Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Curtain Falls

I've been in four plays. I was Prince Charming in first grade. I was type-cast then and it has followed me throughout my life. I was Johnny Appleseed in another elementary production. I had to dance. Don't tell anyone.

I was Obeey Upschlager in our junior play Hillbilly Weddin'. I had the opening line. "Ain't it soon time ya moved, Pa Belsnickle?" Eddy Tiner replied, "Ain't made up my mind which way t' move yet." And we were off and running.

Then I played the father/coach in our senior play but I can't remember much about it other than I struggled to remember my lines. I now had a job so I could make a truck payment. Thanks to a few offstage prompters, I made it through. Being a senior is much different than being a junior.

I spent a few years singing in a gospel group and the last song was kind of like the last scene of a play. When it was over I would often quote the Apostle Paul before we walked off the stage: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

When the curtain falls on a performance the performers can have mixed emotions. Relief. It had been weeks or months of preparation. Then the performances. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief when the curtain falls.

Sadness. You've poured so much of your time and effort into something that is now over. How many times have the performers wanted just one more performance?

Memories. The people who work together to create a performance - whether it's on a stage or a playing field - bond in ways unique from other relationships. Not necessarily better, just different.

The end of a play, the end of a performance, the end of a season, the end of a year share these in common. Relief. Sadness. Memories.

All that you might consider to be a negative from 2015, let it impact 2016 only as lessons learned. Don't make the same choices that led to the disappointment or discouragement. Do your best to steer clear of people and situations that harmed you.

Everything positive from 2015 can serve as launching points for the new year. Build upon the successes. Tweak what was good to make it better or best. Find encouragement from what you did well and leverage that to energize new ventures. Your creativity this year is a window into what you can imagine for the future.

Bind all of this in faith. I like to say that faith is letting God be God and do what only God can do. His ways and thoughts are better than ours, so says King Solomon. I believe it's true and have found it to be so over and over again. When I trust my ways and thoughts over God's I get into trouble. Maybe you've found that to be true for you, too.

I want to be faithful. Then I can rest knowing that he is in control. Then I can charge forward knowing he is leading the way. Then I can dare to glorify him knowing the he deserves utmost glory. Then I can get up after I've fallen knowing that he forgives and restores those who love him.

2015 does impact 2016 whether you like it or not. But you have the choice whether or not the impact will be helpful.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Christmas Anyway

Yes, I just made a Christmas Eve shopping trip. Went to Walmart and Kroger. Not very busy at either place. Ran the AC in the car. Even wore shorts. It sure doesn't feel like Christmas.

It's a good thing that Christmas isn't based on a feeling. It's Christmas not because of the weather or the people I'm around or not around. It's Christmas because of Immanuel - God with us!

I hope you can look beyond the circumstances and focus on the Savior.

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew 1:21

"When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."
Galatians 4:4

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Finals Week

I have spent years and years as a student. The regular K-12. Four years for a BS in Economics and Finance. A masters degree and most of a doctorate. I will tell you that through high school I didn't have to study. Maybe I had a good memory. But "straight A's" became harder in college.

More distractions with work and family, maybe. It just got harder. I still wanted the perfect test scores but soon settled for A's and B's. Then a professor told the class, "D equals MDiv." That's funny and true but it probably hurt me down the road.

http://blogs.luc.edu
So all that just to say that I understand the pressures of Finals Week. That's where we are around our house this week. Riley is taking finals for his first semester of 9th grade.

My advice to Riley throughout the last few years when finals became part of the experience was to be prepared. If you are prepared then there is nothing to worry about. Anything less than good preparation and you'll likely not recognize some of the test questions.

Panic can set in and blow the whole test. And the whole semester's grade. Nothing beats preparation. If you have prepared for the test then it doesn't matter if the questions are T/F, multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, or essay. Trick questions won't trip you up. So, as the Boy Scouts would say, "Be prepared!"

I worked for a few years leading a training department for a group of call centers. Part of my responsibility was to create training material, including the tests. Some employees complained the tests were too hard. Sure they were hard. But not too hard for those who were prepared. I worked by the motto, "If the training is hard, the job will be easy; if the training is easy, the job will be hard." I guess it worked. I recently heard from a friend that the company still uses some of my material. I've been gone nine years.

Life is like that. It doesn't matter if it's education, job training, athletic competition, or anything else. Preparation makes the difference.

What are you doing to be prepared for the next challenges in your life? Here are some tips.
  • Always be learning. Learn more about what you currently do. Learn something new. Some of us know a great deal about one thing but very little about anything else. A broad knowledge base will help you when you face something new. Learners are leaders and leaders are learners.
  • Read more. This can be part of learning but it's also part of protecting from the status quo. You can get into a rut regarding work, school, relationships, etc. Reading brings new ideas into your thinking process. Some ideas you will embrace. Others you'll cast away after pondering them. You may even quickly toss an idea you recognize as foolish. But if you aren't reading you aren't considering all the possibilities.
  • Begin friendships with people who are different from you. You can choose the differences. And make sure the differences stretch your comfort levels. If you always surround yourself with people just like you, you'll never grow and the challenges may overwhelm you.
  • Work or serve outside your area of expertise. Let your interests guide you. I am a pastor but I loved coaching youth baseball. I'm not a hunter but I love photography so I get out into nature with my camera. I'm an introvert but have volunteered to work the concession stand at busy ballgames just to work on interacting with others.
What else can you think of that will prepare you for the next challenges...many will be unexpected.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Training Our Children

Just outside my line of sight is a table of three old folks and a toddler. The toddler is a granddaughter to the couple; an uncle (great-uncle) is also with them.

The uncle asked the grandmother when the parents were coming back. "This week. Thank God!" I guess the joys of grandparenting can be tempered only by long sessions of having to do it.

Another part of the conversation caught my ear, too. As they sat down to eat the chicken biscuits they prayed. I don't really agree with the ritualistic way they did it but I appreciate that they prayed. And they made sure the toddler went through the motions with them. From their comments I could tell that the little girl is learning to pray with them.

The Bible tells us to teach our children the truths of scripture and the ways of God.

"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NIV)

Years ago, a retired pastor told me, "We've raised a generation who have raised a generation without God." A lot truth rides in those words.

About 15 years ago I led a Bible study that focused on the problems associated with not following the Deuteronomy passage. The example in the center of the study was about King David and his descendants. David was a man after God's own heart. His son Solomon was a wise king but intermarried with pagans, and that diluted the worship of God. Solomon's sons were godless.

