Monday, May 02, 2016

Study Hall

At this moment I am sitting in the coffee shop at Immanuel Baptist Church while Riley reads his daily dose of Great Expectations. We are waiting for Deana to get off work (she works here).

Riley needs his study time. He doesn't use it much but he needs it. Actually, he's doing pretty good but just a little extra effort can make a big difference. His school released news today that eight students qualified for a special scholarship that would pay up to $10,000 per year for four years. That would be nice to get! Very few baseball players get full scholarships so academics can play a big role in paying for college.

So we are in study hall.

Think about what just a little extra effort would do in your relationship with Jesus. I'm not talking about trying harder to earn your salvation; salvation is a gift that is free to you because Jesus paid the price for it by dying for your sins. I'm talking about the closeness that most Christians have experienced and would like to return to.

Remember when you had the closest walk with the Lord. You felt his presence and power all the time. You understood themes in the Bible and knew what God wanted you to do. You enjoyed going to church and couldn't wait to gather with others who believe. Then something happened and it's not that way anymore.

That "something" may be different for each one of us but at the core it's the same thing…sin. Anything that gets between you and Jesus is sin. Maybe you started a new relationship and you can't help but spend all your time with her. You think about every moment you're not with her. Or the stress at work ramped up and you are constantly thinking about that. Or the children have entered a new stage of life that has turned your home upside down. Or an addiction that hasn't been a problem has come back into your life. Or it could be a jillion other things.

Jesus told some Christians two thousand years ago that they had lost their first love. I think the first love is loving God as a first priority and loving God with great passion. Maybe the extra effort you need to exert is making God your priority and loving him with great passion. The Bible says, "You shall have no other gods before me" and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

I've found that the harder I try to do this the harder it is to actually do it. I mean it's not about my effort except for me to give up control of my life and allowing God's Spirit to lead me. I've never actually seen this happen but think about a fighter pilot who is in a situation where he needs to eject from the cockpit. If he stays put he's in trouble. He has to get out. Something has to change. But all he can do is pull the lever or push the button. After that, the systems take over and he's safely ejected away from the danger.

There's not much you can do to draw closer to the Lord except give up the selfishness and the control and whatever other sins are between you and him. When the pilot hits the eject button he's still in the bad place but not for long. When you surrender control, stop the sin, and turn to the Lord, at that moment you are still in a bad place but it's about to get better.

Study hall isn't that easy. I wish it was. And I don't mean to make it sound like I think repentance (stopping the sin and turning to God) is easy, but there's nothing else to do. I use words like surrender or yield because it shows that I am giving up control and allowing God to take over.

Rather than working harder we actually need to work less. But that's hard work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Awkward

I've reached an age where I need monthly injections. There's not much that makes me chuckle on the inside more than the small talk that accompanies a shot down there. At least we don't make eye contact during the procedure.

What's the most awkward moment you've endured? It's easier (and more fun) to endure someone else's awkward moment than your own, isn't it!

I get into a lot of embarrassing moments. I was maybe 5 years old and we were Christmas shopping. I was standing in line at the checkout with my mother but lost track of her. The stuff they put by the checkout lanes is just too interesting for a 5 year old to ignore.

I looked away from the goodies and at my eye level saw a hand holding a pretty cool toy. Without realizing that this person was not my mother I blurted out, "I didn't know you were getting me that!" I may have even grabbed it to get a closer look!

That was certainly an awkward moment for such a little boy before I even knew what awkward was.

You know that kid that has a growing spurt and looks really awkward? That's not me. I always put on the weight before the height. But those kids who do grow quickly provide a few laughs along the way. Like the giraffes at the zoo. Or the moose I saw in Alaska.

Each person has something about them that is a little awkward. It may be in his looks or her social graces. I've even had people laugh at my accent. Me! Can you believe that?

God is the creator of all things and each person you see today is a creation of his. When God created the world he looked at everything he had created and said it was good. Although sin has entered the world and "good" may not be our description of some of the things we see, everybody has something good within them.

The good within is not because of anything we've done and we cannot hope that our good will offset our sin. But the good within is because of our creator who created us in his image. The good within is the image of God. And while it is somehow hidden by our fallen sinful nature, God is at work to redeem each of us.

