Monday, December 28, 2015

The Week Between Christmas And New Year's

It' is the week between Christmas and the New Year. Our bodies are heavier and our bank accounts lighter. The diet and exercise programs are advertising feverishly, and there's a deal at the gym. I've got a plan. No more Country Boy, no more Nothing Bundt Cakes, and a lot more exercise.

While I'm not a resolutions guy, I do like this time of year. I like it because it seems to encourage me  to reflect and at make a renewed effort to change. I even told the church that's what I would be talking about Sunday - where we've been in 2015 and where I hope to lead us in 2016. It's good to reflect, plan and take steps in the right direction.

Life requires vision and planning. This year my daughter graduated college and married, and my son graduated high school and started college. I preached through the "Farewell Narrative" of Jesus before Easter, preached through a series on Revival preparation before revival meetings, and have finished half of Nehemiah (the rebuilder of Jerusalem) as we have been remodeling our worship center. Our Wednesday adult prayer and study group walked through 1 Peter, Jude, and a great review of facing fear with faith. All of that required a plan, a vision.

Yet, much of what happened in 2016 was unplanned, at least by me. I didn't plan to lose one of my best friends in a tragic accident, and another through conflict. I didn't plan for a friend to have a recurrence of cancer. I didn't imagine I would spend the last month visiting multiple hospitals of seriously ill church members. I didn't plan all that, but God had all of that in His plan.

The trials were part of His plan for the perfecting of the saints. The interruption of human plans served as a powerful reminder that He alone is sovereign. In the middle of it all, and through it all, I and most of the people affected by these situations have come more and more to believe that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to HIs purpose."  (Romans 8:28 - NASB)

So, as you face the new year, take time to reflect on the last one. Seek God's will for the new one. But, above all, seek to deepen your walk and faith in God, since He is the only one who already knows what will happen in 2016. What if, in this new year, the one resolution you kept was to follow Him every day of 2016? What would happen to all the other visions and plans in your head and heart if you carried out the vision of knowing Him more deeply, and loving and following Him more completely?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How God Showed Up One Day In A Big Way Through A Small Person In A Hospital Waiting Room


Seven elevators emptied a constant stream of humanity into the wide space surrounding four different waiting rooms outside the ICU. Straight-backed metal chairs that were attached to one another were spaced unevenly around the industrial tile floors. Some of us stood alone, some in knots of two or three, and some leaned against the dingy walls. We were blessed to be seated, because my friends were exhausted from days of waiting for doctors' reports and the next visiting hour to arrive.

A young woman, her mother, a baby in a carrier and her two-year-old son entered the room. I moved blankets and a half-eaten bag of cookies from a chair so they could sit. Across the room a family hoped and prayed their family member would survive the head-on collision. They mourned as they hoped, because others had not survived. The family to our right grew in number as they waited for the doctor to come out of surgery. Those are all the stories I knew, but there were dozens more scattered across the waiting area.

"How old is your son?" I asked. "Two," she said with a tired smile. My friend's mom said, "He's a cutie." His grandmother replied, "He's somethin'," and we all laughed, but just a little. He swayed, whimpered, got a cookie for his effort, smiled, made faces, walked, hopped, faked hitting his mom's knee - things two year old boys should do in hospital waiting rooms. I felt sorry for him. Emotions were on edge. Quiet small-talk was the order of the day, because no one wanted to ask the real question or get the real answers. Prayers were muttered and uttered. That waiting room was no place for a child, and yet there he was.

The phone rang. It wasn't bad news, just an irritating call - the business office. You know that papers have to be signed, but all you care about is your loved one in that bed in that room. Asking you to sign a piece of paper about insurance, or make plans to move them to some other unit, or whatever -  asking you to do that feels like one of the most uncaring and insensitive things anyone could ever do.  The call ended, we recovered - and we waited.

One of the women across the room turned around in her chair to face the wall. She started crying. The family to our right continued to increase in number. A man came into our area, and through tears said to his sister, "It's gonna be allright. Got to be." Heads fell. We waited, and those of us in our corner used the little boy as a welcome distraction. We made faces at him. The family next to us offered him another cookie. His mother smiled, and we waited. 

Then something unexpected happened, so unexpected I'm not sure anyone else saw it. Grandmother turned on a children's song and handed her smartphone to the boy. He moved from side-to-side with the music, his head shifting the opposite direction of his body, and then I recognized the song. My children used to sing it. I even knew the hand-motions, and tried to show them to him. He wasn't interested, and that's probably good. Hospital waiting rooms are not good places for hand-motions. I sang quietly with the phone,

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you.
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you.

The mountains are His, the rivers are His
The stars are His handiwork too
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you


There He was, and I almost missed Him. I was so preoccupied with myself, all the need around me, so many situations beyond human control. I was desperately searching my brain and soul for an answer for my friends. I had been praying for a divine moment to offer help to the woman curled up against the wall in her tears. No words came. So, I sat, prayed, and wondered how God would intervene, and then a grandmother played My God Is So Big on her phone for her grandson and I got it. I got no direction about how to help anyone with anything. If anything I became even more convinced of my own uselessness to do anything more than pray and be there. In that song I was reminded that God is in control, still big enough, mighty enough, still creator and owner of all. My heart and soul did not flood with joy. I did not stand and pray down fire from heaven, or shout hallelujah. I just sat very still and knew that He was, and is, God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It's Anti-Christ Time In The City

I bet you thought I was about to gripe about the lack of traditional decorations on Starbucks cups. Nope!  Starbuck cups were never about "Christ in Christmas," so I don't really have a dog in that fight. This is also not really a "Keep Christ in Christmas" post, either, except to lay a foundation for what I do want to write about.

With a few exceptions, the opposition to Christ in Christmas in the public square has won the battle. The courts have adopted a progressive interpretation of the establishment clause of the constitution and have used it to restrict Christian expression in public. So, there are virtually no municipalities, schools, or corporations that are willing to stand up and fight anymore.

This is not bah-humbug. I think it's just a realistic assessment of our country. I hope I'm a realist like Nehemiah, who God called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the face of great opposition. He did not deny the existence of the enemy. He took steps to protect the people, and kept right on trusting God and building the wall. I believe that 'Christmas' has quickly become 'Mas' in America for a very simple reason. I think we are no longer a Christian nation. And, I think we are quickly becoming an anti-Christian one.

