Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A Time to Laugh

From King Solomon's wisdom we get the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. That's where we read there is a time for everything. Today is a time to laugh.

It's the first day of school for my son. He starts his junior year of high school.

A popular children's cartoon's theme song says there are "a hundred and four days of summer vacation." Not anymore. This year the summer break for high school students at Baptist Prep was 75 days. As much as kids moan about the school year being too long and the summer being too short, Riley has been ready to go back to school for a few weeks.

That makes me laugh. But I completely understand. I was the same way. Summertime was isolation time. Away from friends. Away from routines. We usually took a vacation trip somewhere but that was over way too soon and then it was back to the house. Just me and my sister. And we didn't get along too well back then.

I am a really good card shuffler. My mother-in-law thinks I have a Vegas background. All I'll say is that I didn't learn that in church! Actually, I learned that during those long summers. That makes me laugh.

I spent a day earlier this week driving to all the schools that kids from our church attend. I took a selfie in front of each school sign. And I prayed for the school. I prayed for students, families, administration, faculty, and staff. I prayed that believers would influence their schools. I prayed God will be glorified in each school.

I laugh because schools (even Christian schools) are not places students expect to experience a movement of God. Honestly, I don't know many students who EXPECT God to move in their schools. But I believe he will. And I laugh. Not a gotcha kind of laugh but a joyful expression of knowing God is up to something.

I extend my prayers for the schools I visited to the schools your family is involved in. May God do something great and may our response be to laugh because of the joy that will bring.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What Does a Pedicure Have to Do with a Desire for God?

I'd told myself I would eat healthy food while on a recent trip out of town. That commitment didn't last very long. I didn't eat sweets or eat too much at mealtime (sorta) but I didn't eat a salad or much that would be part of a salad.

Why is it so easy to say one thing then do another? Does that happen to you? It does. I know it. It's a universal problem and you aren't exempt from it.

If I began to tell you all the times I've resolved to do something better only to neglect the resolution almost before the words drift away into the clouds… I guess my head is in the clouds for thinking I could really do it.

Here's what I know about desires, temptations, and the struggles we all face.

Everyone has desires. We all want something. Sometimes the desires are selfish; sometimes they are noble. Desires can reveal a need for something good. Or desires can reveal the sinful nature within all of us. I think we all have both kinds of desires: those that reveal a need for something good and those that reveal our sinful nature.

Nothing is further from God's desire for you than for you to follow the bad desires of your heart. Yes, the Bible says to "delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart," but the key is delighting in the Lord. Only when we delight in the Lord are we assured of gaining the desires of our hearts. Why? Because our desires are of the good variety when we delight in the Lord.

Satan would love to help you fall for the bad desires. He would rejoice to see you take the bait of temptation to follow a path that leads to harm and destruction. If the angels in heaven rejoice when a person is saved then the demons of hell must be ecstatic when a person falls into sin through temptations aimed at fleshly desires.

Desire is real. So is temptation. The struggle is real. Even Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament) said he struggled wanting to do one thing but doing another. What can you do?

Delight yourself in the Lord. But what does that mean? Think about an experience that so pleased or fulfilled you that you could hardly stand it. Has your wife ever tried to convince you to get a pedicure? She explains how relaxing and rejuvenating it is. As she talks more about it she begins to melt into the chair just like she does when she is getting the pedi. Although I don't want anyone playing with my feet, that seems to be the ultimate in satisfying activities. To delight yourself in the Lord means to be completely satisfied with him and by him. You need nothing else.

Do you delight in the Lord? Do you delight in the Lord like that? When the Lord so pleases and fulfills and excites you that you can hardly stand it, he will give you the desires of your heart because your desires will be centered around him.

