Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Last Two Days & The Cooperative Program

The last two days have been rough ones around Arkansas. Two nights of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms make this calm morning with birds chirping a welcome event. As I sit alone in our dining room working on the Bible study for tonight's service, I hear the birds and I hear a clock ticking. It's a battery operated clock so it kept ticking while the power was out. I can also hear the hum of the refrigerator. That was silent for about 24 hours. We are blessed that the power outage wasn't longer and that the food in the fridge stayed cool enough that we don't have to throw everything out.

I can also hear the occasional vehicle drive by. Couldn't hear that with the hard rain and strong winds. I guess you could say things are back to normal now.

But not for the dozens of people across our state who have endured loss the last two days. Some lost family members. Some lost property. Some lost home. Some lost security. For them, today is not back to normal.

Can I go on as normal knowing that people around me cannot? I can't just ignore them, can I? No.

I have several opportunities to be involved. First, I can pray. Only God can really meet the needs these people are experiencing. So I am praying that God intervene in a God-sized way. I know he most often uses people as the conduits for this miracle, so I need to be available to help in ways I can. And I need to be generous with financial support.

A local TV station is promoting a drive for contributions to Red Cross. Other agencies are seeking donations.

Did you know that each time you give to a church that contributes to the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention you are giving to disaster relief? (You should ask your church to contribute to CP!) Arkansas Baptists are deployed across the affected areas clearing debris and cooking meals for the displaced and the workers. The other organizations may do a good job and are both effective and efficient with the money given to them, I don't really know. But I do know that Cooperative Program dollars assigned to disaster relief are making a difference. And I contribute every week.

Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief trainings take place around the state pretty often. Check this site for the training schedule or here for more information and pray about getting involved with both your checkbook and your hands.

Monday, April 25, 2011

5 Questions

I've just completed a series of sermons about the 5 most important questions you will ever answer. The audio for these sermons is available on our church's website.

I hope you'll find these helpful as you navigate the sometimes-rough-waters of life.

Who Will You Worship?
Who Will You Believe?
Who Will You Marry?
Who Will You Forgive?
Who Will You Tell?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Testing Faith

I visited with an elderly woman today. She is dealing with a fractured vertebrae and cancer. She asked that I pray that her faith would be stronger.

As I talked with her I came to believe that her faith is pretty well grounded in Christ. She's a Christian. She loves the Lord. What bothers her is that she's uncertain about what she is going through. That uncertain translates into a lack of faith in her opinion.

Faith is a funny thing. You may think you have it but you really don't know until it is tested. There mere fact that faith is tested often shows the limits of our faith. Faithfulness is a lifelong journey. I express faith when I call on Jesus for salvation. That is a faith by which I am saved. Then there is the faith by which I live. Not necessarily a different faith but a different application of faith.

The faith by which I live strengthens (or fades) as I experience things that test my faith. For example, if I am laid off from my job and am unsure about how I will provide for my family, my faith grows when I confidently trust God to provide for us. Or my faith fades when I leave God out of the solution. If this test of my faith produces stronger faith, then I am prepared for greater tests in the future. The next time I'm laid off I probably won't struggle as much as the first time because my faith is strong enough to handle it - assuming my faith has not faded in the meantime.

But what if I am diagnosed with a serious disease? Is my faith strong enough for that? Maybe or maybe not. Once again, my faith is tested. The test is an opportunity for my faith to grow. Jesus asked the disciples why they had such little faith. It wasn't that they had no faith, just that their faith was smaller than the circumstance. When circumstances are bigger than our faith we can make two choices: we can focus on God and our faith grows or we can focus on the circumstance and our faith fades.

Faith passes the test when we can say in the face of uncertainties, "God will take care of this, too."

The woman I talked with today is facing that test of faith. I think she's passing the test. But I also think she is expressing the human uncertainty. That's normal when we face something new. For her, faith trumps uncertainty. She will have stronger faith because of this.

I don't know what you are facing today but I do know your faith will be tested. If not today, it will be soon. Everyone is in one of three places. You are facing a test. You just faced a test. Or you will soon be facing a test. Will you say, when facing the test, "God will take care of this, too"?

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb 11:1).

"You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:3).

I hope you faith (and mine) grows.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Making a Difference?

I'm working this morning in a coffee shop while waiting on a lunch meeting about church planting. Two things about that statement - first, this is the loudest coffee shop I've ever been in! At the next table are two women who have just returned from working out. Their conversation makes me blush. Just a few more feet away are two men talking business. Money and more money are their goals. As I listen to the various conversations, I don't really expect people to be talking about yesterday's sermon (if they heard one) but I would expect Christians to at least reflect what they hear in biblical preaching and teaching.

Maybe it's a stretch to think the people sitting near me attended church yesterday or are Christians. The truth is that most people in Little Rock do not attend church even half the Sundays each month. Many people never attend church. Fewer and fewer weddings and funerals are held in churches. Christian ministers speak at fewer of these occasions anymore. Bottom line: we are making little impact on the masses.

That brings me to my next thought - church planting. We'll never reach the masses if we never reach the individual. How many people living near our church know much about us? How many of them know about heaven and hell? How many of them are prepared for eternity? The location of the church and the sign out front are mass appeals - and ineffective appeals. We reach the people one at a time when we establish relationships with them. Church planting is about building relationships with people who are not in church and probably not Christians. Those relationships lead to Bible studies which lead to conversions which lead to Christian communities called churches.

I have been struggling with a call to be involved in church planting for the last 15 years. I'm not really sure what that call is - I just know I need to be involved. That's why I am leading CRBC to pray for the city of Talitsa in Russia. That's why I will lead CRBC to join with other churches to plant a church in central Arkansas. That's why I'm having lunch with a church planting strategist today.

But I'm not convinced that leading my church to plant churches is what this call is about. My call to faithful Christianity and to pastor includes church planting. But is this call a call to be a church planter? Am I supposed to be the guy at the new work rather than the guy at the established church? I can give you a dozen reasons why I shouldn't be the guy. I keep thinking of the one reason I should be: God may be calling me to make a difference, to impact eternity by leading a church plant.

Last night's Bible study was about Jesus calling Andrew, Peter, James and John. One of the points in the text is that these men responded to the call immediately and completely. No hesitation. No fear of risking security. If God is calling me to this, I want to be as responsive as his first disciples.

Pray for me about that.