Since to live for Christ requires a Christian to live according to the teachings of Christ in all areas of life, forbidding a Christian from living according to their moral principles at work is anti-Christian. Since to live for Christ requires a Christian to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever she goes, it is anti-Christian to forbid her to do so anywhere she goes. Yet, that is exactly what our nation has done. It is forbidden to live according to the moral principles of the Bible, since that requires the expression of those principles in action and in speech, in virtually every workplace in America. Are these prohibitions not quickly becoming the status quo outside of the four walls of the church? Am I alarmist, unsound, or extremist?

Public schools employ and enroll 1/4 of the US population. Add the families of those teachers and students, and the public school system is the dominate influence in the life of over half of Americans. The expression of the true Christian faith of teachers and employees is forbidden at work, and the same expression of Christian students is increasingly restricted. Public school employees must approve of moral standards that conflict with their faith and they must not speak about their own Christian faith under penalty of law, or at the very least loss of employment. Anyone working for the government at any level, is forbidden to practice the true Christian faith at work - again, living it and proclaiming it. Add all government employees and major corporations to public school employees and students, and it is easy to see that the spirit of anti-Christ controls more than one-half of the population's expression for much of every week.

Yes, we enjoy great freedom in this nation, but we are not nearly as free as we were just a decade ago, and this trend toward anti-Christian public policy is snowballing.

Removing Christ from Christmas is no longer about over-commercialization. It is just one more facet of the attack of the spirit of antiChrist. So, what are we to do? Should we politic, protest, or just continue to placate the opposition? God gives us clear guidance for living in a world that has always been dominated by the spirit of anti-Christ since Jesus ascended (1 John 4:3).

Rejoice in the opposition.  They hated Jesus, so they hate us and our faith. Be glad you are opposed by those who oppose Christ. (John 15)

Reject the intimidation.  We must obey God, not man. Trust Him to take care of you in life and in death. (Acts 4)

Refrain from being oppositional.  Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. We wage war with the good news. Be as wise as a serpent, as gentle as a dove, and as persistent and stubborn in your faith and in proclaiming the Gospel as a donkey. (Mathew 10)

Remain faithful to Christ How can we help but talk about our great and gracious Savior. As Peter and John said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Putting Out Fires

"If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone."
Romans 12:18
It's dry here. Fire's start easily when things are dry - in nature and in relationships. A fire started yesterday, spreading rapidly. The wind was pushing it toward a small community in the country. Residents were evacuated. Many of them gathered to pray. A firefighter said it was a tree-top fire, dropping flames and embers as it moved. Seconds before the flames reached the homes, the wind changed direction blowing the fire back on itself. The community was spared.
Here are some things to remember. 
1. The dryer things are the greater the risk of fire.  
2. God often moves supernaturally in response to urgent prayer.
3. We are responsible to do our part to put out fires.
4. God limits our responsibility (we are not responsible to fix the world).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Weddings, Seminaries, Ghettos & Planned Parenthood

My wife and I (aren't we cute) travelled to Dallas-Ft. Worth this weekend for the wedding of a friend's daughter. The wedding was held in the Riley Center on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary campus. It was a simple and beautiful wedding. We had a good time with friends who are as close as family, and then did a little road-tripping on the way home. I wanted to see Bonton Farms (see pic below) a Christian community renewal project in one of the worst neighborhoods in Dallas. It's a garden/farm that was started on an empty lot. So, we stumbled around a very poor, almost exclusively black neighborhood till we found the farm. I am praying God would use me/us to begin something like this in our community.We then travelled through upper and lower class neighborhoods to reach the Dallas Arboretum, spent a couple of hours enjoying the beauty. Finally, we stopped at a huge Buccees between Forney and Terrell, Texas.


Here are some observations:
1. Simple weddings are much less stressful than elaborate ones, but fathers still have to give away their daughters.
2. Religious education is invaluable, but also insufficient to change the heart of man (only the Gospel is sufficient).
3. Issues regarding race and ethnicity are not limited to any race, education level, religious affiliation, or lack thereof.
4. It's a long way from the seminary to the ghetto.
5. If the Arboretum is any indication of the composition of our society, Americans (both business people and pastors) had better learn to speak several additional languages.
6. Planned Parenthood and many of their supporters are liars. They are not almost exclusively located in lower-class neighborhoods where women can find access to healthcare. Every Planned Parenthood center we saw (two of them) were located in middle to upper-class neighborhoods near hospitals.
7. Most Americans have sacrificed their souls to gain the world, and beef jerky.

The last observations is based strictly on our trip to Buc-ee's in Terrell (the pic is the inside). It is a convenience store that is the size of our old Walmart (I am not lying). It has 84 gas pumps. It has a meat counter selling mostly jerky and sausage that is bigger than the meat counter at either of the grocery stores in our town. It has a gift section bigger than the Nichol's department store here. It's bathrooms are as big as my house. My wife asked, "With this kind of overhead, do you think they can make it." "Well," I said as we looked at well over a hundred people shopping, "look at how packed out it is."  By the way, I tried the banana pudding. It wasn't worth it, but the coffee was good. I didn't buy any jerky. I just couldn't decide which of the 16 varieties I wanted.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Did We Have Revival?

"The men traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one." (Acts 9:7)

We just finished a week of services for revival. Did we have revival? Sunday morning there were 120 people in worship. Sunday night there were 60. The rest of the week we averaged 90. Do those numbers reflect a spiritual awakening? Certainly they do not follow the pattern of the great awakenings of the past. They do not reflect moves of God we in our own church have experienced in the past.

Four people, two children and two adults, professed faith in Jesus Christ last week.  Is revival only when the church is packed and scores are saved, or when anyone is saved?

What about the lasting effects of our services? Was the church packed the Sunday after? Well, it was the best crowd we have had in nearly a year, but is that revival?  I preached and gave an altar call. Only one came to pray. Honestly, I felt like a failure. Should I have? Should I gauge my faithfulness to God, my calling as the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church by the number of people at the altar?

Sunday afternoon we gathered to relocate our worship center to the gym. After the altar call Sunday, a call to answer God with "send me," I wasn't sure anyone would be there because only one came to the altar. Please hear me. My doubt wasn't in the people, or in God. My doubt was in myself. Perhaps I was no longer effective as the pastor. Perhaps there is some hidden sin that is rendering me ineffective. I returned to the church at the appointed time to begin work, to see who would come, and people were already there working. The task I expected to take days was accomplished in an afternoon. Did we have revival?

One day on a dusty road in the middle east, a man was struck to the ground by a blinding light which was the presence of Christ. He was no holy man. He was a hater of Christ, a murdered of the Lord's people. He would have fit in with the insane extremists now beheading our brothers and sisters around the world. He was travelling with companions, but only he understood the voice from heaven. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" That day on that dusty road, only he was converted. Was that revival?

