Friday, December 30, 2011

Weekly Devotion - December 30, 2011

"For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict."
Luke 21:15 NIV

 

I read a Facebook conversation that took place earlier this week. A friend threw out a question similar to this: How do you witness when you are in a hostile environment? Let me define what is meant by "hostile environment." Most of us are living in safe places when you consider the persecution faced by Christians in other places around the world. But even in America we are facing more hostility to the gospel than has been known in many generations.

 

Hostility takes many forms. One is political correctness. The gospel message is clear that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But that message is offensive to others who claim they have the way or a way. And those who claim there is no way really hate to hear or see a good witness.

 

Another form of hostility is the reaction of someone who feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If they have resisted for many years they can recoil when they hear you speak about the Lord. That creates a hostile environment in which to share your faith and live out a close walk with Christ.

 

I am thankful that I don't have to worry about the severe persecution other Christians face daily. I also have great respect for those who do because they are living clearly behind the lines of enemy territory. But we all have to deal with people who are not receptive or even argumentative toward the gospel.

 

Jesus' words in the twenty-first chapter of Luke's gospel were spoken about the end times. Maybe we are in those days; maybe we are very close to his return. His words apply to our times even if his return is not so near.

 

When we speak our words we will likely create problems. When we speak his words we will be much more successful sharing our faith and answering skeptics. Pray asking God to give you the words to say and the boldness to say them when you have opportunities to speak up in a hostile environment.

EBT Prayers

How's your prayer life?

What do you pray for?

Are you getting what you pray for?

I found a key to effective praying tucked into the middle of the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel confessed his sins and the sins of Israel. He pleaded with God to restore the people as a nation and to restore Jerusalem as a city. Nebuchadnezzar had razed the city and exiled the people a generation earlier.

We don't know how long he prayed but we know that he put all his energy into it. This wasn't a wimpy little prayer spoken hastily as Daniel was hurrying to get to something else. He was spent.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that God had answered his prayer at the moment Daniel had begun to pray. But God allowed Daniel to keep praying. He allowed Daniel to spend all his energy making the confession and requests.

Here are three keys to prayer that we all need to put into practice. First, pray earnestly. Daniel put his whole being into the prayer. We have lots of room for improvement in this area. Our prayers are quick. Our prayers are shallow. Our heart just isn't in it very much.

Second, pray believing God will answer. We all are familiar with a song Garth Brooks sang that says he thanks God for unanswered prayers. I understand the sentiment but disagree with the theology. God always answers prayers. He either says YES, NO, or WAIT. We just don't like the last two options and blame God of not answering. We ought to pray believing God is going to answer. And then embrace the answer he gives even when it's not what we asked for or expected.

Third, pray trusting God's answer. God is all-powerful so he can do anything he wants to do. God is all-knowing so he knows what the right thing to do is. God is all-loving so he cares so much about us that he wants to do what is best for us. Put that all together and we must conclude that what God does is best. If anything was better he would know about it, want to do, and be able to do it. So trust that what he does is best.

In the financial world, EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. Sounds like a good illustration of prayer to me. Except in prayer the EBT stands for earnest, believing, and trusting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nothing a Little Time and Money Can't Fix

It must have been at least 12 years ago when Deana and I stayed in the Hampton Inn in Rogers. It was pretty new. We made it back today. We came to Rogers to spend some time with our son Caleb and his girlfriend Keegan.

The outside of the building looks the same...like any other Hampton Inn. But inside...Wow! We found out that the hotel was remodeled about three years ago at the cost of almost $3M. I have no idea what it looked like four years ago, but the difference between our first visit and this visit is unbelievable. Time and money can fix just about anything.

Just about.

Your life may need a makeover...the kind time and money can't bring. Let me guess, you've spent lots of time and lots of money and nothing is better. And it won't get better.

But there is a resource I can suggest that will make all the difference in the world. I've found Jesus Christ to be a life-changer. And all he really wants from you is for you to give up control of your life and let him take over. Too costly, you say? Not really. Think of what it's been costing you to maintain control? And to fix things when life gets out of control?

Here's what you get. First, you receive unconditional love. God loves you so much that he gave his son Jesus to take the punishment for your sins. The greatest act of love is dying for a friend and Jesus did exactly that for you, friend.

Second,you get forgiveness for your sins. That's why Jesus died. He had to because we are all sinners and sin separates us from God. But in his death, Jesus took care of our sins and you can be forgiven. The guilt will be gone.

Third, you will be redeemed. Redemption is the act of being restored to a right relationship with God. Your sin breaks the relationship. Nothing you do can fix it. But what Jesus did by dying on the cross can fix it. Sinners are redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

Time and money won't remake your life. Only Jesus.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Does Form Matter?

It's been raining all day. Not sure how much rain we've received by the backyard is full. The ditches are running fast.

Seems like I learned at one point that an inch of rain is equivalent to seven inches of snow in total precipitation. If that's true, we would have at least seven inches of snow today, maybe a foot. And I would be thrilled!

So the form of the precipitation makes a difference.

Does the form of a church's ministry or outreach make a difference? Is one kind of ministry just as effective as another? Does one type of outreach impact lostness as much as another?

I think form makes a difference. The popular defense of new methods is that the message cannot change but the methods must. I agree. But not change just for the sake of change. Form or method must change as is necessary to reach people for Christ.

So much has changed just in the 30 years that I've been involved in ministry.Technology today is the stuff of science fiction in the early '80s. Changing almost as rapidly is our culture. People don't view themselves, the world, and God like we did just a generation ago. Some of what has worked will still work. The task of church leadership is to discern what still works and implement new strategies to complement the other. And then to motivate everyone to get involved.

I am praying that I can discern God's will, learn the forms and methods we should employ, and motivate others to get onboard.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Off Track

You're just going along like life's on rails. Up the hills, around the bends, across the trestles. You don't really have to do much...just ride.

Then something happens. An unexpected turn and you're off track.


You and your boyfriend found out you're pregnant. Maybe he's not even your boyfriend.
Mom calls to tell you that Dad has cancer and it doesn't look good.
Your friend at the Sheriff's Office pulls up in the driveway...your son is in the back seat.
The utility company calls demanding payment...again.
Your boss calls you into her office to explain that the reorganization leaves you unemployed.

We all have a different story but at one time or another, life derails.

Join me in January for a series of messages about life's troubles and God's solutions.

Sitting in Traffic


A nut drove off the road into the ditch. We are first in line waiting for him to get towed.

Off Track


A friend took this picture this morning. I plan to use it as part of an illustration in a sermon about getting off track when trying to follow the Lord. Check back.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Distractions

Riley's school let out at 11:15 today for the Christmas break. A friend came home with him to spend the night. If you would like to help you can come over and spend a couple of hours with them to give me a break. Bring your own Nerf gun because they have already claimed all that Riley has.

On second thought, they'll put them down and pick up another toy any minute. The attention span of 10 year old boys is...wait, what was I talking about?

Have you ever noticed how short the average Christian's attention span is when it comes to really focusing on Jesus? We really get focused for about a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas then again for a week or so around leading up to Easter. Other than that you may well get a "Jesus who?" response from a lot of people when you ask them about their Savior.

What distracts so many Christians away from Jesus? You'd probably get a lot of different answers if you passed through the church pews on any given Sunday. Job. Family. School. Money. Relationship. Uncertainty. Complacency. Indifference.

It's a shame that Christmastime gets all the attention because Jesus really wants to your Lord all year long. And he can do some amazing things in addition to the virgin birth and resurrection.

Christmas is this weekend. Then New Years is here. Would you resolve to keep Jesus in the center of your life all year long? Will you choose to focus upon him rather than the circumstances around you that have been a distraction? Jesus is good for any season. Start with this one and keep it going all...wait, what was I talking about?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Weekly Devotion - December 16, 2011

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:8 NIV

 

In January 2006 I was digging a ditch to drain water from the church parking lot. It was cold. It was raining. I already had a cold but my dogged determination to clear the parking lot pushed me over the brink. Pneumonia is no fun.

 

My physician took x-rays to confirm his diagnosis. Yes, pneumonia. But he also saw abnormalities in the lymph nodes. We talked about the possibilities. I had never been in a conversation with a doctor about cancer until that day.

 

I wasn't sure how to react. Uncertainty about the future often leads to uncertain actions and reactions today. So it was for me. The one thing I knew to do for sure was to pray. So I prayed. At the time I was also working another job and the commute was a forty-five minute drive. So I prayed a lot.

 

The prayer was typical, I guess, of most people faced with something like this. I prayed for healing. After a few days of praying like this I felt like the Lord told me that this was a selfish prayer; instead, I needed to pray for his will to be done. Believing that God's will is perfect, his power is unstoppable, and his concern for me is off the charts, I began to pray for his will to be done in this situation in my life.

