Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When Picking Sides

"I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life."
Philippians 4:2-3

Here's what we know about these two women. First, Paul believed them to be true believers, since he noted their names were in the book of life. Second, they were members of the same church and active in the gospel ministry with Paul and others. Third, their dispute was not personal but doctrinal, because Paul always addressed doctrinal disputes directly. Fourth, their divided relationship clearly had the potential to divide the church, which is likely why Paul addressed it so prominently. That also indicates that people within the church had chosen sides.

That's surprising, isn't it? People in the church actually chose sides. Why I've never heard of such a thing. Oh, wait, yes, I have heard of such a thing. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember a single conflict, inside or outside of the local church, in which people haven't picked sides.  He said, she said, they said, we said. Everyone has an opinion, and then everyone takes sides. Always, not usually, but always the whole truth is not what either side says it is. The whole truth is somewhere in between.

Actually, the truth is not somewhere in between the two opposing stories. The truth sits on the throne of Heaven. That's why Paul wrote that they were to "agree in the Lord." That's the only way human beings will ever really agree. We will always be tempted to pick sides in any argument or disagreement. The only way out is to pick the third side, the Lord's side. 

They say that blood is thicker than water, and that's usually true in conflict. We are often tempted to take the side of a family member. We usually take the side of our close friends, even if we know they're not entirely right. 

The only way to deal with the multitude of disagreements that arise as the result of living in a fallen world is to pick God's side, His truth, found in His Word, often made clear by a third party who hasn't chosen sides. Pick the right blood. Pick the blood and the truth of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Generation That Does Not Remember 9/11

Just before I laid down last night, I remembered what happened the following morning 17 years ago. I remembered and I wondered how many had forgotten. I read an article early this morning written by a University professor. She talked about the state of students she teaches. She said most see all the wars of the last hundred years all mixed up. 

She grew up in Washington, D.C. when Congress controlled the public school curriculum for the District of Columbia. As a result, every student took American history in elementary, junior, and high school. She was steeped in the history of our country. Today, she wrote, almost all her students cannot distinguish between Korea, WWII, or Viet Nam. They have no living memory and they have not been taught, so they have no concept of why our nation is what it is - for good or ill.

These same students are the least Christian in the history of our nation. They are the greatest unbelieving generation in the history of our country, and perhaps in all of Western civilization. 
Could it be for the same reasons that they do not know the history of their own nation? 

Could it be that they simply have no living memory of Christ? What I mean is, could it be that, even if they were raised in a church, they never heard the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ, truly repented and truly believed? Could it be that they have no living memory because they saw no "living" followers of Christ? Could it be they simply have not been made disciples? 

They may have been taken to church, but were they continually taken to Jesus? Did His teachings not only permeate their Sunday School classes, but did they also permeate the lives of their parents, their teachers, and their friends. Discipleship requires teaching, but teaching is not only in the classroom. It is in the living room, the dining room, the locker room, the classroom, and the break room at work. 

Our purpose and mission is to make disciples. That is a life-long commitment to learn who Jesus is and follow Him with every step. Disciple-making does not guarantee that our followers will follow Him, but to fail to make disciples virtually guarantees that they will not follow Him. Don't despair, though, because the Lord Himself has given us the plan to further His kingdom. It is the kingdom that cannot be stopped by the gates of Hell. Go, make disciples.

Photo Credit: NIST Robert Miller - Public Domain Mark 1.0

Thursday, August 16, 2018

It's Me, It's Me, O Lord, Who Needs To Give Up My Seat

We were looking for a church in the city in which we lived. We settled on a large "First Church" for that particular Sunday. Piano, organ, and a small worship orchestra led the large choir and music filled the air where over a thousand were seated. I was seated on the last seat on the row, my wife beside me. There was one empty seat in our section immediately in front of me. To the right of it were two older ladies who appeared well-to-do. One of them was wearing a fur jacket.

Movement caught my eye. A woman, late middle-aged, came to the open seat. She was not well-to-do. She was thin, wearing a worn, sky blue polyester pant suit. Her purse was worn, too. I could smell her. She had the odor people have when they live on the streets and don't get but one or two showers a week at the shelter

She motioned to the empty seat in front of us, asking the well-to-do lady in fur if it was available. Either in surprise or fear, she turned wide-eyed to look at her well-to-do friend, and then looked back at the thin woman. I heard her say, "It's taken. My husband is coming to sit there." The lady turned around and walked toward the back, presumably looking for another seat. The well-to-do ladies exchanged knowing glances. Her husband never did come and sit there.

