Monday, December 16, 2013

On Marriage

I am no match for Dr. Al Mohler when it comes to articulation. I love reading his articles because he clearly and fully states the issue and its ramifications. This article is written to address a recent court decision that impacts marriage. Please read it.


One paragraph states exactly what I've been thinking in the last few weeks about this whole notion of redefining marriage. And, of course, Dr. Mohler says it very well.

Of course, the moral revolution that has transformed marriage in our times did not start with the demand for legal same-sex marriage. It did not begin with homosexuality at all, but with the sexual libertinism that demanded (and achieved) a separation of marriage and sex, liberating sex from the confines of marriage. So sex was separated from marriage, and then sex was separated from the expectation of procreation and child-rearing. Marriage was separated from sex, sex was separated from reproduction, and the revolution was launched. Adding to the speed of this revolution, then, was the advent of no-fault divorce and the transformation of marriage into a tentative and often temporary contract.

It seems to me that the desire to live outside the biblical plan for sexuality drives this entire debate. And our country and culture have pushed down the fences and are running wild. It's hard to get the cows back in the pasture once the fence is compromised; sometimes it's just impossible. I don't know if that describes our culture or not, but I encourage you to hold to the biblical pattern of marriage and sexual expression. To borrow from Dr. Rick Warren in a recent CNN interview, we should be more concerned with what God says and with pleasing him than with what the culture embraces.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Some Things Are Hidden; Some Things Must Not Be



The Bible study I lead on Wednesday nights for adults has been in the book of Colossians since late-August. I started the third chapter last night. Yes, that's two chapters in about three months. To be fair, we've had a few Wednesdays when we've had other things scheduled. So it's more like eight or nine lessons covering two chapters. I should finish the study of Colossians in February. That's about six months...which is shorter than the twelve months it took to teach the book of James.

The first four verses of the third chapter contain a sentence that caused me to really think about what it means to live the Christian life: "your life is now hidden with Christ in God" in verse three.

One way to think about this is that our life - specifically, our eternal life - is secure with Christ just as your car is secure when parked in the garage out of sight. Thieves are less likely to steal your car when it is out of sight. Vandals aren't likely to damage your car when it's hidden in the garage. So the Christian's life is secure - totally secure - with Christ, who died for our salvation. This fact should give us confidence and hope as we live here and now.

Another way to think about our life being hidden is that the reason we trust Christ for salvation and live for him is a mystery to those who do not know Christ. Paul wrote in a letter to Christians in Corinth that spiritual things (like salvation) are considered foolishness to unbelievers because they do not have God's Spirit to help them understand spiritual things. So the hope of eternal life Christians have and the reason for living as we do is hidden from those who do not believe because these are spiritual things.

Both of these explanations of the passage lead me to wonder, "Do we sometimes live a Christian life that is TOO hidden?" Do you know people who profess to be Christians but don't live like it? Do you know someone who thinks he is a Christian but none of his friends know he is? In other words, is his Christian life hidden?

Is it even possible to be a hidden Christian? Aren't Christians supposed to be visible? Shouldn't we be the light of the world? "A city on a hill cannot be hidden"! (See Matthew 5:14-16) How will those who do not know Christ as Savior ever know him without a witness? And that witness comes from those of us who are believers. We have to speak up and live out our faith openly.

The reason we place our trust in Christ for salvation and the reason we live in obedience to him and the reason we have hope of eternal life may be hidden from them, but the fact that we follow Christ and the impact he's had on our lives must be out in the open so they can see and hear our witness. Then the Holy Spirit can use our witness to reveal the mystery to them and they might be saved.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Will Pray for You

Christians like to pray. We spend a lot of time when we get together requesting prayer for one another. Sickness. Family problems. Job issues. Decisions. Salvation. Spiritual maturity.

Most often, we know the people we are praying for. They may be members of our churches or families. We pray for friends of friends and coworkers. We pray for missionaries we've met in videos or prayer guides. And then we pray at times for people we've not met and know nothing about.

The Bible tells us we should pray. "Ask whatever you wish." "Ask in my name." "Pray for one another." "Pray without ceasing." "Approach the throne of grace with confidence." And so on.

I received a phone call last night from a member of our church. Her daughter recently moved out of state and one of her new friends needs prayer. So I sent the request to our prayer chain and I prayed, too.

I don't know her. I will probably never meet her. I only know her first name. I don't know where she works. I don't know about her family.

But I know she needs prayer because of a life-threatening medical situation.

A friend, fellow pastor, and mentor once told me that if I ever tell someone that I'll pray for them to immediately breathe a prayer. I should spend more time praying later but in that moment - and to keep my word - breathe a prayer.

Have you ever felt like you should do something for someone but felt like you could do nothing? Pray.

Prayer is not a last resort; it's a first response.

Prayer is not the least you can do; it's the best you can do.

Prayers are not empty words spoken into an empty heaven; prayers are words of power and conviction placed on the ear of the Lord God Almighty.

Praying is not a sign of resignation; praying is a sign of confidence and trust.

Read the lyrics of a gospel song I used to sing.

I can pray out loud or silently.
I can pray standing tall or on my knees.
It really makes no difference, just that prayer is the key
Because prayer changes things and it changes me.

I will pray for you because I know it matters.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Grocery Shopping 101

The chair is soft. The living room is warm. The coffee is hot.

For the moment.

It's just after 7:00 A.M. Overnight a winter storm rolled into my neighborhood.What started as a cold rain is now sleet and/or freezing rain. The outside temperature is now settling below 32F and won't see the warmer side of the freezing mark for a few days.

The power companies are predicting and preparing for widespread outages. I love the winter weather; I don't like being without my conveniences that require electricity.

I joined the frenzy at the grocery store. Good thing I didn't need bread! I don't mind grocery shopping but I do believe it must be done in an orderly fashion. List or not, you must go through the store from one side to the other then sweep through the refrigerated and frozen sections ending up in the produce aisles. Get what you need the first time; no running back and forth zig-zagging like a lunatic.

That's exactly what one woman was doing. Actually, she made several mistakes, in my opinion. For example, while reviewing her list she would stop in the middle of the aisle. The aisles are wide enough for two customers (with carts) to pass. By the way, please keep the the right - just like driving down the street! But when she stopped in the middle she blocked customers from both directions.

Actually, I don't think she was reviewing her list in order to see what else she needed from that aisle. Had she been doing that she would not have done what she did next. She must have just been reading the next item on the list because she whirled around and headed across the store. I thought she was finished and was headed to the checkout lanes. She looked like a contestant on that game show where people grocery shop. Please don't whirl around in a crowded aisle. Simply continue in the direction you are pointed and turn back up the next aisle. Traffic flow, people!

So off she went, out of my way I thought. The last I saw her she was making a bee-line toward Lane 4. Which would have been a great idea because the lines had not yet backed up like they were when I got ready to check out.

About two minutes later she showed up in the dairy section at the back of the store. I guess butter was the item on the list following the one that was at the front of the store. This zig-zagging went on the entire time I was making my orderly movement as described above.

I began to chuckle to myself each time I saw her in a spot opposite the direction I had last seen her. A couple of times I almost laughed out loud. How would I explain that? "No, I wasn't laughing at you. The suggested serving size of this cereal is hilarious!" Luckily, I was able to contain myself.

I finished my shopping, checked out, and left the store. She was still there. She had been there when I started. The last time I saw her, I had more stuff in my cart than she did in hers. I did it in less time. And I followed the rules. So I'm the better grocery shopper.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Binds Us Together

For the past two years I have been getting up early three days a week (most weeks!) to walk or jog on Rushing Road. One person has been with me the whole time, Forrest Grimmett. It was his idea. At Thanksgiving Dinner at church two years ago he looked across the table and over my piled up plate and asked if I wanted to start exercising with him. What could I say?