God changed his name from Saul to Paul, and caused him to be one of the most prolific church planters of his age. God used him to write two-thirds of the New Testament, and there has been no greater influence on the Christian faith outside of Christ Himself than Paul. Was that revival?

I called one of the adults who was born again in our services to schedule her baptism. She said, "Pastor, I cannot tell you all that God is doing in my life."  Is that not revival? I saw an older man in town who attended every meeting. He had been cold and hard. Now his eyes are moist as he talks about what God has done. Is that not revival?  A man stopped me after prayer meeting last night. He has not been excited about God, has had little in the way of religious instruction, but could not wait to tell me how excited he was about God, how hungry he was to know Him more. Is that not revival?

We should be careful how we evaluate the outcome of our prayers. If we are only fervent in prayer, in witnessing, and in preaching when we are desperate, we will not pray, witness or preach for long. If the lack of numbers discourages you and you stop praying, stop witnessing, and stop preaching you may be the one in need of revival (and I could say that very thing to myself). You have put your faith in man, or at least in experience. When, however, you look at the condition of the world, and then gaze into the sufficiency of Christ as Paul did on that dusty road, you have an opportunity to be transformed. You have an opportunity to believe in Him, truly believe and trust that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. If you trust Him and believe in His Gospel, you will be empowered to pray for revival and awakening, not until "it" comes but until He comes.  Then you will be revived and will become an instrument of revival and awakening. You will see revival and awakening, will see God move and see Him moving, even if you, just like Saul on that road, are the only one who does.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Revival & Awakening: You Must Be Present To Win

Some of my preacher friends went to a preaching conference last weekend. Apparently I missed a great conference. At the very least I missed some great door prizes. The preachers who went said they gave away vacations, iPads, gift cards, and $100 bills.

They were giving one of my friends a hard time. You see he went to the conference, but left early. After he left, they drew his name for one of the $100 bills. He wasn't there, so they gave it to someone else. I felt a little jealous for not having gone to the conference, but at least I didn't leave early since you had to be present to win.

During some of the great revivals in history (the Hebrides and Welsh revivals), there are reports that people were overcome by the Holy Spirit and fell to their knees while working in the fields. However, these are far and away the exception to the rule. The movement of God came when the people of God were gathered together. Revival and awakening is very much a "must be present to win" situation.

I have lost count of the times God moved powerfully in a worship service, someone had been absent, and later asked, "Tell me about it. I wish we had been there." Even now, as we prepare for services that we hope turn into a great move of God, many have told me, "Well, we will not be able to attend."

Over a year ago, we scheduled a series of meetings in the hope that God would work a great revival and awakening in our midst. For months we have encouraged people to prepare. Nearly 40 days ago we began to pray and fast earnestly. For over a month, the messages on Sunday have been to prepare us for these days. There can be no doubt about our need personally, locally, and nationally for a great move of God. Yet, some Christians who are part of our church may choose not to attend.

Yes, God moves in many ways and in many places. But, sometimes, He moves in a group of people only when they are gathered together. Read the book of Acts beginning with the group praying in the upper room before Pentecost, and you will see God moving powerfully almost exclusively when the people of God were gathered.

Before you decide what you will be doing with your time this next Sunday through Wednesday, ask yourself this. Where do I need to be for God to do a great work in my life? We can tell you what happened, or you can be present while it is happening.

God, gather us for revival.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Louisiana Day Of Prayer For Law Enforcement


The governor of our state declared this day a day of prayer for law enforcement, and that is a very good thing. It's good, not just because thousands of men and women serve our society as law enforcement, but because this is part of our good God's plan for us.

God used Paul to make it clear that "Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God's servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong." (Rom. 13:1-4)

Imagine a world without civil government. God cannot, and so He has planned a world in which governing authorities rule for our good.  And so He used Paul once again to encourage the church  "First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:1-4) So, today as we pray for law enforcement officers in our state, we are praying in the middle of God's will, for the accomplishment of His purposes, and the spread of the Gospel.

One last thing. If you really want to bless those who serve in this way, do two things. First, thank an officer for their service. Second, help make their day a little less busy by obeying the law.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pray For Deputy Darren Goforth's Family

Pray for the family of Harris County Deputy Darren H. Goforth who was shot execution style while pumping gas in Texas. He is the 24th officer of the peace killed in attacks this year. If you add other in-the-line-of-duty law enforcement deaths, the number rises to 64. Was the murderer mentally ill, on drugs, racially motivated? At the time of the writing of this article, we do not know. We do know that a wife has lost a husband, parents a son, children a father, and officers a brother.

Pray for the thousands of men and women who have given their lives to protect and serve, and who are once again shaken by the death of a brother. Their work is already overstressed and underpaid and now there is one more reason for hyper-vigilance to add to their stress.

Pray for Louisiana. Of the 24 peace officers murdered in our nation so far this year, 6 of them were officers in Louisiana. This beautiful state is one of the most violent, perhaps the least peaceful in the nation. We kill one another at a per capita rate higher than any other state. No state has more incarcerations per capita, and almost no state has a higher level of poverty than Louisiana.

Pray and work for change. Prayer doesn't remove the need for people to change things, but it does empower and inform that work. Laws need to change, and society needs to change, but laws and programs will not transform a culture. Work to change the factors that lead to the victimization of children, families, officials, and all people, but recognize that for that work to be done our hearts must be transformed.

Pray for revival of the church. We are one of the most religious states, and yet the most violent. There are more churches in our Louisiana parish per capita than almost anywhere in the nation, yet we are in no better shape than our state. If all the people who claim to be followers of Christ in our parish were obediently following Him, things would be radically different here. Jesus said we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. He said that if the light is hidden or the salt loses its saltiness it is worthless. We, the church, need revival - brokenness over sin, repentance, and a return to God.

Pray for yourself. If I'm right and the church in our parish needs revival, that means you and I need it. All revival is personal. There's no sweeping change in a nation that is not the sweeping transformation of individuals. Don't blame race, religion, church, politics, or presidents. We are the church. If we are not devotedly in love with and obediently following Jesus Christ, we are the problem in need of the solution.

Has your church called for prayer and fasting? If not, then you do it. Are you fervently crying out to God for revival and awakening to begin with you? Draw a circle on the ground. Step inside the circle. Kneel down. Pray for God to send revival and awakening to the one in the circle. Then focus on the rest of the world.

There is still hope. His name is Jesus. Wherever He reigns, peace reigns.







Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Proud People Praying

  I wonder what people think when we pray and fast for revival and spiritual awakening. It dawned on me that some might think it arrogant for us to presume that there is a great need in the church and the culture. They could be right. We could be arrogant, thinking that we have arrived at a higher spiritual plain than all the poor heathens around us. 

As we have begun this 40 day period of prayer and fasting, I have not found myself to be superior. I have found myself to be inferior. Shortcomings in my character are glaring at me. I have struggled to pray and fast. I am captivated by worldly concerns and desires So, it is entirely possible that I am spiritually arrogant and entirely oblivious to that condition. I believe God is showing me my spiritual weakness, and producing in me a fresh fear of God that is frighteningly humbling.

While none of this is comfortable, it is desirable. I am beginning to be thankful to God for it; for the fear of my sin and its consequences, for the fear of the Lord who is my Savior and also the Righteous Judge. Since the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, maybe I will finally learn something worth knowing. Maybe now, if God will teach me true humility, He will be able to do something through me and with me. Maybe he will be able to revive even me, since apart from humility there can be no real revival.

God does not promise to hear from heaven and heal a land inhabited by proud people praying (2 Chronicles 7:14). He does not promise to deliver the worshipers proud of their worship, preachers proud of their sermons, or servants proud of their service (James 4:1-6). He does not draw near those who raise themselves up, but rather to those who submit to Him, resist the Devil (pride), and draw near to Him (James 4:7).  He does not revive a nation through the prayers of church-goers who think themselves to be a step above the average sinner.

So, while this season of prayer and fasting has not begin with comfort, it is beginning. And, this beginning is apparently very necessary for this follower of Christ.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will there be another awakening and where will it start?



Tomorrow night I will speak at the last of four worship events we've had at a downtown theater this Summer. The goal of this ministry was to connect Millennials and God through music and gospel through the use of a nontraditional setting. That was our goal. Unless something radical happens tomorrow night, that goal will not be completely reached. We have preached the Gospel. We have worshiped the Lord. We have done so in a nontraditional setting where Christians from many different congregations have come together, and that is no small thing. Lives have been changed, and all of that is very good. But, we have not accomplished our goal of connecting large numbers of disconnected Millennials with God. So, what will we do tomorrow night?

We will worship God together again, with the great desire that He be glorified. That is always a very good thing. We will present His Word. Hearts will be encouraged, and we hope and pray that lives will be saved. I will also invite the people from the different churches to revive a neglected biblical practice, one that always accompanies great spiritual awakenings. I will ask them to unite in fervent prayer with fasting. Why, because we didn't reach anyone and now we are desperate? No, because I believe that another great awakening is desperately needed, and that it could happen in a small town like this one. This summer of Avenue Live may be at an end, but the kingdom of God knows no end. So, we will worship, and pray, and call to prayer for the glory of God.

Two of the last great awakenings in this nation began in small towns. The Second Great Awakening that swept the frontier, began in the small village of Cane Ridge, Ky. The Jesus Movement of the 70's was sparked by testimonies from two college students who had been in a powerful campus revival at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky, population 3,000. (Note: Baptists didn't start either movement. God did, and He used preachers as diverse as Presbyterians and Methodists to spark those two great moves.)

Will there be another great spiritual awakening in our nation? If awakening is my great hope, then prayer will be my great ministry and the call to prayer my great message. Matthew Henry wrote, "When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a-praying." And, if God is calling His people to prayer, He will call them to prayer through preachers proclaiming the call. Every time I have been part of localized outpourings of the Spirit of God, fervent prayer and fasting were practiced. History records the same. Fervent prayer accompanies the great movements of God.

Where will it start? Well, why not here? Great need precedes great outpourings, and we are certainly in need. We are small in number, but just as great in sinfulness and brokenness as the greatest cities. Perhaps the only thing lacking is a great desire for His presence, His power, and His ways. I know of no more effective way to get that great desire than by prayer and fasting. Could it be that the only thing that is lacking is for the people of God, those called by His name, to humble themselves in repentant prayer, seeking His face as they turn from their wicked ways?

Let it be and let it begin with me, here, in our small corner of the world.

(Thanks to Mark Snowden, and his blog, Is Awakening Imminent And Will You Be Included, for inspiring this post.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

PEW: Understand And Encourage Your Pastor's Passion


When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

No one wants to listen to a passionless preacher. No pastor wants to lead a passionless church. Certainly no one wants a passionless marriage or a job they couldn't care less about. Passion is empowering, but it is also explosive. No one ever blows up in an argument over something they couldn't care less about.

The Apostle Paul was passionate about Christ and Him crucified. He wrote about this central passionate message of His ministry, "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles." (1 Cor. 1:23)  The Jews didn't understand it. They were passionate about the law. The Gentiles didn't understand it. They were passionate about logic, but Paul remained passionate about His calling and the message of His calling.

Parishioner, your pastor is a fellow follower of Christ. He is not superior to you. The one who has called you to your ministry is the same who called him. However, his calling is unique. The weight of shepherding the flock of God is tremendous. The calling to preach the Word of God in order to equip the people of God, when taken seriously, can be an overwhelming task. As great as his passion for the work of the ministry is, so is the discouragement that can follow the rejection of that passion.

Week after week, I hear pastor's share their hearts. When their people respond to the Gospel, to the truth, they are elated. When the people they serve respond with apathy, they fight discouragement. Do you want a discouraged pastor?  Here are a couple of simple things you can do to encourage the shepherd who cares for your soul.

First, understand his passion and give thanks to God for a passionate pastor. Understand that he is not just called to live the Christian life, but to care for Christians. Give thanks that he takes this calling seriously.

Second, encourage his passion. Yes, pastors can become overzealous. Yes, they can become so Heavenly minded that they are no Earthly good. But, could we not use more heavenly mindedness and less worldliness?  Encourage your pastor's passion with your words and with your response. Don't respond for his sake. Understand, however, that when you respond to your pastor's call to live for and serve Christ, you are not only glorifying God but also encouraging the primary person He has called to lead and equip you.

Pastor, let me encourage you (us). Never turn away from your calling because you think the people you serve don't share your passion. He who called you is faithful, even if some you serve are not. Don't expect your people to share your passion in all things. Their calling is not your calling, but the one who called you both is the same. Lead your people to embrace Christ rather than your vision and you will be much more content. Finally, work to understand the passion of your people. It could be they can teach you something about passion you have missed.

