Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reading the Bible Through

I resolved to read the Bible through this year.  It has been a long time since I’ve done this.  I’ve resolved many times but haven’t completed the task often.  I just finished.  What a wonderful book!  Genesis recounts the beginning of all things (except eternal God) and Revelation predicts (with absolute certainty) how this world and time ends.  In between are accounts of God’s interaction with people demonstrating his perfect character and his desire for us to be in relationship with him.  Genesis tells that we were created for that purpose and Revelation tells we will be rewarded for pursuing that purpose.

The Bible is the compelling story of God’s glory.  Praise the Lord, all who are alive.  Praise the Lord, everyone who takes a breath.  Praise the Lord and give him glory.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Eve Update

So it was worth coming to church!  William and Crystal came to seek salvation in Christ Jesus.  We had great services throughout the day…well worth the effort.

Journal of Grace

I’ve often made the resolution to keep a journal.  I love to write and this would be a good way to express my thoughts.  Journaling would also be a good way to track God’s work in my life.  The problem is…I never have done it consistently.

I have a Word document that I started many years ago that has just a few entries.  I even have an entry confessing that I dropped the ball and promising to get back on track.  But there are many gaps since then.  Didn’t Paul talk about this in Romans when he wrote about the struggle to do what he wanted to do?  I feel that way.  I want to; I know it would be good; I am blessed when I do it; I can see God’s hand at work through the thoughts.  But I don’t keep it up.

Even this blog has gaps of elapsed time when I didn’t bother to post anything; and this is supposed to be my online journal!  I am so thankful for grace.  My promises to God are sometimes unkept or forgotten but he will forgive me when I confess my neglect.  I’ve learned that he expects not only confession but repentance – that is, to turn away from what I’ve done wrong and toward what is right.

My prayer life is a journal of grace: I confess, he forgives, I fall off the wagon (so to speak).  Then the cycle goes again…and again.  What I need is a good dose of repentance to go with the confession.  Then I wouldn’t go through the cycle so much.  The hard part of repentance is not turning away from the wrong and toward the right but continuing in the way of the right.  But God is gracious.

Henry Blackaby says to drive a stake in the ground each time God does something in your life.  Then as you look back you can see where God has been working.  Today I am driving a stake – planting a spiritual marker.  Just as a bridge needs many points of support to span a wide canyon, so I need many spiritual markers to keep me on the right path.

Have you ever thought about keeping a journal?  There are many different ways to do it: thoughts, activities, “God” events, successes/failures.  The important thing is to look for and see God in the midst of your life.  Although he is transcendent, he is near.  The Christmas season reminds us of the most explicit example of this.  Your life is also a tremendous example of God’s near interaction with humanity.  Keep a record of it.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

It's about 8:30 Christmas Eve morning. I'm sitting in my office making final preparations for today's services. Deana and Riley may (or may not) already be up working through their Sunday morning routine. Deana's sister Kay has spent the night with us. Roscoe and Suzy (two stray dogs I've given names) are nowhere to be seen but are surely near the house or the church.

For many people, having Christmas fall on or near a weekend is a great thing. Those who are worldly take advantage of the extra time off work for parties and family time. I like those things, too, as long as the parties are civil and sober. But it seems that some Christians feel having a Sunday and Christmas so close together puts a kink in their plans. If you are a marginal Christian (OK, a "backslidden" one) then you probably don't want church services to interrupt your Christmas activity.

HELLO!! Who said it was OK to separate church and Christmas? Christmas and Easter are the only two services each year that some people come to church. We call them CEO Christians (Christmas and Easter Only!). Even those so far out on the fringe of Christianity understand the link between Christmas and church.

Before you think I'm a dogmatic fundamentalist, let me say that the Bible says nothing about the schedule a church should keep other than to meet regularly. The New Testament indicates that Christians met for regular worship on Sunday; the writer of Hebrews warns against forsaking the regularity of meeting together. So, I'm OK with rearranging the "normal" schedule today. And I'm OK if some can't make it to everything we do today. And I'm OK if some are out of town long as they attend church where they are.