The next time you commit to something - which is an expression of your desires - remember to first delight in the Lord. Your desires (and commitments to them) may change; that's OK! The desires that come from delighting in the Lord will be better anyway.

photo cred: godswordimages.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Magazine

I left the house about 9:00 this morning with a long list of things to do. Drove almost 300 miles getting them done. Enjoyed the whole day. I need more days like this.
After the business part of the day was over, I went to Mount Magazine. I was already in that neck of the woods anyway. In Paris the temperature was 97 (on my truck readout). It was 91 at Cove Lake and 84 at the lodge on top. Mount Magazine is the tallest mountain in Arkansas at 2,753 feet.
My parents are both from Paris so we spent some time at the lake and on the mountain when I was a kid but it's been YEARS and YEARS since I've been up there. I'll have to take Deana and Riley.
I remember riding (literally) on my uncle Dwight as he floated in the lake. I learned to ski on Cove Lake. My cousin and I (I had little to do with it) pretty much sank my uncle's boat one day. Those are just a few of the great memories I have of this place.
Memories can be wonderful things. And memories can be horrible things. I decided today that I will cherish the wonderful memories and unhook myself from the horrible ones. By nature I tend to do just the opposite. The long drive down the back roads from Mount Magazine to Little Rock gave me plenty of time to talk to God about this. Let me share how that conversation went in case you also need to cherish some memories and unhook from others.
I thanked God for the good memories. I asked him for more things to make new memories of. Do you realize just how good God is? He wants to fill your life with the stuff the makes great memories. If you are like me you have a hard time seeing the good. It's not that there isn't a lot of good; it's just that the bad is so much easier to see. Today I asked God to help me recognize the good things he does for me that make the great memories like I experienced today.
Then I confessed my sin that was tied to the horrible memories and I repented. To confess means to agree with God that whatever it is is a sin. God already knows what I've done so I'm not telling him anything new. But I am agreeing with what he already knows. To repent is to turn away from the sinful thing and turn toward Jesus and his plan for that part of your life. The neat thing is that God will help you once you agree with him about the sin and turn from it toward Jesus' plan. How awesome is that!
There were a couple of things that I'm not sure I had ever honestly confessed and repented of. I'm glad God got my attention today so I could do that. Now I'm ready to unhook from all of that. Like a train engine pulling too many cars overloaded with cargo, I've been dragging stuff around for a long, long time. Sometimes you just have to unhook from the excessive and unnecessary stuff. Some have said you just need to put down all that excess baggage you've been carrying around. I won't forget the lessons I learned through those times but I won't let them drag me down anymore.
That frees us up for so much more than we've been experiencing. Does that sound good to you? Do you have some things in your past that you haven't gotten past? I did, too. I'll pray that you can know the freedom that only God can give.
If you want to see what Mount Magazine and Cove Lake looked like today, check out my photos in this Facebook album.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Working on a Hot Day

Yesterday and today have been hot and humid where I live. I watched the weather last night and the reporter warned about working outside between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. It was too late; I had already spent almost 4 hours mowing the lawn. I have the tan lines to prove it! I should post a picture. That would definitely break the internet.

But I'll use better judgement, otherwise you wouldn't be able to continue reading my wonderful posts!

The reporter was right. It's too hot to be outside for very long, especially if you are working. I have friends who have no choice because their jobs demand it. Their weariness by the end of the week is understandable. My weariness at the end of a few hours mowing the lawn is probably due to laziness.

So with all the wisdom gained from last night's news, what did I do today? I worked outside right after lunch. That's between 10:00 and 5:00, right? What was I thinking? But I didn't have to be out very long. Still my shirt is soaked and my mouth is dry.

Have I told you about the time I worked in a warehouse? An older fellow worked there, too. He was retired from IBM so he should have been smarter than to do what I'm about to tell you he did.

We would unload trucks and put orders together. One particularly hot summer day when break time came along, he pulled up a box and sat down. Then he reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette. And lit it! It was hot enough to burn down the gates of you-know-where and he lit a cigarette! And chased it with a cup of coffee.

He wasn't the kind of guy to drink iced coffee. Hot, black, strong. He would often offer me "a slice of coffee" with a grin on his face. It was thick. So he's drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.