If we neglect, even slightly, the command to train our children in biblical principles we are making it easy for them to ignore biblical principles. And harder for them to adhere to them.

What are you doing to impress biblical principles upon your children and grandchildren? Here are some simple things you can do almost every day.
  • Pray. Pray with them. Pray for them. Involve them in your prayers. Let them hear you pray for all sorts of issues. In this way they will learn that God cares about and can do something about every situation they will find themselves in later in life.
  • Praise. If you are open and free with your praise of Holy God your children will learn that God is good and worthy of worship. So sing with the Christian songs on the radio or MP3. Acknowledge God's activity. Thank him for his goodness.
  • Be involved. Going to church gatherings for worship and Bible study teach children that this is important. Going on a mission trip does the same. Regularly volunteering in a local ministry project (and take the kids with you!) tells them that loving God means loving others, too.
  • Read the Bible. A teenager slogging through the kitchen at 6:45 each morning needs to see you with a Bible open. Or at least see the Bible open on the table so he'll know you've been reading. If you can involve them in Bible study with you that would be great. If not, at least you can share with them one truth you've learned that day. If you neglect God's word they will, too.
There is no silver bullet to make sure your children grow up to be faithful Christians. Modeling faithfulness is a good start. And it's commanded in scripture. No matter the age of your children or grandchildren, it's not too late to start training them in the ways of the Lord. And it's always too soon to stop.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Considering Retirement

Yesterday Kobe Bryant announced he would retire at the end of this season. David Ortiz said he would play for the Boston Red Sox one more year. We watched Sunday Night Football as the Broncos defeated the Patriots in overtime without Peyton Manning. Manning says he wants to play another year but his health may not allow that.

Sports is an arena for the young, strong, healthy. The person who can compete at a high level for a long time is an anomaly. Most of us never compete past the age of 18. Some sports allow participants to be ultra-competitive longer into life. It's not unusual for a 40 year old golfer to win championships but there aren't many at that age playing baseball, football, or basketball.

The physical nature of sports takes its toll on a body and there is nothing you can do about it. Except retire. So Kobe and Big Papi will run one more lap through their leagues. Peyton may make a comeback but even as amazing as he is it will be unlikely he will return to championship form.

We could list names from all walks of life that we've watched move into and out of the highest levels of success in their fields. One thing remains the same: time marches on.

As a Christian minister I see the same thing happen in churches. Whether it's the stress of serving or the glamour of retiring, each year another person steps away from teaching or serving or leading. "I've done it long enough. It's time for someone younger to take over."

I wonder what Paul (in the Bible) would say about that. His own journey tells me he would not accept the resignation of anybody. As a young man he was a zealous persecutor of the young Christian movement. After conversion he redirected his zeal toward evangelism. He pressed into new regions of the world taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to unreached people.

As the pressure against him ratcheted up, he didn't quit. Arrested, chased out of town, beaten, left for dead... Nothing stopped him from sharing Jesus with others. Nothing stopped him from teaching the truths of scripture. Nothing stopped him from mentoring young men to become leaders.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." These are some of the last word Paul wrote. Many of his letters to Christians are part of the New Testament. This letter to Timothy came from a prison cell. Paul would not live much longer but he served until the end.

You may not be able to serve int he same capacity you did when you were younger. You may be considering stepping aside and letting the younger folk take over. I want to encourage you to still be actively involved in ministry. No matter your age or physical ability, you can do something for the church.

Mrs. Margaret was a great example of this. She was elderly and couldn't attend church very often but she still found a way to serve. Every Saturday she would call every family in the church (it was a small church) and ask what their prayer needs were and remind them to come to church the next day. Then she would report her findings. When Mrs. Margaret could attend she would hand me a piece of paper with all the names listed along with their prayer needs and why they would miss church if they were not coming.

Imagine getting a phone call every week from someone asking how they can pray for you. I believe that would transform many churches. I believe that would transform many Christians. And it happened in this church because one woman didn't retire.

You are not an athlete with a multi-million dollar contract. You are worth much more than that. You may not be able to do what you used to do but you can do something. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday

I'm not out shopping today. That's not to say I'm not shopping, just not out and about. Not yet anyway.

But social media has lots of good posts about the mess you guys are in out there.

For example, you are more likely to get in a fight on Black Friday in Arkansas than in any other state. So says estately.com and the thousands of us who reposted. Honestly, I think this may apply to any day of the year in Arkansas, not just Black Friday. Just saying'...

Everybody is posting pictures of the food they ate and who they ate with. The variety of the celebrations fascinates me.

erlc.com/theweekly
And most people post something about being thankful. Sometimes it's just a general statement and other times it's a pretty good list. I wonder if many of us think to thank God for all this rather than just to be thankful in some way that's detached from the giver of all gifts.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention distributes a weekly email called The Weekly that contains tidbits of information relevant to the week. This week's email came today and the following was the top article. Before getting to the article, let me make a couple of comments. Go to erlc.com/theweekly and sign up to receive The Weekly in your inbox.

Notice that Black Friday was first used to indicate the dark side of bad side of the holiday rush - traffic. What a mess the traffic must have been in the 1950s! Imagine what the Philadelphia PD officers from that time would say if they had to work today. Anyway, while shoppers think of Black Friday as The Day to get great deals, and while businesses see Black Friday as the key to making a profit for the year, the term started as a negative. Isn't it uncanny the way we can turn a negative image into a money-maker?

Here's the article.

