Monday, November 23, 2015


The last few weeks I've been reading about global religious persecution. Christians in Muslim and Communist contexts suffer greatly for their faith. Radical Islam calls for the extinction of the infidels. Communist dogma demands total allegiance to the government leaving no place for religion.

But Christianity is no stranger to persecution. As I prepared for a sermon from Second Thessalonians my study reminded me that the church in Thessalonica was birthed amid persecution (see Acts 17). Jesus told his disciples that they would certainly be hated by the world just as the world hated Christ. The New Testament repeatedly tells of Christians facing persecution.

The American church seems to be immune to it, though. Even in recent years while we have watched the culture and the government move away from biblical morality, persecution hardly describes our plight.

When I think of immunity I think of not being impacted (getting a sickness) by something negative around you. Maybe a person's tolerance is built up against the disease. Maybe they have been inoculated. The best way to avoid the flu is to wash your hands frequently, stay away from those who are sick, and get the shot.

It's that "stay away from those who are sick" that bothers me about the American church and persecution. I've learned in my recent reading that persecution is to be expected - it's natural - when the gospel moves into the darkness of sin. If one Muslim becomes a Christian and is the only believer in his village, he will be persecuted severely. If one house church in a communist country is exposed they will be shut down, jailed, or worse. As the light of the gospel pushes against the darkness, darkness wants to push back.

So why do American Christians not face persecution like so many of our brothers and sisters around the world do? Does it have anything to do with the conflict between the light of the gospel and the darkness of sin? I think so. We make a lot of noise about the gospel but do we make much progress in advancing the gospel.

Let me say it this way: We seem to be more concerned with making sure we are free to share our faith than we are with actually sharing our faith.

Have you had a child learning to play an instrument? Remember what you endured in those early months or years? It was noise more than music. But remember how it one day turned to music as they continued with practice and the tones were more melodic? When Christians sound off about things other than the gospel we sound like a toddler banging on pots and pans. But when we faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ it sounds right.

And what sounds right to the Lord sounds awful to darkness. So persecution is the response. We shouldn't go out looking for persecution. At the same time we ought not let the fear of persecution keep us from going out.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Let us live out our faith and tell others about our Savior even if persecution may come. Let us remember in prayer our brothers and sisters who face persecution today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Troubles All Around

Do you think about the problems other people experience? If I'm not careful I will focus on my problems and pay no attention to what goes on around me. I'm trying to get better at it; it's a daily endeavor.

A social media post I saw yesterday suggested to listen for one hour and then talk for one hour and see which hour was better spent. We spend way too much time inwardly focused and miss the chance to engage in another person's life.

Jesus was great at perceiving the needs of the people he met. He often heard or saw through the smoke screen people put up. You now what I mean - we can be pretty good at projecting an image that's not a true rendering of our lives. Jesus cut through the fiction and spoke to the truth.

Was that because he is God? Yes, but we shouldn't give up on our ability to do the same. As believers we have the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Jesus - within us. The Spirit does much in our lives and one of the things he equips us to do is to see people as Jesus sees them, to hear them as Jesus does.

What might you hear? Longings of person who thinks there is no hope. Cries of a person who is deeply hurt. Questions of a person who is confused by the contradictions of this world. Anger from a person made at everything. Pessimism from a person who has been dealt one blow after another. Each of them needs someone to speak life and hope and joy into their souls.

You may also hear the relief of a person who has sensed the presence of God in their lives. Joy from one who finally let God have control of everything. Celebration that arises from victories only God can engineer. These people also need someone to listen to them and to encourage them.

In wedding ceremonies I will often tell the coupe that in the marriage relationship they will discover some interesting math. Their sorrows will be halved as they share the burdens; their joys will be doubled as they share the good things.

The same can be true for other relationships. People need people. Will you be the person someone needs today?

My friends in gospel music recorded a song many year ago that says, "If you'll move over a little bit I'll help you carry the load." Someone needs you.