 

That can be a hard prayer to pray. What if God's will is to use me as an example of faithfulness as life ebbs away? What if God's will is to teach me greater dependence upon him by removing my ability to care for myself? What if God's will is to magnify himself instead of me? These are hard questions but totally within the realm of possibility when I realized that my life is intended to bring glory to God rather than to me or anyone else.

 

I now pray for God's grace to help me deal with whatever may come my way. I don't want to avoid the problems because through them I draw near my Lord. Pray that God will show you sufficient grace for everything you face.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Angels and Wolves

Last week Albert Pujols signed a gia-nor-mous contract to play baseball for the LA Angels. This week Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are in the headlines for possible trades in the NBA that will gain them more money and a better chance at winning a championship in years to come. Next week employees will either be elated or mad because they did or didn't get a Christmas bonus that met or did not meet their expectations.

I'll admit it: I work to get paid, too. Most of us are that way. A few people don't need the money. I do.

The question I ask today is not whether a person should be paid or not. Every worker should be paid and should earn that pay. Professional sports stars generate more revenue for their teams than most of us do for our employers. That's why they get paid so much more than I do. Is Albert Pujols more valuable to the Angels than I am to Cross Road? Please don't answer that! But you get my point, don't you?

This afternoon, Arkansas State University will introduce Gus Malzahn as head coach of their football program. Coach Malzahn is coming from Auburn University where he helped the team win the NCAA National Championship last year as the offensive coordinator. He has won Arkansas high school football championships on two levels. He's been successful everywhere he's been. Up until today he has always taken a pretty big pay increase when he's moved from school to school.

But not today. I've read that he will take as much as a $500K cut to come to ASU. That's not a commentary on AU or ASU but it say a lot about Gus Malzahn. There could be more to the story, maybe much more, but based on what I know now I will say that Malzahn cares more about being the head coach of his own program than a highly paid coordinator somewhere else.

I'll guess that within five years he will make another move that will pay him the big bucks. I'm OK with that. I wish him well.

Malzahn is a committed Christian. I hope he is able to impact the lives of the students and athletes in Jonesboro. His predecessor Hugh Freeze did. A consistent Christian witness will do more for the futures of the young men and women at ASU than a winning football program will. What excites me is that they will get both.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Frank's Wig

One day Frank the frog leaped off his lily pad and landed with a big splash in the middle of the pond. Frogs usually don't care much about keeping their heads above water; after all, they live in a pond! But Frank struggled to swim to the shore with his head held high above the water. Ted the turtle laughed at him and Polly the perch just rolled her big eyes at him.

But it didn't phase Frank; he kept reaching with his tiny front legs and swishing with his huge back legs until he made it to the banks of the pond with every hair on his head perfectly dry. That's why he worked so hard to keep his head above water...his hair. Most frogs don't have any hair. As a matter of fact, NO FROGS HAVE HAIR!! Except Frank.

Frank's a little different. He's an individual. He does his own thing. He's like a fish out of water. (Oops, sorry about that.)

Well, it happened like this. There was a little girl fishing from the banks of the pond one day. She came often; usually with her Daddy. The little girl was very pretty. She always wore blue jeans, white sneakers, a pink t-shirt, and a yellow baseball cap. And Kermit the Frog sunglasses. I really think that's why Frank liked to swim close to the bank and watch her. She must have been about 7 years old and she sure loved fishing with her Daddy.

Then it happened. Summer was almost over and Frank had learned from earlier summers that the kids quit coming to the pond and start going to school. Polly the perch had told him that; but what did she know about school?

So Frank knew he had to make it to shore that day because it might be the last day the little girl came fishing. There he was acting like he was soaking up the warm sunshine while sitting on that rock. But really he was watching her.

Then it happened. Her fishing pole was almost bent double. Her Daddy was excited and trying to help her. As he reached for the fishing pole his arm bumped her yellow baseball cap and knocked it off her head onto the grass. Frank had never seen her without her yellow baseball cap. Now it was on the ground and she was struggling to land the biggest fish she had ever hooked.

But Frank lost track of the fishing when he saw her hair. It had been tucked under her cap all summer long but now it was flopping around on top of her head while the fish was pulling at her pole.

Hair. Nobody in the pond had hair. At first it looked strange but Frank began to think it was beautiful. Especially this little girl's hair. It was long and curly and brown. And it looked like a lot of fun. You know, having that stuff balanced on your head and hanging down on your shoulders and in your eyes and over your ears. Frank wanted some of his own.

There aren't any places at the pond to get hair. Frank spent the next two weeks looking for hair in the pond. There was no hair.

Frank knew he had to be creative so he hopped down the path that led away from the pond. He didn't know what was down the path but he knew there was no hair in the pond. Maybe there would be hair at the other end of the path.

Frank was disappointed to see there was no hair at the end of the path. Instead, there was only something called a barber shop. Discouraged, Frank wanted to go back to the pond. But he told himself that if he came this far he could go a little farther and check out this new place.

As he hopped into the barber shop, Frank saw the little girl with the long, curly, brown hair. He mustered all his courage and made his way toward her. When he got to the barber chair where she was sitting he hopped up to the footrest, then to the seat, next the arm, and finally the headrest. He whispered in her ear, "I'm just a bald frog but I would love to have hair like yours. Can you help me?"

She jumped to her feet and acted like she had seen a ghost. Really she had only HEARD a FROG. Frank didn't understand her reaction so he said, "Excuse me, girl. I'm Frank. Just a frog. No hair. See? Your hair is so pretty. Can you help me get hair like yours?"

She ran away.

Frank figured it was time to take matters into his own hands (if he had hands). He jumped from the chair into a pile of hair clippings he spotted just under the counter in the barber shop. Just next to the hair was a blob of mud that must have been tracked in by someone wearing muddy boots. Frank grabbed the mud and stuck it on his bald head. (I bet that looked funny.) Then he placed a few pieces of the hair in the mud. That's one creative frog! He made himself a wig.

As he hopped back to the pond, very proud of his hair, the other residents of the pond stared. First, in shock; then in amazement; then because they couldn't stop staring...and laughing.

That bald frog has worn that wig every minute since. I'm not sure how it stays on; wet mud on a slick frog head??

But I do know that the wig had 17 sprigs of hair in it. I know because I counted them.

Just like God has counted the hairs on your head. He cares that much about you.

(Originally posted June 16, 2005)

Christmas and Sunday

Christmas is on Sunday. That is so appropriate! Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. In the fullness of time, God sent his son. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to son.

Since Christmas is celebrating God coming to earth and since Sunday is the day of the week set aside for corporate worship, it just makes sense that we'll worship together on December 25. Every other day of the week is OK for Christmas, but Sunday is best.

So we are having services on Christmas morning. One service at 10:30. I jokingly told the congregation we'd be done by 1:30! We will but they let me know we better be done WAY before 1:30! I understand.

Why the backlash against having church on Christmas day? Christians gripe when businesses try to say, "Happy Holidays!" in order to not offend anyone. Christians fuss when someone abbreviates the holiday Xmas. To quote a conservative radio talk show host, "That's just symbolism over substance."

People who call themselves "Christian" rail against taking Christ out of the holiday but many refuse to allow Christ prominence in their lives. They want to be called "Christian" but don't really want to be Christ-like.

Which is more important - calling the holiday "Christmas" or having the public call you "Christian" as the people of Antioch did the believers there?

Which is more important - celebrating a secularized version of the December holiday or worshiping with your faith family on the day we celebrate our Savior's birth?

Now, don't think I'm being dogmatic or pushing a point too far. I would like to see Christians gather for a time of corporate worship every Christmas, no matter what day of the week it is. Worshiping with my faith family on Christmas day just makes a lot of sense to me. Christmas is a holy day before it is any other kind of day.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Small Church, Big Church

Churches are not large or small based on numbers or money but based on vision.

I pastor a church with about 150 resident members, about 60 active members, and a budget of about $90,000. Some people would say we are a small church. In fact, I've heard people in our church say we are just a small church. I may have said it myself. Shame on us!

And shame on anyone who would choose to classify a church based on numbers in attendance or the size of the budget.

If a church should not be judged as large or small based on numbers and money, what is an acceptable way to measure the size of a church? I think vision is a good way to determine if a church is large or small. No vision or small vision and the church is a small church. Good vision and the church is big. I'm not saying that vision translates into numbers and dollars. I'm saying that a church no vision is not much of a church and a church with vision is exactly what God intends them to be.

Our church and yours are probably not alike. In some ways, yes. In all ways, no. But one thing we must have to make big impact is big vision. It's the impact a church makes upon lostness in its community and around the world that is important. And a church like ours can make a big impact if our vision is big.