It's been a great two years in a lot of ways. I've lost weight. I've cut my BP and cholesterol meds in half. I have more energy. I've bought new clothes! And I've gained dozens of sermon ideas and illustrations.

A few days ago I was thinking about this journey. Forrest and I have had others join us. And we've had some leave us. The reasons for hopping off Rushing Road vary. "Not for me." "Too much work." "Too early." "Not getting enough out of it." "I'll do something else, somewhere else, with someone else."

As we started out and began to shape up a bit, our band of merry walkers was strung out along Rushing Road. We didn't all go at the same pace. Then some began to run while others still walked so we were strung out further and further.

I think people think that doing something together means doing it at the same pace. Granted, I've told Deana that I'd rather walk with her than run without her. But I prefer to run while she is walking.

What binds us together isn't that we are within arm's reach of one another but that we are all on Rushing Road. It's the road, the path, the journey that binds us together. Some of us run on Rushing Road. Some of us walk on Rushing Road. It doesn't matter if your pace is 18:00 per mile or 8:00 per mile, we are on the same road. We are journeying together.

That reminds me of church in a lot of ways. We ought to focus on the journey - which is walking with Jesus. As a church, we journey together. So I don't understand why some who start the journey quit. "Not for me." "Too much work." "Too early." "Not getting enough out of it." "I'll do something else, somewhere else, with someone else."

Rather than focus on how spread out we are on the journey, focus on the journey. It's true that some people have been walking longer with Jesus. It's true that some people put more effort into walking with Jesus. It's true that - for whatever reasons - some people get more out of walking with Jesus. To let that frustrate you (or puff you up) is like using the differences on Rushing Road as an excuse to quit exercising.

The journey, the walk with Jesus, is what binds a group of people together as a church. We help each other. We encourage each other. We share the load. But letting the fact that we aren't all within arm's length of each other deter us from the journey makes as much sense as letting the same reality keep us from Rushing Road.

Sometimes I think that church people think we are to be bound by a rope tied all around us keeping us firmly together. Maybe that rope is to be stretched out along the path and we are all to hold on to it - wherever we are along the path of walking with Jesus. It's time to break out of the Holy Huddle and enjoy the journey.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Me and the Goofballs

I bought a bright green cord for my iPhone. That's about the flashiest thing about me. Well, that and the little dance move that only Deana, Riley, and I know about. And they can't share that or they might turn up missing!

On the other hand, there are people who seem to announce their arrival into a room. "Hey, it's me!" You'd be shocked if you found out they hand a black or white phone cord. Maybe black and white stripes.

People are so different from each other. I guess that's a good thing but I think the normal ones are the ones like me. The rest of you are just goofballs!

It's when we make a big deal about our differences that we should get a slap on the wrist...or bottom...or face. The biblical perspective is that every person is created under the great care of our heavenly Father. Each of us is special and carry the image of God within us. I understand the biology of reproduction but I also know there is a mystery of creation behind all of it. Creator God is not far away and aloof. Instead, he is near and engaged.

He cares.

In the New Testament we can read that because of and through Jesus Christ there is no longer a difference between races, sexes, occupations, or anything else. There are really just two kinds of people: those who follow Jesus Christ and those who do not.

Yet there is no other person who looks just like me (Silence!) and nobody else acts like me. I'm unique and so are you! The diversity obvious in the human race is a testimony of God's genius. Blend that with a single purpose that we all hold in common and something about God comes into clearer focus.

We are all created to honor God with our praise. That looks different from person to person but the bottom line is the same. A person in Asia honors God with her praise differently than a person in South America does with his.

Don't misunderstand me...I'm not talking about a syncretistic outlook that sees all religions as equally valid. I believe faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to righteousness with God. No world religion can accomplish this so all of them fail. Praise is genuine only when directed toward Jesus.

The book of Philippians says that we will all one day bow to Jesus and confess him as Lord. That's a good thing except that for some people this will happen in hell as they finally realize and admit the truth. But by then it will be too late to escape the place of torment reserved for those who reject Jesus during their lifetimes.

Does that bother you? As followers of Jesus we ought to get a sick feeling in our stomachs when confronted with the reality that many people we see today will spend eternity in torment separated from God. We ought to have a sense of urgency to help others come to Jesus.

Jesus isn't looking for an army of clones who spout religious sayings. He is looking for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue to honor him with their praise. We will all look different. We will all speak a different language. We will all praise him in ways unique to us. But we will all direct that praise to the one true living God - Jesus Christ.

The Bible paints a clear picture of such a diverse group praising Jesus in heaven for eternity. When we pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are really yearning for a little bit of that heavenly picture to be our reality today. Amen! Let it be so!

Now, what can you do to gather this diverse crowd around the praise of Jesus?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Running the Race and Keeping the Pace

Today was the first day to run in over a week. I could feel it. My lungs were protesting.

Forrest is my trainer. You probably know him pretty well if you've read much of my blog over the last two years. He's in great shape and probably gets very little physical exercise from these outings.

As we ran today Forrest kept a steady pace. At times I would stay up with him, then lag behind. I realized that I lagged behind as we headed up an incline. On flat ground I could stay with his pace. On the downward slopes I could catch up. My pacesetter didn't change his pace, I changed my pace. Once I realized this I concentrated on keeping the pace on the inclines. For the most part, I did pretty good.

Since I'm usually breathing too hard to talk during these runs, I think to myself a lot. My thoughts today were connecting the reality of the running pace to my spiritual life. Jesus sets a steady standard that I am to live by but I often lag behind. I get off track. Sometimes I stumble and fall.

I have to stay focused and stay with the pace. I want my life to honor God and help others see Jesus even when life gets hard. If I'm wandering or lagging, well that just doesn't get it done. I'm working on keeping the pace and running the race. Christians must "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus" (from Hebrews 12:1-2).

Although I haven't put out much effort to run on Rushing Road lately, I admit that sometimes I put out even less effort to run the Christian's race. Father, forgive me.

Our plan is to run three days each week. The Christian race must be our focus seven days each week. Lace 'em up and let's go!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Today is Veteran's Day.

I'm thankful for people like my grandfather, Jim Appleton, for serving in WWII. I admire mens like David McLemore who served in the Gulf War. I appreciate guys like Forrest Grimmett who served in Iraq. So many of my classmates have served in the military. The closest I ever got was JROTC in 9th grade.

I can't remember ever wanting to enlist but I also can't remember ever thinking anything but respectful thoughts for those who did.

The debates that go on across our country about political, economic, religious, social, and cultural issues could not take place outside the framework of freedom that marks the United States. Without freedom, we would be limited in our expressions. Our Founding Fathers did a good thing when they established a land with constitutional freedoms like ours.

Merl Haggard wrote, "Stand up for the flag and let's all ring the Liberty Bell." What a great thing it is to be an American!

So I say "Thanks" to all the veterans, those serving today, and their families for the great sacrifices you've made so I can live the life I do and express myself like this. We are a great nation because of great men and women like you.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Beisball

I'm in the Dominican Republic for a few days showing the Jesus Film in neighborhoods around San Pedro. Not far from where we are working are developmental camps for several Major League Baseball teams. Today we drove past the facilities for the Tigers, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Braves.

These camps are for young men ages 16 - 21 who are hoping to make it into MLB. Each camp may have 60-100 young men but there are several times more than that playing ball all over the island.

