Wednesday, November 15, 2017

To Calvary Regarding Church Security

     An armed security guard outside the front door of a church can seem unspiritual, lacking in faith, but think for a moment. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread. He also taught us that if we are able to work, we should work for our food. And, he taught us to provide for the physical needs of our families.
     We can spiritualize "daily bread," or recognize that in meeting that need God gives us the ability and opportunity to work and provide. As a father I have prayed for my family's needs, and for the strength and opportunity to meet them. God provided the opportunity to work, and the bread that work put on the table. Praying and working are spiritual. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and healing the broken do not show a lack of faith. They actually bear witness to genuine faith.
     I would rather be focused on something else this week like prayer, preaching, evangelism, local missions, and developing a culture of transformational discipleship at our church. Still, I am thankful for the opportunity to be working with others to take care of the physical safety of people seeking God.
     We have much in place. We protect children through screening and training of volunteers, background checks, checkin/checkout procedures, and camera surveillance. We have a security team that includes greeters, security volunteers, camera surveillance, electronic panic buttons, security doors and monitors.
     Even though we've done much, we will never just rest on our laurels. We'll continue to examine ways to provide for a safe environment for everyone who comes to our facilities. We are doing that now in consultation with local law enforcement. In just a few days, we will attend an active shooter training provided by the Sabine Parish Sheriff's Office. We'll take that information, examine our procedures, and make recommendations to the church. There has been and still is much evil in the world, but God has overcome the world. He uses us to carry out his plan to care for one another, spiritually and physically.



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Lives, Pray For Sutherland Springs

A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
John 10:10

   Sunday I preached from Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." We think about this when we lose someone. We ask Him to comfort and He does. Many of us are praying for great loss right now - Las Vegas, New York, Sutherland Springs.
   God is not just a comforter for the losses inflicted on us. He's a comforter for our self-inflicted loss - the loss of our relationship with Him and others because of our own choices, our own sin. When we mourn our sin and turn to Christ, He promises to forgive and cleanse. When we are broken about the brokenness and injustice caused by sin in the world, He comforts us, too.
   As I watched the story unfold on the news, I was broken. 26 dead and 20 wounded in a church that averaged 50 in attendance. Then I heard that the pastor was not there that Sunday as His daughter and his church family were decimated. Sometimes we say, "I can't imagine." Well, I could. It was too much. I can imagine what it would be like to not be there when this to happened to my family and my church family. That broke me and I spent most of the rest of the day praying and seeking the comfort of God for all impacted by this evil. 
   All of this happened on the same day thousands of congregations and tens of thousands of believers participated in the National Day Of Prayer For The Persecuted Church. We went to church and prayed for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, then we came to realize that persecution is not just over there. It is here, too.
   First Baptist Sutherland Springs may not have been attacked strictly because of religion, but the evil that empowered the attack on them was the same that empowers all attacks. It's the same evil that empowered the Islamist terrorist who drove a truck through cyclists in New York. It is the same evil that empowered an angry atheist to gun down dozens in Las Vegas. It is the same evil that inspired the racist attack on a Bible study in Charlotte. This evil does not care who plays host to it. Anyone who will hate will do be they Islamic, Christian, atheist, antifa, black or white. If you are filled with hate, this evil will use you to its end.
   It hates all life, and it especially hates the abundant life Jesus promised. We fight this evil by declaring our allegiance to the life-giver, Jesus Christ. We fight it by following all His teachings. We fight it by forgiving. We fight it by making His kingdom our priority.
   That's what the people at First Baptist in Sutherland Springs were doing. They probably didn't think of it that way. All they did was make the choice to glorify Christ by gathering on the Lord's Day to worship Him together with His people. In that simple act of loving obedience they declared the Lordship of the King of Heaven.
   They didn't know it would cost them their earthly lives. We never know when following Christ will cost us, but we are willing to pay the cost. I wonder if anyone will stop going to church because of what happened yesterday in Texas. If they do, they've let evil win.
     We fight evil by acting in prayer, and by prayer acting upon us. Pray for the persecuted church, in Syria, around the world, and in Sutherland Springs. Pray that God will comfort the hundreds of family members who are grieving. Write letters, cards, and pray more. Do whatever you can to be God's heart and hands here and now.  
     Fight evil by living boldly obedient lives for Christ. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives. Our brothers and sisters were there Sunday, worshiping together, living. They were there living when evil came to take their lives. They died living obediently for Christ. One moment they were worshiping by faith. The next they were worshiping by sight. Evil didn't win. 
     Everyone dies, but not everyone lives. Fight evil. Live for Christ.

(Thanks to Ed Stetzer for the perspective of his article How Christians can respond to this latest church shooting.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hope When You Are Tested

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4

Sunday I preached about hope and its dependency upon the sovereignty of God. I believe it was a sovereign plan of God that the devotional book my wife and I read each day, New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp, was, on that same day, about hope. The author pointed out that we find ourselves hopeless when we trust in horizontal relationships, the things of this earth, rather than our vertical relationship with God.

Any preacher knows that sometimes he preaches "to" the congregation, and sometimes he "is" the congregation. The latter should always be the preacher's goal. Yesterday I was the congregation. He spoke to me as I shared Samuel's struggles after Saul failed. For Samuel to get past the grief and fear that paralyzed him, he had to trust that God was sovereign. It felt good, not to preach, but to be preached to, confronted, convicted, instructed, forgiven, and empowered.

I had a great afternoon, like I was freed to live and serve in new ways. I forgot something, though. I forgot that our faith is always tested. James wrote "when" you experience, not "if." He also made it clear that in the testing of our faith God produces "endurance," which is absolutely necessary if we are to be "mature and complete, lacking nothing."  Well, before the day was out, the horizontal had tested my faith in the vertical. 

I have always been tested. You have, too. It's part of our sovereign Lord's plan for our good and His glory. Since I preach and teach every week, my testing always comes either before or after I preach. This week it was after. While the test had to do with a horizontal situation, the real test was vertical. Would I still hope in God, or would I become preoccupied with another failure of the horizontal to give me hope? 

When the horizontal intrudes on a child of God, they have a choice to make. Trust in God, or not. Even in that choice, the Lord gives help. Part of that help is in the Psalms of Lament that help us move through a process that moves us from 1) crying out, to voicing our 2) complaint, to 3) confessing our trust, to 4) prayer, and finally trusting Him in 5) praise. Here's one of those Psalms. If your faith is being tested, it might be just the prayer you need to turn from the horizontal and trust once again in God. 

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, God, and champion my cause
  against an unfaithful nation;
  rescue me from the deceitful and unjust person.
For you are the God of my refuge.
  Why have you rejected me?
  Why must I go about in sorrow
    because of the enemy's oppression?

Send your light and your truth; 
  let them lead me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
  to your dwelling place.
Then I will come to the altar of God,
  to God, my greatest joy.
I will praise you with the lyre,
  God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, 
  for I will still praise him,
  my Savior and my God.