Thursday, January 30, 2014


I like to play cards. As a latchkey kid I learned to shuffle really well. I would come home after school and spend too much time playing cards. Summer days were even better - or worse! Anyway, I can shuffle cards really well. My mother-in-law is not sure whether I spent time in Vegas or not. I'm not telling.

Have you played Phase 10? That's a card game that lasts hours. It's the card game version of Monopoly. Like the "Never Ending Song," Phase 10 goes on and on. And I like it. Well, I used to like it more than I do now because I've been losing a lot lately.

Can you imagine sitting at a table of six or eight people playing Phase 10 but you have our own deck of 51 playing Solitaire? (I hope you caught the Statler Brothers reference there!)

Here's my point: some of us feel alone even in a crowd. Some of us feel like we are playing Solitaire at a table where everyone else is playing Phase 10. Solitaire is a lonely game. Loneliness is confining.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am an introvert and I often prefer to be alone. Give me a Kindle book on my iPad and I'm pretty satisfied most of the time. Put a clear flash card in my Canon and let me have fun with nature. I can do just fine much of the time all by myself. But not all the time.

God created us in his image and I believe that, in part, means that humans are wired for relationships and interaction. Private, quiet time alone is good and useful but God did not design us to spend all our time alone.

But even in a crowd or just small group, guys like me can feel alone.

I value a good lecture - especially when I'm the one talking! But I understand the value of conversation. Two people - three people - ten people interacting in conversation can accomplish much more than one-way communication.

Sometimes a one-way, direct communication is best. When severe weather threatens a community, it's not time to have a roundtable discussion about it. The weatherman needs to clearly and emphatically tell the residents what is happening and what they should do to protect themselves.

But the early morning shows featuring news, information, etc., are a much better way to engage people on a regular basis. What would it be like if Matt Lauer stared into your living room and sternly told you about the latest fashion or movie or book? You wouldn't listen for long. But when Matt and a guest have a conversation about these topics the viewers can't or don't turn away.

I've sat in conversations and committee meetings that were really monologues. My ideas, my responses, my reactions weren't the concern of the other person. It was like I was playing Solitaire at a table full of people playing Phase 10. In a crowd, yet lonely.

"Is anyone listening?" is the anguished call of too many. "Does anyone know my name?" "Does anyone care?"

We've been singing this song in church for a while.

He knows my name.
He know my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call.

When you sit at God's table, he listens. Even if you've wandered from his table or don't even know where his house is, he listens.

Just a word to all of you who don't struggle with this: please realize that there is someone around you who does struggle with loneliness. They may be quiet, slow to speak, and say very little. But they need you to listen when they do say something.

"He Knows My Name"

Monday, January 27, 2014

What I Plan To Do Tomorrow

Plans are good. Sticking to plans is good. Fretting when things don't go as planned is not good.

Today was to have been dotted with stops from Benton to Little Rock to Sherwood. Most of what I had planned to do did not happen. I missed out on some things I really wanted to do. But it just didn't work out.

Tomorrow might be better. Is "better" even the right way to look at it? Maybe the way today turned out was better than the way I thought it would. At least I ought to find to the good in what actually did happen rather than mourn the loss of what didn't.

Our perspective and attitude go a long way in helping us deal with the uncertainties and the unexpected things that come along. As it turns out, I accomplished quite a bit more in one area of my responsibilities. So that's a good thing.

Do you find that your days go like mine did today? It happens more often than not. For some reason, I miss a turn and wind up down the wrong road. Or I'm derailed by external circumstances. Either way, I'm not where I thought I should be.

I figure I might as well make the best of it. Sure, I'd like to be on schedule - where I planned to be at the time I planned to be there. One thing I've learned from international mission trips is that Americans are much more concerned about that than the rest of the world.

So having a plan is a good thing but getting uptight about plans gone haywire is not. Here's my plan for tomorrow...

  • Get up around 6:00 (that pretty much depends on when Lexi wants fed)
  • Pray for family, friends, church
  • Catch up on my Daily Bible Reading (I'm a day behind)
  • Head to Sherwood for the Evangelism Conference (missed today's sessions)
  • Have lunch at Mugs Cafe in North Little Rock
  • Check on a few families in the church
  • Plan and prepare for Sunday's worship service
  • Have supper with Deana and Riley
  • Practice music for Sunday with our praise team
  • Check social media and play Words with Friends
  • Get to bed around 9:30
That's what I plan to do - like James said, "if it's the Lord's will." I promise not to get irritated when something drops from the list or is added to it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


My favorite hymn is "I Stand Amazed in the Presence." Here are the words to the first verse.