We can barely drive 15 minutes without seeing kids playing ball in a vacant lot, a run down ball field, or even in the streets. Today we visited the village of Monte Cristy. Our host pastor leads a church in the village along with one in a nearby town. The church in Monte Cristy runs a nursing home for elderly people who have no family members to look after them. The staff takes care of them from the moment they move in until they die. They take care of the funeral, too.

Southern Baptists from Georgia built a medical clinic years ago that is staffed by doctors provided by the Dominican government. A doctor and nurse come to the village two days each week. We stopped in during the lunch break to meet them. They had already seen 20 patients this morning. The doctor is a family practitioner and she told us that it has been years since a dentist has been to the village and she is not aware of an optometrist every coming there. The village has a great need for medical teams to come alongside the clinic and provide basic services.

Across from the village is the road leading to the baseball facilities. We drove in because two or three of us are baseball nuts. We stopped alongside the road and peered through the chain link fence, under the scoreboard, through the right field fence and watched an inning of Tigers and Blue Jays. No numbers of the jerseys. Only one umpire - and he was dressed like the coaches. But a bunch of guys who love the game and hoped to make it to the show.

Hustle. Sound fundamentals. Teamwork. These guys know that if they don't make it here they'll never make it to the next level. For some of them, this is their hope for a better future. Others just dream of being the next Sammy Sosa or Pedro Martinez.

We drove to the next complex and were able to sit behind home plate. We had the attention of every one in the park. Six white guys... We stood out. We sat on concrete bleachers and watched another group of Tigers and Blue Jays. These must have been the older or more advanced teams. They had numbers on their uniforms. They had three umpires in uniform. Most of them wore their pants up to their knees like real baseball players do.

I wondered how many would make it and how many would become stars. Probably just a few out of the 60 or so players involved in the game. I bet they all thought they would be one to make.

Not everyone will be the next slugger or ace pitcher. But as long as they have the dream they should follow it. Great opportunities are lost when the opportunity is ignored or mis-managed.

Everyone in my church has the potential to be a slugger or an ace. Not in baseball but in the Great Commission. We have opportunities every day to share with someone how they can trust Christ for salvation. I'm afraid that we let too many opportunities slip by. Many we don't even notice.

What is at stake is not a contract or fame but eternal life for people we pass by in the market, at school, and in the home.

While I was watching the game, I could smell the fresh cut grass from the next field. And I thought how I could spend a lot of time doing just this.

Is my interest in sharing the gospel that great? Is yours? Can you think of spending lots of time just helping others know Jesus?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Where Did the Time Go?

As November looms larger and larger, I'm reminded of a few key dates. One is November 5, 2006. On that Sunday I stood before Cross Road Baptist Church and preached from Colossians 2. I knew five of the people in the congregation. They were the pastor search committee. Since then, I've shared seven years with this church. God brought us together, we agreed with God, and I became their pastor.

Another date is November 17, 2006. Two things happened that day. First, I wrapped up almost six years of employment with ICT Group. I made some great friends. I worked for some wonderful bosses. But Cross Road would be my first full-time pastorate so my time with ICT was over.

By the time I got home (our new home) most of our stuff had been moved from one side of Little Rock to the other. We spent our first night in our new home that night. We are still unpacking! Actually, we've unpacked what we need; the rest must just be junk. We ought to have a yard sale.

November 19 was my last Sunday at Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church in Little Rock. They were such a great blessing to my family and me. I was excited to move into full-time ministry but sad to leave these sweet folks behind. I've been able to keep in touch with some of them through social media. I'm glad for my time there and glad for the friendships still in tact.

The Community Thanksgiving Service was on Tuesday, November 19, 2006. Cross Road, Holly Springs Baptist Church, and Martindale Baptist Church hold joint services each year for Easter and Thanksgiving. We rotate which church hosts the events each year and the pastors of the other two churches preach. Martindale hosted the service. The pastor of Cross Road was supposed to preach. I was brand new and they had already made arrangements for someone else to preach. Like someone in my church said this past Sunday, I should let it go! This service was my first official function as pastor of CRBC. I've enjoyed these joint services each year. We host this year and Joe Berry from Holly Springs will preach.

My first Sunday to preach at CRBC as pastor was November 26, 2006. Here we are seven years later. Where did the time go? When I came, one of the ladies said she expected me to be here a long time - long enough to have Riley's wedding here. He was almost 6 years old then. I replied that I wanted to baptize my grandbabies here! We have a way to go. But these first seven years have flown by.

The years have been filled with challenges. Some we've handled well, others we haven't. We've seen people come and go. They've given various reasons. If all the people who have left would have stayed... I guess I shouldn't think much about that.

What I should and do think about is the wonderful people of Cross Road Baptist Church. God brought us together. He has accomplished much through us. I believe he intends to accomplish much more.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I thought I made a mistake...

I remember hearing this joke when I was a kid and still chuckle at it...especially when I tell it.

"I've only been wrong once in my life. That was when I thought I was wrong but was right all the time." (Insert rimshot)

I heard a man introduce his son at a conference this week. The father listed his son's credentials then said that one of the younger preacher's great qualities was humility. Then the dad said, "He didn't get that from me." It's true. Everyone in the room knew it. Later, in another setting, the same man offered his advice with this preamble: "In my humble opinion..." I wanted to raise my hand and mention his previous admission! I respect this man for his leadership of his church and our Southern Baptist churches. At least he is honest about his lack of humility.

Well, in my humble opinion, I made a pretty good cup of coffee today. I thought I had made a mistake but it turned out good so I think I'll just spin the story to make it look like I did it on purpose.

I usually drink my coffee black. No cream. No sugar. That's pretty much a knee-jerk reaction to what I call "candy coffee." Too many people (my wife included) add a bunch of stuff to a cup of coffee and still call it coffee. Beige coffee is not really coffee. Sweet coffee is not really coffee. Cold coffee is not really coffee.

Every now and then I'll put a little sugar in my coffee. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm feeling a little uppity or something. Just a little sugar. I do this so seldom that the sugar in the little sugar bowl thingy is usually stuck together in one big blob. So I tap the bowl against the kitchen countertop to loosen the sugar then I carefully shake a little into my cup of coffee. I don't want to dirty a spoon so I just grab whatever is close and stir with that. I rinse it off and put it back where I found it. Don't judge me.

This morning I felt like I needed a sprinkle of sugar in my coffee. So I went through my routine. All was going just fine until what amounted to about four teaspoons of sugar shook from the bowl into the cup. A big chunk made a big splash. I had to wipe off the counter. What am I supposed to do now? I'm not patient enough (and I am too cheap) to pour out the coffee and start over.

So I went all in. At the coffee shop I almost always order a cup of coffee black. I'm almost embarrassed to order something off the menu board. I can't pronounce some of it and have no idea what's in any of it. My wife, on the other hand, fits right in with that crowd. Our friends own a coffee shop and they have a drink named "The Deana." I couldn't even tell you what's in it.

Well, I'm standing in the kitchen with a five pound bag of sugar dissolving in my coffee. Then I do the unthinkable. I head to the refrigerator and get the milk. I think my red-headed fair-skinned son's summer tan is darker than what I'm drinking right now.

But it's pretty good. I could never duplicate it. And I would never consider trying. It was a mistake that turned out good.

One of my favorite Bible verses in Romans 8:28. God has a way of taking my mistakes and making something good out of them. He can and often does fix things for me so that he gets the glory and honor. Just like I would never try to remake the concoction I made this morning, I would never purposefully mess up my life expecting God to wave his hand through the air and fix it for me. But when I do make a mistake I know that I can confess my sin, turn from it and toward him, and he will show his glory somehow.