You don't have to be known for the scars sin leaves in your life. You can be known as a child of God who is overcoming the impact of sin because the creator is redeeming you and his image within you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Late Bloomer

I'm looking out the living room window into the backyard. The grass is green and has already been cut once. All of the bushes sport bright green leaves. Of course, the evergreens are green. The Bradford Pears have bloomed and the petals have blown across the yard and stuck on the windshield of our vehicles. The hardwoods are last to the Spring party.

One of my best friends through school was a late bloomer physically. Let's just say that his 18th year was a good one. He went from being about my size (5'8" since 8th grade) to towering over me. When a person blooms isn't nearly as important as who they are after they bloom. Same with the trees; in a month nobody will remember what they looked like today.

Spiritually, we might be late bloomers, too. I was saved when I was 8 years old. I have no doubt that it was a genuine conversion experience. My teenage years were typical but during the Summer after graduation I knew God was calling me to Christian ministry and I began to chart my path in that direction. I would say I was a late bloomer because God probably was calling me to ministry for years before I surrendered.

I've known men and women who have felt God's call on their lives to be involved in vocational ministry from very early ages. And they were obedient to serve and have for decades. That's not my story but I like theirs.

And I've known men and women who have felt God's call later in life. Some left successful careers to start a new career of ministry. That's not my story, either, but I like theirs.

I'm not just talking about vocational ministry. Doesn't it seem like the church has portrayed ministry as vocational only? Recently, we've done better at emphasizing the calling of every Christian into ministry. Christians who accept the mission of God as theirs too take the Good News home with them and to work with them and to school with them and to their times and places of play with them.

The transforming power of the Gospel does this to anyone who yields to God's will: any Christian - every Christian - can be an effective witness of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

That you may not have accepted that central role in your walk of faith doesn't have to define the rest of your life. Start now. Bloom now. To borrow a phrase from Vance Havner, let him be "the Lord of what's left" of your life.

It seems like in the few minutes I've been writing this post that the trees outside the window are a little greener. Once blooming starts you can't stop it. Imagine who will be eternally impacted if you agree with God and his mission and bloom today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Carnival Mirrors

Deana and I have been reading a book on parenting teenagers. It was a gift from a friend. She must have met our son. Really, she gave the book to several of her son's friends' moms. She must have met all of the boys!

The book is Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp. We are nearing the end of the book after a slow, thoughtful pace. Hopefully, we've learned something that will help us help Riley. Throughout the book the author reminds us that our teenage son is really no different from us and that what we expect of him must also be expected of ourselves.

Even with all the heavy-handed brow-beating, we've continued to read.

The chapter we are reading now gives us strategies for implementing the goals discussed in earlier chapters. In applying Psalm 36:1-4 to parenting, the author said teenagers (and parents, too) tend to flatter themselves too much. They think they are smarter than they are, more mature than they are, more capable than they are. Then he said this.

When they look at themselves, they don't use the perfect mirror of the Word of God, but the carnival mirrors of peer opinion, personal evaluation, and cultural norm. In those mirrors you do see yourself, but what you see is distorted, so that your legs look fat and stubby or your neck looks three feet long.

God's Word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The carnival mirrors say you aren't worth anything.

God's Word says he has a plan for your life. The carnival mirrors say you'll never amount to anything.

God's Word says purpose and meaning are found in relationship with Jesus Christ. The carnival mirrors say you better chase what everyone else is chasing.

As we read today I could clearly see these truths in my son, other people, and even in my wife. And it dawned on me that I am just the same when I don't focus on the Lord. That's the key for each of us: focus on the Lord, use his Word as the mirror by which we view ourselves, and seek to point to his glory rather than seek our own.

A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one person in the office to arrogantly command the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one family member to be short and harsh toward the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one Christian to be judgmental toward the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes a Christian to simply overlook the lost.

A God's-Word-mentality causes me to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as myself.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Smile

The football team had been practicing on a hot Arkansas August afternoon. It was the second practice that day. I had worked in between practices. Most of us wanted to sit on the cool concrete walkway in the shade and drink from the water hose. We dreaded when Coach would call us back to the practice field.

The practice field was the elementary school playground. It was three blocks from the field house. It was mostly a dust bowl. But it was better than the lot right across from the field house. We had a nickname for that place. The Sticker Bowl. Coach didn't care about the stickers. We still ran our drills on the ground. Linemen could hardly put their hands down in the pre-snap position without landing on the stickers. It would have been comical if it had not been painful.