If you pay a lot of attention to numbers and dollars you need a culture shift. We do. Rather than seeing ourselves as a small church, we need to see ourselves as a global missions outpost that trains and sends missionaries into the world. I want every member of Cross Road Baptist Church to be on mission. Some will go far. Some will stay close. But everyone can and should see themselves as missionaries to their community and to the world.

That's big no matter how you look at it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

At the Risk of Ungodliness

"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." I've never been in a court room to hear if they really say this or not, but I've seen plenty of TV shows and movies where they did. The court swears in a witness to indicate the serious nature of the truthfulness of the testimony. If a witness lies under oath he can be charged with perjury.

We teach our children to be truthful. We admire anyone who tells the truth, though sometimes we prefer they soften the edges a bit. But then they aren't telling the whole truth! It's either true or false. A story-teller may tell a story and start by saying, "This is a true story," but if he embellishes it at all then it's not true. It may be a good story. It may be a fairly accurate story. It may be a story with no negative consequences. But it's not a true story. Nothing wrong with a tale, just don't call it a true story.

Is a Christian obligated to tell the truth even when he is not under oath? I think so. We are to reflect the character of God and one of his characteristics is truthfulness. God is absolutely truthful.

So when a Christian tells his side of the story he must do so with integrity by giving the truth the spotlight. Not just the truth that supports his opinion, but all the truth. And if he cares enough to dig for the truth to support his opinion he should also dig for the whole truth.

White lies. Partial truths. One side of the story. Christians can't take part in that. Not at the risk of perjury but ungodliness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A New ACP

If you are a Southern Baptist minister, you recognize the letters A C P. Every year we must go through the ritual of reporting to our denomination the numerical statistics that capture a snapshot of our churches. The report includes membership, attendance, baptisms, contributions received, money spent on missions and ministers, and a few other things. It's the way we determine that there are 16 million Southern Baptists. In fact, it's the only place you'll find 16 million Southern Baptists.

We call it the Annual Church Profile - the ACP. I said that we "must" do it but that's not really true. Southern Baptists can't be told they must do anything. Sometimes I think that even applies to directives in the Bible. In Arkansas, a little more that 10% of the Southern Baptist churches will not complete the ACP. Not sure if they have something to hide or just don't think it really matters.

At Cross Road we are studying the book of Daniel on Wednesday nights. Tonight's study was in chapter 9 where Daniel prayed a prayer of adoration, confession, and petition in response to what he read in God's word. He was part of the group of Israelites that had been exiled to Babylon (under Persian rule at the time of his prayer). Other Israelites had been scattered to other places. Some had been left back home with nothing to call home.

Daniel was reading pieces of a prophecy from Jeremiah that said the exile was to last 70 years. When Daniel read this he had been in exile about 67 years. The realization that the exile would soon be over led Daniel to consider why they were in exile in the first place. They had turned from God, did not repent, and disobeyed the Lord's commands. So Daniel prayed. He confessed. He pleaded with God to restore the people to their home and make them a nation again.

Here's the pattern of his prayer: adoration, confession, petition - ACP. The prayer is one of the most significant in the Bible and a great pattern for modern Christians to implement. I wonder what might happen if Southern Baptists emphasized more ACP praying than ACP reporting.

I told my church tonight that when next year's ACP is due I will send in a paper about ACP praying. I was just joking. Or was I? Check back in October 2012.

Disclaimers:
-I think the Annual Church Profile has merit.
-A member of CRBC works for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Her responsibilities include ACP.
-Adoration, Confession, Petition pattern taken from New American Commentary.
-Counting baptisms, budgets, and buildings is not just a Southern Baptist phenomenon. Maybe your church could use a little ACP praying, too.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Nights Indicate Good Days

Since mid-June our church has replaced the Sunday night services with other activities. We have Sunday Night Bible Study in a home. Anyone can host the Bible study. We sometimes sing, always eat.

We also have fellowship nights where we get together in our Activities Building for singing, missions studies, Bible studies, and other things. Seems like the folks enjoy hanging out, especially since we moved into the Activities Building.

We have tried to schedule at least two events each month. Only one person has told me that they miss Sunday night church.

Our decision was based on the participation in our evening services. Almost nothing. With only one or two exceptions, the participation in this new format is better. Most people who attended before still attend. But more people are taking part now who rarely came on Sunday evening before. I understand those who miss the other way but if we want to involve more people and disciple more believers we've done the right thing.

What I really want is to have more than one location for Bible studies on Sunday night. Our membership is spread out geographically. I can envision a location in Ferndale, another in Avilla, and maybe another fairly close to the church. We could have the groups meeting two or three weeks during the month and meet all together in the Activities Building once a month.

Not sure what this will look like down the road. We may even change away from this to something that looks like the old pattern. That really doesn't matter. What matters is getting the most people involved in disciple-making Bible study. These are good days at CRBC because we are willing to do things that can impact our effectiveness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Helping Others

Been making calls today to folks we think might need a little help putting a Thanksgiving meal on the table this week. Our church family donated enough to provide for ten families. Thought we had ten but a couple of them have said they really don't need the help this year. That's a good thing but now I'm looking for more families.

When I talk with them I ask how we can pray for them through the holiday season. Here are some of the responses.

"My health." This person is dealing with infection from a recent surgery.
"My kids." This grandparent is keeping seven of the grandchildren on a temporary basis.
"That people will come to Christ." This person forsakes the assembling of himself with other believers and gets his "church" on TV. (He's not a shut-in.)

So I'm praying for their requests and for other issues the Spirit has impressed me with about them. I want the helping ministry to reach beyond the physical need and touch them spiritually, too.

If we claim to be doing missions ministry, we better be focused on the spiritual needs. If we just offer a cup of cold water it's not missions nor ministry. If we offer it in Jesus' name it's ministry. If we offer it in Jesus' name with the intent of sharing our faith it's missions.

Lots of folks will be helping others over the next few weeks. I hope you'll be involved. And I hope you'll think bigger than just delivering a bag of groceries. Look for opportunities to meet spiritual needs, too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Timothy+Barnabas School

Deana and I attended the Timothy+Barnabas School held in Branson, MO this week. The school is the effort of Johnny Hunt and many others who intend (and succeed!) to encourage pastors and their wives. we have wanted to go to one of the conferences for years but never got around to it. Glad we did this year.

We made new friends while there. Tim and Katie Marr serve in Rattan, OK at First Baptist Church. I'm looking forward to cultivating a lifelong relationship with them. Deana and I are almost old enough to be their parents (!) but we connected in a special way. This will be a good friendship.

The pastors were encouraged through Johnny Hunt's teaching on growing your church and maximizing your influence. He has a huge heart for pastors and it really shows. The guys I talked with are so encouraged and we are ready to get back to work. It was a time of refreshing that I needed. And the content will help me be a better pastor.

The wives partied all week. Janet Hunt lavished gifts upon them each time they met and as they walked out the meeting room doors. Between the gifts and the shopping Deana did, I was beginning to wonder if there would be room in the car for me to ride home. Beyond the fun and games, the ladies talked about being a Christian woman, wife, mother, and pastor's wife to the church. I can tell that Deana liked the whole thing. She'll be going again whether I do or not!

If you are a pastor you must attend Timothy+Barnabas. Check out the schedule at timothybarnabas.org and get it on your schedule. You will not regret it. And take your wife.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hey, the music just got louder!

I'm sitting in a Starbucks sipping a decaf Caffe' Americano, downloading some updates, reading the news online, and doing a few social media updates. Not your typical Friday activities for a preacher, at least a preacher my age.

The music is not very loud right now but about three minutes ago it was really loud. I have a theory why the volume fluctuates in places like this. When the volume was loud the crowd was loud. I believe the crowd got loud first then the music bumped up to cover the crowd. Anytime I'm in a place like this you can hear the other conversations but you can't really understand what they are saying. As the crowd noise gets louder, I think the music gets a little louder to maintain that "cover."

It was blaring a while ago! And that seemed to push the crowd noise up. Then about half the people left, the crowd noise diminished, and the music quietened.

People want to stick out. They get louder so everyone can hear them. They act out so everyone will notice them. They attempt what no one else is attempting so they can say they've done what nobody else has done. They want to beat the record and get mentioned in the media.

Nothing much wrong with sticking out. Just make sure you draw attention to Jesus. While Christians are called to fit into God's plan and his will, we are called out to be a witness for him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Doing What's Right

I'm hearing the same things out of the Penn State sexual abuse situation that you are. You probably have heard more than I have. But what I hear is not good. Just saw a tweet that Penn State may be preparing for Paterno's exit.

So many issues come out of this mess. One is that we must always do what is right even if it is embarrassing or painful.