5 Facts About Black Friday

Today is the unofficial first day of the holiday shopping season. Here are five facts you should know about “Black Friday.”
1. The term "Black Friday" was coined by the Philadelphia Police Department's traffic squad in the 1950s. According to Philadelphia newspaper reporter Joseph P. Barrett, “It was the day that Santa Claus took his chair in the department stores and every kid in the city wanted to see him. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season.” Barrettt first used the term in the city’s newspaper, the Evening Bulletin, in 1961 to refer to the traffic problems on that day. Local merchants complained to police commissioner Albert N. Brown about the negative association of the term, so Brown released a press release describing the day as “Big Friday.” By then it was too late; the media had already started referring to the day after Thanksgiving as  “Black Friday.”
2. Because so few people were aware of the origin of the term Black Friday, an alternative explanation became popular: that it is the day on which retailers finally began to show a profit for the year (in accounting terms, moving from being "in the red" to "in the black"). The earliest use of this meaning, though, dates only to the early 1980s.
3. The predecessor to “Black Friday” was the “Santa Claus parade.” Canadian department store Eaton's held the first Santa Claus parade on December 2, 1905. Santa’s appearance at the end of the parade signaled that the holiday season — and Christmas shopping — had begun. In the U.S., the department store Macy’s adopted the idea and started sponsoring similar parades across the country. The most famous event, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, began in 1924.
4. For several years in the 1930s, the date of Thanksgiving was moved to increase the Christmas shopping period. At the request of retailers, Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to move his holiday proclamation up one week to the fourth Thursday in November. Of the then-48 states, 32 joined Roosevelt in the “Democratic Thanksgiving” while 16 stuck with the “Republican Thanksgiving” of the traditional date. After critics complained about “Franksgiving,” Roosevelt signed legislation making Thanksgiving a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday in November.
5. In 2009, K-Mart became the first major national retailer to open its stores on Thanksgiving morning. Several other large retailers—including Wal-Mart, Sears, and Toys R Us—also began opening their stores a day early in 2011. Since then, Black Friday has been replaced by what some retailers refer to as “Grey Thursday.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Persecution

The last few weeks I've been reading about global religious persecution. Christians in Muslim and Communist contexts suffer greatly for their faith. Radical Islam calls for the extinction of the infidels. Communist dogma demands total allegiance to the government leaving no place for religion.

But Christianity is no stranger to persecution. As I prepared for a sermon from Second Thessalonians my study reminded me that the church in Thessalonica was birthed amid persecution (see Acts 17). Jesus told his disciples that they would certainly be hated by the world just as the world hated Christ. The New Testament repeatedly tells of Christians facing persecution.

The American church seems to be immune to it, though. Even in recent years while we have watched the culture and the government move away from biblical morality, persecution hardly describes our plight.

When I think of immunity I think of not being impacted (getting a sickness) by something negative around you. Maybe a person's tolerance is built up against the disease. Maybe they have been inoculated. The best way to avoid the flu is to wash your hands frequently, stay away from those who are sick, and get the shot.

It's that "stay away from those who are sick" that bothers me about the American church and persecution. I've learned in my recent reading that persecution is to be expected - it's natural - when the gospel moves into the darkness of sin. If one Muslim becomes a Christian and is the only believer in his village, he will be persecuted severely. If one house church in a communist country is exposed they will be shut down, jailed, or worse. As the light of the gospel pushes against the darkness, darkness wants to push back.

So why do American Christians not face persecution like so many of our brothers and sisters around the world do? Does it have anything to do with the conflict between the light of the gospel and the darkness of sin? I think so. We make a lot of noise about the gospel but do we make much progress in advancing the gospel.

Let me say it this way: We seem to be more concerned with making sure we are free to share our faith than we are with actually sharing our faith.

Have you had a child learning to play an instrument? Remember what you endured in those early months or years? It was noise more than music. But remember how it one day turned to music as they continued with practice and the tones were more melodic? When Christians sound off about things other than the gospel we sound like a toddler banging on pots and pans. But when we faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ it sounds right.

And what sounds right to the Lord sounds awful to darkness. So persecution is the response. We shouldn't go out looking for persecution. At the same time we ought not let the fear of persecution keep us from going out.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Let us live out our faith and tell others about our Savior even if persecution may come. Let us remember in prayer our brothers and sisters who face persecution today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Troubles All Around

Do you think about the problems other people experience? If I'm not careful I will focus on my problems and pay no attention to what goes on around me. I'm trying to get better at it; it's a daily endeavor.

A social media post I saw yesterday suggested to listen for one hour and then talk for one hour and see which hour was better spent. We spend way too much time inwardly focused and miss the chance to engage in another person's life.

Jesus was great at perceiving the needs of the people he met. He often heard or saw through the smoke screen people put up. You now what I mean - we can be pretty good at projecting an image that's not a true rendering of our lives. Jesus cut through the fiction and spoke to the truth.

Was that because he is God? Yes, but we shouldn't give up on our ability to do the same. As believers we have the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Jesus - within us. The Spirit does much in our lives and one of the things he equips us to do is to see people as Jesus sees them, to hear them as Jesus does.

What might you hear? Longings of person who thinks there is no hope. Cries of a person who is deeply hurt. Questions of a person who is confused by the contradictions of this world. Anger from a person made at everything. Pessimism from a person who has been dealt one blow after another. Each of them needs someone to speak life and hope and joy into their souls.

You may also hear the relief of a person who has sensed the presence of God in their lives. Joy from one who finally let God have control of everything. Celebration that arises from victories only God can engineer. These people also need someone to listen to them and to encourage them.

In wedding ceremonies I will often tell the coupe that in the marriage relationship they will discover some interesting math. Their sorrows will be halved as they share the burdens; their joys will be doubled as they share the good things.

The same can be true for other relationships. People need people. Will you be the person someone needs today?

My friends in gospel music recorded a song many year ago that says, "If you'll move over a little bit I'll help you carry the load." Someone needs you.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Junk

Everyday I get gobs of email generated because I signed up for something that required an email address. If possible when registering for access to a website I try to uncheck the box that says I want to receive email from them. Have you noticed that most of the time this box is already checked? Do nothing and you get an inbox full of stuff from them and their partner companies and their employee of the month's grandmother. OK, I made up that last part but the rest is mostly true.

I also receive email that I intended to get. Some of my favorite speakers and writers have regular posts that I like to see. I get updates from my favorite sports teams. I'll get notices when my favorite blogs have been updated. (You can do that for this blog. Look over there to the right where it says, "Get new posts delivered to your inbox.")

Paying bills online is pretty cool. Make sure you trust the sites you use. But if you do use the online systems you'll get email when a new statement is available, when the bill is due, when the bill is past due, and when a payment is received. You'll get their annual privacy policy reminders they are required by law to send to their customers.

Now days I get fewer and fewer email that I really anticipate getting. When my family emails me…I like that. When a friend checks in…I like that. But I don't get as much email like that as I use to get. Why? Because email is not the most popular or easiest way to communicate. Do you remember when you first got into email - this is really for the 50+ crowd. It was new. We had never seen it before. We had to learn how to use the applications. Then we emailed everyone about everything. And if you are an information/communication packrat like me, you built up a very healthy data file.

The IT guy at the company I worked for when I first got email came to me one day. "You know, you have a pretty big data file for your email account. Don't you ever delete anything." "It's not that I don't delete email, it's that I save a lot of it." A LOT OF IT. Ever had that conversation with a boss that turns out to be "He said vs I said"? Yeah, I save email. Big data file.

