Monday, February 27, 2012

Emotional Roller Coaster

Can I open up to you? Today has been a roller coaster ride for my emotions. Most of you never see me really excited or really down. It's my personality to try to keep an even keel emotionally. The problem with that is every once in a while my emotions overcome me and I throw a fit. That's not good, I know. Maybe I can minimize or eliminate those times.

But today is not one of those times. It's a different kind of emotional turmoil. Today started out pretty good as I considered some of the things I've accomplished over the last few days. Church things. Family things. Overall, I felt good about it all.

Then I got some news that turned my thoughts. I'm concerned about something - I can't tell any details - going on in my circle. It creates a ripple in my plans but I'm more concerned about some folks that I care about. I'm struggling with my responsibility, not for the problem but for the solution.

I used to watch boxing back in the 70s and 80s when Ali and Leonard were the stars. I'd see an opponent take a shot to the abdomen and crumble to his knees.

That's kinda how I feel today. While I'm on my knees I'm going to pray. Praying for the people involved. Praying for me to know what to say and do. Praying for God's grace to win the day.

OK, I feel a little better now. I just needed to talk. Thanks for listening. I'm gonna go pray now.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who Can I Help? And How Can I Help Them?

The high temperature in Little Rock today was about twenty degrees cooler than yesterday's high. I noticed on Facebook that people were talking about that strange Arkansas weather phenomenon: "If you don't like the weather in Arkansas, just hang around a couple of days and it will change."

I was in Alaska in November 2010. Guess what I heard while up there?

I was in Florida last month. Guess what I heard while down there?

So everybody thinks their weather patterns are the strangest.

The truth is, unless you live in San Diego or Hawaii or the North Pole, the weather's going to change every few days. It's not so much that saying "If you don't like the weather..." is wrong, just that thinking where you are is so unique is a little narrow minded.

Read this passage of scripture that Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

I talk to people who think that only a person who has experienced the same problem someone else faces is qualified to minister them. "Well, I just don't know what it's like to ___________. There's no way I can help her." Read the verse again.

I also talk to people who think that you ministry is limited by your experiences. "You're divorced so you must be so good at counseling people who are divorced that it's all you do." Read the verse again.

The God of all compassion and comfort ministers to us so that we can minister to anyone facing any trouble. The experience is not the key; God is.

When we use experiences to limit or pigeon-hole our ministries, we place too much emphasis on the problem. And not enough emphasis on God.

Would you rather focus on your problem or on God? Focus on God and the comfort he's given you through your tough times. And find ways to comfort and encourage someone else who is going through difficult circumstances.

Weekly Devotion - February 24

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
Ephesians 6:4 NLT

Have you ever noticed how it’s always somebody else’s fault? “Mom, she’s poking me!” But he really was bugging her first. “Honey, I would never get loud with you except you kept hounding me about cleaning the garage.” “Yes, sir, I know I shouldn’t speak to customers that way but he was being unreasonable and blaming me for the problem.”

Now, we should all do better controlling our reaction to provocation. We are responsible for how we react. We are also responsible for how we act. Do you provoke others in ways that stir up problems?

Let’s bring this idea home. Do you expect your children to react in a godly way to provocation? Sure, they should but have you taught them how? The lessons they learn best from you are the examples you set. You can tell them again and again not to bully the younger siblings but then your actions teach that running over others is OK. What do you expect them to learn? How do you expect them to act?

Most of us get our ideas of how to discipline and instruct our children from our own parents. That’s a good resource if your parents disciplined and instructed you according to the word of God. But if they did not, then my advice to you is to seek the ways of the Lord in the area of parenting. By reading the Bible regularly you will find guidance. Christian bookstores will have plenty of material to help you. Talk with other Christian parents about the issues you face.

Many families need to break the cycle of provoking their children to anger and begin a pattern of godly discipline and instruction. Parents, this is your calling and responsibility. Do not take it lightly. Pray that God will help you as you discipline and instruct your children.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Baptist is Observing Lent

I challenged our Bible study group to participate in Lent this year. Several verbally committed. I'm looking forward to the changes in our lives.

The season of Lent is intended for our spiritual development. It's a time to draw near to God through confession, repentance, and service.

The "giving up" is a pathway but it often gets top billing. The reason for fasting is to allow time and resources for drawing near to God. We should be careful not to focus on the fast but on God who awaits along the way and at the end of the fast.

I'm cutting out sweets and sodas in order to get healthy. This will allow me to stay in ministry longer and be more effective while doing it.

I'm reducing time spent doing social media in order to give more time to study and make personal contact with members and prospects. Cutting back 50% so I'll only be on 12 hours a day.