(Practical Encouragement Wednesdays)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Can't Help It

Years ago revival swept through our church and our community. Everywhere I went I talked to people about Jesus, invited them to church, and encouraged them to believe. Many times in those conversations, the people I was talking to would say that they had already heard the same things from someone else. Someone else had already talked to them about Jesus, had already invited them to church, had already prayed for them. It seemed that we loved Jesus so much that we could not help but talk about Him.

Christians are the most persecuted group in the world according to the U.S. State department. Do you know why? In most of the world, Christians are so in love with Christ that they cannot help but talk about Him. If they would just be quiet, just fly under the radar, just keep their faith to themselves, they could live a relatively peaceful and undisturbed life. They cannot, though, because they have not abandoned their first love. They have embraced Him. 

But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. (Rev. 2:4-5)

Have you abandoned or embraced your first love? Is it that you cannot help but talk about Him, because you love Him so?


Monday, August 3, 2015

My Eyes Are Dry


But I have this against you:
you have abandoned the love you had at first.
 Remember then how far you have fallen;
repent, and do the works you did at first.
Revelation 2:4-5a
I'm thinking about this season at church and in my life. A month to pause and focus on Christ. A season to remember how far we may have fallen. A time to repent and do the works we once did when the risen Christ was the love of our lives. As I think, as I remember, I remember an old prayer put to song. A prayer that expresses the cry of a tearless heart. Maybe it is your prayer, too.
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to you and dead to me
But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up with oil and wine
The oil is You, Your spirit of love
Please wash me anew
In the wine of your blood
~ Keith Green
If you want to hear it, you can click the link here:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

PEW: Have Compassion For Your Pastor's Personal Struggles

Hey, it's my second week of Practical Encouragement Wednesday, a.k.a., PEW. I spend a lot of time around pastors, hearing their struggles, their joys. I get to help them and they help me. What I don't get to do is share lessons I've learned with members of other churches. I was a counselor for 10 years, have been a pastor for over 20, and want to put some of that experience to work helping churches help their pastors. My hope is that doing so will strengthen the church to fulfill its mission in this world.

I hear it's lonely at the top. I don't know if being a pastor is being at the top, but most pastors are lonely at least some of the time. They are surrounded by people, but feel alone in the crowd. Their office seems to separate them from humanity.

One reason is this. They study and preach God's Word all the time, and know they just don't add up. I know, some think they are superior, but most are all too keenly aware that they are not. That adds to another cause of loneliness - fear. What if their shortcomings take center stage? All pastors have heard about the pastor who was fired for something minor. So, rather than opening up, pastors often cover up, because they aren't allowed to grow up.

So, how can you express compassion for your pastor and his personal struggles?

Don't try to force your pastor to open up. Don't sit down and say, "Pastor, I know you've got struggles just like the rest of us. If you ever need to spill your guts, I'm here for you." I actually had that conversation many years ago in Texas. Any discerning pastor will decline this offer.

Be a friend. Invite him over to watch the game. Take him fishing. Treat him like a human being, not an office holder. But, understand when he doesn't want to come to your niece's birthday party because he just needs to rest from a week of pouring out to others.

Defend him when he is unjustly criticized. If you are with him while someone is criticizing him unfairly, defend him in his presence. You really have no idea what that act of courage will do for his soul.

Lovingly confront him when you see him slipping. He must hold himself accountable, and so must the people of God. Expect him to live a holy life, but not a superhuman one.

P.S.: Just a note to the congregation among which I serve. We have served the Lord together for many years in large part because of your care and compassion for your pastor and his family. Thank you for continuing to help me grow in Christ.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

P.E.W.: Practical Encouragement Wednesdays (About Meetings)



I've been a pastor for over two decades. I spend a lot of time with pastors, and, because of other ministries I do, I spend alot of time with other pastor's parishioners and people who aren't parishioners. Oh, yeah, and it's Wednesday. Now, you might ask, "What makes you qualified to say what you're saying?"  Well, probably not much. I do have experience. I do care. And, every bit of advice I give I've probably learned the hard way . . . as in, I've blown it.  So, here's my first PEW: PRACTICAL ENCOURAGEMENT WEDNESDAYS for pastors, parishioners, wannabe pastors, and used-to-be parishioners.

ABOUT MEETINGS

Parishioners . . . treat every meeting like it matters. 

Don't guilt your pastor when he has a meeting. Don't rush in late and leave early because you're so busy. Everyone there is busy, including your pastor. Your time isn't any more valuable than your pastor's or anyone else's on the team. So be on time, be prepared, and be in the moment. That means that while you're in the meeting that meeting is your priority. And, be encouraging to your pastor while you're in the meeting. He may not want to be there either.

Pastors . . . treat every meeting like it matters.

People are busy. I know. I know. They are not any busier than you. I know. Most of them have no clue how busy you are, or the weight you carry as a shepherd of God's people. You gotta get over that. If the meeting is important, prepare for it, be on time for it, and lead it well. If it's not important, don't have it. Some think the church will rock along just fine if there is never another meeting. Others are making sure you have every committee meeting every month. Once more. You gotta get over that.

So be on time, be prepared, and be in the moment. Turn off your phone. Make the meeting your priority. And, verbally express thanks to every person present in every meeting.






Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Soylent Green Reaction To The Use Of Aborted Fetal Tissue



Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are either selling or donating aborted fetal (baby) tissue to be used in medical research. Some are outraged over the possibility that this tissue is being sold rather than donated? It is a baby whose life has been taken, so what does it matter if it is donated or sold. I guess that if the tissue is sold, that is worse because it somehow conjures up images of grave-robbers selling off the gold teeth of the corpses they dig up. How, though, can selling the lung or liver of an unborn child be worse than taking its life in the womb? How can the desecration of the image of God in that child be any worse?

Not long ago I had a conversation with a person who, while they did not agree with abortion, also saw nothing wrong with the use of aborted fetal tissue being used to find a possible cure to Parkinson's and other diseases. They said, "Well, the tissue is there. Why not do something good with it?  Why not help someone?"

When I was a kid, growing up in the pre-streaming age, I watched every sci-fi movie and show that came on TV. One of the most fascinating and disturbing to me was one with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson called Soylent Green. It was set in a not-to-distant future when the greenhouse effect had rendered our earth almost uninhabitable. In this over-populated, starving world, assisted suicide had been legalized and institutionalized to end suffering and reduce the population. Soylent Green was a food fed to the people under the premise that it was made from the plankton found in the seas, but the seas had long ceased being able to produce the needed plankton. So, where did the Soylent Green that everyone ate come from?  It came from the recycled bodies of the dead who mostly came from the assisted suicide centers. When Heston's character discoved this, he cried out, "Soylent green is people!" You saw it coming, but you didn't want to see it coming. I remember how the movie disturbed my young mind and still does.