So there are a lot of ways we can get information that have pushed email from the pedestal…at least in my circles. Social media and messaging rule!

What about church? Specifically, meeting together as a church in Bible study and worship? These gatherings seem to have become obsolete for many people. Do they think of gathering like this in the same way we might think of Andy Taylor's telephone? Do the Christians who skip most of the church's gatherings think there is a better way to be God's people?

And what about the information they receive through Bible studies and sermons? Does that just automatically go the the "Junk" folder to be ignored for a while then deleted altogether? Do Christians anticipate receiving the Good News found in the Bible?

I believe a person's attitude about the Word of God is on display in the way they apply its teachings.

Just like my email is full of stuff I don't really look at, my social media accounts are that way, too. I skip over much of it. But there is no page in your Bible you can skip over. None of it is junk. Every word was written on paper by men but inspired by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us great truths about God, to draw us to him, and to transform our lives.

Every moment spent reading God's word is valuable. Every Bible study you participate in is worthwhile. Every sermon you hear can help you. (I really feel like I should qualify "Bible study" and "sermon" to eliminate those that aren't true to scripture. But isn't it a shame that we feel like we have to differentiate between biblical Bible study and non-biblical Bible study? Between biblical sermons and non-biblical sermons? Like my preaching professor said on the first day of "Biblical Preaching" class, "Is there really any other kind of preaching?")

I should treasure every word from God even more than I treasure the email and messages and calls from my family and friends. So should you. Anticipate hearing from God. Prepare to hear from God. Enjoy hearing from God. Apply what you hear from God.

That will help you deal with a lot of the junk that piles up in your life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Will Give You Rest

In my line of work the word regeneration has a specific meaning relating to Christian salvation. It is the re-birth that takes place in a person's life when they call on Jesus' name believing he is the one and only Savior and Lord.

As I was reading Vance Havner's book Lord of What's Left, I came across that word and automatically had that definition in my mind. Maybe he was talking about regeneration in that sense but the point of his writing seems to be something I need. But I'm already born again and the Bible does not teach the necessity or possibility of being born again again.

The chapter I just read talks about the days gone by when people had time to get to know one another. Life was different, slower. Neighbors knew each other. We don't have much time these days to reflect on the good things in our lives or meet our neighbors or enjoy our families.

When talking about times of escape or vacation, Havner writes that we are "refugees from progress who've brought it all with them." Certainly, I rarely go anywhere without my computer. The last time I left my phone in the car when I went into a store for a few minutes I felt like I was going to have a fit before I could get back to it. Refugees from progress, sure.

"The main trouble is we've brought ourselves along. Escaping from that character is difficult business. It means getting through to God and being regenerated."

For sure, a person who lives outside a personal relationship with Jesus Christ needs to be regenerated. That's his only hope of escaping from that character.

As a Christian, I have found myself wrapped up in the happenings of post-modernity and it sucks the vibrancy out of me.

Jesus spoke words that have great meaning for those of us in either situation. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Peter said this: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

James wrote, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10).

The way to escape the burden we refugees of progress bear is a right relationship with Jesus. Come to him. Repent of your sins. Humble yourselves before him.

We no longer live in the early 1900s. Those days are gone and will never return. Our lives are marked by a hurried-ness that threatens to keep the lost from being regenerated or the saved from living a regenerated life. But Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again," so it must be possible. It is possible through Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Worship Wars

I started out as a singer. When I surrendered to the Lord's call to ministry I really thought I would be in music. I had aspired to replace Don Reid with the Statler Brothers or Duane Allen with the Oak Ridge Boys. Alas, this teenaged dreamer did not know that those men were forever fixtures in those groups.

Then I decided to be the next Kenny Hinson. His voice was the best I had ever heard. That distinction still holds today even though Kenny passed away about 20 years ago. I admired him so much that I got an Ovation guitar and permed my hair. I still have the guitar. The perm and most of the hair are long gone.

Then that Thursday night of summer camp. I'll never forget it. My life has not been the same since. My closest friend at that time…well, we've not been on speaking terms since. That's all on me, by the way. But the Lord was altering my direction. It was a direction not everybody can go. I'm glad I jumped on board and made the change.

And I thought that change would simply be the way I used my music. A prophetic old preacher man learned of my surrender and told me - when he heard I intended to sing - "Bob, you aren't the best singer I've ever heard." I wanted to but did not say, "And you aren't the best preacher I've ever heard." Although I wasn't very wise I was wise enough not to say it.

And he was right about the direction my life would go. I started preaching. I kept singing, too. Since the last Thursday in June of 1982 I have been a pastor, a music leader, a youth director, and Bible study leader. When I surrendered to the call I said I would do anything. And I have done a lot.

One thing that has always bothered me regardless of my mode of service is the idea Christians have about worship. I've found that many Christians equate worship with music. It's so bad in some circles that the person whose primary responsibility it is to lead all things music has the title of worship pastor or worship leader. I understand that churches put more responsibility on many of these men and women so that the title of song director or music leader doesn't quite fit. Still, the titles seem to imply that worship equals music. In extremes they are teaching that worship is only music.

So when churches argue or split because of the style of music used in the services, we have called it a worship war. I read a headline today suggesting that the next "worship war" would be over lighting. That's right, lighting. Our church has a lighting problem and it pertains to whether we can see across the auditorium - commonly known as a worship center, by the way. As I think about lighting in a church, especially lighting that could cause an argument, I think about the light shows I've seen during "worship." Then the lights go steady (whether bright or dim) when it's time for the preaching.

Worship is music. Preaching is, well, preaching.

I believe worship cannot be contained in a lyric or melody. Worship can be expressed with an instrument but if that's all then so much is missed. Worship is our expression to God in response to who he is and what he does. It can only be limited by who he is and what he does and there are no limits there.

Don't put worship in a box. It's music but so much more. It's the spoken word but so much more. It's prayer but so much more. It's life but so much more. My music, my words, my prayers, and my life are limited by time and space…and sin. How can I think that anything about me can fully define worship. I can't even fully understand worship. I can't fully express worship.

But I can express it to the full extent of my ability and understanding. And that's what God desires: worshippers who worship him in spirit and truth. If I limit worship to something less than it is, then I'm not worshipping in truth. If I limit worship to something I am capable of doing, then I'm not worshipping in spirit.

I've settled the issue in my heart and mind. I'll not fight that battle. I'm not offended by the songs you sing or the lights you use or the hands you raise or don't raise. I have preferences and in my private worship I typically lean that direction. But I really see no value in arguing with someone about it. If there is a battle to be waged it is about how to get Christians to worship - not how Christians worship.