I love coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. But never outside on a hot day. Never in a steamy warehouse on a hot summer day.

Another person once told me that the most refreshing drink for him during a break from hauling hay was…wait for it…coffee.

I don't get it. I want iced tea or gatorade or plain old water.

I guess coffee has water in it.

When your life is dry and parched and barren, don't forget the refreshment of God's Word and God's people. The Bible and believers can help you through some tough times. I just got off the phone with a Christian friend who helped me think through some things. Yesterday I was texting encouragement to a Christian friend.

God has given us the Bible and other believers to help us through whatever we're facing today.


clipart from tinyclipart.com
photo from lovethispic.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Books, Books, and More Books

Pastors have libraries. Academics have libraries. Pastors who are also academics (or vice versa) have libraries.

I agree that there is just something about a book. To hold it, touch it, smell it... My iPad holds more books than my bookshelves do but it doesn't feel the same. It doesn't smell the same. Honestly, it's not as impressive to look at, either.

But my iPad is more functional. I'm not the kind of guy that dog-ears a lot of pages or has sticky notes hanging out of my books so I find the functions of the electronic books better. You can see all the notes and highlights in one place and then click to go to that page in the book. For the most part, ebooks are cheaper. And I can pack up my library and move it easily. In fact, I do that almost every day. Yesterday I had my entire ebook library with me at a coffee shop. Today my library is in my living room. Tomorrow it could be at the church.

But real books (as opposed to ebooks) have advantages. The entire concept of a "page turner" is awkward with an ebook but is exactly what your favorite book is. The inside front cover of your book is a great place for a personal note from the person who gave it to you. You can loan your book to someone - I hope you get it back! Or you can just pass it on to someone else and not care about getting it back.

After moving into a new home several years ago, Deana and I had an open house. A friend stood at the bookshelves gazing at our collection. He said, "You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their library." After everyone left I removed some books from the shelves.

After moving to a new church several years ago a member stopped by the office and noticed a particular book. She took offense even when I told her it was a Bible study showing how the book and movie were not biblical. It wasn't the book but a book about the book. She thought I shouldn't even have that.

So your books reveal a lot about you. I have spent most of the last decade reading about what is known as the incarnational/missional movement. I'll not explain that now but it's a call to be the church like the first century believers were the church. I have many, many books on the subject. Real books and ebooks.

I spent three days recently shelving books for a new pastor in town. He has over 4,000 books in his library. (I do, too, but most of mine are on my iPad and don't take very long to shelve.) I noticed that he had only a few of the books on the incarnational/missional movement. That's not a big deal, really. It just shows a different perspective or focus in ministry.

He spent years at a seminary teaching preachers about preaching. (I also spent years at a seminary but I was learning how preachers are to preach!) He has dozens of books (probably hundreds) but I only have maybe a dozen. It's all about perspective and focus.

I say all of that to get to the point of asking you to look at your library. Maybe you are a paper-page-only kind of reader. Or you may only have ebooks. Or you can be somewhere in between with a mix. But take a look. You'll see a pattern that gives away some of your preferences.

Novels. Biographies. Poetry. Classics. Science fiction. History. Romance. Suspense. And on and on.

My library is deep but narrow. I have a lot of books but not books about a lot of subjects. I should branch out. Maybe you should, too. As I branch out into new genres I want to make sure I'm not filling my mind with stuff that contradicts the Word of God. I should be able to find books that don't hack away at my foundation of faith. I should steer clear of books that ignore biblical principles of how we are to live.

That may sound easier than it really is. I guess we who are Christians owe a great deal of thanks to authors and publishers who bring us books we would be glad to put on our bookshelves. Or in our iPads.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Another Resolution?

I've had interesting conversations lately regarding racial reconciliation. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention had the Annual Meeting this week in Phoenix. I was not able to attend but watched some of the sessions online and read articles, blogs, and social media posts about some of what was going on there.

