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


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.