To generously adapt Ronald Reagan's famous quote: "Mr. Worship Argue-er, tear down that wall." Let's end a war that will only lead us to a lukewarm experience.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

For All Us Progidals

A few years ago I was at Cracker Barrel for breakfast with some minister friends. The store always has music playing that, of course, you can buy.

A bluegrass gospel album was playing and I thought for sure it was Ricky Skaggs. I have a weakn so for his music going all the way back to the early 80s and "Highway 40 Blues." But it wasn't him; instead it was Dailey and Vincent. The song was "Living in the Kingdom of God."

So I bought the CD. I listen to it every once in a while now. Today was every once in a while. I like to play music while I brush my teeth and shave so I picked this album, "The Gospel Side of Dailey and Vincent."

Track 10 caught my attention in a special way today. The song is about a prodigal. You remember the story in the Bible, don't you?

A son took his inheritance and skipped town. He lived the high life in disrespect of his father.when the money ran out he realized what he had done. He wanted to go home but didn't know how his father would respond.

Listen to "Come Back to Me" and know that the story demonstrates God's love for his prodigal children like you and me.

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Great Thing About Being Southern Baptist

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. A relationship with him impacts everything and I'm glad to be part of his family.

I am also a Southern Baptist. Those words sometimes cause people to flinch or laugh or shake their heads. I'm glad to be Southern Baptist for one primary reason: the Cooperative Program.

Southern Baptists have some distinct beliefs but you will find others who hold many of the beliefs I do. Even within the ranks of Southern Baptists there are differing opinions about some doctrines but the essentials of salvation and life with God are common among us.

It's not the beliefs that make a person or church Southern Baptist. The one thing that distinguishes a Southern Baptist church from all others is the way we fund global missions. We do it together. No matter the size of the church (budget, people, whatever), through CP we share in meeting the obligations of the responsibility of the Great Commission. Southern Baptists have about 10,000 missionaries around the planet - supported by the contributions of all the churches.

I'm sipping coffee at a local coffee shop this afternoon. At the table next to me is a person telling a friend about his missionary work. I sat down somewhere in the middle of the conversation so I don't know where he serves or what his connection is to a local church or convention of churches. But he's talking about ministry both domestic and international.

My heart beats along with his.

I can't tell you what church he is associated with but I can tell he's not Southern Baptist. Nothing wrong with that. He seems to be evangelical and I'm all for that.

What tipped me off that he is not affiliated with churches like mine is that he was telling his friend how the friend could help him financially. Mission and ministry take money; we should not be ashamed to ask for money for those purposes.

However, missionaries supported by the Cooperative Program don't have to do that. I've never had a CP missionary ask specifically for money. They always thank our church for contributing to CP; they always mention the special direct offerings for their organizations; but they never ask for contributions directly to their ministries.

The beauty of the Cooperative Program - and why I'm glad to be Southern Baptist - is that missionaries are funded and do not have to worry about that. Those missionaries I know who are funded by CP tell me that their agencies take good care of them with housing, insurance, retirement, in addition to salary. A worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7), right?

The guy next to me sounds like he would love to be on the field sharing his faith, making disciples, ministering to hurting people. Once he secures his funding he can do all that.

The Southern Baptist missionary is able to spend more time on the field because the funding mechanism is already in place. Not just for him but for thousands like him. We need to do better so we can support thousands more!

Thank God for believers sacrificing to live among people who are spiritually hungry - or starving. (By the way, we should all adopt a missionary attitude wherever we live!) Praise the Lord for the ability to support them so they don't have to worry about paying the bills or paying for the ministry.

Here's a video explaining how CP works. It helps us obey the Lord's Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

I Played Quarterback for the Oilers

Yes, it's true. I played quarterback for the Oilers. It was just one season but it really happened. The year was 1976. It was before the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Titans.

It was before a lot of things.

It was before the Landers car dealership was built at the Alcoa exit in Bryant, AR.

I know because that's where we practiced.

Wait, do you think I'm talking about the Houston Oilers of the NFL?

No, I played quarterback for one season on the Caldwell Oilers in the PFL - the peewee football league. The Houston Oilers? Are you kidding me? I was only 12!

A couple of weeks ago I told Riley to tell his football coach that I played quarterback for one season with the Oilers.

He told him.

I wish I was like Riley. He'll say just about anything I tell him to say. I wish I would say anything and everything my Heavenly Father tells me to say.

Maybe Riley has more confidence in me than I have in God. Like a man told Jesus one day, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."

OK. So here's the picture. This is part of a collage my mother put together several years ago. That's me at 12 years old. Cool hair. Probably the only quarterback to ever wear #70.

I had never played quarterback before. Except a little at recess and in the front yard of the Colonial Arms Apartments in Dardanelle. But I did play quarterback for the Oilers.

And Riley told his coach. Just like I told him to.

"Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Addictions

Our church family has a funeral this week for a man who had an addiction. You are probably close to a similar situation. Addictions range from food to money to sex to alcohol to drugs to accomplishment to attention. Maybe there are as many variations of addictions as there are people. We are weak at some point. We are all susceptible to addiction.

In his book Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There, Len Sweet wrote:

Every addiction is an honest attempt to fill the emptiness we feel when we deny Christ. Every addiction is self-medication… Desire is God ordained to encourage us to seek the divine and Christ's provision, but a self-focused response is to stuff the desire with whatever will quell the discomfort.

I have found the closer I am to Christ the less my addictions control me. It's not enough to say, "Jesus is the answer" and offer no help with the addiction. Addicts have real physical, chemical, or emotional stuff to deal with before spiritual disciplines will matter to them. The affects of addiction provide reasons or excuses to not follow Jesus.

I'm not diminishing following Jesus - he is the answer. A friend reminds me that sometimes you have to convince a lost person they are lost before you can help them know Jesus as Savior. The point is that obstacles between a person and Jesus must be dealt with as we point them to Christ.

If an atheist refuses to follow Christ because…well, he doesn't believe God exists, then the believer has an obstacle to overcome. If an alcoholic refuses to turn to Jesus it may be that he's not thinking clearly because his mind is controlled by the addiction.

I baptized a man on September 10, 2006. He calls me every year on September 10 to remind me and celebrate. He mentions his baptism and his sobriety. This year his message said it had been 9 years since his baptism and 11 years sober. He turned to Jesus during AA counseling. The help he received with alcoholism led to his salvation. Now he's been sober and happy and following Jesus for all these years because of Jesus. Jesus is the answer.