Every time I tell that story people are appalled at the reaction of the well-to-do ladies. It was appalling. How could they conspire to deny her a seat because she was not like them when Christ offered them a place in eternity in spite of their great difference from him? But, something troubles me. It's not the well-to-do who trouble me. It's me.

My wife and I were sitting on the end of the row. There was no extra seat beside us, but there was a seat available. That seat was mine.

Why did I not get up and give her my seat?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Fruit On Your Own Tree Is Always Sweeter

     The picture is of a tree a friend of mine grafted and gave me a few years ago. These persimmons need another tree to pollinate, but if a skillful arborist grafts two trees together it will self-fruit, pollinate itself. There's a whole spiritual application there about us being grafted into Christ, but that's not what I'm thinking about this morning as I write. 
     I planted that tree, watered it, fertilized it, weeded it, sprayed it for bugs, and was terrifically excited when, after two years of potential fruit, I finally saw those little green orbs forming on the branches. This Fall, if the opossums don't get them first, I am going to pluck those persimmons when they become perfectly ripe and enjoy the sweetest, bestest, most awesome persimmons I have ever had.
     Those persimmons will be better than any I have ever tasted, for one reason alone. They came off my very own persimmon tree in my very own orchard. If you have an orchard, or grow a vegetable garden, you know something other people don't. The fruit off your own tree and the vegetables out of your own garden are far more satisfying to eat than anything anyone can buy in any green market or store. 
     You really need to get that truth. There is a lot of sweet fruit in this life. There are worship services that lift our sous. There are teachers and preachers that stimulate our minds. There are books and studies that open our eyes to tasty Biblical truths. There are conferences we return home from that we think everyone else just absolutely must attend when they come around again. Mimi and Paw-paw have such a genuine faith, and we are so blessed when we are around them. That child's response to the children's sermon was so precious. It is all so good, but none of it is as sweet as the fruit on your own tree.
     While the world needs to see the fruit of God in and on your life, it's there for another reason. It is there for you to enjoy, realizing how sweet it is that the great and gracious Creator has grafted you into Christ through faith in Christ, placing His Spirit within you so that you will bare fruit.  But, that fruit does not grow unless you water the tree, fertilize the tree, spray the tree for bugs, nurture the tree, protect the fruit from predators, and do all of that continually until the fruit is ready to eat. 
     You must believe in Christ. You must choose to surrender your life to His plan and process. You must abide in His Word, prayer, worship and service. You must obey. You will never experience the joy of the abundant life, never joyfully taste the sweet, sweet fruit of Christ if you don't.

Please, take time to read more: John 14 & 15

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Last Sunset

And just as it is appointed for people to die once - and after this, judgment - so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:27-28

     We were fishing with friends and a strange thought drifted through my mind. That's not unusual. Many strange thoughts drift through the vast empty space between my ears, but this one continues to remind me it's there. "This could be the last sunset I ever see." 
     A few days after that sunset, the mother of a friend of mine died suddenly. I had coffee with her only a week or so before. The next day his mother-in-law died. They had both lived full lives in the faith, but those days were numbered. A couple of weeks ago a pastor friend of mine who had recently moved back into the area was struck and killed while jogging. I had seen him at a prayer breakfast just three days before. He was 46. In the last few years I've lost several good friends -  some young, some old. We had our last conversation, prayed together the last time, enjoyed a last supper.  
     Sometimes we get angry with God because someone dies. That's understandable, but unfair. He did promise, after all, that there is a final day appointed for each of us. None of us knows the day, but we know it's coming. Whether it's a sunset, a fishing trip, a cup of coffee, a breakfast, or a special time with family or friends, one of those will be the last one of those.
     Each of us will have a last dance, a last sunset. That's reality and so is what comes on the other side of our last sunset. If we believe in Jesus and follow him here, we'll enter eternity with him by our side. If, however, we haven't followed him here, then we'll will face the judgment with him as our opposition. 
     I'm glad for that sunset and the thought that continues to echo in my mind. It, along with God's Word, reminds me that he's never lied, even about death. He hasn't promised earthly immortality. How awful would it be to have to live forever in this world, forever dealing with its mess?  He's promised that one day all this will end and our joy will be full. That's only frightening if we don't know him. It's only unfulfilling if we think this world is superior to the one that's coming. 
     So, until that day, let's live as if we were already there. Let's patiently await his perfect timing, holding onto him while we make our way through this life. We're here for a purpose, whether we can figure it all out or not. We're here to glorify God, to make Him, His love, and His gospel known until He calls us home. So, let's dance while we can, but let's always remember that nothing here is as wonderful as everything there will be. And, above all, let's believe in Jesus, follow him, and give thanks that meeting him face-to-face will be the best part of life on the other side of the last sunset.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Does Father Know Best?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4