Thursday, November 05, 2015


Everyday I get gobs of email generated because I signed up for something that required an email address. If possible when registering for access to a website I try to uncheck the box that says I want to receive email from them. Have you noticed that most of the time this box is already checked? Do nothing and you get an inbox full of stuff from them and their partner companies and their employee of the month's grandmother. OK, I made up that last part but the rest is mostly true.

I also receive email that I intended to get. Some of my favorite speakers and writers have regular posts that I like to see. I get updates from my favorite sports teams. I'll get notices when my favorite blogs have been updated. (You can do that for this blog. Look over there to the right where it says, "Get new posts delivered to your inbox.")

Paying bills online is pretty cool. Make sure you trust the sites you use. But if you do use the online systems you'll get email when a new statement is available, when the bill is due, when the bill is past due, and when a payment is received. You'll get their annual privacy policy reminders they are required by law to send to their customers.

Now days I get fewer and fewer email that I really anticipate getting. When my family emails me…I like that. When a friend checks in…I like that. But I don't get as much email like that as I use to get. Why? Because email is not the most popular or easiest way to communicate. Do you remember when you first got into email - this is really for the 50+ crowd. It was new. We had never seen it before. We had to learn how to use the applications. Then we emailed everyone about everything. And if you are an information/communication packrat like me, you built up a very healthy data file.

The IT guy at the company I worked for when I first got email came to me one day. "You know, you have a pretty big data file for your email account. Don't you ever delete anything." "It's not that I don't delete email, it's that I save a lot of it." A LOT OF IT. Ever had that conversation with a boss that turns out to be "He said vs I said"? Yeah, I save email. Big data file.

So there are a lot of ways we can get information that have pushed email from the pedestal…at least in my circles. Social media and messaging rule!

What about church? Specifically, meeting together as a church in Bible study and worship? These gatherings seem to have become obsolete for many people. Do they think of gathering like this in the same way we might think of Andy Taylor's telephone? Do the Christians who skip most of the church's gatherings think there is a better way to be God's people?

And what about the information they receive through Bible studies and sermons? Does that just automatically go the the "Junk" folder to be ignored for a while then deleted altogether? Do Christians anticipate receiving the Good News found in the Bible?

I believe a person's attitude about the Word of God is on display in the way they apply its teachings.

Just like my email is full of stuff I don't really look at, my social media accounts are that way, too. I skip over much of it. But there is no page in your Bible you can skip over. None of it is junk. Every word was written on paper by men but inspired by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us great truths about God, to draw us to him, and to transform our lives.

Every moment spent reading God's word is valuable. Every Bible study you participate in is worthwhile. Every sermon you hear can help you. (I really feel like I should qualify "Bible study" and "sermon" to eliminate those that aren't true to scripture. But isn't it a shame that we feel like we have to differentiate between biblical Bible study and non-biblical Bible study? Between biblical sermons and non-biblical sermons? Like my preaching professor said on the first day of "Biblical Preaching" class, "Is there really any other kind of preaching?")

I should treasure every word from God even more than I treasure the email and messages and calls from my family and friends. So should you. Anticipate hearing from God. Prepare to hear from God. Enjoy hearing from God. Apply what you hear from God.

That will help you deal with a lot of the junk that piles up in your life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Will Give You Rest

In my line of work the word regeneration has a specific meaning relating to Christian salvation. It is the re-birth that takes place in a person's life when they call on Jesus' name believing he is the one and only Savior and Lord.

As I was reading Vance Havner's book Lord of What's Left, I came across that word and automatically had that definition in my mind. Maybe he was talking about regeneration in that sense but the point of his writing seems to be something I need. But I'm already born again and the Bible does not teach the necessity or possibility of being born again again.

The chapter I just read talks about the days gone by when people had time to get to know one another. Life was different, slower. Neighbors knew each other. We don't have much time these days to reflect on the good things in our lives or meet our neighbors or enjoy our families.