Here's how to participate in Lent. First, confess your sins. Ask God to give you his list of your sins (Ps 139:23-24). Confess them with the expectation that God will forgive you (1 John 1:9). And be serious about it. When you realize how holy God is and how sinful you are, any other approach to confession falls short (James 4:8-10).

Second, find something to fast from. The purpose of fasting is to eliminate distractions that can hinder a person drawing near to God. Today, the fast during Lent is symbolic in that the person abstains from something for the forty days, experiencing the power of God to do so and spending the time and/or money focusing on God through Bible reading, prayer, and service.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weekly Devotion - February 17, 2012

"The fire must be kept burning on the
altar continuously; it must not go out."
Leviticus 6:13 NIV
Let's face it - keep the spiritual fires stoked is hard. Letting the fire go out happens. Sometimes because of willful abuse. Sometimes because of careless neglect. Sometimes in spite of our best efforts to keep it going.
Several of my high school buddies and I liked to camp out. We would sit around the fire and tell stories that most often were not believable. We'd consume a lot of soft drinks and junk food. The fire was central to the camping experience. It was mostly too hot as we sat around it. But if it went out during the night while we slept - yes, we did sleep! - we could wake up freezing.
Keeping the fire burning is an important task in our spiritual lives. The law given to the Hebrew people and recorded in Leviticus relates to the altar - the sacrificial altar. It was there that a sacrifice was made in order for the people to gain forgiveness of their sins. "Keep the fire burning," God said.
Why a continuously burning fire? Wouldn't it be OK to let it die out then start it again when it was time for another sacrifice? Apparently not! Maybe the continuous fire would be hotter; more readily available to serve its function. Maybe the waiting line at the altar was song long that sacrifices were being made one right after the other.
God had his reasons for demanding that the fire not go out. Bottom line: the fire was necessary in the plan to forgive people of their sins.
You need to keep the fire on the altar of burnt sacrifice always burning, too. For us, I think this means that we continually and perpetually ask the Lord to reveal our sin to us so that we can confess it. Right then and there. Then we are forgiven. Keep the fire burning - quickly deal with your sin.
What might the Lord show you if you allowed him to search your heart? Pray that God will show you your sin and forgive you as you confess it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Taking Daniel's Lesson to Heart

We will wrap up our study of Daniel in our midweek Bible study tonight. We started on July 31 last year and only missed a handful of Wednesday nights due to my absence or special events. I enjoy working methodically through a book of the Bible. I spent a year in James! We really drilled down to some deep concepts. Not quite as deep with Daniel - I didn't think my folks would put up with it again! But it's been good.
In the last chapter we find Daniel in a similar situation as ours. He's heard from the Lord about the end of time. He doesn't understand it. He asks the Lord for more understanding. We can learn from God's answer to Daniel.
The Lord told Daniel to go on living to bring glory to God and not worry about what he doesn't understand. Those who live in the last days will find the understanding they need. There's no promise that anyone living prior to that time will gain a full understanding.
We would do well to heed God's advice and just go on living to bring glory to him. We do that by expressing our love to him, our love for him to others, our love for others. We bring glory to God by expressing his love for others to them. Our lives of joy and obedience bring glory to God. Strong marriages and families honor the Lord. There are so many ways that we can bring glory to God in our lives. That should be our focus.
It's good to understand God's word. I spend a lot of my time in that discipline. But I must admit that some things are beyond my understanding. But I do know that somehow God helps me know what I need to know for the situation I'm going through.
That's a good lesson from the last chapter of Daniel. God told Daniel go his way, to rest (in this life and in death), and be assured of the resurrection and reward that awaits his faithfulness.
That's how I want to live my life.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight

Forrest, Gwen, and I have been walking three days a week for seven weeks. Two days of a fast-paced twenty minutes. One day of an easier pace but longer walk. Speed and endurance. We are progressing.

I'm not ready to buy new pants yet or consider the local 5Ks but I do notice some improvement.

The road we walk on has a patch of newer asphalt. It's about fifteen feet long and is the width of the road. The first few times out I never saw it. We didn't go that far. Then we did. The first time we hit it we turned around just after we passed it. The next time we went a little farther.

The black stripe across the road became a marker in my mind that we were just about to turn around - I kept telling myself to keep up the pace because we had almost made the halfway point of the speed walk: ten minutes out, ten minutes in. After turning around we'd cross the black stripe within a minute or so.

Then it was farther back to the black stripe. And then farther.