My responsibility is to acknowledge my mistakes, trust God to help me through them, and the let God be God. He does that God stuff better than anyone.

Friday, October 25, 2013

First and Second

The World Series is now two games old and is shaping up to be a thriller. Boston and St. Louis split the games in Fenway Park and now move to Busch Stadium for the next three. This is the best of baseball. Or is it?

In these two games these two teams have committed seven combined errors. In Game 1 the Cardinals pitcher let an easy pop-up fall the ground at his feet. In Game 2 the Red Sox pitcher made a bad throw allowing a run to score and a runner advance on the bases.

First and foremost, pitchers pitch the ball. Those who do this really well get paid really well. They aren't paid to be hitters, and they aren't paid to be fielders. Well, sort of. Their primary responsibility is to pitch the ball, but as soon as they release the pitch they are fielders and must field their position. And should they have a plate appearance they must do something to help the team.

Most of a pitcher's practice is spent on pitching. That makes perfect sense. But he also practices fielding and hitting - at least a little, maybe only in Spring Training. A pitcher can help his team and his own cause by fielding the balls hit to him, covering a base when required, and getting on base now and then - or at least laying down an effective bunt.

The first things are important, so are the second.

Your primary responsibility as a Christian is to honor God. You have to work on that because, for most of us, that doesn't come naturally. It gets easier and/or more enjoyable, but it always requires effort and intentionality. First things first: honor God.

You also have secondary responsibilities. You have family responsibilities and school responsibilities and work responsibilities and other responsibilities. And they are all important, too. Maybe this baseball analogy applies here. It seems the best pitchers are also fairly good hitters (for pitchers!) and field their positions well. In other words, the person who takes care of the first thing usually takes care of the second things.

I believe that if you honor God you will be a good family member and good employee or boss and a good student and a good friend, etc. In a way, maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

First things first but second things matter, too. Let us live so that God is honored in every part of our lives.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Beautiful!

We've had a taste of fall a couple of weeks ago. Then summer temps reminded us of the unpredictability of weather. Forecasting appears to be foreguessing. Weather patterns, currents, and causes intrigue me so I'm not making fun of the professionals. With just a few changes in destiny, I could see myself as one of them. After all, I can play the piano, too!

But today is a truly fall day. I woke up about 5:20, laid in the bed for 15 minutes, then got up and took the dog out for her early morning outdoor venture. The temp was 51. Beautiful. When the sun came up over an hour later, the skies were (and still are) clear and blue. Beautiful. I put on my jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and sweater vest and thought about sending my resume to the North American Mission Board.

It's now 3:30 and 73 degrees, clear skies. Beautiful. I could live in this year-round. Just throw in a few snow days and I'd be very happy.

Things aren't always perfect, are they? Sometimes the overnight temperature is 18 and the pipes burst. Sometimes it's a high temp of 108 and it feels like 118. Other days brings storms or droughts.

Weather isn't the only unpredictable part of life. Relationships can over-heat or go frigid. Jobs bring turmoil and dissatisfaction. Even our spiritual lives can see long, dark nights and periods of dryness.

The one constant that you can always count on is Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). When relationships turn upside-down, cling to Jesus. When the job situation is unsure, cling to Jesus. When friends forsake you, cling to Jesus. Even when the storms - the literal ones - come, cling to Jesus. Here's a point that I've found many times to be true: Jesus will take you through the difficulties and things will be OK.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Beautiful!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Reality Exposed

I spent Sunday evening and all day Monday attending an apologetics conference. Apologetics is the discipline of explaining or defending your faith to those who believe differently. Dr. James K. Walker from Watchman Fellowship and Dr. Barbara Pemberton from Ouachita Baptist University addressed differences between Christianity and beliefs like Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, the occult, and the New Age Movement. Walker also addressed false teachings from within Christianity, specifically the Word of Faith movement. Over twenty area churches participated in the event offered by Pulaski Baptist Association.

I was somewhat aware of the differences but not at all aware of the depth and subtleties of the complete picture. If interested, you can find information at Dr. Walker's website at www.watchman.org. This post is not intended to teach apologetics but to expose something I learned yesterday. Maybe I didn't learn it yesterday but it was certainly reinforced during this conference.

Very few people on the planet - Christian church attenders included - believe the Gospel presented in the Bible. The Gospel is centered upon Jesus Christ who is God's son; he is God himself. Many religions believe Jesus was a good man and even an honorable prophet, but they reject the deity of Christ. They simply do not believe he is God. But that is exactly what the Bible claims and what Jesus claimed and what his followers claimed - even those who were executed for that belief.

The Gospel also claims that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). The offer of salvation is infinitely broad including every person. Anyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. But the way of salvation is exclusive - salvation is only through Jesus. Even folks who populate the pews week to week in our churches may not believe that. They think that somehow people will be saved some other way. At least our lack of concern for those without Christ seems to suggest we at least hope there is another way. But there is not. Jesus is the only way.

Imagine the transformation that would take place if every person who claims to be a Christian really believed these two things. And there are many other truths that are basic and necessary that people also struggle with. But just these two truths could transform the lives of so many people. And our churches would reflect the passion of the early believers.

And, best of all, our world would feel the impact today that the world felt in the earliest days of the church.

Maybe you are well-grounded in these truths and others. I hope so. But would you at least ask yourself if you truly believe that Jesus is God and that he is the only way to heaven? The implications include that, if believing, you would passionately share your faith with others. We live in a world that desperately needs real believers fulfilling the Great Commission's directive to make disciples. Once you and I are firmly established and on track, we can make a difference in the lives of our family and friends, our neighbors and co-workers, and our city and world.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Colossians 1:9 NIV

The opening phrase "For this reason" suggests we ought to know something more. The reason Paul prayed for the believers in Colosse was because of their faith and love. The verses leading up to this passage tell us that he had heard of their faith in Christ and their love for other believers. That's why Paul prayed for them and his prayer was filled with thanksgiving.

That makes me consider my own prayers; perhaps you should do the same. When you pray, do you pray for others? And when you pray for others, are you thankful for them? We probably pray for others. Intercessory prayers are great because we lift up their needs to our Father. We are supposed to pray that way. But we are also supposed to pray prayers of thanksgiving. Paul was thankful for the believers in Colosse.

Look at the specific requests Paul made. He asked God to fill them with the knowledge of his will. Knowing God's will is a big deal - and a big challenge - for most Christians. We want to know what God has planned for us. We want to know what God wants us to do. "What is God's will?" is a question I ask and hear others ask a lot. So how do we begin to know God's will?

Paul teaches that we know God's will through spiritual wisdom and understanding. Not just any wisdom and understanding - it must be spiritual wisdom and understanding. We have to admit that the ways of the world are not the ways of the Lord. What seems to make sense from a worldly perspective often is a huge mistake. So to move forward as a Christian or a church based upon human thinking is a tragedy. We can know God's will when we apply spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Just knowing God's will seems to be the goal for many Christians. We have to go beyond knowing God's will and actually do it. The subtitle to Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King is "Knowing and Doing the Will of God." Knowing is hard enough; doing is actually the goal.

Remember that spiritual wisdom and understanding are the keys to knowing God's will. If what we do is determined based upon human wisdom and understanding, it will fail. A wise Jew advised the opponents of the early church that anything of God will succeed no matter what the opposition is, and anything of human origin will fail.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sharing Your Faith with Muslims


Volunteers Make It Happen

The people are what make any organization great. You never hear a CEO say, "Our technology is what make us who we are. The people? Eh, not so much." He would be blasted with email, social media messages, blog posts, phone calls, and office visits. He might not survive the next board meeting.

Whether it's a for-profit business, a non-profit organization, or a church, the people make the difference.