So that day during the break Coach starts to get on us about being so down and blue and sad. "Come on, guys, smile!" It didn't work. We were tired. It would take more than that to make us smile. Maybe if our girlfriends drove by…then we might smile. If there was some reason to call off practice early…then we might smile.

"Do you know how many muscles it takes to frown?" "Forty-seven," I said quickly.

Sometimes my wit is tempered with wisdom. Sometimes it's not.

"That's right!" he said. I have no idea how many muscles it takes to frown. He probably doesn't either. Maybe his wit was a tad sharper than mine. Then he said it only took X number of muscles to smile. Frowning took more effort than smiling, he said.

Who knows? I don't but I learned an important lesson that day. A couple actually.

One is, don't try to outsmart the coach. As I've aged and especially as I've had teenagers I've learned that age is an advantage in many aspects.

The other lesson I learned is that attitude trumps almost anything. If you have a good attitude about even a mundane task you will be much happier. And the task won't seem so bad.

I guess we've discovered that there are too many germs in a water hose so we can't drink from them anymore. We especially can't pass it around to forty other guys. But when I'm out mowing on a hot summer day I'll slip over to the water hose and take a drink. And I almost always think of that day of practice on the elementary school playground.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

That's a Good Choice

I just sat down at the coffee shop to get in some reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Wait! I don't have to do that anymore! So just some reading and writing.

I ordered an oatmeal-raisin cookie and a small cup of brewed coffee. "Oh, that's a good choice! Those go so good together." The barista is probably trained to say something like that no matter what I order. But it made me feel good about my order.

"That will be $4.22, please."

I looked at my app and I had $4.34 on it. Turns out I did have to do some math. Let's see…$4.22 is greater than or less than $4.34?

Somebody needs to give me a gift card!

I wonder how often a person who makes a decision in our churches gets the kind of enthusiastic encouragement I got at the coffee shop today. Or do we just shake their hands, hug their necks, and let them drift along.

I bought a truck six weeks ago. It's not new. It's not exactly what I was looking for except for the price. But John made me feel like I had just made a great decision. So there has been no buyer's remorse.

So do the people who make decisions about their relationship with Jesus and following him feel buyer's remorse? They shouldn't because those are decisions that are the best in the world. Nothing can top that!

But if we don't help them along in their journey of following Jesus then problems can set it. If we do little or nothing to help them they may decide to just quit the church or quit Jesus.

Do you have an arm around a new believer helping them walk with Jesus? What are you doing to help them? You should realize that helping a new believer may be one of the greatest things you can do today.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Be Encouraged

I guy I know bought a new, nice truck. A big truck. It doesn't have an alarm and he would like to have one for this new, nice, big truck. He posted a picture the other day of the truck with two big, mean-looking dogs tied to it. That's his alarm until he can get one installed.

Figuring out how to do something in a new or different way is a good trait to have. Sometimes bailing wire, duct tape, and WD-40 aren't the fix your situation needs.

Serving a church is like that, sort of.

We have a tendency to do things like we've always done them. And if something goes wrong the fix is the same old fix. More of the same stuff that often brought you to your current situation.

Even the "new" fixes are often just duct tape with a new design. It looks new, different. But it accomplishes nothing different.

Then there are those folks that take a big swing at it. Like the baseball player that isn't hitting well so he just swings harder. Or kicks his leg higher. Or waggles his bat more. Or revamps the whole swing. Church leaders like to do that, too.

Paul wrote a letter to Timothy. Two of them, in fact. The aging apostle was preparing his young protege for ministry on his own. In 2 Timothy 4:2-5 Paul gives this advice that was good then and is still good today. The warning applies today, too.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

No matter what, preach the Word. When the people respond, preach the Word. When the people don't, preach the Word. When ministry is noticeably effective, preach the Word. When you can't tell, preach the Word. When the message is welcomed, preach the Word. When the message is rejected, preach the Word.

I don't have answers to all the questions a church leader may have. But I do know this: preaching the Word is always right.

So be encouraged, Pastor! Even when you don't know what to do you can be sure that faithfully preaching the Word will help.