     Sunday is Father's Day, and since I'm a preacher I'm expected to say something about Fathers. Preachers are warned not to use paternal holidays to lay into mothers and fathers. That's good counsel. The flipside, however, is to pour on the schmooze. Being a father makes that a bit awkward, kind of like me preaching how great pastors are on pastor appreciation Sunday.
     Did you know Father's Day was an afterthought? One story says it was begun in 1909, the year after a mine explosion in Virginia that killed 361 men. Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her pastor that a special service should be held in honor of fathers. The other story of its founding says it was begun in 1910, the year after Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother's Day sermon and suggested to her pastor that father's deserved at least a mention. Either way, thank you for the day Grace and Sonora.
     I've been reading a lot about parenting recently. Guess I'm having flashbacks to my good old days working on my family ministry degree. It's interesting that the debate hasn't changed much. Parents are still the most important people in society.  There's apparently an entire generation that hasn't been parented well, since we now have to have "Adulting" classes for young adults. 
     Some say that most of society's problems should be laid at the feet of parents, particularly, it seems from popular opinion, fathers. There's the movement toward more authoritarian parenting, lauded by some and villainized by others. There's a more tempered approach, labelled "authoritative parenting". Parents become more deal-makers than rule-enforcers. Then there's the egalitarian approach, where who knows who's in charge. 
     I can show you scientific research supporting every side of every issue. By the way, scientific research isn't all it's cracked up to be (there was a good article about that in 2013 in in The Economist). The science you trust today will very often be proven inaccurate tomorrow. 
     So, how should you parent? Does father really know best? Whoop (that's spank for those of you who know no rednecks), don't whoop, play let's make a deal or tell them "because I said so", dress boys as boys and girls as girls or let them choose the too-too or the gladiator outfit, make them go to church or let them choose, think there are gender-specific roles or not, father is head of the house or mom is or the three year old is . . . seriously, what do we do?
     Well, I don't know what you do if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ. Punt, I guess. Join the parenting-philosophy-of-the-month club. Do it like your parents because you thought they did great, or don't do it like them because you think they were idiots. I don't think anyone intends to be a bad parent, but, how do you really, honestly, know what a good parent is? Is a perfect child the product of perfect parenting? If it is, then any imperfection is the result of failed parenting, and that's just not entirely true. Both great and totally dysfunctional young adults come from the same home. 
     Here's what you do if you're a follower of Christ. First, stop evaluating your parenting solely on current fruit in your kids lives. You should take an honest look at your parenting, but good parents can have rotten kids. It's the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in your kids' lives. You are just one of the tools he uses. 
     Then, pick up the Bible and read all that God says about parenting, but before that read all it says about being a parent, and before that read all it says about being a child of the Heavenly Father. Who you are in Christ, how you are following Him, is far more important than what parenting method you used. Focus on your own childhood as a child of God. 
     Finally, love learning. Read, learn, evaluate, but don't live your life by the observations and ideas of the world. Live and parent by the design of the designer. That won't make a lot of people happy, but following Jesus never does. 
     Earthly fathers don't always know best, but there is a father who does. . . "our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name."

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I've Seen The Stars, I Know Their Maker

 But he (Thomas) said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." He then said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving." Thomas answered and said to Him ,"My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
John 20:25b-29 

I took those pictures years ago with a telescope that I bought with money that I didn't really have. That's what I've done a lot of my life. Telsecopes, bonsai trees, medicine, psychology, flying remote control airplanes, fly fishing, fly tying. I get curious about something, get obsessed, and go get it. I want to know. I want answers. 

We didn't have kids then and had jobs that paid real money. I didn't believe in God, so my time and resources were my own (I thought). I met some guys who were also into telescopes - engineers, NASA scientists, and even a cowboy or two. There was an astronomy club, and we wanted a bigger, better telescope, so we built one with sonotube, plywood, aluminum conduit, huge mirrors, covered it in red Formica, and called it the Eveready Battery, because it looked like one. Here's a picture of the newly completed project in my carport.

We loaded it in my pickup and joined hundreds of amateur astronomers who made an annual pilgrimage to the Prude Ranch in the Davis Mountains of deep, southwest Texas. The event was called the Texas Star Party. Here's a picture of the telesecope with John Dobson sitting in front of it. He's the guy who designed the mount we built. If you're an astronomer, you know he was a famous guy. We looked through eyepieces all night, took pictures, and pondered the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

It was fun, but it wasn't fulfilling. It was just another one of the things that I did to try to answer my questions, fill my hungry intellect and heart. After telescopes, bonsai, showing Chinese Sharpei, painting, solving people's problems as a psychologist, and who knows what else, it just didn't work anymore. When it didn't, guess who was there? Generous, patient, forgiving Jesus, waiting just like the prodigal father in Luke 15, and I believed.