Today we passed the black stripe and I started thinking that Forrest (our leader and way out in the lead) would turn around at the next light pole or driveway. He kept going. Soon I thought to myself, "We've never been this far on a speed day." Speaking the words out loud was an impossibility - I was breathing heavily and thankful that I could. The good thing about inertia is that once I get going I tend to keep going. It would have been harder on my knees and hips to stop than to keep going! So I kept the throttle wide open.

One light pole, then two. One driveway, then another. Then I saw the red house. We had been as far as the red house one other time but that was on an endurance day. I realized that Forrest was taking us to the red house on a speed day.

I've been bragging the last couple of weeks about how I'm not as tired or sore after our walks. Yesterday I told myself that I must not be pushing myself as much as before so I started out this morning determined to put more into it. It's not that I've been slacking it's just that the markers of the past are easier, commonplace. I'm used to walking a quick pace to the black stripe and turning around.

So I was determined to push myself today. The march to the black stripe was going to be at a pace that would push my lungs and muscles. And it did.

But Forrest kept going.

Do you get comfortable with your current spiritual walk with Jesus Christ? And you just keep doing what you've been doing? It's not bad it's just not growth and improvement. Where you are today with Christ is like that black stripe in the road. That's good enough, you may say. Or maybe just a little more, but not much. You may have convinced yourself that your walk with Jesus is just fine because you've been doing this for a while and you've got it down - no problems.

The problem is that there is so much more that you'll never experience if you keep doing what you've always done. Your experience with Christ yesterday is special. Like the black stripe, it will always be there as a reminder of where you've been. But yesterday's experience is not the goal. It's a step along the way.

We need to step out in faith and see how far God will take us.

By the way, Riley walks with us on Saturdays. Take your kids along on your spiritual journey, too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weekly Devotion - February 10, 2012

"At the sight of these men Paul
thanked God and was encouraged."
Acts 28:15 NIV
Paul, the apostle in scripture, had experienced a rough journey from Caesarea to Rome. He was a prisoner being transported by ship under Roman custody. Strong winds slowed and rerouted his travel. Paul warned the guards that they should spend the winter in port but was ignored. Hurricane-force winds blew against the ship pushing it further south than they intended to go. Then they shipwrecked on Malta.
More than three months later, Paul arrived in Rome. Christians in Rome heard Paul was coming and they went out to meet him. "At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged."
Isn't it good to know that somebody is glad to see you? I've watched the faces of people exiting the terminal into the waiting area of Little Rock National Airport. When he sees the faces of his wife and children his eyes light up. She smiles. The kids jump up and down. That has to make the traveler feel good.
I've also watched as a man has nobody to greet him. His steps are a little heavier. His face is downcast. From his body language you can tell he is tired (we all are) and can use some encouragement. Maybe he's home but nobody cares. Maybe he's far from home and missing his family. Maybe it's just another stop along the way trying to make a dollar that's all too soon gone.
What if you and I were the encourager today? Isn't there someone at your workplace or school who could use cheering up? Maybe it's a total stranger at Walmart or Target. Think of the impact you can make in someone's life simply by encouraging them with a kind word, a smile, or a good deed!
Somebody needs encouragement today. Maybe it's you. I want you to know that God loves, I love you, and you can find strength and hope in the Lord. Pray that God will help you see ways you can encourage others today.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Confidence in God's Word

Our church is almost finished with a verse by verse study of the Book of Daniel. Some of the most widely known stories in the Bible are in this book. Many of you have heard about Daniel being thrown into a lions den. Do you remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into a fiery furnace? And the term "You can see the handwriting on the wall" came from Daniel.

And Daniel is full of prophetic visions regarding the end of time. Last night in our Bible study we looked at a vision recorded in chapter 11. An angel gave Daniel the meaning of the vision. For Daniel and his contemporaries, all of the vision was future prophecy. But for me and my congregation, some of it has already happened and some is still yet to be. At least that's the way I understand it.

The events prophesied up through verse 35 can be traced in the history of ancient times. Kings from the north battle against kings from the south. The advantage goes one way then another. Daughters are offered in marriage as part of treaties. The Bible and the history books show so much agreement that we believe the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Then starting in verse 36 the angel's message is about events still future to us. History does not record any events that match up to the biblical record. That can mean one of two things. Either the Bible is wrong or the events have not yet occurred. I believe the latter is correct.

I have great confidence that Jesus is returning. I believe just prior to his return there will be a terrible time of persecution - the Great Tribulation. But upon Jesus' return the dead in Christ will rise to be with him forever and the unbelieving dead will rise for eternal judgment. I believe this because the Bible tells us it will happen.