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me - a sinner, condemned, unclean.

Now let me say a word about Matthew 7:28-29.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

That's the reaction after Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, I'm drawn to the word "amazed."

But their amazement was not necessarily accompanied by belief. To say the crowd was amazed means that they were astounded or impressed by what he said. That does not equate with believing in and committing to Jesus. Jesus spent the last few minutes of the Sermon offering response options: claim to believe but not have fruit that proves it or claim to believe and have fruit to substantiate the claim. Those who love Jesus, call him Lord, and claim to follow him will obey him.

Being amazed isn't enough. I can sing the first verse of the hymn over and over and it really tells you nothing except that I'm impressed the Jesus loves me.

But hear the chorus: Oh, how marvelous! Oh, how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: Oh, how marvelous! Oh, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me!

Being amazed is one thing. Proclaiming his love for me is another. Proclamation is a fruit of Christian living. A person who has entered a transformational relationship with Jesus (there is no other kind) will proclaim the truth to everyone they can find.

The verse is the truth. The chorus is the proof that I've embraced the truth.

I think Jesus found three responses to his Sermon. The teachers of the law bowed up at his drastic contrast to their typical teachings. They walked away looking for ways to shut him up.

A second response was the majority response. They were amazed but not committed. They were curious but not ready to join the kingdom movement.

The third option was to be amazed, committed, and transformed. Only a few made this response. A few dozen, maybe. But God changed the world through them. Within the next three years Jesus trained a few to take the challenge of sharing the Gospel. And they did. Thousands were added on the Day of Pentecost. Some were added every day.

A wave of transformation swept across the world and across time until it reached me.

I stand amazed! And I'll proclaim his transforming love.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Relationship Foundations

So we dove into that passage in Colossians that says wives are to submit to their husbands. It went OK. Nobody got hurt.

Take a minute to read Colossians 3:18-4:1.
Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and don't be bitter toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won't become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don't work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.
Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

Without getting into the full depths of the passage, let me point out that every relationship with have has its origin and example in Jesus Christ. Now, if you are not a Christian, I can't expect you to live according to New Testament principles; but if you are a Christian, then your relationships ought to be based upon biblical principles and you should see Jesus as your example.

And you should live that way.

We do this not because we are trying to earn a right standing with God but because through his grace and mercy we do stand right with him. His love authored the great sacrifice of Jesus his son so that anyone who commits their lives to him and repents of their sins will be forgiven and made right with God.

Then, as followers of Jesus Christ, we want to live to honor him. We want to live so others will see the truth of his goodness. We want to live for his glory. Every relationship we have on earth reflects the relationship we have with our heavenly father.

He is the foundation of all our relationships. His character becomes our character. We love like he loves. We are patient and kind and good. And the people in our lives can tell.

Keep these principles in mind as you interact with people today:

Wives, submit.
Husbands, love.
Children, obey.
Fathers, do not exasperate.
Slaves, obey.
Masters, supply.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coy Must Be Laughing

I'm preparing to teach a Bible study. The passage is Colossians 3:18-4:1. The first words are, "Wives, submit to your husbands."

Coy was a member of a church I pastored. He was an older gentleman who had a great sense of humor. Coy would ask me every few months when I was going to preach about wives submitting to their husbands. Then he'd laugh real big.

Coy was a trouble-maker!

I was going to be away from the church on a particular Sunday and I was tempted to ask Coy if he would preach for me and if he would preach any text I chose. I would've chosen Colossians 3:18 or Ephesians 5:22. I'm sure he would have turned me down. And he would have laughed real big.

Why are wives more interested in their husbands obeying what Paul said (to love their wives) than they are in obeying Paul's words to them? Every time I've gotten close to this passage, one of the women in my church groans and quickly points out the husbands' responsibilities.

You might say that I'm one blessed pastor. I am teaching the book of Colossians verse by verse on Wednesday nights. One Wednesday each month, I lead a study on missions instead. And we've missed a few Wednesdays for weather or special services. Last Wednesday night, the ladies in our church began a Bible study that will take them away from my group for a few weeks.

I say all that to say that I'm blessed because most of the women will not be in my Bible study tonight when I talk about what it means for wives to submit to their husbands. I'm blessed because I won't have to deal with the fussing (and flat out refusal) that usually accompanies the topic.

But that's not really good. If someone fusses about something the Bible says and refuses to do it, well they just aren't acting like Christians are to act.

It must be hard to submit. It must be hard for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church, too. Otherwise, our families would be stronger. And stronger families are the building blocks for stronger churches and a stronger society.