So what is right? If you meet the requirements of the law are you right? In some cases you are. If the law says the speed limit is 45 mph and you are driving 45 mph you are right. But if the rules say you must report wrong-doing and you do but you don't do anything else that might prevent or protect, are you still right?

I say, no. "Legal" is one step along the way to "right." Ethical action is often a greater action that simply taking the legally required steps. A legalist would say that a coach must report suspected wrong-doing. An ethicist would say that the coach should do more to prevent the wrong-doing from continuing or repeating and to protect those who may have been injured or harmed in some other way by the act.

A pastor is legally required to report cases of abuse that he might learn about through his ministerial position. If I learn about a case of sexual child abuse I have to report it - I've legally met the requirements when I do. Do I have a moral obligation to help the child? I think so.

It seems from what I know about the Penn State situation is that the legal steps were met but no further steps were taken.

Are we such a legalistic culture that we will accept this? You might not think that such a permissive culture as ours could also be legalistic, but that's a fitting description if we are satisfied with simply meeting the legal requirements.

We'll see if there are any moral absolutes left. Or if we care about them.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Off with the Old, On with the New

I've been watching the crew reroofing the church and parsonage. The church building is getting a new metal roof over old shingles and the parsonage gets new shingles. We've had hail damage and insurance is paying for most of it.

The two jobs are different in two ways. The new metal roof on the church is going over the existing shingles. The workmen are putting the sheets of metal in place and screwing them down through the layer of shingles already there. No problem with that. Seems to be a good way to do it. The old surface is completely covered and the new surface is to be water-tight. I imagine that will last a good long time.

But the parsonage is getting a new layer of shingles where a layer already exists. Not the whole roof, just one section. If the whole roof was being shingled then I imagine they would just put a new layer of shingles over the old. But since only part of the roof is getting a new layer, the old layer in the area being worked has to be removed. Otherwise one section would be thicker than the other. I'm trying to think why that would be a bad thing. Not sure you could see the difference from the ground. But the difference would likely cause a problem sealing out water. The roofing material needs to be level so it can join together to do the job.

That gets me to thinking about the church. Sometimes we just apply something new over something old and it works fine. New instrumentation or arrangements of old songs freshens them up and most of the time we enjoy them more. A modern translation of the Bible can be more accurate to the original - but be careful which translation you choose. A new teacher in a class may spark a little more interest and help the learners to, well, learn.

But sometimes we just need to tear off the old and come back with something new. A long-held belief that people new to the community won't like your church needs to be thrown away and replaced with a fresh perspective and willingness to reach out to them. A dogmatic view of the schedule of services can keep a church from making adjustments that may well be the key to growth. Since doing what you've always done will get you what you've alway gotten, maybe it's time to replace the old ways with something fresh, innovative, effective. And the renovation doesn't have to be across the board. Maybe just one or two things need changed. Or maybe everything but one or two things need changed.

Churches ought to assess their effectiveness on a regular basis. Be honest. When something no longer helps you reach your community, it's time to let it go. Put it out to pasture. Pull the plug. Or at least revise it. Irrelevance might be the biggest sin a church commits. A church that is irrelevant to its community is living in a community that is drowning in the high waters of spiritual complacency. Let's do what we must do to stir those waters and rescue the perishing.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The World's a Scary Place

The world can be a pretty scary place. Maybe you noticed some ghosts and ghouls and goblins running around earlier this week.

The real world can be pretty scary, too. Criminals kicked in our front door last week. Several central Arkansas banks have been robbed in the last few days. National news stories tell of a woman who gave birth to twins then killed the infants.

What's even more scary is the vision Daniel had of future (to him) kingdoms that would devour each other ultimately leading to a future (to us) kingdom led by Antichrist - the most devious and powerful and vicious of any earthly leader. That won't be a good time. But it will end swiftly and decisively at the coronation of Jesus Christ, King of kings. He will defeat Antichrist, establish a thousand years of peace on earth, then send Satan to his everlasting punishment.

It's appointed to man once to die, then to face judgment. When I die I want to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. Is it possible to know that I will? I talked with a man in the VA hospital a few weeks ago about this. He said there is no way to know. A person's only hope is that Jesus chooses to let him in, according to this man. He thinks his eternity is left up to an arbitrary decision. He will die not knowing for sure.

When I pastored a church in north central Arkansas, we took a survey of our community to determine ways we might minister to the people. One of the survey questions asked if they knew for sure they would spend eternity in heaven when they died. The overwhelming response from this heavily Catholic area was, "Oh, I hope so." They didn't know whether they would be in heaven or hell. Their only hope was to do as much good in this life as they could in hopes that the good would outweigh the bad when they faced judgment. A person with this belief will die not knowing for sure.

I know for sure! The Bible says it is possible to know. It's not an arbitrary decision that God makes for us while standing at the pearly gates. It's not a judgment of whether or not good outweighs bad. Instead, Jesus died for my sins so I can be forgiven. If I trust Jesus for my forgiveness and salvation then my name is on the reservation list for heaven. No doubts. No questions. No problems.

You can know for sure, too. But you have to believe the right things about God and salvation. Re-read the previous paragraph to get to the truth. And send me a message if you have questions.

I know. Do you?

I'm not scared. Are you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I Go to Church

During a recent prayer meeting when our church focused on revival, we talked about the lack of commitment to church attendance found among many believers. I've thought about that some more and have come up with this list of reasons why I go to church. Maybe you will connect with some of these...or be convicted by them.

  1. My parents made me go. You may think that's a strange reason to go to church. It usually shows up on a list of why people do not go to church. Honestly, I'm not sure if I would be in church today if I had not been in church growing up. Even as a preacher's kid, I tried to find ways to get out of going in my teenage years. I volunteered to work the Sunday morning shifts at work. My mom and dad made me go to church and I think that is one of the most important reasons I go today.

  2. That's my job. I am a pastor so it would be inappropriate to not go. My church expects me to be there and I expect me (and them) to be there.

  3. I like the people there. Christians can really be fun people. They are loving, appreciative, and caring.

  4. It's the main place where I get to study God's word with God's people. With all the technology around today, nothing beats sitting in a room with a few others believers and digging into the word. I don't have all the answers. You don't either. But together we have more right answers than either of us do alone.

  5. Your testimonies encourage me. We need to do more sharing than we do. Your experience of living the Christian life will help me.

  6. It's the house of prayer. Yes, I can pray anywhere and I do, but when I go to church I get to pray with you and for you. I can hold your hand, hug your neck, and feel your burden.

  7. God said to. Remember that verse about not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together?

  8. I get fitted for and dispatched to ministry. Ministry really is an "on-the-job training" kind of thing. But think of the church as the employment office that sends you to a job opportunity. And the resources you need to do the job are found in the church: teams, training, and tools.

What other reasons do you have for going to church?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

They Aren't Always Just Picking At You

Do you have people in your life that you think are just always picking at you? Annoying you? Every little thing seems like they intend for your discomfort and irritation. The following funny story was in my email inbox this morning. It comes from a daily distribution from crossings.com and helps put these situations in perspective.

My husband and I took our two-ear-old daughter to the home improvement store.
Madison got tired of walking, so my husband let her ride on his shoulders. As he walked, Madison began pulling his hair. Although he asked her to stop several times, she kept on.
Getting annoyed, he scolded, "Madison! Stop that!"
But, Daddy," she replied, "I'm just trying to get my gum back."

What appears to be childish games may really be someone with a need. How they handle it may get under your skin. I suggest we should try to figure out the reason for the agitation before swatting at it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Observing Groups

Sitting in my "office" this morning, I listened to a group of six parents talking about their children, their jobs, their "to do" lists for today. Here are some insights I've gathered from people-watching. I'm not an expert or even the most keen observer. These are just some ideas I think would make groups discussions - formal or informal - go a little better.

  1. Everyone at the table has something to add to the conversation.
  2. You probably aren't the expert on everything.
  3. Humor isn't necessary every moment.
  4. A sense of humor is always necessary.
  5. If you are at the edge of the culture or opinion of your group, don't drag everyone to the edge.
  6. Listen to everyone rather than starting a second conversation when you aren't interested in the first.
  7. Ask more questions than give answers.
  8. You need the group as much as they need you.

That's a good start. Maybe you could add to the list. Feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Power, Courage, and Boldness

The fifth chapter of Daniel tells of a time when God got the attention of a blasphemous people in a dramatic way. I guess this is where the saying, "You can see the handwriting on the wall" came from. King Belshazzar held a party where immorality degraded into blasphemy. God had had enough.

The message on the wall was that the King's days were numbered, he did not measure up to God's expectations, and his kingdom would be smashed into unrecognizable pieces. God's judgment was immediate, complete, and decisive.