That's the case at Cross Road Baptist Church. We have two people on payroll: the pastor (me) and a person who cleans one of our buildings. Everything else that gets done gets done by volunteers. From those who teach to those who cut the grass to those who keep the nursery to those to keep the books to those who cook the meals...did I leave anybody out?...our volunteers make it happen.

Thank you for giving your time and abilities. That's part of Christian stewardship. Each Christian is called to manage his resources (time, talent, and treasure) in ways that glorify God. So many of the folks at Cross Road are doing just that. That makes me happy. Probably makes God happy, too!

Are you looking for a way to volunteer? We always need volunteers for something. Here are some examples. We provide nursery care during the Sunday morning worship service for babies through 2-year olds. We now have six volunteers rotating week to week. You can volunteer to join this team. You'll be serving families who choose to worship at CRBC.

We also have a group of four or five who rotate month to month leading our children's church for toddlers through 5-year olds. If you volunteer to serve here you would lead children's church for a month twice a year.

We've had a wonderful group of men who keep the yard mowed. But we can use another volunteer or two. The men (women are also welcome) sign up to mow and trim for a month at a time beginning in March and going through October. You can help us in this way right now or start next year.

Every Bible study class could use a second person who can facilitate the lessons. Everyone has to miss from time to time and having an automatic substitute would be very helpful. And the experience would prepare you to start a class when the need arises.

These are a few of the ways you can volunteer in our church. I'm sure every church has similar opportunities. Contact your pastor and get involved because volunteers make it happen.

That's My King


You've probably heard this before but it's worth coming back to...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Her Bark Is Worse than Her Bite

Lexi (our dog) is very protective of our property. She's a 13 pound Pookie (Deana calls her a Yorkiepoo) that spends upwards of twenty hours a day sleeping on the back of the couch. Really, she's not much of a threat to anyone or anything that nears the property line.

On a potty walk the other day she stopped near a big tree that shades the house. She looked straight up into the tree and cut loose with a barrage of barking and growling. I laughed at her. Then I looked up, too. I didn't see anything but Lexi was sure she did. And she went on for several minutes letting the hidden invader know it should leave the premises immediately. As far as I know nothing flew or crawled away.

Lexi is like a lot of Christians. You know who I'm talking about. Those people will raise their voices about something that is not the point. They can raise money and followers who will show up at just about any venue at any time to protest. These folks rant and rave in blogs and social media posts to stir up others who are like-minded.

The point of the Christian's life should be to know Jesus and make him known. Sure, social issues can come into the realm of what we might talk about but the main thing is to share our faith in Jesus. The tangent topics can become a distraction keeping us from making disciples. Or we might hide behind those topics to avoid making disciples.

Let's clear our agenda and adopt God's agenda. The most important thing is to let people know how they can find forgiveness and redemption through the love of Jesus. In the process of helping them learn to live to honor Christ we can talk about the other issues. Otherwise, we bark a lot but don't accomplish much.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Media Mess

Heard on the radio that Zimmerman may be in trouble again. Besides the Trayvon Martin case, the report said he had other run-ins with the law: a speeding ticket.

My question... Is a speeding ticket a "run-in with the law" or is the media hyping the ticket because of the Trayvon Martin case?

The current issue is domestic violence. If he is guilty he should be punished, no question. But what does a speeding ticket have to do with it?

The report came from a source that more than likely disagreed with The Trayvon Martin ruling. Do they have an agenda? Are they trying to say, "I told you so"?

Maybe media has never been unbiased but these days you'll be hard pressed to find a journalist that reports the facts without first filtering the facts through his bias. Unbiased reporting may be too much to ask for. And if it is, can they stop pretending to be fair and just admit it?

On the bright side, I surfed into Morning Joe just long enough today to hear them applaud Vogue magazine (I think) for dropping Miley Cyrus from an upcoming cover. Good for them - both the show and the magazine.

I've plugged into more news today because of the situation in Syria. I remember now why I usually avoid it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Gospel

Take a look...and listen...


Cleaning Up a Mess

I make coffee on a regular basis. This morning I made a mess.

Ed Meux used to stop by my office occasionally so I would almost always have a pot of coffee ready. He passed away over a year ago so it's just me drinking coffee now. So I swapped out the 12-cup coffee maker for a 4-cup machine. Still, I should not have had the problems I had this morning.

I still don't know what happened other than to simply say I made a mess. And the coffee wasn't that good, either.

Five trips down the hall to the bathroom sink to rinse things off and about half a roll of paper towels later... You can imagine.

Why is the clean-up always more involved than the mess-making?

I make a mess of my life from time to time. Not always big messes; sometimes just a little mess. Do you do that? Do you make decisions without praying first? Do you rush to a decision without waiting for an answer? Do you do what you want to do even after hearing from God?

Sometimes I don't need to pray - please hear what I'm saying - because my understanding of God's word should already be guiding my steps. Yet I act in ways that do not honor or glorify him. Or I act in ways that harm other people or take advantage of them. Do you do that?

What a mess we make when we don't seek God's guidance and don't follow his word! It would take more to clean up those messes than a few trips to the bathroom and some paper towels. Actually, those messes are called sin and you will never be able to clean it up yourself. God knew that and at the same time still demands that sin be cleaned up. That's why Jesus - God himself - came to earth, lived among us, died for us, and lives again. Jesus cleaned up our mess!

Now, you can continue to live in the filth and squalor of sin or you can turn to the Lord. Confess you sin (which means to agree with God that what you did is sin), repent of it (turn away from the ways of the world and turn toward the ways of God), and commit to live your life his way with Jesus as Savior and Lord.

The messes you make with your sin are too big for you to clean up. But Jesus will do it for you. Ask him to do it and he will. Then let me know so I can rejoice with you...maybe over a cup of coffee.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What if...

I'm sitting at Subway just down the street from Riley's school. They are having a preseason game tonight so I picked him up to get him some supper before going back to the fieldhouse. Instead of eating with me, he sat with some others from his team. That's probably best.

I overheard them talking about their fathers' ages. I am the oldest! Hope that doesn't embarrass him. At least they weren't talking about the mothers' ages. She's even older than me.

Since I can't spend this time with my son I've turned to watching people. Most everyone in here is a student. My mind wanders back to 30+ years ago.

Did I treat everyone the same?
Did I respect my parents, teachers, and friends' parents?
Was I a good influence in their lives?
Was I an ambassador for Christ in my school?

I can answer some of the questions "yes" but some "no."

What if I had been a better witness for Christ? What if I had made better decisions?

I can't go back and change things, but can I make a difference now? I'm trying even with those same folks. And I'm trying in my current environment.

And I'm trying to teach Riley to be a good influence and a difference-maker in these wonderful years of his life. I didn't do that for Jim and Caleb. I think that's an important part of fatherhood.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekly Devotional - August 23, 2013

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2 NIV
Several months ago I was running down Rushing Road at 5:00 in the morning. The sky was overcast so there was no light from the moon to illuminate the road. It was dark! I came to this particular portion of the route where there is a street light. But it's on the other side of a crest so it cast a shadow where I was running.

I had learned from earlier runs that when I am first able to see the street light it lines up perfectly with the middle of the road. If I run directly toward the light I will stay safely on the road. So that's what I planned to do on this dark morning.

I ran a few strides. Looked down a few strides. Looked up again and discovered that a tree blocked the light but I could still see the light pole. So I set my eyes on the pole. A few strides later the light appeared from behind the tree and I was shocked at what I saw.