Maybe it's not a blessing that the women will not be in the Bible study tonight. I guess I'll have to post more on the blog. Or preach this passage on a Sunday morning. Or print out my notes and mail them to them.

Anonymously, of course.

I can hear Coy laughing.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Be Wise

This is no secret. AutoZone on Colonel Glenn and Barrow is not in the safest place in Little Rock. So when I called them to see if they could put an OBD code reader on my car, I just had to laugh out loud and share on social media.

Me: "Do y'all have the code readers?"

Her: "Yes, we do."

Me: "Can I come by anytime?"

Her: "Yes. Come before dark, though, because we don't go outside after dark."

You have to be wise and know your surroundings. You have to know the dangers and take practical steps to avoid them.The AutoZone management is wise to have this policy.

Christians have to be wise, too. Life can be a journey through a dark alley. Characters are lurking in the shadows to take advantage of you. Everyone is susceptible to temptation. James wrote to believers that temptation starts not with the tempter but within the tempted. Our own evil desires are the breeding ground for temptation. Our own evil desires are the playground for the tempter.

Satan - the devil - knows how to play the game. He's been doing it for thousands of years. And he's good at it. He knows the weaknesses that are common to us and specific to you. His toolbox is full of gadgets well-worn from use. How it must thrill him to see his tactics work again and again.

So we must be wise. In Proverbs we read, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). That wellspring should be kept pure by guarding our senses and filtering out the bad stuff. What we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell can get the mind working in the wrong direction. The wellspring is then polluted and we make decisions to take the bait and fall for the temptation.

Guard your heart by bathing it in God's word. Spending some time in the Bible each day is so important. I talk about it a lot and still cannot overstate its importance. It's a "what-goes-in-comes-out" kind of thing. If you fill your mind with God's word then you can easily detect falsehood and steer clear of it. You are less likely to be taken captive by the temptations when scripture is in your heart, on your mind, and rolling off your tongue.

Guard your heart by setting up parameters to keep you from stuff you shouldn't see or hear. We have DirecTV in our home. As I scroll through the channel guide I come across some stuff I don't want my family and me to watch. Do you know that you can block those channels from showing on the guide? By customizing the channel guide I am keeping those options away from my family. That's a simple but effective way to guard our hearts. And you have to have conversations with your children about what is and isn't appropriate and why inappropriate stuff is out there. Start early and hold your ground. I'm not saying that your 16 year old can only watch G-rated movies, but you need to teach her what she can and cannot watch and why. She'll be making more and more decisions on her own and you have to lay the foundation for her good decisions.

Guard your heart by being accountable to others. I need to confess something: I have very few close friends. If you are like me you may feel alone. Alone is good sometimes. Alone can be bad. Alone can lead to depression. Alone can lead to bad choices. You need two or three friends to be accountable with. Talk with them regularly and talk about the tough topics of sexual and financial accountability. Talk about marriage and parenting. Talk about your walk with the Lord. It's just wise to do this.

And don't flirt with temptation. Three steps requires more effort than one. The further away from temptation you stay, the easier it is to stay away from it. Be wise. Guard your heart.

If the neighborhood is dangerous after dark then don't go outside after dark! It just makes sense to me.

photo credit

Monday, January 13, 2014

Do You See God's Hand?

On at least two Sunday nights each month you can find Cross Road Baptist Church gathered for Bible study in our members' homes. Our group will fit in one living room so we rotate from house to house. We'll start meeting in two homes each week when the group gets a little larger. We'd love to have you join us even if you aren't part of our church family. The church's website always lists the when and where for the next Sunday Night Bible Study.

For a few weeks we've been talking about the Book of Esther. The main theme that we seem to always talk about is God's sovereignty over all things. We came to chapter 6 last night. Haman is planning the demise of Mordecai and all the Jews. Esther is a relative of Mordecai and also the Queen. She invited the King and Haman to a special banquet wanting to expose Haman's plot to the King. On the first night of the banquet (chapter 5) Esther invites them to a second banquet the next night.

Chapter 6 starts by telling us that the King can't sleep. In the middle of the night he calls for his servant to bring him the records of his kingdom. Can you see God at work in this? God kept the King awake. The King chose to read rather than a number of other things he could have done. He chose to read his own biography! And the servant selected the volume that included another amazing twist to the story.

Years earlier, Mordecai had overheard two of the King's servants plotting to kill the King. Mordecai sent word to the King and saved his life. The book that the servant pulled from the shelves in the middle of the night included this event. Of all the volumes, the servant picked this one! Surely, God is at work. The King asked if anything had been done to honor Mordecai. Nothing had been done.