When talking about times of escape or vacation, Havner writes that we are "refugees from progress who've brought it all with them." Certainly, I rarely go anywhere without my computer. The last time I left my phone in the car when I went into a store for a few minutes I felt like I was going to have a fit before I could get back to it. Refugees from progress, sure.

"The main trouble is we've brought ourselves along. Escaping from that character is difficult business. It means getting through to God and being regenerated."

For sure, a person who lives outside a personal relationship with Jesus Christ needs to be regenerated. That's his only hope of escaping from that character.

As a Christian, I have found myself wrapped up in the happenings of post-modernity and it sucks the vibrancy out of me.

Jesus spoke words that have great meaning for those of us in either situation. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Peter said this: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

James wrote, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10).

The way to escape the burden we refugees of progress bear is a right relationship with Jesus. Come to him. Repent of your sins. Humble yourselves before him.

We no longer live in the early 1900s. Those days are gone and will never return. Our lives are marked by a hurried-ness that threatens to keep the lost from being regenerated or the saved from living a regenerated life. But Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again," so it must be possible. It is possible through Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Worship Wars

I started out as a singer. When I surrendered to the Lord's call to ministry I really thought I would be in music. I had aspired to replace Don Reid with the Statler Brothers or Duane Allen with the Oak Ridge Boys. Alas, this teenaged dreamer did not know that those men were forever fixtures in those groups.

Then I decided to be the next Kenny Hinson. His voice was the best I had ever heard. That distinction still holds today even though Kenny passed away about 20 years ago. I admired him so much that I got an Ovation guitar and permed my hair. I still have the guitar. The perm and most of the hair are long gone.

Then that Thursday night of summer camp. I'll never forget it. My life has not been the same since. My closest friend at that time…well, we've not been on speaking terms since. That's all on me, by the way. But the Lord was altering my direction. It was a direction not everybody can go. I'm glad I jumped on board and made the change.

And I thought that change would simply be the way I used my music. A prophetic old preacher man learned of my surrender and told me - when he heard I intended to sing - "Bob, you aren't the best singer I've ever heard." I wanted to but did not say, "And you aren't the best preacher I've ever heard." Although I wasn't very wise I was wise enough not to say it.

And he was right about the direction my life would go. I started preaching. I kept singing, too. Since the last Thursday in June of 1982 I have been a pastor, a music leader, a youth director, and Bible study leader. When I surrendered to the call I said I would do anything. And I have done a lot.

One thing that has always bothered me regardless of my mode of service is the idea Christians have about worship. I've found that many Christians equate worship with music. It's so bad in some circles that the person whose primary responsibility it is to lead all things music has the title of worship pastor or worship leader. I understand that churches put more responsibility on many of these men and women so that the title of song director or music leader doesn't quite fit. Still, the titles seem to imply that worship equals music. In extremes they are teaching that worship is only music.

So when churches argue or split because of the style of music used in the services, we have called it a worship war. I read a headline today suggesting that the next "worship war" would be over lighting. That's right, lighting. Our church has a lighting problem and it pertains to whether we can see across the auditorium - commonly known as a worship center, by the way. As I think about lighting in a church, especially lighting that could cause an argument, I think about the light shows I've seen during "worship." Then the lights go steady (whether bright or dim) when it's time for the preaching.

Worship is music. Preaching is, well, preaching.

I believe worship cannot be contained in a lyric or melody. Worship can be expressed with an instrument but if that's all then so much is missed. Worship is our expression to God in response to who he is and what he does. It can only be limited by who he is and what he does and there are no limits there.

Don't put worship in a box. It's music but so much more. It's the spoken word but so much more. It's prayer but so much more. It's life but so much more. My music, my words, my prayers, and my life are limited by time and space…and sin. How can I think that anything about me can fully define worship. I can't even fully understand worship. I can't fully express worship.

But I can express it to the full extent of my ability and understanding. And that's what God desires: worshippers who worship him in spirit and truth. If I limit worship to something less than it is, then I'm not worshipping in truth. If I limit worship to something I am capable of doing, then I'm not worshipping in spirit.