The light is set off the road in a pasture. The pole I had been following was right up on the road. The closer I got to the pole and the light, the farther from each other they were! And I had fixed my eyes on the wrong guide. As a result I was running right down the middle of the road toward the top of a hill. I was a sitting duck for oncoming traffic.

Isn't that just about how life is? We think we are going in the right direction - a safe direction. But the least miscalculation in judgment sends us off course. Maybe even into dangerous territory. Do you see how important it is to use the right guide to determine your course?

I know people who use the latest fashion magazines to determine their dress code. Too often modesty is forsaken. I know people who use the latest interviews of sports stars to determine their attitudes. Too often humility is forsaken. I know people who use the latest sitcom to determine their relationships. Too often faithfulness and purity are forsaken.

But if we fix our eyes on Jesus we will run the course of righteousness, holiness, and faithfulness. You'll find some impostors and pretenders. Remember my problem of following the pole instead of the light?

Jesus is true and faithful. He will lead us where we need to go. Pray that God will help you fix your eyes on Jesus today.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is God Bothered By That?

I saw evidence yesterday that many people reject God because they do not understand the Bible. It was a reminder that our culture has made a drastic shift in the last few generations.

We could easily be offended when someone tells us to stop bothering them with our testimony of God's activity in our lives. We might shy away from further conversations when a neighbor tells us they don't believe like we do about the Bible. We might react in a militant way when those whose lives contradict biblical morality flaunt their choices in front of us.

So I wonder, is God bothered by that? Is he bothered by the way they react to him? Bothered? No.

Grieved? Yes.

God is not willing that anyone would perish in hell. That's why his son Jesus lived and died. And lives again. Rather than leave all humanity hopeless in regard to forgiveness and salvation, he did all that needed to be done to provide a path of reconciliation and redemption. A friend who had rejected the biblical notion of God once told me that if Christians could show us something that led to love, forgiveness, and redemption he and those like him would accept the faith.

Because so many people like my friend are wandering and wondering, God is not bothered by those who may reject him. He is not deterred from his plan. He is not challenged to back down.

But he is grieved when one person chooses to reject the offer of salvation. He is grieved when one person rejects the authority of scripture. He is grieved when one person ridicules his character.

Yet God loves them, stands ready to forgive, and offers redemption.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Preaching

I came across this quote from Al Mohler about preaching. "If there is no controversy in your ministry, there is probably very little content in your preaching."

I hate conflict and controversy. Can't we all just get along? The answer to that question is simply, "No." And the reason is just as simple: we are bent on fulfilling our own needs without much regard to others.

My ministry leadership calling is to lead Christians to be disciple-makers. My job is to do it at Cross Road Baptist Church. One platform I have is preaching to those who attend our services.

The Bible is overflowing with information. It's easy to find the "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" passages but even greater than these is the constant message of God's holiness, our sinfulness, and Jesus' sacrifice that makes possible our reconciliation to God. Along the way we read that salvation is God's work; we can only accept or reject it but we cannot accomplish it. Then we read that Christians do have a responsibility for the way we live.

Millions, maybe even billions, of people have misunderstood this to mean that you must do something to earn God's favor and forgiveness. But it's just the opposite. You can do nothing to earn his favor. Because he has shown grace and mercy to us we are to live as grateful recipients by honoring him with our lives. No, we are not saved by our works. Yes, we live a life of good works because he has saved us.

So the rub comes when a preacher speaks the truth to a person or to people who prefer to 1.) work for their own salvation or 2.) not live to honor the Savior. Thus, controversy and conflict.

I hope my aversion to conflict does not quiet my preaching. Then I would be sacrificing the truth to satisfy my own preferences. In James 3:1 the brother of Jesus wrote, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." If I omit or water down the principles of the Bible I am at great risk. First, I can be ineffective as one called to preach the word. Second, I am at risk of judgment for taking the call to teach lightly.

So the question I face is this: Would I risk being faithful to the Lord in order to be pleasing to the people? Paul told Timothy to steadfastly preach the word even though many would rather hear something less convicting and more pleasing (see 2 Timothy 4:2-4). The preacher should want to please God, who can eternally judge him, rather than man, who can only affect temporal conditions. Maybe this is part of what Paul called "light and momentary troubles" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Could it be, though, that conflict and controversy can be avenues to peace and maturity? I think so when we deal with them positively. Problems arise (sometimes) because of our spiritual condition. We wage a spiritual battle that is much more difficult than the battles in the physical realm. Tense moments in relationships happen because one or both parties are not in tune with God's Spirit who gives us unity. If we see conflict and controversy as a flashing light alerting us to spiritual issues, and if we address these issues honestly, we can progress in spiritual maturity.

What do you do when you are driving along the highway and come upon flashing lights? Most of us slow down and take a look! What do you do when you are living life and come upon flashing lights warning of a spiritual problem? Don't look away and avoid the warning. The problem will only get worse. Instead, give proper attention to the problem and resolve the conflict or controversy. Otherwise, you'll have a perpetual roadblock keeping you from joy and peace.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School

Today is the day the public schools in our area get back at it. The teachers have been working for several days. The private schools have been in for a week already. Now everyone is back to the normal routine. A hundred years ago I guess the planting would be over so the kids would get in a few weeks of school before it was time for the harvest. I'm glad we don't live in those days.

Most kids have mixed feelings about going back to school. They will miss the free schedule of summer but - truth be told - they've been missing their friends and the activities of school. And, yes, some have even missed their teachers. I'm sure I complained like kids do today, but I really don't remember not wanting school to start. I liked school and still do. I need to try harder to instill that into my youngest son!

In the children's sermon yesterday I told the kids I had three words for them that I was sure would bring some emotion from them. "Back to School." When I said those words almost everyone under the age of 18 groaned; even the kindergarteners sitting on the steps with me. And almost everyone who had a school-age child cheered. What a difference of opinion about this time of year.

I also told the kids about a teacher that is always on the job and never gets a summer vacation. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be our Teacher so that we could know what Jesus taught. He is our constant companion helping us, encouraging us, guiding us, convicting us, and teaching us. Just imagine your favorite teacher in your favorite subject getting to spend all the time with you. Have you ever finished a class but still wanted or needed to know more? Maybe the final exam proved you hadn't learned everything. Maybe you had questions that the course content had not answered.

Fall Break, Christmas Break, Spring Break, or Summer Break never come with the Holy Spirit's teaching. And that's not a bad thing. Instead, you always have a chance to know God better. Some of the Holy Spirit's lessons are in the classroom and some are in the lab. Some are fun and some are not so fun. But they are always for your good and will always help you as you live this life.

Don't be tardy or truant. And be safe, watch for kids and buses, and have a great school year.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekly Devotional - August 16, 2013

"Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil."
Proverbs 4:27 NIV

Walk with me for a few minutes. I want to take you down a road that might look a lot like the road you are traveling today. There's no exotic destination; it's no thrill ride. It's just a day in the life of most of us.

Your alarm just went off: WAKE UP! Are you tempted to hit the snooze button and sleep a little longer? What will happen if you do? Maybe you built in a nine minute buffer because you know you'll procrastinate getting out of bed. I see nothing wrong with that if you did, but if you didn't then snoozing might cost you. You may miss the first bell at school or the first appointment at work. Giving in to a selfish desire and missing a responsibility is swerving to the right or the left.

Your spouse or children need your attention today - like every day. Isn't it easy to rush through the day and run out of time for them? When our obligations are too heavy the family is often the first to take the hit. We cut out time with them. We move our attention away from them. We swerve to the right or the left.

That friend request you just received - don't be so quick to accept it. Do you know this person? Have you looked at their profile? Filth-peddlers are trolling the social media looking for people who swerve easily. Take a minute to see if this person is really someone you should connect with before accepting their request. Pornography is an easy bait to get you to swerve to the right or the left.