Our church normally has a Bible study at 6pm and a worship service at 7pm. Tonight we are having a worship service at 5pm instead. And I want our congregation to know this is not a "mandatory" meeting; however, attendance is encouraged. Quite frankly, if a person pins their hopes of accomplishing true worship on one service or one day a year they are way off the mark anyway. We celebrate Christmas (Christ coming into the world to save us from our sins) every day and we've been specifically "Christmas-y" for the last month. One day isn't going to make or break a person's trip to Heaven.

Nevertheless, this is a great time to worship the King of kings. I hope our church will be filled with people seeking to praise him. I hope we have some of the CEOs here so that, maybe, they can catch the fire of commitment. I hope we have non-believers here - family members who come just to appease the Christian in the family - so I can present the gospel clearly and invitingly. This is Christmas Eve! What a great gift - to receive the gift of salvation today; to receive the gift of forgiveness today; to receive the gift of love, joy, and peace today; to receive the gift of reconciled relationships today.

I'm not all that concerned about the reason they will come today but I hope each one leaves having been drawn closer to Christ and with a clearer understanding of his will for them - if they can reach that point in one service or if it takes all our services.

However you choose to celebrate the holiday season, I pray the Christ of Christmas is or becomes your Savior and Lord.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Manger and the Cross

Now that we’ve turned the corner into the last week before Christmas, the excitement has ratcheted up a few notches at our house.  While we love the excitement of the Christmas season we cannot lose sight of the Advent of Christ.  Deana has pictured this perfectly with our nativity set at home.

Atop the entertainment center (is that what these things are still called?) to the left is the stable scene with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus surrounded by the shepherds.  Behind them is a lamp that shines on the scene like the Bethlehem star would have shone.  To the right – way to the right – are the magi.  We place them away from the rest of the scene because the Bible indicates they weren’t at the stable but at a house.  Since they were still on their way, we place them away from the manger scene.

There is greenery around all of this to provide depth and beauty.  In addition to this, Deana has placed one other item in the scene: a cross.  Not giving her the credit I should have, I asked if she placed it there on purpose.  She said she thought about moving it (it is part of the non-seasonal decorations atop the entertainment center) but felt like it belonged with the nativity.  And it does!

If we gaze into the manger and see only the baby Jesus we have missed the point of Christmas.  If there had been no need for the cross of Christ there would have been no babe in a manger.  The songs of Christmas are beautiful and capture the essence very well, but maybe we should sing this list of songs back-to-back during the season:

Silent Night
The Old Rugged Cross
Up From the Grave He Arose
The King is Coming

The cross casts a shadow across the nativity scene.  And, these days, can’t you see a shadow of Jesus cast across the world as he prepares to descend from Heaven?  He’s coming a second time in power and glory!  He’s coming soon.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I'm Lovin' It

Life is really good. I'm excited about this church. I am not four Sundays in; we've added members and beginning to lay plans for improved missions involvement. I love being able to spend all day studying God's Word and ministering to his people. I have believed for many years that God has called me into the fulltime pastorate; these last few weeks have affirmed it.

I thank the Lord and Cross Road for the opportunity. I pray I'll always be up to the challenge of the call.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Team Players

I just read the article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette about three UA freshmen who are unhappy about their team's offense this year. They all came from the highly successful Springdale High School state championship team that went 14-0. Their high school coach is now the offensive coordinator for the Hogs. They say they committed to play at Arkansas because they were told they would run the same offense in the SEC as they did at Springdale. That didn't happen and now they are mouthing off about it.

First, Arkansas won more games this year than in 18 previous seasons (something like that). Do these boys want to be winners are stars? Do they want to see their team's name on a trophy or their own names in the paper? Last year they were the team. This year they are part of a team. It's clear to me that they prefer last year's high school success to this year's SEC success.