At that time Haman enters the courtroom and the King picks him to honor Mordecai. Haman is the greatest enemy of the Jews and he is plotting to kill Mordecai, but now he must lead the city to honor him. This humiliates the proud Haman, who expected the day to be a time of celebration of his own greatness.

The end of the chapter tells us of Haman returning home to explain to his family what had happened. They are no encouragement but tell him that since Mordecai is a Jew, Haman has no chance. At that moment, messengers from the King arrive to escort Haman to the second night's feast. A peek into chapter 7 reveals that Haman is exposed and the King has him killed using the very gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

Haman's death opens the door for a plan to rescue the Jews from his plot to exterminate them. God is at work!

Do you see God's hand at work in your life? Sometimes you can see him clearly; sometimes not so much. Sometimes you wonder if he's doing anything. You wait and wonder.

I've heard this from many sources so I won't give credit for fear of being wrong. "When you can't trace God's hand you can trust his heart."

God's heart is full of love for you. God's heart is attending to what is best for you. God's heart is to draw you to him.

He's always doing something motivated by his heart. Maybe you can't see or hear or feel anything. But trust his heart.

Today could be a day when you are celebrating because you see his hand at work. Or today could be a day when you are desperately wondering if he cares. You are never out of God's sight and never out of his care. His hand is moving.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Stress and Jobs

Suzanne Lucas compiled a list of the most and least stressful jobs. I eagerly clicked on the link to see where pastors ranked. My guess is that if the list was based on what pastors thought, the career would be high on the stressful list. But if church members were polled, being a pastor would be high on the least stressful list.

And the survey says...

10 Most Stressful Jobs
  1. Enlisted military personnel
  2. Military general
  3. Firefighter
  4. Airline pilot
  5. Event coordinator
  6. Public relations executive
  7. Senior corporate executive
  8. Newspaper reporter
  9. Police officer
  10. Taxi Driver
10 Least Stressful Jobs
  1. Audiologist
  2. Hair stylist
  3. Jeweler
  4. Tenured university professor
  5. Seamstress/tailor
  6. Dietitian
  7. Medical records tech
  8. Librarian
  9. Multimedia artist
  10. Drill press operator

OK, so pastors made neither list. Let me speculate. Pastors made #11 on one of the lists. But which one? Is being a pastor a stressful job or is it relatively stress-free?

What do you think?

Monday, January 06, 2014

Thinking Beyond Ourselves

Is it just me or do you do this, too? I am prone to plan and scheme and devise according to my own abilities. Sometimes I even dream this way.

When I sit down to plan I think about what I can do, what I want to do, what I've done before...

That's too much I!

This indicates a flaw in perspective. A flaw in theology.

God has a grand purpose and design. He chooses to us me but not because of what I bring to the table. Can you imagine God looking around the earth, spotting me, and thinking, "Oh, boy! There's Bob. I'd never be able to do this without him!"? No, I can't imagine that either.

Instead, I believe God shows his glory to me and through me by using me in something that is greater than me.

Paul put it this way.

I am a common vessel. We are common vessels. God is God.

But God uses me. He uses us. God empowers us to be more than we are and to do more than we can.

Maybe God does choose to use me because of what I bring to the table: nothing! It's in my weakness that his strength is known. It's in my inability that his ability is magnified.

I'll be honest. It frustrates me when Christians look at their limitations or failures or obstacles and plan accordingly. We set goals that we can reach, whether it's a missions offering, an outreach event, or a high attendance Sunday.

Hopefully, I'm not out of line in making this application of scripture. In Matthew 6 Jesus says that if we do "acts of righteousness" purposefully out in the open so everyone can see, then the praise of those in our earthly audience is the only praise we'll get. But if we do them to honor God rather than to honor ourselves, he blesses us.

Is it possible that when we aim for something that we think we can hit, even reaching the goal leaves us empty? Is trying to meet our expectations rather than seeing God work in miraculous ways going to leave us with a false sense of accomplishment rather than experiencing the awesome glory of God?

I've often said that a church is not considered large or small because of the number of people who attend it but because of its vision. I pastor what would be considered a small membership church but I refuse to have a "small church" mentality because I believe God will do great things through any group of believers who seek his goals rather than their own.

So when we plan we use an abundance of hope and optimism and expectation with only a dash of realism. By this I mean that we realistically consider our earthly resources but never underestimate our heavenly resources.

