Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peace on Earth

Somewhere along Rushing Road about 5:20 this morning I was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus came that there would be peace on earth. I began to pray that it would happen. Then I remembered that I believe the Bible teaches that peace will come upon the earth when Jesus returns to establish his 1,000-year reign. We may have pockets of peace before then but the pageant-wish for world peace won't really happen.

I jogged on.

"But Lord," I prayed, "what if right now we experience just a 24-hour period of peace? Can't the conflicts between nations, religions, races, and preferences come to a halt for just a day?"

I jogged on.

"Lord, just let me be at peace and be a peacemaker today. Let me hold my tongue, subdue my anger, see people with love, treat people with respect…"

I jogged on.

Within a minute I was having thoughts that absolutely betrayed my prayer! I don't know if it was Satan trying to trip me up or God telling me this would not be easy.

Only when I've kept my focus on Jesus have I been able to be at peace and be a peacemaker today. There have been times today where my focus fell from the Savior and I failed to be at peace in, keep the peace during, or bring peace to the situation.

The skies above the pastures surrounding Bethlehem were filled with angels one night long ago. They said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 NIV).

Peace is not the absence of turmoil. It is not an attitude. It's not a response or a mind-game.

Peace is the presence of Jesus that overwhelms those who keep their focus on him.

I jogged on.

I stumbled. Not on Rushing Road. But in my daily routine trying to honor Christ in a fallen world.

The lesson is as clear as a Bethlehem midnight to me; I hope it is to you, too. Even in the midst of conflict, peace surrounds those who focus on Jesus.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hope

I've often quoted a particular passage of scripture to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Today I am grieving. My grandmother died yesterday after five months of health problems. She turned 90 in May, went to a kidney doctor in July for a regular appointment (her kidneys had been hitting about 30%), was admitted to the hospital the next day, and has been home just a handful of days since then.

My mother is one of 4 daughters, one of which has already passed away. My grandfather passed away several years ago. My grandmother was is vibrant, leading part of our family.

By the way, the first grandchild was my sister. I was second but the first boy after the five girls (daughters and granddaughter) so I'm sure I was the favorite!

Mom (we all called her that even though she was mother to only the four daughters) went into hospice care Friday afternoon. About 48 hours later she died. The daughters and sons-in-law, most of the grandchildren, and a sister and her family were gathered in the small room as Mom took her last breath. We had thought at least a hundred times before that she had taken her last breath but after what seemed like minutes she would gasp again. So this time we waited expecting another breath.

That breath never came. I headed to the nurses station to report to them that we thought Mrs. Appleton (I felt odd calling her that) had died. The two of them came to the room and, with so much grace, listened for a heartbeat and let us know that we were right.

The tears flowed. Tears had been flowing for weeks but these were different. Earlier tears were of confusion, disappointment, frustration, of denial. These tears were from grief.

Honestly, I've only experienced tears like those a few times in my life. I've been sheltered, I know.

I've watched families go through this plenty of times. As their pastor I've hugged and held them while their tears flowed. I almost always say, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this." I don't say much else right away. Presence has been more appreciated that words - especially since words don't carry much comfort in the immediate experience of loss. "I love you." "I'm praying for you." "I'm so sorry." I've found that those words mean the most.

And I've been on the receiving end of those words for the last 24 hours. I'm convinced more than ever that the caring words of friends are of great value in such times. My friends are the best!

"Brothers, we do not want you to…grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I've watched families grieve over the loss of a loved one in such a way as to express their lack of hope. I fully understand the hurt and loss associated with the death of a loved one. Christians - whose hope is in the Lord - grieve differently because we do have hope.

God does not say that we will not or should not grieve. He says that our grief should not be laden with hopelessness. The passage quoted above is part of Paul's words to believers to help them understand things related to the end of this life and the realities of eternal life.

These days are not filled with grief, although grief is part of these days. Hope is the banner that covers the grief. It doesn't mask or hide the grief; it helps. My hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that what God said is true: those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have an eternal home in heaven and one day Jesus will gather all believers for a meeting in the air that will usher in his kingdom.

Grief is a reality. Hope helps us as we grieve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Peace on Earth

Driving through the city today making the stops necessary to complete my list of things to do, I listened to a lot of radio. I prefer talk radio - sports talk, specifically - because the music stations that play what I like are very sparse. Honestly, I spent too much time behind the microphone on my own radio show. Some of what I hear irritates the programmer in me. I should get over that, I know.