I still didn't have all the answers to every question in the universe, but they became far less important. See, I had found the one who held the universe in his hand. If I hadn't believed, who knows what I would have done or become. My greatest loss would have been not knowing Jesus. But there would have been other losses, too. Two of them are in the next picture. 

Before I believed in Jesus, I didn't want children. Almost as soon as I believed, I did. Just a few months after Jesus saved me, the girl in the hat was growing in my wife's womb. Four years later, the toothless boy on the right was in my arms. I was so like Thomas. I wanted proof before I would believe. When I finally believed without seeing, I discovered that Jesus would indeed bless those who believed without seeing.

God is so generous in his patience and forgiveness. I love the two in that picture as much as I love life. I thank God that his salvation for me included a life in which they existed. If I had not believed, they would not be here. That would be a terrible thing, though I would not know it. Even worse, I would not know Jesus. I have seen the stars, and now I know their maker. 


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Don't Pray For Patience? Oh yeah, Well What About Humility?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?
Matthew 16:24-26

       I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "Don't pray for patience, 'cuz you might get it." It shows people know you develop patience by going through trials. So, at least they know the principle James spells out in the first chapter of the letter by his name. It also reveals immaturity, because without patience we will never be like Christ. So, every trial, every test, is a tool in the hand of a loving, transforming God who is working diligently to form us into the image of his Son. So, praying for patience is a prayer of surrender to the sanctifying grace of God. The only reason you wouldn't ask for it is if you didn't want to be like Christ.
       What about humility? I've never heard anyone say, "Don't pray for humility, 'cuz you might get it." But, that's exactly what I've been thinking about since God rattled my cage in preparing for a teaching last week about the necessity of humility. The fear of praying for patience seems tame when compared to the fear of praying for humility. I mean, if God answers the prayer for patience, then I'm going through some stuff. If he answers the prayer for humility, I'm going through some stuff, too. But, the stuff I will go through to teach me humility could be far more painful. Here's why I say that.
       Trials that produce patience are not necessarily personal. They may or may not assault my ego, my status, or my pride. The trials that produce humility will do exactly that. They will assault my ego, my status and my pride. They will dismantle SELF-assuredness, SELF-confidence, SELF-aggrandizement, and all other forms of SELF. They will work out the death of my self that was wrought on the cross.
       Trials I can handle. Can I handle deflation? I know I need to. I need all of my SELF replaced with the character of Christ. I don't want to stand before God one day full of my self. I would rather stand before him empty of self, and full of Christ. For that to be a reality for me, I must believe today that he is a giver and not a taker. I must believe that all things work together for my good, because I am called by him for his purposes in love.
       I don't have to be forced into humility. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure you can force someone into humility. I don't think that's what God has in mind. I believe he wants me to humble myself. So, while he may answer my prayer for humility by humbling me, he will also answer my prayer for humility by empowering me. He will empower me, and you, to humble ourselves.
       So, God help me humble myself. Help me learn how to be a leader, and still be humble. Help me learn to wash feet, and what that means in the context of everyday life. Help me know how to be a humble servant in the middle of all the other imposing priorities of life. Help me develop the character of Christ by learning how my own character conflicts with his. Help me learn, as Paul did, the value of weakness. Help me serve selflessly as Jesus did, humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.

(Picture is public domain in the United States: Français : Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre par Jésus.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The First Step To Spiritual Ruin Isn't What You Think

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have shipwrecked their faith.
1 Timothy 1:18-19