That's not a very pleasant message to have to deliver to a king! Daniel had once been in charge of those a Babylonian king would call to interpret dreams and mysteries. That probably ended twenty years earlier when Nebuchadnezzar died. Belshazzar either didn't know Daniel, couldn't remember Daniel, or just dismissed him from relevance.

Those two decades must have been difficult times for Daniel. It's one thing to be an exile in good standing with the king; it's another to be an exile without close ties to the king. But Daniel's courage and boldness before the arrogant and blasphemous Belshazzar indicates that he had remained true to God all those years. And close to him.

An intimate walk with the Lord empowers and encourages us to take a stand. A loosey-goosey walk with the Lord won't result in courage and boldness. (My Bible study group laughed at me when I called it that last night.) God wants to empower and encourage and embolden you. But that happens when you are walking with him. When you stray or just simply lag behind, the power and courage and boldness are absent.

I believe God wants us to be powerful, courageous, and bold witnesses. So you'll have to walk closely with him in order to be what he wants you to be. To get the greatest joy in this life - the greatest sense of fulfillment - be a maturing disciple of Jesus Christ. Here are a few simple things you can do to mature.

1. Read your Bible every day. At least a few verses, a paragraph, a story.
2. Pray each day. God is the only resource for what you need. And he'd like to hear from you. Praise him. Thank him.
3. Be with God's people. Go to church. Get in a Bible study group.
4. Serve others. When you help someone else you are acting a lot like Jesus.
5. Tell someone about your relationship with Christ. If it matters to you it will likely matter to them.

Side note: Historians tell us that the Babylonian Kingdom came to an end on October 12, 539 BC (on our calendars). We studied this chapter on October 12, 2011. Two thousand five hundred fifty years to the day after this happened. I am amazed at how God directs our study of scripture so that "coincidences" like this happen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What I Learned by Praying for Revival

Cross Road met at my house Sunday night for a revival prayer meeting. We talked a lot and prayed a lot. I appreciate everyone who came. Why people stay away from prayer meetings astounds me, but that is another topic.

As we talked about what revival is and how much we need it, three ideas became the fabric of the conversation.

People need Jesus. We all agreed that a personal relationship is absolutely necessary to gain eternal life and that the current life would be greatly enhanced by it. Our church is small in number. The other churches within five miles of ours are small, too. But there are as many people living in this area as in the small town I grew up in. A few hundred people attend church regularly among all our churches; the community is home to a few thousand people. Most of the people living around us are either lost or, if saved, have decided that participating in a local church is not important. The New Testament will not support that position. Daily Christianity is experienced through the context of the local church. Certainly, the people living around us who do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord need him.

The church must do all it can to reach them. That is the specific command given by the Lord Jesus in the Great Commission. For a reason know only to God, he chose the church as the vehicle by which the gospel will be taken to the nations. We are to be his witnesses to everybody everywhere. We need to focus on that task and, quite honestly, quit doing stuff that makes no impact on lostness. And we have to step outside our boundaries of tradition and preference. They (those not participating in our churches) are telling us they don't like it. Without changing the message, we must change our methods. The message is always relevant; the methods must be continually assessed for relevance.

Too many people who come into our building now and then are just playing church. They get their ticket punched. They check "church" off their "to do" list. They come in and out - at whatever frequency - without experiencing the change that ought to be indicative of a real walk with Jesus. I'm talking about people who may only come a few times a year to those who may come a few times a week. Being in the building is not the same as being part of the church. People who are part of the church participate in the mission. They encourage one another on to Christ-likeness. They support the ministry. They do all this inside and outside the building; during and away from scheduled service times. We all need to regularly check our motive for coming to church and repent when we realize we've just been playing the game.

CRBC (and your church, too) will experience revival when we humble ourselves before God, pray earnestly to him, seek his face and his ways, and turn from our sins. Then we'll be able to impact our world with the eternal message of God's loving gift of salvation.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Human Pride Meets Sovereign God

What if God acted today like he did in ancient times?

King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered all enemies. He reigned successfully. He had everything. But he rejected the truth that God is the one true God. He held to his pagan beliefs. And he thought highly of himself.

The King was not unlike many people today. Successful careers lead to bountiful stores of stuff. Contentment and self-indulgence are commonplace. The goal then and now seems to be to get as much as you can with little regard for those around you. Don't get me wrong, Nebuchadnezzar provided adequately for those in his kingdom but only if they benefited him or were no threat to him. That sounds familiar, too.

Some call it a dog eat dog world. It's survival of the fittest. It's a rat race to keep up with the Joneses. The end goal is to come out on top.

Nebuchadnezzar built the "hanging gardens" of Babylon for his wife. She was from the mountains of Media and living in the plains of Babylon...well, she must have been a little homesick. The ancient Greeks considered the "hanging gardens" to be one of the seven wonders of the world. The King was possibly standing there looking out over his kingdom when gaudy pride flowed out. Immediately, he was banished from the royal compound to live with the animals. The Bible's description of all this tells us that he became more like the animals than a human being (Daniel 4).

Not until he lifted his eyes toward heaven and praised God was he restored.

God still acts in ways to replace pride with humility. He was sovereign over all earthly powers and still is. No business, government, family, or individual can continue in pride before the Lord. When and how he will deal with such arrogance is up to him but we can know he will deal with it.

The answer today is the same as it was 2,500 years ago. Lift up your eyes to the God of heaven and praise him. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a greater kingdom after his restoration than before. God wants to bless you and he will when you acknowledge who he is and surrender your life to him.

Friday, September 30, 2011

True colors

Tonight is the opening of "Courageous," the next movie from the church in Albany, GA that made "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants." Christians will crowd restaurants and theaters. I hope we show our true colors.

In fact, we will. We will be polite or we will be jerks. Either way, the true color will come out. I guess what I'm hoping is that what we claim on the outside is really what's on the inside. Our actions must validate our claims.

Not too many years ago I acted pretty ugly to a waitress. Then I realized I was wearing a Christian t-shirt with our church's logo on it. I felt ashamed. I should have felt ashamed even without the visual prompting of a t-shirt.

Christians should act like Christians even if we wouldn't get caught acting otherwise. Our normal behavior and first response should honor God. When the heat is turned up or nobody's watching, we should display godly character.

I'm getting better at it but still have a way to go. But God is working on my. He uses lots of tools to make me what I ought to be. Like embarrassment and shame and guilt. He also uses good friends and his Word.

My true colors will show. I want my true colors to be true to God.

Middle of the Night

I'm not a heavy sleeper. In fact, I toss and turn a lot. Last night was particularly restless. At one point I was wide awake so I prayed some, thought about today's schedule, thought about my boys.

A passage of scripture came to mind. Not the actual words but the passage reference. For the life of me I couldn't think what the passage says. The same verses in a different chapter in the same book - that I could remember. But I couldn't convince myself that this more familiar passage was what I was really thinking. Should of grabbed my iPhone (it was on the nightstand) and looked up the passage on my Bible app. But I didn't.

This morning I read the passage. I was surprised that I remembered it. I can't tell you how many sermons and songs have gone unwritten because I woke up with only a vague memory of the thought that came in the middle of the night. But I clearly remembered this passage this morning.

Ephesian 3:8-13. That's not a full paragraph in the version I like to read from but it was close. Most importantly, the message in the text was something I really needed to hear.

Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Ephesians 3:8-13 NIV)

God speaks to us in many ways and at all times of the day and night. He impressed upon my mind these verses. I suppose he had a reason. That reason was probably to encourage me - that's just what it did. And to teach me to always listen for his voice, even in the middle of the night.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The One True God

Ever felt alone? With seven billion people living on the planet, facing problems alone seems like an impossibility. But you and I both know that having seven of those seven billion really caring about us and being there for us in our most difficult times would be refreshing. I want to be someone more people can count on.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could count on each other. When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the government officials (a group to which they belonged) to fall down and worship the statue he built, they were the only three who did not. They were the Hebrew Holdouts who would not bow to a pagan god. I wonder if they would have been so bold one-on-one. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of others fell to the ground as soon as the band began to play its version of "Just As I Am." Was there an urge to get prostrate before the idol? Maybe but when Meshach checked to his left and saw Shadrach looking back at him, and when he looked right and saw Abednego looking back at him, they all knew they could do what they had to do. They wouldn't bow.

The king gave them a second chance but their resolve was strong. He became more angry and had them bound and thrown into a blazing furnace. That was the end of the defiance, he must have thought.

It wasn't. In a little while the king looked into the furnace and saw four men - not three - in the fire. They weren't burning. They weren't in agony. They weren't tied up. And the three Hebrew Holdouts weren't alone. Nebuchadnezzar's description of the fourth man indicates that a deity was in the furnace. The king knew the fourth man was a god. The Hebrew Holdouts knew the fourth man was God - the one true God.