Money's tight, isn't it? I like to say that most of us live on a fixed income because there's not much we can do to go out and make extra money this week. The boss won't let you work all the hours you want to work. You can't just raise the price of everything in your shop and expect customers to swallow it. So we make what we make and sometimes that's not enough. Does that ever make you think about cutting corners on taxes or piggy-backing the neighbors wifi or doing something else to ease the financial burdens? Don't swerve to the right or to the left.

Followers of Jesus are to have integrity that reflects his character. "What would Jesus do?" is a pretty good question to help us know how to walk through this journey of living. Pray that God will help you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus so that you can reflect his character and stay on the path of righteousness.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Convictions

A preacher was interviewing with a church's Pastor Search Committee as a prospect for becoming the church's next pastor. One elderly gentleman leaned across the table toward the minister and said, "What are you convictions?" The man was shocked at the question and paused a moment to gather his thoughts then said, "Arrests but no convictions!"

You might have guessed that the candidate did not receive a call for a second interview.

Our English language has many words that have multiple meanings. An example is the word fan. On a warm day you may wish to sit near the fan so you can feel a cool breeze. But you may also take off to the ballpark because you are a fan of the local team. Think about the problem you could get into if you confused the scales on a fish with the scales on a piano!


The man-who-would-not-be-pastor in the story I made up really messed up when he confused the two meanings of the word conviction. On one hand, a conviction is the proving of guilt. On the other, a conviction is a firmly held belief. Which do you think the committee member was asking about? OK, OK, maybe both! But the prospect would have been wise to answer the question based upon his firmly held beliefs - his convictions.

What are your convictions? What do you firmly believe? Specifically, what do you believe about God, about life, about purpose, or about salvation? I can tell you what I believe and even tell you what to believe but you must really discover the options and settle on a belief yourself.

Maybe your background includes Christianity. Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, you are familiar with some of the basic beliefs of the faith. I encourage you to read the Bible and attend a Bible study. You'll learn about God, life, purpose, and salvation. And much more. Then you can decide to embrace or reject the Christian faith.

Some of you may have very little or no connection to Christianity. You could listen to someone go on and on but never understand much if we spoke with "churchy" words. Again, you can start by reading the Bible, especially the Gospel of John in the New Testament. If you don't have a Bible then send me a message and I'll send you a copy. If you want to go buy a Bible then ask for or look for "NIV," "ESV", or "HCSB" for a version that will be in a modern language. And start looking for a friend or acquaintance who is a Christian and will help you as you read the Bible. Again, if you need help with this, send me a message.

Convictions are firmly held beliefs. Whatever you believe, hold firmly to it. But how can you really make a choice about God, life, purpose, and salvation until you know what the Christians' beliefs are?

Oh, and be careful out there. I just read that the Arkansas State Police will be using low-profile cruisers so they can blend into the traffic flow. You don't want any traffic convictions on your record.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Preachers Get Together

I just had a lunch meeting with 25 ministers from central Arkansas. First, I must say that the bacon cheeseburger was more like a meatloaf on a bun. Wow! Each was served with a knife stuck through the top. Most places just use a toothpick but a toothpick would have been an insult to this burger. So, thanks to the chef at Markham Street Baptist Church for a wonderful meal. Oh, and we had a BIG cookie and chocolate shake for dessert. What's that? You think you hear God calling you into ministry?

I sat at a table with pastors and staff from several other churches. Some were a little bigger than the church where I pastor. Some were much bigger. A pleasant aspect of this fellowship of ministers is that everyone feels like they belong in the group. Nobody (that shows up) looks down on guys from other churches. If there is a spirit of competition it's hard to see it here. There's something about a huge burger than levels the ground where we all stand.

Actually, it's not the burger - as excellent as it was. The Spirit of God has created a lovely spirit of fellowship and unity here. Everyone is valued. Everyone is respected. We have a common goal of reaching central Arkansas for Jesus. Even here in the Bible Belt, we have a gospel-deficiency. We all serve in churches where the Christians are on a journey of spiritual maturity. And these churches are in the midst of communities that have become less and less Christian.

Jesus once looked out over a Samaritan village and said the harvest was plentiful. Another time Jesus said to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the fields. We live in an area where the harvest is plentiful and the workers must join together in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit if we hope to make much of an impact. That seems to be the desire of the men who gathered for burgers today.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School

"Some of the best years of my life." How many people have said that about high school. Yeah, I know we all have some regrets about who we were or what we did back then but we also made great friends, had wonderful experiences, and became who we are back then. The past is a double-edged sword of glory and groaning, remembrance and regret.

If we have leveraged the bad times into learning opportunities then we can truly say those years were good years. Like at any point in life, to fall or fail or flounder and not learn from it is opportunity lost.

The Bible says we are to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). That takes wisdom. Not the wisdom of this world but that of God. The Bible also says that there is a way that seems right to man but in the end leads to death (Proverbs 16:25). In other words, you aren't always right but God always is!

Years from now you will look back on today. You'll likely have one of two reactions. "That was a great day!" or "I wish I'd done better."

Riley heads back to school today. He's beginning seventh grade. Ah, seventh grade. Those were some of the best days of my life! I hope they are for Riley, too.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Matter of the Heart

So I'm out there running Saturday morning. Saturdays are our endurance days. We go four miles or more and now I'm running them again.

I'm not going very fast but not too bad considering the layoff. At about the 2.5 mile mark I'm struggling to get to the top of a long hill. And I make it. Then I walk.

My running buddy and trainer is about twenty yards ahead of me and can tell immediately that I've slowed down. So he turns around and comes back to me. "There's time to rest later. Get moving!"

I didn't say anything. I couldn't. Then he said, "You worked too hard to get your heart rate up. That's why we got up at 4:00 this morning."

There is a reason for everything. The reason I get up early three days a week is to improve my chances a living a few more days of quality life by strengthening my heart.

So I started thinking about my journey with the Lord. What's the point? It's a matter of the heart. Love the Lord with all your heart. Remember that verse? With my heart I love the Lord and I love other people. Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Remember that verse? My values are set in my heart.

And strengthening my heart takes work. I can't work a little and rest a little. I have to work hard and rest later. It would be a shame to run 2.5 miles, get my heart rate up, then stop and let my heart rate go back down before my heart really benefits from it. So I started running again and finished the 4.33 miles in 1:01:30.

I can't walk with the Lord every now and then. I have to stay with it in order to strengthen my heart, guard my heart. I can finish this race when I fix my eyes on Jesus. You can, too.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Alone with God

We are in our 19th month of walking or running three days a week. What started as a group of three and maxed out at eight was a duo this morning. Stuff happens. People change their minds. It gets hard.

For the last three or four months it's mostly been Forrest (leader/trainer), Deana (wife), and me. To encourage Deana and to baby my left knee, I've been walking at her pace most of the time. That's a lot different from the pace I had been running. It was actually a struggle to keep up at first because my knee problems had flared up. That's why I stopped running.

I have gotten used to the walking pace even as it picked up a little over the weeks. But I was never pushing myself to the point that I couldn't take part in the conversation. Here's my take: if you can carry on a conversation you're taking a stroll, not exercising.

Today it was just Forrest and me. I jogged a little on the last outing and we jogged the whole way today. I hope my knee can take the more aggressive pace. My weight has crept up since I stopped running and I want to get headed in the right direction again.

For the most part I've been at the head of the pack except for Forrest for the last 19 months. And recently I've stayed with the pack. Today Forrest was ten to forty yards ahead of me the whole way. When I compare myself to the others I look pretty good. I've stuck with it. I can pick up the pace and get out front.