     How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? If you don't remember that famous line, Google it. Here's a more important question. How many steps in the wrong direction does it take to shipwreck your faith? They say that every journey begins with the first step. That's really all it takes. One step.
     One of the greatest pastors I've ever known ended up on the rocks. Friendship became a look. A look became a thought. A thought became adultery. His downfall didn't begin when he and the other man's wife disrobed, or even when friendship became flirtation. It began when he isolated himself from relationships that would have provided accountability.
     One of the wisest women found her ship stuck on the beach. She was so confident in God, but began to worry about her business. Worry became fear. Fear became workaholism. She withdrew from God and the people of God. She worked harder and harder, and one day this paragon of faith confided, "Some days I wonder if there even is a God."
     There were two others. You should have seen them. Every moment of every day they were either discipling their families, serving their church, sharing their faith, praying to their God, or reading His Word. One had a lukewarm wife who wanted more and more of the world. The other one had a friend he was trying to win to Christ. Working to please the spouse and compromising to keep a friendship got them. Both say they still believe, but you won't find them wearing out their Bible's today. You won't find them wearing out a pew, either. 
     The stories are so numerous. You have probably found yourself occasionally stuck on the sand, just like I have. There's one more I want to relate, because it's a warning to those of us who think we're still doing well. She's always been passionate and intense about the Lord. She still prays, reads, teaches and serves in her church, but, oh my soul, is she bitter. It's hard to believe she loves Jesus, because she clearly does not love His people. Passion for God is essential, but so is love. Passion without love becomes bitterness, and bitterness bites. Somewhere along the way she took a step, stopped being an encourager, and became an enforcer. She's shipwrecked, but blames the people in her church who aren't doing what they should. 
     So, what's the first step to ruin? Is it adultery, unbelief, workaholism, compromise, bitterness? The first step to is any step that takes us anywhere that Jesus isn't going. And, the first step off the rocks is the one that is toward Christ. John recorded the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus, "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. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (Rev. 1:4-5)
     Don't expect God to refresh your passion for Him there on the beach. He doesn't bless drifting. Don't expect to be passionate about Him again while you're drinking the lukewarm milk of the world. Repent, then do what you used to do. The passion for Christ will return only if you don't keep walking where you're walking. Do the first things. Prioritize prayer, reading, studying and hearing the Word of God, serving your local church, and making disciples. The passion and peace will return once you have, because you will have returned to the source.


Monday, May 14, 2018

When Dissed, Deflate

Credit Below
       Have you ever watched a child, not yours of course, disrespect a parent or an adult? Maybe you smile it away, but inside you probably want to step in and say, "Hey, want me to handle this? Please, let me handle this."
       There's something about disrespect that's different. We can excuse a mistake, but disrespect is not a mistake. It seems to reveal a superior attitude, a self-promoting, judgmental, dirty little heart. Was I too strong there? Well, if I was, then answer me this. How do you feel when you're disrespected?  Look, I'm not having a Carly Simon moment. I don't think you're vain. This article isn't about you, but I want to ask you. How do you feel when you're disrespected, and how should you feel?
       So, I was sitting here in my study thinking about a situation and I felt disrespected. I had a little conversation with myself (not out loud, since that can get you in trouble). I started having a self-protecting, self-justifying conversation. You know how it goes. No one is there but you, but you're more than enough to form a committee and justify yourself. In the middle of all of this a question came to my mind, "Why don't you just deflate your self-importance?'
       I paused, and then immediately thought, "The problem isn't the disrespect I perceive from others. The problem is my inflated sense of self-worth." Once again, you may disagree with me, but hear me out. As I pondered that thought, I thought about Jesus. I don't have the greatest memory in the world, but I just couldn't remember a single time he ever said to someone, "You will NOT talk to me like that!"  Yes, he rebuked Peter when he tried to get him to avoid the cross, but Jesus was not self-defensive of his ego.
       Then I remembered the letter Paul wrote to the disciples in Philippi, and that passage in chapter 2 that says,  "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." Well, that's certainly deflating to my offended ego. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the from of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."
       There it is. It appears that even when Jesus was disrespected, it didn't affect his worth. He had already deflated himself, since he had no need to inflate himself. He is not only love embodied, but humility epitomized. And, it seems the Holy Spirit was saying to me that when I am offended by disrespect, I should take the opportunity to recognize my own over-blown sense of worth. I should recognize my pride and give God thanks for the opportunity to deflate myself, since my goal is to be like Christ Jesus; Jesus who, though God, laid off the glory of Heaven to put on flesh.
       The next time you hear a kid speak disrespectfully to a parent, they may need severe discipline. But, so may you. The next time someone disses you, they may be wrong. But, you may simply need to deflate that pride.

PHOTO: The photo of the upset Capucin was taken by Encarma Saez Gonalons & Victor Martinez Moll, and has been modified. It is used as public domain, and its use does not indicate that they agree or disagree with this article.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

It Is Hard To Serve God, Because It Is Hard To Serve People

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their tribulations. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all.
Psalm 34:17-19