Nebuchadnezzar didn't understand that. He was willing to give credit to God but only included him among his pantheon. To him, God was just one of many gods. Yes, God could do this thing or that thing better than any other god, but he was still just a god.

But God is not a god, he is the one true God.

That means he is there for you when life heats up and the pressure becomes unbearable. He loves you and cares for you just as he did the Hebrew Holdouts so stand up for him.

And stand with one another. God stands with us and also stands through us. I hope you can look to your right and left and see Christians standing with you. And I hope when Christians look to their right or left they see you along with and representing the one true God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday

Every Monday morning, without fail, I look at my Facebook and Twitter pages and see all the whining about it being Monday morning. Kids don't want to go back to school. Adults don't want to go back to work. The weekend was too short, some say. The work load is too heavy, others complain.

I really don't hear many preachers talking about the hangover from a rough Sunday. That's a standard preacher joke propagated by famous preachers, I guess. The guys I know keep on plugging knowing another Sunday is just around the corner and Wednesday night is even closer. My thoughts of quitting never wait until Monday anyway. About 12:15 on Sunday afternoon is my whining time if I'm going to have one.

My high school friend Jim Freeman posted several months ago that Mondays make up one-seventh of the week. You'll spend 15% of your life on Mondays so why waste it with a bad attitude? Great point, Jim.

Not sure why some people have great attitudes and others don't. Proclaiming to be a Christian must not be the difference because some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are as bad or worse than those who do not profess Christ. You'd think Jesus would make a difference. He probably does; our attitudes aren't his fault.

I think Jesus could change a bad attitude, brighten a ho-hum day, and put you on a better path for a Monday. Or any other day. So today I'm looking up. Will you join me?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Argenta Prayer Walk

For several months I have been part of a group of Arkansas pastors gathering to discuss church planting. Tim Wicker (Arkansas Baptist State Convention) called us together with the hope of letting us connect with one another. That has happened and I'm grateful for it. Church planting has been a burden for many years; I just haven't known how to get involved.

At first, our talks were brainstorming sessions but soon became vision meetings and prayer meetings. One way CRBC and other churches are connecting is in the Argenta area of North Little Rock. Several years ago the community developed plans to reclaim and restore the area. It is now a vibrant place where culture, business, and life blend. We believe a Baptist church would be welcomed, useful, and successful there. But it probably won't look like my church.

And that's a good thing. The people in my community are unique and our church must be uniquely fitted to reach them. Likewise, a church in Argenta must be able to reach its community. What my church and the Argenta church will have in common is that both are places where people can meet Jesus, experience Christian community, and express Christian faithfulness. I want to be part of that!

CRBC will be in Argenta Saturday morning (9/24) to prayer walk. We want to sense God at work there. We want to sense the spiritual needs there. And we want to ask God for great things. Join us if you can. Pray for us if you can't join us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Standing

The familiar story of three Hebrew teenagers defying the king's decree was the topic of our Bible study last night in Daniel 3. Although I've heard it over and over, I still learn principles that will help me live out my faith in Jesus Christ.

A running theme throughout the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. He is absolutely in charge. Nothing happens that he does not either cause or allow. Even choices we freely make fall within his sovereignty. If you think about that very much it could drive you crazy trying to figure it out. But it's true and the Hebrew boys believed.

King Nebuchadnezzar built an imposing statue and ordered all the government officials to bow down and worship it. It was a false god. No Hebrew serious about God would do it. Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego didn't. Imagine a sea of people crowded around the ninety-foot high statue. When the first note of music begins they all fall to the ground. Except three Hebrew Holdouts.

If you have weeds in your yard like I do you may be able to picture the scene. Just a few days after I cut the grass the weeds begin to pop up. Weeds grow so much quicker and easier than grass. Sticking up from the neatly manicured lawn are sprigs at least a foot higher than the grass. You can't see them from the porch but you can't miss them as you walk through the yard.

The Hebrew Holdouts couldn't hide what they had done. They were busted. Nebuchadnezzar gave them another chance. I think he was shocked that three young men would go against his orders. "Don't you realize who I am and the power I have?' must have run through his mind. "Don't you remember how I added your God to my list of gods just a few days ago? Reciprocate?" was surely in his thoughts.

But they held their ground even when the king reminded them of the penalty for disobedience: the fiery furnace.

The Hebrew Holdouts believed God was able to save them although they realized he might not do it.

If God is not able and therefore does not act for you, then he is not really God.

If God is able and does act for you, then he is the God everybody loves.

If God is able but does not act for you, then he is still God. Sovereignty means that although he is able he may not choose to rescue you.

How does that make you feel? Don't give up on him. Not only is he sovereign, he is also all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving.

Here's what that means. God is able to do all things. God knows all things; past, present, and future. God loves you with an amazing love beyond imagination. God is free to act as he wishes and he wishes the best for you.

You may think God has abandoned you or mistreated you. In fact, that can never be the case. Instead, he is acting not based on who you are or what you need but based on who he is and what he knows is best.

If that doesn't describe the god you worship, I'd like to introduce you to him.

Faithful

My grandparents are the greatest. You can debate if you want to, but you'd be wrong! Mom and Dado are the best.

They were married a good long time. I guess I don't really know how long. Until the day he died, that's how long. What's so hard about that, you ask? Lots of couples do it. Well, fewer and fewer actually. Easy divorce has replaced the forever commitment of marriage.

I know. I'm divorced. It wasn't the easy kind. Actually, divorce isn't easy. Doing something that leads to divorce apparently is the easy part. Filing papers is apparently the easy part.

Mom and Dado probably had disagreements, arguments, or problems. But they valued marriage faithfulness so they stayed married and provided a wonderful family atmosphere for four daughters, four sons-in-law, ten grandchildren...

Dado was very sick for a decade before he died. He eventually had Alzheimer's the last several years. This week, a public religious figure condoned divorce when a spouse has this disease. Part of what makes my grandparents the greatest is that they stayed married. Credit Mom with that. Thank God for Mom for that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reaching the Unchurched and De-churched

One of the members of CRBC sent me a message yesterday. She had talked with a person who had once attended our church but has not in quite a while. Not sure how long she's been away. I've been here five years and haven't seen her. We have no guest or membership records of her. I've learned that this person has been in three churches over the past five years.

All of that to say that we can apply some simple concepts to reach those who are not in church. This will work for the person who is lost and for someone who has become frustrated or uninterested in church.

First, pray for them. A person who is not actively involved in a church family cannot have a close walk with the Lord. The person may not be a Christian so praying is a great idea. At best the person is a Christian who is living away from the Lord. Prayer is the answer for this problem, too.

Second, we have to invest our time in their lives. Stay in touch with them. Be a friend. Share life with them. This may be the hardest step because it takes more commitment. But if you are serious about reaching them you will make the investment.

Third, invite them to everything. Let them know what's going on at the church. You must be consistent - don't invite them only to a worship service; invite them to Bible study, class parties, special events. And you must be persistent. Invite, invite, invite. You'll have to invite them several times before they'll give real consideration to attend. So if you just invite them a few times you aren't really doing much.

Remember that the goal is not just to get them into your church. Really that's not even the first thing we want. If we bypass the importance of reaching people for Christ (and his church, not MY church) we lose sight of the significant while trying to build our kingdom instead of his. Stay kingdom-focused and you'll reach more people for the kingdom.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Praise of Men

If you accomplish much at all somebody will praise you. You may sing a pretty song or make a good deal on a new car. You may cause a fumble or hit a home run. You may write an encouraging note or call at just the right time.

Some of us yearn for the praise of men and others of us feel very uncomfortable when it comes. How do you think a Christian ought to respond when they receive praise from others?

The Bible tells us about a young man named Daniel who God had given the ability to interpret dreams. He put his skill to use one day after King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. Daniel was able to tell the king what the dream was and what it meant. While the interpretation was not the best case scenario for the king, is wasn't the worst either. So the relieved king heaped praise upon Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar actually worshiped the young man.

As you read the last few verses of the second chapter of the book of Daniel you won't find anything that describes Daniel's response. But earlier in the chapter and in chapter 1 Daniel shows a characteristic that ought to be common among all Christians. He credits God with any ability to do great things. Reading through the book we clearly see his character so we can rightly predict what actions he would take in this situation.

Our character drives our actions. And our actions expose our character. Although the author did not include specifics about Daniel's reaction to Nebuchadnezzar's response, I believe something must have happened between 2:46 and 2:47. In the first verse the king is heaping praise on Daniel. In the next verse the king is giving praise to God. I'm not sure what Daniel may have said or done but I think something happened. Maybe Daniel reminded the king that only God could have given the interpretation to the dream. Maybe Daniel didn't say anything but just raised an eyebrow when he eyes met the king's.