For some reason the addict begins by trying to feed an emptiness. He finds he must have more and more but still feels empty after the initial thrill.

Chase what you will but only Jesus satisfies the longing. Because the longing is caused by the absence of Jesus. Fill up with anything other than Jesus and you'll still be empty.

Len Sweet also wrote this:

Not too long ago it hit me that I had never preached on Jesus telling a ghost story about a haunted house. Jesus told this story to warn his followers that we must be careful what we replace ghosts and addictions with, because more unholy ghosts than what were banished can refill the house to rule and reign. If we clean up our lives without replacing them with the true Spirit, the house is left empty and vulnerable for new evil spirits and worse dependencies to come back and take over. One of my Facebook friends, Isaac Arten, puts it like this: "I'm not interested in self-improvement but self-replacement." It is the difference between cleaning the house and turning the house over to Christ, letting him live there and leaving no room for malign spirits.

We must deal with the addictions and replace the "false fillers" with Jesus. Jesus has miraculous power to help anyone overcome any addiction. And Jesus has the presence to fill you with purpose and hope. Jesus is the answer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Living at Peace with Your Enemies

Several years ago I had an experience on Facebook that I vividly remember. So much of what happens on our social media pages gets replaced in our minds almost as quickly as it does on the screen. Social media can never replace social interaction but it does provide a platform for connection and information. Without it, how would we survive, right?

A friend - he really is a friend - posted on Facebook a question (rhetorical) asking why there are no love and hate buttons. Another friend - he really is a friend, too - replied, "Because it wasn't meant to be that serious?" Again, social media can never replace social interaction.

The experience from several years ago…

I posted something about our church using CRBC instead of spelling out the church name. It wasn't long before my friend - he was from my hometown but was several years older than me so I really didn't know him - made a comment asking if this stood for (insert crude comment here). I responded with a "Ha" and told him what it meant. He made another crude comment. I joked with him in a clean way and he shot back with another comment.

I thought about firing back with sarcasm (or worse) but decided against it. By the way, that is always a good decision. Instead, I asked how his mother was doing. I knew she had been sick.

Within a minute the chat bubble popped up; our public sparring went private. He apologized for attacking my church and beliefs and updated me on his mother. About two hours later we wrapped up a conversation that looped in and out of faith in Jesus Christ. He preferred to be agnostic or atheist but if he had to choose he would pick Hinduism.

He was a smart man. He had studied religions; or maybe he had studied how to argue against religions. At any rate, he had heard the gospel during that chat session. He died a year later (to the day). I hope he chose to follow Jesus during that year.

Today I opened my Logos Bible app to read a little. The app opened to Proverbs 16 because that's where our Bible study last night took us for the last passage. I began to read the Proverb. I thought of the story I just shared with you when I came to verse 7.

When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.

I wouldn't consider this man an enemy but at the least he was hostile to the gospel. Instead of choosing to lock horns with him in verbal attacks I chose to be kind. I guess that pleased the Lord because my friend's aggressive combativeness turned to peace. I'm glad I didn't have an ugly confrontation with him but more importantly I'm glad I was able to have a peaceful conversation with him that may have helped him see Christianity more clearly.

His problem with Christianity had a little to do with the claims of Christianity. How could Jesus be God? There's no way the resurrection really happened!

But most of his problem with Christianity was Christians. He grew up, as I did, in the buckle of the Bible belt where Christians may not have been…well, let me just say that there is a reason we joke about beating people over the head with the Bible.

I know that this man had to make his own choice whether to follow Christ or not. But I also know that people charged with sharing the gospel and loving him along the way didn't.

Here are some ideas to help Christians do a better job at our job of making disciples:

  • Be humble. No believer is any better than a non-believer; without Jesus we would all be lost.
  • Realize our task is to share how a sinner can be made right with God; the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sins and draw them to Jesus.
  • Remember that each person must chose for themselves whether they will follow Jesus or not.
  • Try to live at peace with those who have different beliefs or who reject Christianity. You do that by living in ways that please the Lord.
  • Pray that God will send others into their lives so they hear the gospel many times.

What are other tips you would add to this list?

Three words from that chat session stick in my mind. He told me if Christians would talk about these things he and others like him might listen: forgiveness, redemption, and love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Now I Know

Have you ever followed a plan not really knowing exactly if the plan was necessary?

I learned a budgeting tool from another religious organization a few years ago. That organization budgeted for salaries, of course. If an employee left the organization during the course of the budget year, the organization continued to pay the salary into a surplus account. This accomplished at least two things. First, had they stopped paying out the salary the budget reports would not reflect the reality. In other words, it would seem that the organization budgeted more for salaries than necessary, which might lead them to cut the salary budget for the coming year when they really would need it when they replaced the employee. The second purpose of this tool was to create a surplus fund to use for employee expenses that could be incurred because of losing one employee and hiring another.

At our church we could foresee a need to replace AC units soon but we did not have the cash to do it. So we implemented a similar plan that would allow us to save the money. Each month we move the budgeted amount for equipment repairs into a surplus account. We've been doing this for a few years and have accumulated a considerable amount. Our old way of budgeting would just show a surplus in the budget at the end of the year and our excess cash may have been spent on something else.

Now I realize a church should not be in the money-accumulating business, but we also have to be good stewards of our physical plant. The old way was a "spend it or lose it" system and a single year's budget for equipment and repairs would not ever replace on unit. Now we save what we budget for repairs, pay out of the surplus account for any repairs needed, and prepare for the big cost of replacing an AC unit.

The plan always seemed like a good idea but we went a few years without needing the surplus. Until this year. We've already replaced one unit. I found out today that another is in such condition that replacing it might be the best solution.

I hate spending money on stuff like that. I'd rather support a church plant, increase missions giving, or fund community ministry. We do all that already but if I had a choice I'd spend less on the physical plant and more on the other.

Do you know what the church in Peter's and Paul's day spent on the physical plant? Nothing! Everything they had poured into the mission and ministry. That's a great model. Probably the right model.

But we live in a day when churches have buildings and the buildings have needs and the needs cost money. We could just let it go and the buildings would eventually not be useable.

Or we can be good stewards and take care of the stuff we have. I'm all for stopping the accumulation of stuff. I'm also for taking care of the stuff we have.

Cross Road Baptist Church has been wise to plan for the big expenses we now face. The Lord has provided - as he always does. Sometimes he provides on the spot. Sometimes he provides over time. But he always provides.