       We who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are guided by the Bible. It is a description of perfection. We follow Jesus, the perfect One, and his teachings with a desire to become more and more like him. So, perfection is ever before our eyes, except, it seems, when we look at the world around us and those we serve.  
       It's impossible to serve God and not serve people. It doesn't matter if you're the preacher, the teacher, the greeter, or the bottle-washer. All of us, not just the pastors, elders & deacons, serve one another. As a matter of fact, if you follow Jesus you must serve his people. And, serving people is hard. It's hard because people are imperfect.  
       Sometimes we don't even think about their imperfections, because their character defects seem minor. Sometimes, however, their imperfections are far from minor. Either way, it doesn't matter. We live in a world with people who are not yet perfected. And, we follow a Savior whose love compels us to serve them. Their imperfections aren't just a reality. They're actually the focus of our service. We serve to build up the body of Christ, "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ's fullness." (Eph.4:13) Pay special attention to the word, "until."
       Their imperfection, coupled with Christ's love within us for them, results in suffering. Service produces some measure of suffering. Sometimes, though, our suffering is caused by our own expectations. Since we are striving for the measure of Christ, we expect that of others. When they are not able to produce, and their failure adversely affects us, we suffer. It's not wrong to be disappointed, but the depth of that disappointment is often the result of faulty expectations. If our expectations for perfection lead us to stop serving, then our expectations need urgent adjustment. Remember, no one we serve is perfect. If you have been disappointed, or perhaps even crushed in the service of Christ, I want to suggest three helps.
       First, keep your eyes on Jesus. He's the only one who is perfect, the only one who will never fail, and the only one who will never disappoint. By the way, if he has disappointed you, then you have wrongly judged him. Even then he will save your crushed spirit and rescue you from your many adversities.
       Second, with Jesus ever before your eyes, take a good look in the mirror. When you do, you'll be quickly reminded that you also are not perfect. The troubles you have when you serve the imperfect are part of God's plan to perfect you. When you serve others, and their imperfection makes that difficult, give God thanks for the trial that is perfecting your faith. Every trial is an opportunity for your growth.
       Third, serve them anyway. If you don't serve, you don't follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus, you will serve. It's better to follow Jesus. I think Teresa of Calcutta put it well when she wrote,

People are often unreasonable,
irrational and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you 
of selfish,  ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some unfaithful friends
and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere,
people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating,
others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness,
some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you to today,
will often be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have,
and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

(Photo is the painting Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre par Jesus, public domain.)

Monday, April 30, 2018

From New Orleans To Haskell County And Parts In Between

Because of the proof provided by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. And as they pray on your behalf, they will have deep affection for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.
2 Corinthians 9:13-14

     I want to express my appreciation to the many people who made a long week much shorter. My stepfather, Jim McCurley, had a major stroke on a Thursday morning and died the following Sunday morning. In between the event and his death, many people prayed and cared. And they continue to pray and care.
     Professors in a doctoral seminar made it possible for me to miss half the seminar and still keep up. Danny took care of Wednesday. Deacons and elders took care of the congregation. Our church and many others prayed and offered their love and care. Tracy took care of everything else in the office. Thanks.
     My sister, Christi, made multiple trips from Lubbock, used her expertise in hospice care to support her mother and Jim's sons and family. And, the information freak that I am, she kept me regularly updated. Brad and Haley, you've been so good to my mom, and when the time came you took care of Jim. So thankful.
     My daughter graciously road (drove most of the way) with me from NOLA, to Sabine Parish to pick up Denise, and then to Haskell.  People who loved Jim, his sons, our mother, and all our family filled the church. Matthew and Craig did a wonderful job honoring their fathers - the earthly one and the heavenly one. Mike sang like only he can. Shelton, brother, you ministered throughout.
     Twenty-one women cooked and fed us lunch. Ladies, never underestimate the importance of the spiritual gift of hospitality. Several hours after the service, as we gathered in Wichita Falls for the graveside, there were more friends and family from that neck of the woods.
     So, from NOLA, to Haskell County, to parts in between, "Thank you." Forgive me if I didn't list your name. One more thing. As Jim and Mom have struggled with health issues over the past two years, we (the adult children) have struggled with them being so far from any of us. That's where the last "thank you" comes in.
     Thanks to all who continue to love and care for our Mimi (my mother). She's not ready to pack up and move to be near one of us. She has too many people she needs to serve right where she is as long as she can. It's difficult to realize her increased needs, know we could meet them, and know that she's not ready to move. It is a great blessing to see how many people there are around her who aren't just saying they care, but are showing it. Love you all.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Compelled By The Love Of Christ And Easter