Something caused Nebuchadnezzar to shift from praising Daniel to praising God. Does your character seek to draw praise or to redirect it toward God? Like Daniel, we can do nothing outside God's power and anointing. If I accomplish anything, it is only because God did it through me.

If I am a Christian I should want God to get the praise and I will make sure everyone around me knows it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Catching a Glimpse

Where do you look when you want or need to see what God has in store for you? I've been in places where I just couldn't imagine anything good coming my way. Then I've had times when I absolutely expected something phenomenal to happen. I've been wrong and I've been right.

I've been wrong when I tried to apply the template of my desires onto the situation. I wanted the new job. I wanted to go there. I wanted something for my family. When the focus is on me, I am usually wrong.

I've been right when I eagerly awaited God's will to unfold. Along the way I've had to understand that some undesirable situation could come my way but that in God's grand plan this would be OK. I can learn from those times. And I appreciate the mountaintop experiences even better.

So you can look into God's Word for a peek at the future. I'm not talking about a prophetic word but a view of God that will set you on his course.

You can also look at your current setting. God is working in the lives of people around you. Maybe you should join him. That opportunity to serve someone else may be the immediate future God has planned for you. And doors may open to plans that will take you farther down the road.

We get a glimpse of the future by seeking God and joining in his work.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Faith

Faith is confidence in God that he will do what only he can do. It is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith got Peter out of the boat and walking on water. Faith led Abraham up the mountain to sacrifice his son. Faith caused Moses to raise his arms while standing at the Red Sea with an army chasing him.

Daniel ran to King Nebuchadnezzar with the interpretation of the dream because he had confidence God had given him the right answer. If he was wrong, Nebuchadnezzar would have him executed. But Daniel didn't consider that he may have been wrong. Daniel knew God better than that!

So did Peter and Abraham and Moses.

Bob? Not so sure. Sometimes I'm more like Gideon who received God's answer but needed confirmation, twice.

I wonder how often Jesus says to me, "Bob, why do you have such little faith? Don't you trust me? Don't you know me?"

My response should be, "Forgive me. I want to trust you more. I want to know you more. Draw me closer to you, Lord."

And he will. He will for you, too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Corporate Prayer

CRBC adults are studying the book of Daniel on Wednesday nights. Last night we were in chapter 2 where it tells of King Nebuchadnezzar's alarming dream, the Babylonian astrologers' inability to interpret it, and Daniel's successful attempt. We didn't cover it all but only a portion that emphasizes Daniel's reaction when confronted with the death sentence because the astrologers couldn't interpret the dream. Daniel prayed. Not only did Daniel pray but he called his friends together to pray.

Two prayers are mentioned in Daniel 2:17-23. The first is mentioned but the words are not recorded. The second is recorded word-for-word and is a response to God's answer to the first prayer. The second prayer was praise and thanksgiving. The first prayer was earnest petition. Both kinds of prayer are necessary. I wonder what I would find if I monitored my prayers. Would I find a balance between the praise/thanksgiving prayers and the petition prayers. I'm afraid I'd find that I pray more about my needs, wants, and petitions than I praise and thank him. Maybe you are like me. Why don't we be more intentional about praise and thanksgiving so we can balance out our prayers?

The first prayer is a corporate prayer - Daniel called his friends together to pray for an answer to Nebuchadnezzar's request. Corporate prayer is important because it shows our belief that God is in control of all things, our commitment to the church as community, and our obedience to scripture (James 5:14, for example, is not a suggestion!). But some people avoid or neglect corporate prayer. Why is that?

One reason Christians have for not making their requests known to the church is pride. Have you ever heard someone say, "I just couldn't let others know I am dealing this or that problem" or "What would people think if they knew this was going on"? Pride is too often the deterrent to making your requests and needs known to the church.

Another reason for avoiding corporate prayer is that people think too highly of themselves. "I can handle this problem myself. I don't need to bother the church with this." What a misunderstanding of prayer, self, and community! We were not created to face our problems alone. We do not live in a vacuum. And we certainly cannot handle it ourselves. Arrogance keeps people from availing the power of corporate prayer.

A third reason that came out of our Bible study last night is that some people neglect corporate prayer because of a low view of prayer. By this, I mean that they don't really believe prayer works. They may say they do but their actions speak so loudly we can't hear their words! "There's no use praying, this situation is too far gone." I wonder what the Prodigal's father would say to that? "There's no use praying, his health is declining so fast." I wonder what Mary and Martha would say about that? "There's no use praying, it never works anyway." I wonder what the persistent widow would say about that? Sometimes a person doesn't share a prayer concern with the church because they really don't believe prayer works.

Corporate prayer is one way the Holy Spirit builds unity in the church. Neglecting corporate prayer is one way we hinder unity - "I don't need you."

Corporate prayer is one way we show our love for one another. Neglecting corporate prayer shows little concern for one another - "I don't love you."

Corporate prayer indicates our trust and dependence upon God. Neglecting corporate prayer shows a selfish, self-sufficient attitude - "I don't need God."

Christianity begins with a decision to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It continues as expressed in the corporate setting of a community of believers - the church. We are to pray for one another, on behalf of one another, and with one another.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Contrast of Two Ways of Life

The Bible study in Daniel last night showed me an important distinction between a person who worships a false god and and a person who worships the one true living God. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that scared him to death. He demanded to know the interpretation but his usual crowd of astrologers, magicians, and such couldn't help him. Even when threatened with their lives, they were silent. All they could say was that only the gods knew the dream and they were so far away.

The king not only wanted the interpretation, but to ensure that the interpreters were really sharing the message from the gods, he demanded that they also tell him the dream. King Neb wouldn't tell them the dream! They needed details so they could go to their charts and formulas and come up with a sterile, clinical, irrelevant interpretation. The king had probably already experienced such shenanigans and wanted something with substance.

Three words come to my mind when I think about the life of a person who worships a false god. Hopeless. Unsure. Impossible. But when you worship the one true living God you have hope and assurance because all things are possible with God.

Which way describes your life? Most people would say that they worship the one true living God. But what would your way of life say if asked on a Thursday afternoon? Do you live a hopeless, unsure, impossible life? Or do you live with hope and assurance because all things are possible with God?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Almost in the Recycle Bin

I was looking back through previous posts from a blog I kept for the church a few years ago. I thought I might just delete the blog but after reading a few posts changed my mind. Some of them are about events in the life of the church. Others about an experience. Some were just devotional thoughts. Like this one entitled "Sufficient Grace."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Courageous" Opens September 30

You've got to see "Courageous" on opening weekend, September 30-October 2. Cross Road will be going and you can be part of the group. Send an email if you are interested.

Here's the music video from Casting Crowns.

Making Good Use of Opportunity


Brendan Ryan hustled to beat out an infield ball to short. Then he advanced to second when nobody covered the bag. Then when the opposing team dropped their guard (again), Ryan sprinted to third. He was safe with no throw.

Infielders probably drop their guard fairly often and base runners rarely take advantage of it. Satisfied with a single when much more is available.

Christians are a lot like that: satisfied with just a little effort but missing opportunities and the blessings that come along with them. Brendan Ryan gives us an example of what can happen when we look for opportunities and take advantage of them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Respectfully Disagree

Our church is studying the book of Daniel from the Old Testament on Wednesday nights. Last night we studied the passage describing the way the four Hebrew teenage boys kept from eating the luxurious Babylonian meals in order to keep their faith commitments to God. The text is overflowing with lessons for today's Christian. One of the lessons teaches us how to act in situations where we disagree with a person in authority over us. And we all sometimes struggle with this! Can I get a witness?

When Daniel realized that the King had ordered them to eat food that would likely be unclean according to God's standards and that probably had been used in a worship sacrifice to a pagan god, he and his friends knew what they had to do. So he approached Ashpenaz, the man the King had put in charge of them, and asked to be served a different diet. He risked making the King mad. He risked losing opportunities for advancement. But doing the right thing was worth the risk.

Has there been a time when you knew what you ought to do but you just didn't want to take the risk to stand up for what the Bible says? Today in America the debates go on about homosexual marriage and abortion. The Bible has a clear message about these issues and Christians are supposed to stand for what the Bible stands for, right? Have you taken a stand? Or has the risk of doing so kept you quietly in your seat? Other debates need an infusion of Christian thinking, too. Our relationships at home, school, and work often include disagreement.

We can learn from Daniel and his friends something about how to voice our disagreement by looking at three words. One is RESOLVE. They were determined to adhere to God's word. We must know God's word, seek his will, and commit to following him in any and every situation. That decision must come now, before we are actually faced head-on with the debate or opportunity. If we have no resolve we will most likely make the wrong decision when pressed.