Flipping the recipe shows more dependence upon ourselves rather than faith in God. The right mix shows we believe God can take all that we offer him and multiply the results. A story comes to mind of a little boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples said, "That's not enough." Jesus said, "It'll do. Watch this."

I'm ready to watch what God can do. And to be part of it.

Image credit

Friday, January 03, 2014

Faces in the Crowd

I watched the Sugar Bowl last night. Millions of us did. Most were thrilled with a great football game. I'm sure Alabama fans are disappointed. I would be if Arkansas had been in their position.

On second thought, I'd be super excited if the 2013 Hogs had made the Sugar Bowl!

Can any of us really understand what the Alabama fans experienced? The last time the Crimson Tide lost consecutive games was at the end of the 2008 season. Florida beat them in the SEC Championship Game. Utah beat them in the Sugar Bowl. Since then, Alabama has gone undefeated for one season and had only one loss in two other seasons. A three-loss season was the low point but the losses weren't consecutive.

Losing the Iron Bowl - which cost them a shot at the National Championship this year - then losing the bowl game has to be the lowest point in many years. The expectations were high. The results were really pretty good but not when compared to the expectations.

I suffer from perfectionism. At one point I thought I had kicked it. In a Bible study in 1993 I learned that my perfectionism drives my procrastination. That explains many of the opportunities I've missed along the way. It works like this for me: I put off a task thinking I don't have time to do it perfectly now but somehow (stupid!) I'll have time later. Later comes and goes and the opportunity is wasted. Disappointment sets in.

I've never lost a championship game. Never been in a championship competition. But I know the disappointment that showed on the Alabama fans' faces as ESPN seemed to catch them at just the right moment. Did you recognize it, too?

On one level I'll admit that I was happy to see it. But on a deeper level I empathized with them. They watched as expectations went unmet. They watched as opportunity passed them by.

Some of us can look back on the landscape of our past and we see unmet expectations and missed opportunities. And we feel agonized. Maybe even guilty.

Each of us will have to determine whether the expectations were realistic or not. And we'll each have to decide if missing the opportunity was a curse or a blessing.

In every case, the disappointment is real but keeping (returning to) a right focus can help us move forward. And we don't have to wait until the next college football season starts - we don't have to agonize through an off-season. We just look toward Jesus and set out path toward him. A Jesus-focused life has expectations that honor him and are reachable through his power. A Jesus-focused life helps us stay on the right path that leads us to opportunities at just the right time.

Take these steps to overcome disappointment in your life.
  1. Confess and repent of any sin that might be associated with the disappointment.
  2. Study the Bible on your own and with a small group of friends to help you know God and his will.
  3. Get active in ministry through a local church so God can work in you and through you to accomplish awesome things.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? 
Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, 
for I will yet praise him, 
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42)

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014 Forecast

The weather across Arkansas is diverse today. Temps are hovering at freezing in central Arkansas but well below 20 in northwest Arkansas. And I heard rumors of snow flurries in Rogers. The forecast calls for even colder temperatures over the next day or two because a cold front is passing our way.

But that's not the kind of forecast I'm talking about today. As we roll into another year it seems like everyone is making predictions and resolutions. From my perspective as pastor of an evangelical Christian church in North America, I predict three things.

First, if we do exactly what we did in 2013 we'll get exactly the same results in 2014. Actually, doing the same thing will likely result in less God-honoring results. The times are changing and ministry must be proactive in establishing methods that will be effective today. And if you haven't been proactive then be reactive but with great caution. Either way, Christians must continually sharpen our methods and retool our ways while staying razor-focused on the message that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.

Second, if we continue to communicate with those outside the church in the same way we have, we'll continue making little progress reaching them. We communicate on at least two levels that are wrong. One way is by saying nothing. The culture is moving further and further away from biblical morality. And we say little or nothing. Our silence just opens the gate for further immorality. So speak up for the Lord. On the other hand, some Christians say too much or they say what they say the wrong way. Everything we say and do must be in love. But our posts on social media, our marches on government facilities, or our boycotts of targeted businesses often show hatred and judgmental attitudes rather than compassion and evangelistic concern. We can make little impact or we can make a difference.

Third, Jesus Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords all year long. That's what gives us hope that many people will come to salvation in Christ during this year. That's what gives us hope that new churches will be started in communities all around the world. That's what gives us hope to live God-honoring lives even though we may face persecution for standing upon and for the truth.

Here are two Bible verses that can help us live in 2014 in ways that bring glory to Jesus.

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

The forecast for 2014 looks bright for followers of Jesus Christ.