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

     You may not like this, but I still think it's worth talking about. The love of Christ does more than save you. It changes you. It transforms you. It rearranges your priorities, which means it reorganizes your life. When you really get the enormity of his love, you come to love what he loves.   
     You love and prioritize the mission he's given you. "We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: 'Be reconciled to God' (2 Cor. 5:20)." His great love compels you to make his good news known to all people. He loved you. That overwhelms you. Your response is to love God and make his love and gospel known.
     Easter is next Sunday. It is probably the holiday when unchurched, lost people are willing to attend a religious service. Christmas is still in the race, but Easter is the big day for getting someone into a house of worship to hear the Gospel. What will you do with it?
     Will you gather with family only? For some of us that is the mission field. We travel great distances to go to church with mom, dad, brother or sister, because the only time they go to church and consider God is when we show up in town and take them. However, some of us see holidays only as family days. Our priority for Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving is to get together with our family. Is that wrong? Of course not, but it may not be altogether right either.
     What if the gospel was your priority this Easter? You might spend the week in prayer, inviting friends, family, and everyone else you met to come to church and hear about Jesus. You might decide that being at church to meet those people when they came was more important than eating another ham with family. After all, your family is saved. You communicate that to family. Some get it. Some don't. But, you have eternity to spend with them, and will see them next week. You don't have eternity with your neighbor, because he is lost. That's why you prioritized Easter for the gospel.
     Hey, I said at first that you may not like this, but, if the gospel is your priority because the love of Christ compels you, you might at least consider it. Easter is the singular outreach Sunday of the year. If you invite people to come and then you're not here, well, the person they were most likely to connect with at church won't be there. But, if you're there, and they come, it's a very different story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hoping In The Resurrection While We Grieve

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13

     I have lost more in the last few years than at any other time in my life. My wife and I have become empty nesters. Our church has changed significantly, and while some change is good all change is a loss of what was - good or bad. I've lost friends. Some to conflict, some who have left our community, and some who have left this earth. And, when I think about those who have died in the last couple of years (Beck, Jim, Harold, Shirley to name a few), I miss not only them but many more in my life who have died. 
     Jim and Harold weren't just friends. They were mentors, broad shoulders and listening ears. Men I knew might disagree with me, but would never betray me. Shirley was there, present, faithful. That may not seem like much of a compliment, but she consistently loved my children and every other child in our church for generations. And then there's Becky. What can I say about her except, "You ain't right."
    Loss isn't just about here and now. Every time we lose someone we're not only left with the emptiness and grief of that loss, but also with the loss of our imagined future that contained them. We lived each day with the blessing of their presence, and we imagined a future in which we would continue to share life with them.
     We can heal. We can work on our grief, begin to develop new ways of living each day, but to really overcome our grief we also have to deal with the future. It's not just today without them, it's every day without them. 
     Just as God heals our current grief, He also has a remedy for our future-without-them grief. It's called the resurrection. If we believe in Christ, we will grieve because we loved like Christ. But, we do not have to grieve without hope. We do not have to fear the future without them, because "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:14). 
     We don't have to imagine a future without them if they believed in Jesus and we believe in Jesus. God has guaranteed that our future contains, not only Jesus, but all those in Him who we so love. We just have to wait a little while to see them. And, while we wait, we are not alone. The One who rose from the grave, who promises to unite us completely and finally with Him, and to reunite us with those we have lost is with us even now. 
     "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so WE will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:16-18 - emphasis mine). 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Death Of Stephen Hawking, Gloating, and the Gospel

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. He lived a remarkably long life with a form of ALS, questioning, perhaps denying the existence of God for virtually all of his 76 years investing his life in the attempt to discern the nature of the universe via human logic and reason. Whether he was an atheist, or an agnostic, he was certainly not a believer in a spiritual afterlife. He is reported to have said, "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." As a result of his theology (yes, even atheists are theologians), he was not afraid of death, saying, "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."

Those who do believe in God, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, will respond to the death of an unbeliever in one of three ways:

They may rejoice. "God is just. He made his choice. He mocked God. He has met his maker now."  Hawking certainly preached the god of logic and reason, dismissed the God of Creation, and contributed to a theology that contributes to lostness and unbelief. Should a follower of Jesus Christ rejoice that this preacher of a false god is dead?

They may not care. "Yes, he was an unbeliever, but thousands die every day. I don't have time to spend on worrying about that." Is apathy the attitude of God?

They may mourn. Franklin Graham wrote about Hawking, "I wish Stephen Hawking could have seen the simple truth that God is the Creator of the universe he loved to study and everything in it." Is it more or less like God to grieve when a lost person dies?

Photo used by permission from Wikipedia Commons, author Doug Wheller

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday Morning Pastor: Getting Prayer Right

Pray for and about everything. That's God's command. It's His desire. So, yes, ask Him to heal Grandma Turner's sciatica. Ask Him to help your son do well on his final in chemistry. Ask Him to give you a job when you're out of work. Ask Him to save your neighbor. Ask Him to send laborers for the harvest. Ask Him for everything you need, but prayer is much more than just getting our needs met, much more than even getting the needs of others met.