I've made it clear to my wife that if I ever get a disease that can only be cured through research or tissue derived from aborted babies, I will die of that disease. I could not live knowing my suffering had been lessened by the intrauterine suffering caused by the abortion of a preborn child. Only a self-focused, self-perpetuating, selfish world could institutionalize abortion, and only a society that has travelled far down that self-destructive path could use aborted baby tissue for anything other than a memorial service.

May God deliver us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Planned Parenthood, ISIS, And Desensitization To Sin


Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. (Heb. 3:15)
 
Do you remember the graphic beheading of James Foley, or the horrible execution of a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive? Who could forget those choreographed atrocities? But, did you hear about dozens of Islamic children executed for failing to keep Ramadan according to ISIS rules? What about the hundreds of Christian children murdered recently? They didn't make the headlines. The shock and awe has stopped shocking. 
 
If recent reports are true, Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted babies for medical research. The Center For Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, reports it has spent 30 months investigating Planned Parenthood's "commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue." The agency released an undercover video that seems to expose Planned Parenthood staff talking about selling aborted body parts for a profit. Planned Parenthood denies that, news sources saying the money talked about was used to offset the transportation of legally donated fetal tissue.
 
Legally donated fetal tissue. That's a nice way of saying body parts torn from unborn children, all legal in the United States of America since 1973.  And, what are the headlines on the major news agencies the day after this revelation?  CNN . . . "Of Course Bill Cosby Is Guilty."  MSNBC . . . "Life In The Shadows, Poverty In The American Southwest." FOX . . . "DEMS DIVIDED: Biden dispatched to Hill to twist arms on Iran nuclear deal" 
 
Kill 56,000,000 unborn babies over a 40 year period, and selling their body parts rates a byline, not a headline. ISIS may be smarter than we think, shocking us into uncaring insensitivity so that we would no longer pressure our governments to act aggressively against it.
 
We place so much value on how we feel. If we feel it is sin, then it is. If we do not feel it is sin, then it is not. There's a problem with that. Sin long enough and you quench the Holy Spirit, you harden your heart. Walk in sin and the shocking response of the Holy Spirit within you is dulled and you become so desensitized to sin that you condone, rather than condemn it in your own life.
 
May God remove the blinders from our eyes and tear the callouses from our hearts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lessons From My Grandparents For All Whose Children Have Turned Away Or Denied The Faith


I was sitting here thinking about a conversation with a parent whose child had just announced to her that she no longer believed in God. As I thought, it dawned on me that both sets of my grandparents lived through the same or similar situations. Over a half century ago, my father took up the prodigal, cynical, God-denying life. This son of a preacher did so until he was 61 years old.

Some time after he became a follower of Christ, he told me, "Your Daddy Roy (my preacher grandfather) would be so proud of you, that you're a pastor. I'm so proud of you. I just wish I hadn't wasted all those years."

Both sets of my grandparents followed Jesus. Daddy Roy and Gran were pastor and pastor's wife for all of my life. Paw-paw and Na-na were deacon and deacon's wife for all of my life. They are all gone now, enjoying the fruit of their faith in Heaven. None of them were perfect, but you could see the impact Christ had in their lives. You could also see the impact a wayward adult child had on their lives.

I wish I could talk with them, get their counsel to help me as I pastor in this world in which it seems more and more are apostate - turning away from the faith. While I can't sit down and ask how they made it through with their faith intact, I can remember what they taught me as they lived out their Christian faith.

Here are some lessons I learned and pass on to any who are living with an adult prodigal. First, they continued to love. I never questioned their love for me or for their prodigals. Disagreement, yes. Hatred, no. Compromise, never. Love, always. Second, they remained true to Christ. If they were at our home or if we were at theirs, they prayed, shared Christ and went to worship services. Third, they prayed. One time after my grandmother's death, my mother told me how she used to stay up late and talk with Gran. She shared with me how Gran had cultivated a life of constant prayer and how she had prayed for my father. I used to think Gran was just muttering all the time. It was only as an adult that I discovered she was praying.

So, if your child (teen or adult) has become a prodigal, I share the lessons of my grandparents with you. Love them no matter what they believe, say or do. Remain steadfast in your devotion to Christ and His church, no matter what that costs you. Pray, not just often, but all the time . . . maybe even begin muttering to God about your prodigal.

Friday, June 26, 2015

You May Not Be Mean And Unloving Just Because Someone Thinks You Are

We didn't even know our four year old had an ear infection until his ear drum burst, and we saw blood running out his ear. He was a tough little man. After several weeks of treatment at his pediatrician, he started complaining of pain in the ear. That didn't make sense, so the pediatrician sent us to a specialist who found that he had developed a fungal infection in his ear canal. Treatment required scraping the canal and treating it with a medicine that burned. After several painful trips to the specialist, his ear was cured. About a year later we were driving past the specialist's office, our son saw the office, and began to cry "no, no doctor." Even though the doctor saved his hearing, he really thought the man was mean.

We are living in a culture in which Christians who believe in the goodness of God, in the goodness of His design for life (including His design for human relationships), and who insist on proclaiming His design are considered mean. Certainly some have been. Some have pridefully condemned certain sins and sinners while ignoring others. Yet, many have lovingly proclaimed that unborn children are human beings, worthy of the same right to life as those whose lungs are developed enough to survive outside the womb, not because they hate women or liberty but because they love God, unborn children, and those who practice abortion.

There is a new challenge, another reason to call them mean. Some who claim Christ have been and will be mean-spirited about homosexuality and so-called same sex marriage. Many will not. They will recognize the dignity of all people because God created all in His image. They will lovingly proclaim the life-giving design of God for human relationships, and the power of the Gospel to save any and all sinners. They will be called mean and bigoted. They will be rejected, penalized, and possibly persecuted or prosecuted. Just because they are considered mean doesn't mean they are. But, they could be, and they could quickly become preachers of condemnation, rather than proclaimers of the truth, and the Gospel. 

It is important for them to remember five things. First, the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Second, God loves sinners. Third, "you cannot hate a people and reach a people at the same time" (Ed Stetzer). Fourth, rejection of God's truth is status quo for the human race. Fifth, the only hope the world has is the proclamation of the Gospel, for only God's truth can set the sinner free.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Being Saved Doesn't Make You Sane


Summer discipleship groups have just started and God has really used the memory verse for the first week in my group to stir up what I believe are some important thoughts. Here's the verse, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God." (Rom.12:2-HCSB)  

This verse, addressed to Christians, makes it clear that being born again doesn't make you discerning or wise. It makes it clear that born again Christians, whose thoughts are conformed to the world when they are saved, must transform the way they think if they want to be able to discern right from wrong, good from bad. It is not automatic upon being born again.

