffee in the world used to be Jamaican Blue Mountain. I once bought 1/4 pound for $15, because I had been told it was so good. In my opinion, I wasted $15. Well, there is a new most expensive coffee in the world. It is called Kopi Luwak, and it hails from Indonesia.

The Asian Palm Civet, a cat-sized weasel-like mammal, eats fresh berries from the coffee plant, digesting the outer skin and fruit and leaving behind the beans. Coffee producers collect the castings, clean, dry and roast them producing a coffee that is supposed to be the best in the world. It sells for up to $600 per pound. That translates to between $30 and $50 per cup. And, yes, when you drink a cup of Kopi Luwak coffee, you are drinking coffee from the poo of the civet cat. Go figure.

Sometimes we think that having money in church means having spirituality. I call it the "bottom line myth." It sounds like this, "We have some money in the bank, so we must be OK." This myth is as old as Christianity. When Jesus told the disciples that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, their question was basically, "Wow, then who can get into heaven." Physical plenty does note equal spiritual plenty. Some of the poorest churches are the richest. And, some of the wealthiest "Christians' give the least and serve the least.

In our own church, one of the greatest times of spiritual unity and growth was when we were broke. Our lack got us on our knees like our plenty never has.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

One old wives' tale told children not to swallow their gum, because it would take seven years to digest. It doesn't. Another warned, "Don't pluck a grey hair or two more will grow in its place." A hair follicle can't reproduce exponentially. Most in the middle ages believed you should not sail far from shore, because, since the world was flat, you would sail off the end of the earth. It's not flat. You can't sail off the end of the earth.

For the next few blogs, I'm going to write about some of the myths we live by. Mostly this will have to do with myths the church lives (and dies) by. I'll be writing to try to debunk the myths; hence the name, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee.

First myth, "Young adults go back to church when they have kids. The desire to have their children in church draws them back into fellowship." This is a myth. It is simply not true. The Starbucks generation is not returning to church. Only 17% of young adults say that having children has encouraged them to return to church.

Bottom line - if young adults are not connected to the church in a meaningful way by the time they graduate from High School, the chances that they will ever be back are about 1 in 10. What's the solution? Hundreds of theologians, pastors, and others are praying, studying, writing and thinking about this. Think about this, though.

Most kids are not members of their church because they have chosen it. They are there because their parents have chosen it. Maybe we should spend time talking to Jr. High and High School kids about making their own commitment to Christ and their local church. We could take a two-fold approach.

First, do a better job of training our children to serve and build others rather than making all ministry about them. The best way the church can help this is by helping parents train their own children to be servants, leading by exmple, doing family mission trips, family work days at church and in the community.

Second, do a better job being attentive to the needs of families. While young parents may be far too busy with things that are of little eternal importance, they do still have to live, work, and raise their children in a world that is full of things that wear them out. Church should be a place that encourages and equips them, not a place that contributes to a culture of busyness that saps the soul and leads to the downfall of families.

Regardless, we better wake up and smell the coffee.