The big news-making item was the passage (after at first ignoring) a resolution condemning the alt-right racist movement. I think the resolution was good. I would have voted for it. In fact, I said "Aye" when President Gaines called for those in favor to affirm the resolution. My vote didn't count, of course. Only registered messengers in attendance can vote. But I stand in favor of the resolution.

Every year at the annual meeting Southern Baptists affirm a handful of resolutions. These are statements of agreement of those who are messengers to that meeting. The polity of Southern Baptists calls for churches to be autonomous; we have no higher earthly entity than the local church. All the denominational structures are to support the church to carry out the mission of God on earth. Other denominations do have a hierarchy to which churches must answer; we think the biblical pattern puts the church at the top of the hierarchy. An upside down pyramid, as one friend calls it.

So the resolutions are representative of the feelings of the people who attend the meetings to represent their churches. The resolutions serve no authoritative functions. They do, however, direct our attention to issues many of us think are important for this hour.

You should be aware that the Southern Baptist Convention - about 50,000 congregations throughout the U.S. - was started in 1845 so that southern churches could have a voice in leadership. Northern churches had refused to allow those supportive of slavery to hold such positions. Thus, the SBC was born in that shadow. We have come a long way since, but most of the progress is recent. Resolutions and substantive actions in the last 20 years have shown the progress in both word and deed.

But there are plenty of words and deeds still today that show room for progress exists.

Racism is not a one-way street. Nor is it a two-way street. Have you ever seen video of a busy intersection in Thailand or the Philippines or Guatemala City? Or any of hundreds of cities around the world? Imagine standing in the intersection with hundreds of cars each minute buzzing you from all directions. That's what racism seems like to me.

But somebody needs to stand in the chaos and give direction. More than one somebody; several somebodies. Somebodies that represent all sides. Somebodies that care to see improvement for all, not just for those like them.

I don't pretend that Southern Baptists are the sole leaders in this but I do think many of us want to help lead the way.

Another resolution? Yes. And maybe more. Those who think we don't need a resolution might not be able to see the depth of the issue. At the heart of this resolution was the importance of the gospel.

I really don't know how any evangelical Christian can have a problem with that.

Click here for the text of resolutions.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Enthusiastic

Deana and I have been using the Bible app in our morning devotional time. We like it because it keeps us moving along. Some devotionals have video segments along with the readings. Lately, we've been going through a series of week-long devotionals by Craig Groeschel called the Stay Positive series. We just finished "I'm Enthusiastic." Yes, I know…it's Tuesday and these are supposed to be a week long. Actually, they are 4 days so we start a new week the day after finishing the previous week. And sometimes we get behind. Anyway, it's Tuesday and we just finished a week's devotional. That's not the point!

photo cred: iconicontent.com
The point is what I learned this week (or so). The word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words that mean "in God." What do you think of when you think about enthusiasm? Maybe a perky person. Maybe an excited person. Maybe a person who is really into what they are doing. At the root of the idea of enthusiasm is the concept that when we are "in Christ" we should have the best outlook, the best attitude, the best relationships.


Here are a few verses that help us see why.

Romans 6:11
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you see how being "in Christ" should give us all the enthusiasm we need?

Are you bored with your job? Focus on being in Christ.

Are you tired of living and don't see a way things can be better? Focus on being in Christ.

Have relationships been a topic you'd rather not talk about? Focus on being in Christ.

In Psalms we read, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and then all the concerns of this world will be worked out and provided. In other words, when we focus on being "in Christ" we can be hopeful, fulfilled. Enthusiastic.

Try this and see if your spirit is lifted:
  • Read a little bit of the Bible each day.
  • Thank God for the blessings you are aware of.
  • Ask God for help with something you are facing.
  • Take time to notice God's hand at work in creation and in your circumstances.
  • Spend time with an enthusiastic Christian.
Oh, you can get the Bible app here: www.bible.com/app