Monday, September 07, 2015

A Posture for Prayer

Before leading our church in observing The Lord's Supper yesterday, I read this from Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker:

"One of my favorite prayer postures I learned from the Quakers. I lead our congregation in this prayer frequently. We begin with hands facing down, symbolizing the things we need to let go of. It involves a process of confessing our sins, rebuking our fears, and relinquishing control. Then we turn our hands over so they are facing up in a posture of receptivity. We actively receive what God wants to give—joy unspeakable, peace that transcends understanding, and unmerited grace. We receive the fruit and gifts of His Spirit with open hands and open hearts."

Then we did it. I added raising our hands upward in the beginning as a sign of surrender to the Lord. And again at the end in praise to the Lord.

My arms grew tired. We laughed about how Moses must have felt overseeing the battle led by Joshua. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to help keep his arms raised. I could've used a little help.

But my heart was full. My spirit was lifted. And although I believe God's Spirit is always with me, I felt closer to the Lord.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Road Construction Ahead

The road department closed the road in front of our house on July 28 to replace the culvert. The road reopened on September 2. I'm not a road builder but I would not have guessed it would take a month to replace a culvert.

As I watched the crew work day after day (except Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), I learned some things about life. It takes time to build the right life. The crew took over a month to do something that seems like it should have taken just a few days. I get in a hurry to learn something or become something. Haste makes waste, right?

They didn't just dig up the culvert but they also dug up the road. Not just a few feet on either side of the culvert but about a few hundred feet altogether. Doing the job right often requires more work than we think. A simple patch job may seem like the right thing but rarely is. Are you content to let God change more of you than you think he should?

And they didn't just dig up the old road and put down new asphalt. Dozens of dump truck loads of gravel were added to the road bed. The surface is only as good as what's under it. Rollers pounded the gravel into the ground, shaking the pictures on the walls in the house. God's work in our lives seems to take so long but he's just doing all the groundwork well so the finished product will be outstanding.

Some delays kept the project from finishing earlier. I heard that the concrete contractor had problems. I don't know if it was a problem with the material or with logistics, but not having the right stuff in the right place at the right time slows the project. I can think of times in my life when God's plans were slow to unfold (or didn't unfold at all) because I wasn't cooperating. Many times, God won't force upon you what he desires but he waits for you to desire what he desires.

Your life is under construction. You probably don't know the extent of the project but you can trust God to do it right.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

God's Blessings

The rain started here about 45 minutes ago. From my chair I can hear it. I glance out the window and see it. I try to avoid it these days but there was a time I would run outside; then I could feel it.

I suspect now I'll have to mow sooner than I thought I would yesterday. But nature needed a drink. A month or so without rain isn't good in our part of the world.

The last time I paid attention to the TV weather, they said we were ahead of average rainfall to date by 9" because of the heavy rains this spring. But we are under a burn ban. "What have you done for me lately?" applies to moisture in the soil and plants as well as it does to a sports team.

Although it isn't appropriate to ask God what he has done for you lately, it is appropriate to ask yourself how long it's been since you have felt the overwhelming joy of God's blessings. Here are some reasons it may have a while.

God may be blessing you but you don't realize it. Sometimes people will not expect God to bless them so they simply miss it. Today's rain is a blessing. Your health is a blessing.

Then there are those blessings we miss because we expect the blessing to come in a different package. You may have prayed for a specific job but God did not give you that one because he had a better opportunity coming. Maybe you felt like God had let you down when your child did not get accepted into your alma mater but he knew all along of troubles and problems down that path. Don't miss the blessing because you think you know better than God does.

Sometimes the lack of blessings is not just a feeling - it's real. God may be testing your character or faith in preparation for a great task in his mission. Maybe the disappointment you now feel equips you to help others. Then you both receive and are a blessing.

There's another reason. You may be defying God's will. Your disobedience can shut off the blessings. Sure, you'll enjoy sunshine and rain and oxygen and gravity because those are benefits for the just and the unjust. The blessings you miss are his guidance, his comfort, his peace, his joy. And you can fix that. Just turn to Jesus and follow him. God's blessings flow freely into the lives of those following Jesus.

The rain started less than an hour ago. It won't be much longer before the burn ban is lifted and I can burn my brush pile. After it dries out, of course.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ding

Drawing attention to myself is a great source of embarrassment. I'd much rather be part of the scene than to be the star of the show. I keep the alerts on my phone on silent for that reason. I get texts from several sources; a few are immediately urgent, most can wait a few minutes, some are only information and require no response other than "OK" or "Got it."

So to avoid the embarrassing "dings" going off almost constantly (and at inappropriate moments), I turn off the alerts.

Except for my family. And by "my family" I mean my wife, my sons, my duaghter-in-law-in-law, and my parents. I will most certainly get a "ding" from them. They have permission to interrupt anything I'm doing. I've even pledged to take a call from them during a sermon but I've never had that happen.

Everyone else has to wait. Not for very long because I'm "one of those" who checks his phone often. Let me define that word: every few minutes. So anyone trying to contact me can do so fairly quickly; my response time may or may not be to their liking but those are choices I make. I do see their messages within a few minutes of receiving them.

When my phone "dings" I know it's a text from someone I'd love to hear from because I love them so much.

God sends me messages more frequently than even my wife does! He does to you, too. Are the alerts silenced? Do you notice immediately when God speaks? Do you realize he is near even before you start looking for him? Have you ever missed a message because you weren't expecting him?

Here are some Bible verses that can help you get those messages as he sends them.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." Isaiah 40:31

"Very early in the morning...he went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you." Psalm 32:8

"He hears the prayer of the righteous." Proverbs 15:29

"I have heard your prayer and seen your tears." Isaiah 38:5

"On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord." Acts 13:44

"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." John 8:47

Cry out to God and he will hear you. Listen and you will hear God. I eagerly await a message from God because I love him so much.


photo credit: Logos Bible Software

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can It Be Any More Clear?

On July 28 the Saline County Road Department began replacing/improving drainage under the road two hundred yards north of our house. They placed a road block and detour signs at the intersection just south of the house. The closure and detour are clearly marked.

Deana and I are surprised by the number of people who drive through the road block, past the house, and stop at the construction. They have to stop because the road is out. Just like the sign says. But they have to see for themselves. "Surely the road is not closed for me." "Surely I can get through even though nobody else can."