But how can a person have such confidence in scripture? Daniel chapter 11 provides one answer. If the prophecy in the first part of the chapter was fulfilled (remember, the prophecy came and was written down prior to the events occurring) with extreme accuracy, then I can expect the prophecy in the last part of the chapter to also be fulfilled with great accuracy.

Only God could give a vision like that. Only God could know the future. Only God can direct cosmic and human events with such precision. And God will bring to pass the balance of the prophecy in the Bible.

Most importantly, I have confidence in my salvation through Jesus Christ. I know I am a sinner and that my sin breaks off relationship with God. I also know that God loves me (and you) so much that he sent his son Jesus to die on a cross as the sacrifice necessary to cover my sins and make me right with God. And I know that when I (or you) call on the name of Jesus, confessing my sin and repenting of it, I will be forgiven, made right with God, empowered to live this life for him, and assured of an eternal home in heaven with him.

I don't understand everything about end-time prophecy. How all this unfolds may surprise me. But I am confident that God's word is true.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Weekly Devotion - February 3, 2012

"I want men
everywhere to lift up
holy hands in prayer, without anger
or disputing."
1 Timothy 2:8 NIV

Let's spend a couple of minutes thinking about prayer. Specifically, how's your prayer life? Do you pray daily? Often? Do you pray about all things? Or just the "big" things? How long do you normally spend in prayer each day? Have you ever spent an hour in prayer?

I get it! You pray about the uncertainties. You pray about the big decisions. You ask the Lord to bless your day, your food, and your sleep. You want to pray more. You want to pray more effectively.

This verse doesn't answer all our questions nor does it give us a step by step guide to prayer. But look closely at a few of the words: everywhere, holy hands, without anger, without disputing.

None of us are exempt from the need to pray. No matter who you are or where you are, you are to pray. The simple point is that we all need prayer.

Do you take much time to confess your sins when you pray? I'm not talking about a general "forgive me of my sins both known and unknown" kind of confession. Do you talk about your specific sins and your struggles with them when you pray? Are hands are to be holy hands and that's not possible if we don't get serious about confession.

An angry person makes an angry pray-er. Now, I understand that you'll get angry from time to time. Prayer is not supposed to be a venting session with God - although he'll listen. Too often we are angry when we enter the prayer closet and angry when we come out. You must get past your anger and heal.

I wonder what Paul meant when he said we are to pray without disputing. Disputing with who? With God? Surely not! With others? Let's focus on God's grace and goodness in our prayers.

Ask God to help you pray lifting holy hands without anger or disputing.

Weekly Devotion - January 27, 2012

"Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs."
Jonah 2:8 NIV
I was one of those kids who was always in church. My father was a deacon then a pastor. My mother was right there, too. So my sister and I grew up in church. I don't regret that at all. In fact, I think being in church so much as a child has a lot to do with me being a pastor. It's not that way for all kids, but I think it was for me.
One advantage of being in church so much was that I heard a lot of stories in sermons. I remember one - I can't remember if my Dad told the story or another preacher did - about a small child who had her hand stuck in a flower vase. Her mother tried everything to get the child's hand free but nothing worked.
The mother realized that the child's arm wasn't stuck in the opening but the hand was too big to come through. The little girl was holding her hand in a fist; that's why her had was too big. Her mother tried to get her to open her hand but the little girl insisted that she couldn't. After several minutes the mother was a little edgy and said, "Why can't you open your hand?"
The little girl replied, "Because I'll drop the penny I'm holding."
Isn't it easy to hold on to something that really has no value or purpose? When we do we become trapped by it. We miss out on some really good things.
Anything you cling to more than you do to God is an idol - a worthless idol. You say, "What's the big deal? I love my job. My hobbies help me relax. It's just a silly habit, whats the problem?" Whatever competes with God for your affection robs you of the grace God has for you.
God has such great plans for you. He has tremendous blessings just waiting to flow over you. His direction and counsel are flawless. You can hang on to something else or you can reach out for God. Pray that God will help you let go of the worthless and cling to the precious.

Good for Tebow!

Tim Tebow has taken a lot of heat for his Christian stand. Now he is on the virge of getting more criticism. Tebow was contracted to speak at an event hosted by Rod Parsley, a prosperity gospel preacher.

Apparently, Tebow doesn't adhere to that teaching. Neither do I. The Bible says too much about enduring trials and suffering. The prosperity gospel ignores this.

So Tim Tebow is standing firm in his faith. This time he's likely to hear from complaints from a wide variety of folks.

But he's getting admiration from me.