So . . . being saved doesn't make you sane, meaning you can be saved and still have opinions that are influenced by sin and the world rather than by the Savior;  being born again and feeling like you know what God's will is doesn't make it God's will; so we should not expect saved people to have God's worldview just because they are saved since that requires discipleship. Jesus said we were to make disciples by "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you."  (Matt.28:20a-HCSB) 

So, it's entirely possible to be born again and believe all kinds of things that are wrong. It's not possible, however, to be a disciple (a follower) of Jesus Christ, to know what is good, to please God, and to live a life that glorifies Him if you don't intentionally transform the way you think by the application of His truth. 

Take a step toward renewal. Read what Jesus said about it all in John 14 and 15.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Expectantly Expectant: American Expectations

This morning I sat down with a fellow pastor who had just returned from a mission trip to a Central America. While there, he had an unusual conversation with a gang member. The man understood the Gospel, but said he was not ready to surrender his life to God. He did, however, know that the Bible was true and that he needed God.

He then went on to talk to the pastor about his impression of the United States. This Central American gang member said his countrymen do not respect the US, because it does not believe or respect the Word of God, and because it is a country that has no moral standard on which to lecture the world or impose its beliefs.

While you might call a gang member a hypocrite, listen carefully. He knew he was living wrong, because he believed that the Bible is the word of God. He feared the God of the Bible, even though he was not ready to surrender his life to him. He said that the USA's embracing homosexuality and homosexual marriage, its rampant drug culture and legalization of marijuana, and its moral decay were clear indicators that the nation does not respect God or his word. The pastor from the States said it was an eye-opening conversation, and that, sadly, all they could do was agree with this Central American gang member about the moral depravity of our country. 

We expect to fly the flag and be respected. What if the flag flies in the face of God?  We, who follow Christ, should never place the hope of the Gospel in the hands of the state. We should have learned our lesson from history. The state is not the church, no matter how moral its laws.  As much as we love this country, it, and every other country, will disappoint.

Read the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, carefully.

This is what the Lord says: The man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed. He will be like a juniper in Arabah; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives. The man who trusts in the lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn't fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Expectantly Expectant: What Happens When We Expect And When We Don't?

"expectant"         

Our church seems to be filled with expectant mothers right now, though the list is dwindling as faith becomes sight. I mean, as expectant mothers deliver. It's a great season. New life. New challenges.

"expectant"         

We are in the middle of an outreach ministry attempting to reach millenials.  It's called TheAvenueLive (#theavenuelife). We were so expectant that it took weeks just to figure out what to call it.

"expectant"         

My son has just graduated high school, my daughter will from college this Saturday. Then in a week she will marry. To say the least, my wife and I are expectant.

Expectancy is powerful. It changes and empowers us. It can lead us to great heights. If placed in the wrong person, it can deceive and lead to great depths. It is not a luxury or an option, but a necessity if we intend to contend for the faith and finish the race, "keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life." (Jude 21)

As I listened to Christy Nockels on Pandora today, her Passion rendering of Waiting Here For You came up. My first thought was, "what if our whole church expected God to move every time we gather and all the time as we scatter?"  I was overcome by the power of it. As a friend, father, and pastor, my thoughts turned to my own expectancy. How vital my own expectancy is, how important to our church. How powerful it's presence and absence as I pray for my adult children.

So, I expectantly begin a journey into expectancy as I write about it for the next few posts.





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Evangelism: There's A Method To My Madness


"Go"  ~ Matthew 28:19a

D. L. Moody's father died when he was 4, and his mother had to raise a family of 8. The only way she could do it was by farming out the children to work for room and board. Moody got porridge and milk three times day where he worked. When he complained to his mother, she sent him back to work. She raised the children in a church that did not preach the Gospel. When he was 17, he moved to Boston to live with and work for his uncle. One of the requirements was that he attend church (one that shared the Gospel). Under the teaching of his Sunday School teacher, Moody was led to believe in Christ.

He used the same method of evangelism after his new birth, teaching the Bible to whoever would listen (even though he couldn't understand or pronounce many of the words in his Bible). He preached the Gospel wherever he could - in churches, fields, on the battle lines of the Civil War, in barns, and old saloons. He was often criticized for his methods.

One day a woman told him she did not like his evangelistic methods. Moody said, "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it, either. Tell me how you do it?"  The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."

Some time ago a pastor shared a method for evangelism with his church. A week or so later, he met with a group of a dozen or so and asked how they liked the method. All agreed that they loved it, so he asked, "So, tell me when you have used it in the last couple of weeks to share the Gospel." Almost all dropped their heads in shame. Only one of the group had shared the Gospel in the weeks since the pastor equipped his congregation to do so.

There are many sins in the world today. There can be none greater than disobeying the command to go and preach the Gospel. How can anyone who has received the great and free gift of forgiveness and salvation fail to tell everyone about it?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

You Should Have Rejoiced For Me

You have heard Me tell you, 'I am going away and I am coming to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.  (John 15:28)
 
Jesus was about to be crucified, "I am going away." He would then be buried and, on the third day, rise from the grave, "I am coming to you."  Then, forty days later, He would ascend into heaven to return to the Father, "If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced that I am going to the Father,". All of this was God's plan for His glory in the redemption of sinners. He had never preached any other Gospel. He had never followed any other path. The disciples had never been led by Him to expect any other reality. Though they claimed to love Him, they could not rejoice in His leaving.
 
By returning to the Father, He would return to the glory He had left behind when He took on flesh. By returning to the Father, He would leave all His suffering behind, fully accomplished. By returning to the Father, He would live to intercede for them and all believers. By returning to the Father, He would make way for the coming of the Holy Spirit who would fulfill every promise of the Gospel in the life of every believer. Still, even though they claimed to love Him, they could not rejoice in His leaving.
 
These thoughts are on my mind as I prepare for the next two Sundays - Palm and Easter. They are on my mind as I think and pray about a friend who is dying, another who has serious cancer, a family who has lost a teenage son tragically, a friend whose good friend died young and suddenly. This conversation of Jesus is on my mind as I ask Him how to serve Him and all these people affected by all these things, how to glorify Him and His truth while comforting those who need to find His joy. His words are on my mind even as I think about my own mortality and the sudden, unwelcome guest we call Death.
 