So as I listened to talk radio I heard local and national news broadcasts a few times. A particular lead-in really caught my attention. There was a confrontation between a white guy and an African American guy. I really don't have a problem calling races by color or continent of origin, but can't we be consistent? Some are offended when called a color. If a news network has determined that calling a particular race by a color may be offensive (and so they avoid it) then why don't they apply that decision to all races?

Either we're all colors or we're all continent of origin. In my opinion, both are silly. If you live in America, are an American citizen, have family roots in America, etc., then why can't we just say that you are an American? Remember the idea of being a melting pot?

In the news story I heard, the continent of origin and the color of the skin had nothing to do with the conflict. Two guys had a disagreement and settled it with force. One guy was black..or brown, the other guy was white..or beige. One guy was African American, the other guy was European American, I guess. Doesn't that sound silly?

The brokenness that sin brings upon us is most evident in this area. And it's a shame.

Later in my tour across our city I heard that the grand jury in Ferguson has made a decision and it will be made public later today. I can only imagine how the tensions between the races will be manifested after this.

I pray that the peace of Christ will rule in the hearts of all believers. Those who profess to follow Jesus should really try hard to follow Jesus during these days. The brokenness that engulfs our world can only be made right by the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed so that our sins could be forgiven.

Sins of racism can only be made right through Jesus. Hatred between people can only be made right through Jesus. We can only be "color blind" or "continent of origin blind" through Jesus who came that there could be peace on earth.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ruling or Leading

I just read a tweet that set apart leading from ruling. The President made a speech last night. I guess that's the reason for the tweet.

But it causes me to think about my role as a pastor. I must confess that there have been times in my 32 years of ministry that I have tried to rule rather than lead. I apologize for that! People are much more receptive to leaders than to rulers. (Should I remind you that the President made a speech last night?)

The Bible refers to pastors as shepherds. God's people need to be led toward fulfilling the Great Commission, to confess sin, to love one another, to live moral lives, etc. I could stand in the pulpit (sadly, I have) and demand action and response. That almost always results in no response or the opposite response I was demanding. But shepherds lead the sheep. Once the shepherd gains their trust the sheep will follow him anywhere. They trust him to be looking out for them and leading them to the right places.

A church will follow a leader much better than obey a ruler.

Years ago I worked as a training manager for call centers. One of my trainers was a bit of an independent type. She was a good trainer but not so much a good employee. Finally, I had to sit down with her to develop an action plan based on her misconduct. I had a couple of options. I could call her in my office and tell her what the rules were and demand she toe the line or else.

Instead, I chose to sit down in the training room with her. I had a blank piece of paper on which we would outline the action plan. In my mind I knew what I wanted to write on the paper and usually I would have already written it down. But as we talked about the situation, the company's policies, and the expectations for employees, she crafted an action plan that was almost identical to the one in my mind. By asking questions and getting her involved in the problem-solving process we walked away with a plan we both owned.

I felt like I had been a good leader.

People in your workplace, school, family, club, or church will follow a leader. They might rebel against a ruler. (Remember the speech last night?)

OK, I'm headed to Google to find articles on effective pastoral leadership.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First Reactions

Deana and I left for Israel on November 4. We'll be home on November 13. It's been a great trip with 52 friends and new friends - all of us associated with Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock in some way.

I married in.

It's time to pack for the trip home so I'll make this short. But I'll share more in the next few days…or weeks. Actually, I'll share my experiences for the rest of my life.

  1. The blue-ness of the Mediterranean is unbelievable.
  2. Being in a boat on the Galilee was emotional.
  3. The Via Dolorosa is a bit too commercial.
  4. A trip to Israel really does make the Bible come to life.
  5. I felt safe the entire time.

I plan to come back and bring some of you with me. Who wants to go?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Telling Anecdote

As a preface, I'm not bashing individuals. I'm not ranting. Just making a statement based on three anecdotal observations.

Halloween is a fun time for lots of people. I'm an introvert so I don't really want to draw attention to myself by dressing up and parading anywhere. When I was a kid I loved Halloween because of the candy. As I think about it, that's still why I like the day. But I'm not going to a costume party and since Riley's a teenager, I don't have to go trick-or-treating…which really cuts down on the candy!

You can't see another house from our house. We live on a fairly busy road but there's not much reason for people to trick-or-treat our house. Trick-or-treating works better in neighborhoods where kids can score a pumpkin full of candy in a few minutes. But we turned on the porch light and had candy waiting for any kids whose parents would risk the one-house-stop. We had four kids and I loved seeing them, getting hugs from them, taking their pictures, and handing out candy. It reminded me of riding on the tailgate of my grandfather's pickup truck as we headed down Fifth Street in Paris, Arkansas forty years ago.

