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 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


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.