I've settled the issue in my heart and mind. I'll not fight that battle. I'm not offended by the songs you sing or the lights you use or the hands you raise or don't raise. I have preferences and in my private worship I typically lean that direction. But I really see no value in arguing with someone about it. If there is a battle to be waged it is about how to get Christians to worship - not how Christians worship.

To generously adapt Ronald Reagan's famous quote: "Mr. Worship Argue-er, tear down that wall." Let's end a war that will only lead us to a lukewarm experience.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

For All Us Progidals

A few years ago I was at Cracker Barrel for breakfast with some minister friends. The store always has music playing that, of course, you can buy.

A bluegrass gospel album was playing and I thought for sure it was Ricky Skaggs. I have a weakn so for his music going all the way back to the early 80s and "Highway 40 Blues." But it wasn't him; instead it was Dailey and Vincent. The song was "Living in the Kingdom of God."

So I bought the CD. I listen to it every once in a while now. Today was every once in a while. I like to play music while I brush my teeth and shave so I picked this album, "The Gospel Side of Dailey and Vincent."

Track 10 caught my attention in a special way today. The song is about a prodigal. You remember the story in the Bible, don't you?

A son took his inheritance and skipped town. He lived the high life in disrespect of his father.when the money ran out he realized what he had done. He wanted to go home but didn't know how his father would respond.

Listen to "Come Back to Me" and know that the story demonstrates God's love for his prodigal children like you and me.

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Great Thing About Being Southern Baptist

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. A relationship with him impacts everything and I'm glad to be part of his family.

I am also a Southern Baptist. Those words sometimes cause people to flinch or laugh or shake their heads. I'm glad to be Southern Baptist for one primary reason: the Cooperative Program.

Southern Baptists have some distinct beliefs but you will find others who hold many of the beliefs I do. Even within the ranks of Southern Baptists there are differing opinions about some doctrines but the essentials of salvation and life with God are common among us.

It's not the beliefs that make a person or church Southern Baptist. The one thing that distinguishes a Southern Baptist church from all others is the way we fund global missions. We do it together. No matter the size of the church (budget, people, whatever), through CP we share in meeting the obligations of the responsibility of the Great Commission. Southern Baptists have about 10,000 missionaries around the planet - supported by the contributions of all the churches.

I'm sipping coffee at a local coffee shop this afternoon. At the table next to me is a person telling a friend about his missionary work. I sat down somewhere in the middle of the conversation so I don't know where he serves or what his connection is to a local church or convention of churches. But he's talking about ministry both domestic and international.

My heart beats along with his.

I can't tell you what church he is associated with but I can tell he's not Southern Baptist. Nothing wrong with that. He seems to be evangelical and I'm all for that.

What tipped me off that he is not affiliated with churches like mine is that he was telling his friend how the friend could help him financially. Mission and ministry take money; we should not be ashamed to ask for money for those purposes.

However, missionaries supported by the Cooperative Program don't have to do that. I've never had a CP missionary ask specifically for money. They always thank our church for contributing to CP; they always mention the special direct offerings for their organizations; but they never ask for contributions directly to their ministries.

The beauty of the Cooperative Program - and why I'm glad to be Southern Baptist - is that missionaries are funded and do not have to worry about that. Those missionaries I know who are funded by CP tell me that their agencies take good care of them with housing, insurance, retirement, in addition to salary. A worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7), right?

The guy next to me sounds like he would love to be on the field sharing his faith, making disciples, ministering to hurting people. Once he secures his funding he can do all that.

The Southern Baptist missionary is able to spend more time on the field because the funding mechanism is already in place. Not just for him but for thousands like him. We need to do better so we can support thousands more!

Thank God for believers sacrificing to live among people who are spiritually hungry - or starving. (By the way, we should all adopt a missionary attitude wherever we live!) Praise the Lord for the ability to support them so they don't have to worry about paying the bills or paying for the ministry.

Here's a video explaining how CP works. It helps us obey the Lord's Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.