Halloween is not really a holiday, is it? Businesses don't close. Governments don't shut down. I'd guess that few people miss work on October 31 because they get to show up dressed however they want.

But I've read on social media that some people claim Halloween is their favorite holiday. And some of these people are Christian - maybe just cultural Christians. My concern is that people who claim to be Christian would put a day that has very little if any Christian significance (I do realize that this is also Reformation Day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door) above the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior - the Incarnation of God. Secular pleasure overtakes spiritual significance.

Then I heard a news broadcast on the radio. The anchor was reminding people to set their clocks back one hour Saturday night / Sunday morning as Daylight Savings Time comes to an end. On the lighter side, I thought, "Hey, that's my job! These twice-a-year reminders are about the last thing the government and culture allows pastors to do without harassing us!"

On a more serious note, she went on to say that if you didn't adjust your clock Saturday night / Sunday morning you would be an hour off schedule MONDAY MORNING. And she said to take advantage of the time change by sleeping in SUNDAY MORNING. Our culture has long ago left the perspective that church matters. I knew that but when the news broadcast totally ignored a worship service possibly being on someone's Sunday schedule…

I shouldn't be surprised. Even last weekend should have prepared me for this weekend. The NFL season has included playing one game in London the last few years. That was last weekend. Last Friday, the sports radio show I listened to hailed the idea of televised football on Sunday at 9:00 A.M. since the morning would otherwise be void of any usefulness. Again, church attendance and participation (and importance) are ignored.

So Halloween is the favorite holiday and Sunday mornings have little to do with going to church.

If we ever were, the United States certainly is not a nation of Christians today.

I heard a story this week that I had heard before that is appropriate for our situation. A shoe company sent a salesman to an African country. After a few weeks the company received a telegram from the salesman: "I quit! Nobody wears shoes over here." The company sent another salesman who sent this telegram a few weeks later: "Send more shoes. Prospects everywhere!"

I'm not lamenting (much) the state of Christianity in America, but recognizing the sobering reality that the fields are white unto harvest. Just look out the front door. OK, maybe I'll have to drive a quarter of a mile to see the fields.

The Great Commission demands that those who are truly followers of Christ are to make disciples. My pastoral ministries professor aptly defined this as "winning people to Jesus and building them up in the Lord." Let's don't cry in our cereal; let's pray for workers for the harvest and let's be those workers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Surrender = Victory

Leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention is calling for prayer for revival and spiritual awakening. I've been convicted about the need for a stirring among God's people and particularly within our church so I am preaching a series of messages based upon the model demonstrated within the convention. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, President of the SBC, leads prayer gatherings around the country. I participated in Little Rock a few months ago and it was a powerful time.

Yesterday was the third Sunday of preaching about praying for revival. The first sermon challenged us to cry out to God to open the heavens and pour out his blessings upon us. Last week we talked about confession and repentance. Then yesterday the topic was surrender.

Jesus is a great example of surrender. He prayed just minutes before he was arrested that God would allow the subsequent events to be different. Jesus would be arrested, beaten, falsely convicted, and crucified. I would have asked for another plan, too! But the crucifixion was necessary because of sin, and Jesus could be the only perfect sacrifice to die for our sins. There could be no other plan.

Despite knowing what would happen over the next few hours, Jesus surrendered his desires for the Father's will. He did this because he trusted the Father's plan for redeeming the lost and he agreed that the lost were worth redeeming.

Do I trust God's plans? Do I agree with God's purpose? If not, I won't surrender to him. I will continue to follow my desires, my will, my plans. I'll continue to cater to me!

In surrender, I am saying that I trust God's plans and I agree with God's purpose. Are you willing to say this? Are you willing to follow Jesus (and Jesus' example)?

The passage in Luke 22 that tells us of Jesus praying in the garden teaches us that surrendering to God's will brings about great victory. After the crucifixion, Jesus arose to live again, he fellowshipped with his friends, he ascended to his rightful place in heaven, and he will return gloriously to establish his eternal kingdom. That's all victory!

Even his death is a victory because in death Jesus secures forgiveness for all who will turn to him.

We don't usually equate surrender and victory. One army surrenders to the victor. But in God's design, surrender equals victory. Will you surrender to God's will? If you do you will gain victory in this life and in eternity.