I claim to love Him, yet I find it hard to rejoice when a friend leaves to go and do His will. I claim to love Him, yet I struggle to rejoice in the distance between myself and loved ones, even when they stay to do His will. I say I love Him, but sometimes grieve as those who have no hope. I say I love Him, but do I trust Him? Do I trust that He is sovereign, that He makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes? 
 
He has never lied to us. He never once said this life would be easy. He never promised to keep all our loved ones and friends alive so we could go first. He did not command us to stay, but to go. He never promised to design life around us (what a petty existence that would be). He did promise that He has a plan, a purpose, and the person of the Holy Spirit to carry it out. And, He promised fullness of joy for all who do love Him, proven in their trust of Him?
 
So, I pray, "Sovereign God, Savior, Author and Finisher of our faith, fill our hearts with true love for You and Your will, whatever it may be, so that we may rejoice with fullness of joy. May Your joy enflame our witness of the Gospel of Your Son. Strengthen us in this life with the eternal hope of the next. And, Lord, knowing that Your Son will return and make all things new, I ask, Come quickly, Lord!"

Monday, February 2, 2015

And Then It Was Dark

I'm not sure what's worse, having a cold or getting over one. I'm getting over one, which means I haven't slept well in several nights due to coughing, or should I call it hacking. I thought last night would be different. I'd sleep till 6:30, get up and have a great day after a restful night. It was not to be.

At first I thought it was later, because it was unusually bright outside. I looked at my iPhone and was not happy. 5:00 a.m. Why was it so bright outside? Then I saw the moon about to set in the west. I tried to go back to sleep - cough, hack, hack, hack. So, up we go.

By the time the percolator stopped (yes, I said percolator) and I poured my first cup, it was dark again - very dark. Had clouds rolled in? No, the moon had set. As I sit at my computer looking out my study window, it is as dark as midnight - 6:00 a.m. but dark as midnight.

It's amazing how bright that huge round reflector is. No light of its own, but the contrast between its presence and its absence is amazing.

All I can think of is us. We have no light of our own, yet Jesus calls us the light. We are just reflectors. When the world is dark, we blame the dark. Sometimes we even question the Light. We should examine ourselves. If the world is dark, it is neither the darkness' nor the Light's fault. If it is dark, for some reason, we have disappeared.

"You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house." (Matthew 6:14-15)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Be Strong And Of Good Courage: LBC Evangelism Conference 2015


"Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go."  Joshua 1:6-7

The Christian church in America isn't in the best of shape. According to Thom Rainer, "eight out ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in America are either plateaued or declining." Matthew Bohling of the PCA said, "We can no longer simply ignore struggling churches. We must give attention to these churches before they die or we all lose!" Spend some time with local pastors, and you'll hear them verify those assessments of the church.

If you're a rural, small-church pastor like I am, you're in double trouble. Not only is the church as a whole in trouble, but small churches are in even greater peril. The only real growth trend is away from small churches and to larger churches.  While it may be more impression than fact, it can seem like most of the strategies and resources to rescue churches is geared toward these larger churches.

Couple the condition of the church with the immorality of our culture, resistance to the Gospel, and  opposition to our faith as a whole, and it's easy to see why so many pastors seem to be considering a career change. Of course, if you're called by God, you don't get to consider a career change. You often feel like Elijah - not the Elijah on the mountaintop calling down fire from Heaven, but the Elijah in the valley running from Jezebel. You think about quitting, but you remember what happened to Jonah.

A group of pastors in our community have been praying for revival every week for nearly four years. We have not seen it yet. The last few weeks our church was praying for a one day event with a vocational evangelist. We had a good day. A young woman was saved and many were encouraged. I have been praying that God would do something in my heart and in the hearts of others from my church when we attended the Evangelism Conference. Well, He did.

To face what's before us, we need courage. The best trained and equipped soldier will be defeated without it. The best trained pastor will, too. I didn't know that's what I needed when I went to the conference last week was courage, but that's what I found there.

I saw a denomination with the courage to own up to and take responsibility for the situation. It takes courage to stand up and say, "If we don't change, we die." Polyanna has left the building. Reality has been embraced. The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. The LBC has done that.

I saw and heard the testimony of others who had done the same, and who had courageously faced the challenge of church revitalization. Every testimony was a story of courage. Pastors, church leaders, and members made hard choices for the work of the kingdom of God. And, God was faithful. Again and again we heard how God honored their courage.

Courage is nothing more than faith in God. Without it, there is no hope. Many, perhaps most pastors will not make the hard choices, will not take the risk of change. They know that most church members would rather their church die than make the uncomfortable changes necessary to become revived, thriving churches. If this were not the case, the church in America would not be in the condition it is in. It takes courage for a pastor to lead his church to change, and it takes courage for the members of that church to allow their pastor to lead them in that change.

That's what I heard this week. I heard pastors and their members say, "We have to face this. We have to do something, and with God's help, we can and we will."  I saw them find hope, find direction, get equipped, and become determined. I heard a person who had been a Christian for over 50 years confess that they had never shared the Gospel with anyone outside the church, and that they had found the courage to do that very thing. I heard a young man who is just now starting in ministry talk about it. He heard all the statistics, has seen all the realities and, after the conference said,  "I'm really excited about what God has done and is doing in Louisiana. Thank You Father for Your blessings upon us."

So, be strong and courageous. Your God is still God.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Even A Kid Can Do It: Building a Christian life


For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

We make it too complicated. It's not. It's so simple a child can do it. Kids get it. Give them a stack of Legos and they'll build. Their minds aren't as hemmed in by all the supposed "realities" of life. They find it far easier to see possibilities, less restricted by the supposed impossibilities. Like this kid. He wanted to build a house, someone gave him a pile of giant Legos, and he built a house.

God made it simple. Not that Peter was necessarily thinking about the seven days of the week, but he did give us seven Christian virtues - one for each day of the week. I think that's a simple plan. Take one virtue and work toward that one each day. Sounds like a plan. Do you have a better one, a simpler one? If so, follow it. If not, give this a try.

Monday Priority - goodness, that means moral excellence, virtue
Tuesday Priority - knowledge, the true knowledge of God's word as opposed to the world
Wednesday Priority - self-control, knowledge puffs up unless it produces change
Thursday Priority - endurance, the week's not over yet
Friday Priority - godliness, living a life that is like God
Saturday Priority - brotherly affection, how can I serve the body of Christ
Sunday Priority - love, the word is agape, self-sacrificing love for God

Each day, ask God to help you make one virtue your priority. Then commit to Christ and to yourself that this day you will strive to live that virtue out.

See what God builds within you.