John 15:5-8:  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

The men who first heard this had been with Jesus for three years. For three years their life was the definition of abiding. He is about to leave them, has told them that, and is instructing them in what to do in His physical absence after His death, burial, and resurrection. And, what does He tell them? 11 times in 4 verses, He tells them to do just what they have been doing - abide, remain, dwell, live, converse, camp out, eat with, talk to, listen to, obey, love Him. Now, how are they going to do that?

They will need four things. First, they will need Him to remove the barrier of sin in their hearts, which He did on Calvary and they received by faith. Second, they will need His Holy Spirit, which He sent to indwell every believer in His absence. Third, they will need His Word, which He had given and was in the process of giving them through the apostles. Fourth, they will need to pray, which is the primary practice of abiding in His presence.

If they abide in Him, their lives will be defined by His presence - spiritual fruitfulness, supernatural love, and abundant joy. If they do not abide in Him, their lives will be defined by the absence of His presence - fruitlessness, meaningless activity, tepid love, and joylessness. We are no different than they are. So, ask Him for everything, but do not neglect abiding in Him in prayer. Here's a simple guide to help you do that.

  • Grab a Bible and get somewhere you can spend some time with God
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to help you 
  • Open the Bible, begin to read and pray as God prompts you
  • Praise Him as the Spirit prompts you through the Scripture 
  • Be still, word open, heart alert, and simply abide in Christ
  • Consider, during these times, asking for nothing more than His presence unless He prompts you through the Word to do so

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sanctity Of Human Life

This Sunday we mourn together on Sanctity Of Human Life Sunday. We mourn the death of over 50 million unborn humans that has resulted from a supreme court decision legalizing abortion on January 22, 1973. Human life is precious because it is created by God. The unborn and old, the healthy and infirmed, the genius and savant, black, white, and every other color are precious in His sight. I could say much, but I believe Ronald Reagan said it best in 1984 when he proclaimed the first Sanctity Of Human Life day.

A Proclamation

The values and freedoms we cherish as Americans rest on our fundamental commitment to the sanctity of human life. The first of the ``unalienable rights'' affirmed by our Declaration of Independence is the right to life itself, a right the Declaration states has been endowed by our Creator on all human beings -- whether young or old, weak or strong, healthy or handicapped.

Since 1973, however, more than 15 million unborn children have died in legalized abortions -- a tragedy of stunning dimensions that stands in sad contrast to our belief that each life is sacred. These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our Nation's wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss.

We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual. To diminish the value of one category of human life is to diminish us all. Slavery, which treated Blacks as something less than human, to be bought and sold if convenient, cheapened human life and mocked our dedication to the freedom and equality of all men and women. Can we say that abortion -- which treats the unborn as something less than human, to be destroyed if convenient -- will be less corrosive to the values we hold dear?

We have been given the precious gift of human life, made more precious still by our births in or pilgrimages to a land of freedom. It is fitting, then, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that struck down State anti-abortion laws, that we reflect anew on these blessings, and on our corresponding responsibility to guard with care the lives and freedoms of even the weakest of our fellow human beings.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 1984, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon the citizens of this blessed land to gather on that day in homes and places of worship to give thanks for the gift of life, and to reaffirm our commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of each human life.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 13th day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighth.

Ronald Reagan

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

He Never Told Us He Loved Us, But. . .

But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?
Romans 10:14

     I've heard it more than once, "Well, he never told us he loved us, but you just know he did." He provided for them. He took care of them. He just never told his family he loved them. No one wants a false profession of love. No one wants a daddy who says he loves them and then does nothing to prove it. But, let's be honest, words are important. What we want and what we need are friends and family who love us with both words and action, not one or the other. 
     Words are important and its important that we use them. God gave us words and tells us to use them to bless others. You can curse by not speaking as easily as you can curse by speaking. The spouse or child who never hears, "I love you. You are valuable to me.", is not blessed. Our failure to bless is the withholding of a blessing. It is a silent curse. Overcome your introversion, or aversion, and speak.
     There is no situation where this is more important than in fulfilling our mission in life as followers of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to make disciples. People do not become disciples by observing our pious lifestyles. They do not know God has loved them supremely through Jesus Christ by observing us. The hungry do not find eternal life by receiving a grocery bag of food from us. They cannot know who loves them, who has transformed us, and who is giving them food unless we tell them. They cannot know Jesus and eternal life unless we proclaim His name.

(Free image from Max Pixel)