Another word is BOLD. Our deep commitment to God's word must motivate us to act. We must make a stand and speak the truth. Boldness will not be as difficult as you might think. Remember, the truth in God's word is THE truth and it is right. If you believe that - really believe it - then you won't be able to shy away from action.

The last word is RESPECT. Daniel approached Ashpenaz in a way that showed respect for the one in authority. He made no loud demands. He didn't write a rude article on his blog. He was respectful as he expressed his disagreement. Respect is missing in much of the debate going on in America. Respect is missing in many homes and workplaces. Respect won't always get you what you want but it is always the right attitude to have toward others. Think of the change in American culture if respect characterized the disagreements.

Sweeping change takes place one person at a time. I will be one who will remember and apply this lesson. Will you?

RESOLVE - Cling with determination to your commitments of faith.
BOLD - Act boldly upon your commitments of faith.
RESPECT - Treat others with respect even in disagreement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Redemption

The day started out pretty stormy. The skies were full of choppy clouds - like the waves on a turbulent lake. I was explaining to Riley what makes the clouds look like that and why they sometimes look more like a blanket covering the sky. He asked why God made them that way. That started an interesting discussion.

We decided that since God created everything he must have created the weather processes that result in storms, although we shouldn't say that God send a tornado or hurricane or bolt of lightning to destroy something. Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes the storms are just simply the result of the process he created. When Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation was cursed. The result is a stormy life in many ways. This mornings stormy skies are the result of the Fall. Eden had no skies like those prior to sin.

We also decided that above the clouds the sun is always shining. Riley laughed and joked, "Do you think the sun is even there?" That is a picture of the reality in our lives - God is always there even when life's circumstances cloud our perception. Sometimes we rise above the clouds and experience the warmth of his presence much like we burst through the clouds while climbing to cruising altitude in an airplane. You may know what it's like to look through the small window next to seat 14A as the pilot takes the plane upward. You can only see the clouds as they block the view of the tips of the wings. You have no idea where you are or where you are headed or what awaits you. Then after a few seconds the clouds are beneath you and the sky above is perfectly clear. And the sun is shining.

We also decided that the Bible is correct when it says that all creation will one day be redeemed. Redemption for the sinner is being made right with God as he restores our relationship to what it is intended to be. The redeeming of creation will clear the storm clouds out of the skies. A new heaven and a new earth await us!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Reaching Talitsa Celebration



CRBC is praying for Talitsa, Russia. We hope to plant a church in this city of 30,000 that has almost no evangelical presence and no Baptist church.

I didn't think a church like Cross Road Baptist Church could be involved in partnering with Russian believers to reach their cities for Christ because we are small. During a trip to lead a pastors conference in the Sverdlovskaya Oblast in 2008 I realized we could and should do it. The church joined me in this calling and we have taken two trips to Talitsa since then. We have prayer-walked throughout the city. We have met believers from nearby towns and try to encourage them as they live out their Christianity in a tough situation. We have sent and taken material for the Russian believers and the America missionaries to use. We believe God wants people in Talitsa to know salvation in Jesus Christ and we are willing to get involved in that mission.

Zoya Reshetnikova lives in Troitsky, a city near Talitsa. Zoya is an English teacher in one of the schools. She also serves as our translator when we make our trips. Two other churches in Arkansas are partnering in cities near Talitsa and Zoya translates for them, too. We have all grown to love the Russian believers we have met and welcomed with excitement the news that Zoya wanted to come to America.

She and her son Oleg Reshetnikov are here this week and are visiting the three churches that come to her area. Our opportunity to welcome Zoya and Oleg to America came Sunday night as CRBC held a "Reaching Talitsa Celebration." They both have testimonies of salvation that will move you to tears of joy. We asked them to share their testimonies and as they did I could sense the Lord working in our people. Honestly, testimonies from most people I know are kind of sterile. Satan has such a hold on Russia that Christianity isn't "easy" like it has become in America. When a Russian shares the life-change that has taken place in his life, you know it is real. You know God is powerful. That's what came across Sunday night and I hope it stirs us to think about what Jesus has done for us in order to provide forgiveness and salvation.

Rusty and Lori Hart served as missionaries in Russia when CRBC started this partnership. They have since returned to live in Arkansas and joined us for the celebration. Rusty shared how our prayers and friendships and mission trips will make a difference. And that encourages me. Rusty also sang a song, "You Raise Me Up," in both English and Russian. I heard him sing that two or three times on the trip in 2008. It's my favorite! As he sang Sunday night I remembered sitting in the living room of the home of unbelievers in Krasnotourisnk. They heard that Americans were in town and wanted to meet with us. We had a traditional Russian meal then spent hours talking. Some of them were musicians so they and Rusty took turns singing. As Rusty sang this song and a few others I could sense that seeds of the Gospel were being planted. I was in both Little Rock and Krasnotourinsk Sunday night.

Our church worshiped. Those who have been to Russia on our mission trips shared of their experiences. At least 7 people said they definitely will be going to Russia. A few more began to think that maybe God was calling them to go, too. Gospel work is difficult in this part of Russia. It can be discouraging, especially to those who live there and experience the darkness everyday. We believe God will break through the darkness. We believe we should continue praying, supporting, encouraging, and going. That's one of the two BIG things that came out of our celebration.

The other has to do with fellowship. CRBC does a good job of fellowship - supporting one another, coming to the side of those in our church family who are hurting, sharing life with one another. If I ranked on a "Fellowship-o-Meter" all the events, programs, or happenings over the five years I have served as pastor I will say that this gets the highest score and takes the top spot. We had a larger Sunday night crowd than we have had in a long, long time. Our people stayed long after the testimonies were over. We had several pockets of people laughing and sharing. I stood in the kitchen looking out across the serving counter and thanked God that I was able to experience this. Being about God's business does this to people. I was reminded of some experiences in another church in the mid-'90s. I am encouraged with Christian people and with the God we serve.

First Baptist in DeQueen and First Baptist in Stuttgart are having similar celebrations this week as Zoya and Oleg meet with them. I know without a doubt that they will experience what we did.

I am praying for Talitsa - for the people to hear the Gospel, for believers to come together in fellowship, for Jesus Christ to be made known. Will you join me?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lessons in Daniel

I started a Bible study in the book of Daniel tonight for our midweek service. I've preached or taught from Daniel before but have never done a verse-by-verse study. The main reason is that, although I'm confident in my position regarding eschatology, I don't have answers I think are sufficient to questions that are bound to come up as we get to the latter chapters. Even so, we dove in tonight!

Some of the most well-known Bible stories come from this book of the Bible. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survive in the fiery furnace. Daniel spends the night safely in the lions' den. Belshazzar sees the hand writing on the wall. We'll look at these stories and learn about God's sovereignty and his love and care for those who follow him. That will be encouraging to all of us who attend the study sessions.

Even the opening verses illustrate a couple of key points. The four Hebrew teenagers taken into exile to Babylon were given Babylonian names - replacing their Hebrew names. Hebrew mothers and fathers gave names to their children that express the hope of a godly characteristic being displayed in the children's lives. In Nebuchadnezzar's efforts to "Babylonize" the boys, he gave them names that spoke of a pagan god. In spite of their new names they continued to display character of Yahweh.

Our names may not carry the same kind of meaning as Hebrew names did, but Christians should live in ways that display the character of God. Do you try to be righteous? Do you love everyone without placing conditions upon them? Do you forgive when someone wrongs you? Do you face difficulties with peace and confidence in God? Do you turn to the Lord for help in all situations?

The other key point illustrates the sovereignty of God. While we often think that the powerful Babylonian army under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem and did as they pleased, the truth is that God delivered the Hebrew people to them. Read the second verse of the book. Judah, the southern kingdom, had disregarded God's desire for the treatment of humanity. They exploited people. They abused them. They cheated them. The Hebrew nation was also guilty of a disregard of worship. God was a genie in a bottle. Worship was a joke. Holiness wasn't even on the radar. So God gave the leaders over to Nebuchadnezzar. They would now be treated as they had treated others. And God gave the articles used in temple worship to the Babylonians so that even if they wanted to the Hebrews could no longer worship.

God is in control. Even when it seems like life is spiraling dangerously. Even when it seems like you have it all together yourself. God is in control. How do you sense the presence and power of God in your life? Don't dismiss him. Don't struggle against him. Why? You won't win. You may have temporary success - like the leaders in Jerusalem had. In the end God will intervene and do as he wishes. He loves you and wants the best for you so you can (and should) trust him to do as he wishes. It's always better to let him have his way along the way rather than fighting it off as long as you can.

I'm excited to get deeper into this study. Dive in yourself or join us at CRBC on Wednesdays at 7:00.