But I could do nothing to keep up with Forrest. He could have beaten me by a mile if he wanted to. And the route was just 2.5 miles!

What happened on Rushing Road this morning between 5:00 and 5:30 exposed a great life-lesson. We can get a false sense of accomplishment when we compare ourselves with others who are struggling along the same road we are. The true picture of our status comes when we compare to the standard of excellence.

I don't feel bad that I couldn't keep up with Forrest. But I am encouraged to do better.

In the spiritual life some people like to compare themselves with others making the same journey. You can always find somebody to whom you compare favorably. It's easy to point out the struggles or downfalls of other people.

But how you stack up with other people really doesn't matter. Only one person is the standard of excellence by which we are judged: Jesus Christ. Comparisons to anyone else lead to a false sense of accomplishment, a puffed up spirit, and a sure fall into disappointment.

Time alone with Forrest helped me see my true level of physical fitness. I could make no excuses or false comparisons.

Time alone with God will help you see your need for his guidance and power in your life. There will be nobody to compare to. There will be no acceptable excuses.

And the good news is that Jesus wants to help you meet his expectations and example. You'll never be able to do it alone. He won't hold that against you as long as you follow him and give him glory with your life.

The last thing Forrest said before driving away was, "That was a good run." I hope one day to hear my Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Friday, August 02, 2013

Weekly Devotional - August 2, 2013

"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away."
Luke 19:26 NIV

"Use it or lose it." How often have you heard that phrase? We might refer to muscles or brain power or many other things. And most often, it's true!

United Airlines sent a notice to me in the mail last week because my frequent flyer miles are about to expire. "Frequent flyer" doesn't describe me at all but I did go to Russia last year and that's a lot of miles! My expiring mileage balance is 8,231.

The airline apparently (and correctly) assumes I'm not going to use those miles to purchase airfare so they sent a voucher to redeem for magazines. How about a gift card to my favorite coffee shop or pay for the next semester of tuition? That would be useful.

But I get magazines. Either that or I lose my miles. I wonder how many dollars I'll save if I use all my miles for magazines. I would prefer the airlines just reduce the price of airfare by that much and forget the mileage program.

So I use the miles or I lose the miles. Just like in the story Jesus told about the servants who managed their master's resources differently. The two who did well and showed an increase were praised and rewarded. The one who did nothing was punished. His was taken from him.

I want Jesus to find me being faithful, don't you? I can use my abilities and resources for his glory or not. That's my choice. But I think I know how he'll respond. Pray that God will help you be faithful when your blessings today.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Real Worship

Bruce Chesser is pastor of First Baptist in Hendersonville, TN. He formerly served in Little Rock at Geyer Springs. This is from his morning email today.

Sometimes we talk about going to a 'worship service' but, in truth, what we did was neither worship nor service. Just attending an event in a building called a 'worship center' on a Sunday morning does not make it worship. Worship is not something we attend. Worship is something we do.

Psalm 24 is a great passage that gives us a picture of real worship. It reminds us of the reason for our worship. It is because He is the maker of all that is. Everything belongs to Him. He laid its foundation and established the rivers. The psalmist reminds us of the requirement of worship. We must be willing to come clean with God. He asks the question 'who may stand in His holy place?' He answers by saying he who has clean hands and a pure heart. We must be clean in what we do and we must be clean in who we are. He also tells us what will happen when we worship the Lord, theresult of our worship. When we worship Him we will receive His blessings on our lives. He makes it very clear. 'He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation....'

Here is a word from the Word: (Psalm 24)
The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; for He laid its foundation on the seas and established it on the rivers. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory.

Hope to see you Sunday ready to worship!

Thank you, Mr. Ford

Monday, July 29, 2013

Witty Sayings vs Good Theology

I like reading church signs as I travel around. One of my favorites came from the Nazarene Church in Russellville, Arkansas many years ago. "Faith is not jumping to conclusions, it's concluding to jump."

The task of putting up these informative, witty sayings falls to me at our church. I've bought books and searched the web looking for good stuff. It's not the easiest thing on my job description.

A fundamental necessity for the sayings is that they are theologically sound. There are lots of pithy quotes to use but some just don't stand the litmus test of good theology.

For example, just down the road a church sign says, "Faith isn't believing God can, it's knowing God will." Maybe the problem is that a church sign just doesn't have enough space (only four lines) to be as clear as we would like. Otherwise, the saying is backwards.

Faith is the confidence that God can do anything and that he will do everything he desires to do. To simply say "it's knowing God will" implies we can use God as an at-will genie who does whatever we want him to do. I don't presume to know what God desires in every situation so I can't say that he will do what I think he should do. He certainly can but may not because my desire may not be his desire.

So if I had to put it on a sign I'd say that faith is believing God can, not knowing he will. Or maybe I'd just say something completely different since there's not enough room to be clear. "Potluck Sunday at 6:00."

Clear theology doesn't have to be a sermon but it often can't be said in four lines or 140 characters.

Thriving Through Adversity

I'll be honest, the last few months have had their share of adversity. Decisions by some have caused others to bear an unexpected load. Lack of information lead some to reach conclusions that miss the mark. Because of conversations I believe I must keep confidential, I can't completely set the record straight and am at the mercy of what others choose to say.

This is not a post to complain but one to celebrate what God is doing.

We've had a great summer at Cross Road (crbclr.org). And it's not over yet. By the end of the week we'll complete out fourth round of Vacation Bible School with the best participation in my tenure as pastor. We just got back from a mission trip where we engaged people who do not have a personal relationship with Christ. And we took three of our members who had not been on a mission trip during the time I've been pastor. Our summer attendance and giving has not dropped like most churches see during the vacation season.

Best of all, God is changing lives. Our people have a hunger for God's word and a desire to reflect his glory. We are thinking more about stuff that takes place when we are not gathered; like impacting the workplace and making a difference among our circles of friends. We are being better stewards of our resources both as a collective group and as individuals. That will translate into more resources for ministry to reach more people.

You may pull up our annual reports and question my contention that God is moving among us. What I am seeing is the early stages of revival among a few of our members. That won't move the needle of measurement very much but it is the start. And I'm celebrating that. I expect more to get involved. I expect more to join the movement. And as they do we'll see measurable growth in the annual statistics. Really, the measurables are indicators of what has already taken place. What we are experiencing today will show up on the reports later.

For now, I'll celebrate because God is moving among us. My prayer is that the adversity is seen for what it is: a distraction from God's mission. Like my friend Wylie Jones says, "Keep your eyes on Jesus and God will take care of everything else!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weekly Devotional - July 19, 2013

"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..."
Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

My son is attending a baseball camp this week. I took him to the college campus for check-in then stayed around to watch the first workouts. I love baseball and I love teaching/coaching baseball. I'm just not knowledgeable enough to be good at it! But every chance I get, I watch and listen to the guys that do know what they are talking about.

One of the drills the boys participated in was running to first base. Seems pretty simple, doesn't it? It reminded me of Riley's first day of T-ball. The boys all stood around home plate with the coach. He asked them, "Where is first base?" Riley pointed to third. He has since figured it out!

The coach taught these 12-year-old boys how to run to first. None of them did it right, at first. They looked at the ground or they looked at the sky or they closed their eyes. The end result was that they ran a crooked line to the base and were much slower.

By keeping their eyes on the bag - "Point your nose at the bag," the coach said - they ran straighter and faster. That's the difference between being safe or being out.

We are told to fix our eyes on Jesus as we persevere through life. It makes all the difference in the world! Pray that God will help you stay focused on Jesus today.