Arkansas plays in the best college football conference in America. To win in this conference is pretty significant. To be key players (each of them were) on a winning team in this conference is big. You may or may not get all the accolades a high school superstar gets but you are part of something bigger than yourself. If you want to play on Sundays you will get plenty of looks from scouts when you play on a winning team in the best conference in America. Whatever the motivation, get past it and be good teammates on a good team.

One of the parents said two of the players were used to getting 60 receptions a year and wanted the same in college. OK - that's fine. The greatest chance for that to happen is at Texas Tech or dropping down to a lower level school. Good luck getting the pro scouts to notice you there. Jerry Rice is not the norm. Scottie Pippen is not the norm. If they think they are Hall of Famers then they should try the small college route. Otherwise, their best chance to make the NFL is right where they are.

It is clear to see that Gus Malzahn's offense is not yet fully installed at Arkansas. But it is just as clear to see that he made a huge impact on the offense and the number of wins in just his first year on the job. I expect next year to show more improvement. Gus' brilliance is in being able to craft an offense that works. He'll do that at Arkansas and it might not look exactly like his Springdale offense.

If these boys had gone to school at Florida, Notre Dame, or Tennessee this might not even be newsworthy. But since they are in college within a half-marathon distance from their home town and high school it's big news. Everyone is interested. Everyone wants the local boys to excel. (I do, too, because that would mean the Hogs are excelling.) But would disgruntled (and successful) FRESHMEN make news at these other places? I don't think so.

Finally, take a look at Felix Jones. Felix was a superstar in a Tulsa high school. He came to Arkansas just like these three from Springdale: with hopes of being a star on the collegiate level. This season, his rushing total is just 30% of the team's total. Is he complaining? If so, I'm not hearing it. I don't think he's complaining. I think he's enjoying a successful season on both the individual and team levels.

Here's the bottom line: you are talented freshmen with a successful history; if you will realize that football is not all about you you will then find success at this level and beyond.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


‘Tis the season of Christmas. Isn’t this a great time to be a child of God? The birth of Christ reminds me of so many things. I’m reminded of His purpose for taking on the robe of flesh: that he would die for my sins. I’m reminded of His love that would reach all the way through time to me. I’m reminded of his humanity and his deity.

I remember my grandfather – we called him Dado. He died several years ago and Christmas just hasn’t been the same. Dado loved his ten grandchildren. We would gather in the living room watching the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw. He was the first person I knew to have a TV with a “clicker.” Just three buttons: On/Off, Channel Up, Channel Down. What would Dado think about today’s TV shows and our multi-functioning remotes?

Dado operated a dairy and farmed soybeans and cotton in Logan County. I remember the Sunday afternoon we played in the loaded cotton trailer. Our clothes were never the same. What’s left of the farm equipment sits rusting under the huge oak trees of the home place. The black-n-white cows – each with a name – are gone.

I remember the Christmas of 1975. My family had moved from Dardanelle to Bryant because my father was transferred to manage the Kroger store on Cantrell in Little Rock. We were farther from Mom (my grandmother) and Dado’s than all the others so we spent Christmas Eve night with them. We woke up on Christmas morning to the presents Santa left and about a foot of snow in yard. I can’t remember any of the presents but I remember the snow!

My mother is one of four sisters and all of them live down the same country lane in Paris. Except for us. We were in Bryant. But not for Christmas! What a time we had playing in the whitest Christmas I’ve ever seen.

I love my family. We’ve grown up and our traditions have changed, but the mention of “Mom and Dado” brings us all back together again and generates memories that too often slip way back in our minds.

Do you know what is so great about being a child of God? Just the mention of his name brings us all together. Christians are a diverse people. Even Southern Baptists have differing opinions on things. I suspect even our church family would not agree on everything.

Let’s choose to focus on what makes us a family: the love of God clearly displayed through the birth of Christ. Merry Christmas!