I cannot say that I've never done the same thing. In 1980 my Dad took my sister and me to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We set out from Dardanelle, Arkansas on a Sunday afternoon. The plan was to drive straight through the night and arrive in Yellowstone Monday morning.

The sunrise over the Rocky Mountains was awesome. I'd never seen anything like it. It was the last week of May but we saw snow-capped peaks and even piles of snow along the road.

Then we came to one of the passes - I can't remember which one - and we had planned to use it as a shortcut to our destination. The pass went through some of the highest elevation in the mountains. At the intersection of our road and the road leading through the pass was a sign that said the road was closed because of snow. No through traffic.

The road had been clear so far. It looked clear as far as we could see. Cars were coming from and going onto the road. Being from Arkansas, we figured the road crews had just neglected to remove the sign from earlier in the year.

So off we go through the pass. Sure enough, the road was closed several miles into the pass. We drove through snow and ice thinking it couldn't get worse. It did. We had to turn around.

Just like the people who drive past our house, back up to our driveway, and turn around. And we watch them all and shake our heads. "Can't they read the signs? Do they think the signs don't apply to them?"

Somewhere in Colorado in May 1980 people were thinking the same thing about us.

This reminds me of a song Greater Vision sings called "It Means Just What It Says." You can watch it here.


God gives us clear direction in the Bible yet many people don't bother to read it. Those who do still fail to apply it consistently. It's as if we don't believe God.

I guess that's true. I want to be a follower of Christ who consistently puts God's word into practice. In the book of James you'll find these words: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22).

We should do what it says because it means what is says. Can it be any more clear?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Supervised Visitation

For the first time I saw what must have been supervised visitation.

While Riley was at football practice I went to Chick-fil-A to drink coffee and get a little work done. About halfway through the cup of coffee a couple came in. They looked like they had "cleaned up" to the point of looking a little out of place.

He ordered a small soft drink after verifying that he could get unlimited refills. My mind went to a place I ashamed to admit.

They sat at a table near the door. She pulled out a small princess lunchbox from her bag and put it on the table. Without knowing any of their story I formed an opinion.

Within ten minutes the couple jumped up and ran outside. I looked over the top of my glasses thinking, "What in the world?"

They came back in with another woman who had an infant boy and a little girl. The mother (it turns out) loved on her daughter. The father (it turns out) couldn't get to his son fast enough.

The woman who had just came in with the children turned so I could see she was wearing a DHS name badge.

The children are in foster care. The parents get to see them very little and only under supervision.

There are a few aspects of the story that are just sad. The parents have done something that the state deemed worthy of taking custody of the children. While this happens too frequently, I suppose the state most often is doing the right thing for the children. I know that might not be the case in your situation and I wish the state always  did the right thing. But if parents conduct themselves in ways that put the children in danger then I think the state is right to step in. Childbearing and rearing should be left to adults and adults must take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences.

But the children live in an unnatural situation. The people I know who foster and/or adopt are some of the best people I know. They are giving these children an improved environment for nurture. I especially like it when foster/adoptive parents are Christians who can impact these children for eternity.

Still, a child being raised by the biological parents in a stable home is a great advantage. So it is sad when the parents take that away from the children.

But the scene at Chick-fil-A had glimmer of hope. The parents are working on the issues that led to the children being in foster care. I hope that in time as they do the right things the family can be reunited.

The couple swapped kids and continued to love on them. The dad must have been tight on money so he bought a small drink with unlimited refills so he could buy his daughter something to eat a little later. The lunchbox was a gift for a girl who could very easily never know what it feels like to be loved by her parents. They "cleaned up" because they had a most special appointment.

They are trying. As quickly as I formed first opinions about the couple I changed my mind. I think they are trying to get past their problems. I hope they make it. They won't by the time their daughter turns 4 in a couple of weeks but maybe they will by the time their son turns 1 next Spring.

I was unable to speak with them and will likely never see them again (although I am willing to sit at Chick-fil-A drinking coffee almost every day!). But I pray that they get all the help they need and that it will include spiritual help pointing them to Jesus Christ.

Through Jesus they can know forgiveness and release from the guilt of the sins that threatened to tear apart this family.

Through Jesus they can learn the pathway to follow to rebuild trust that's been lost.

Through Jesus they can win the battles of temptation that have so far overwhelmed them.

I know because that's what he's done for me.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Detour

Just 200 yards north of our driveway is a creek passing under the road. Recently, the property across the road sold and the new owner is building a horse farm. It's quite impressive. One of the problems on his property is the backup of the creek when we get a heavy rain. The culvert is too small so the creek gets out of its banks on his property.

Last Tuesday the county road department began replacing the metal pipes with a concrete box culvert. That was fun to watch. Cranes and bulldozers and backhoes. Big trucks carrying the pieces had to back into the job-site for about 300 yards. Most licensed drivers in America wouldn't stand a chance doing it but these guys did great.

The road crew dug out and replaced the culvert last week but the new surface is not being poured until this week. So the road block that stopped all but construction traffic remained in place over the weekend. Coming from the south, our house is the only one inside the road block. We felt special getting to drive around the road block. And a little guilty, too, since everyone else had to take a detour.

Since the road crews pulled out the heavy equipment Thursday, we have lived on the quietest road in America. Our own private drive. Nobody but us.

And a couple of cheaters! "No Through Traffic" means no through traffic! Rules are rules! But I saw two pickups head down to the culvert - no way to drive across because the road had been cut back several feet from the concrete boxes - then swerve to the left and make a way across the dry creek bed then back to the road on the other side. Cheaters!

I'm a by-the-book guy. If there is a rule for it I will most likely follow it. If there is a rule against it I will most likely obey it. Rules are in place to protect and guide people as they do things...like drive down the road.


But some people disregard the rules thinking they know better. Like the sight-seer that drove his car around the barricade. I guess he didn't believe the signs. He got down to the site, got out of his car, looked around, got back in his car, and went back the other way.

And some folks have the "you can't tell me what to do or not to do" and they just drive around the construction. I'd be surprised if the detour route takes more than two or three minutes extra, but I guess that's not the point for this crowd.

So anyway the road department is back at it this morning doing dirt work around the new culvert. An asphalt crew will probably show up today or tomorrow and in a few days the road will be open. The quietest road in America will return to being a drag strip.

Life is full of detours. Some are for our good and some are of our own making. Either way, God has a plan to help you through it. You can choose to go your own way or you can follow him. The journey and the destination will be dramatically impacted by your choice.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Leadership Tidbits

I've been listening to leadership lessons this morning. I had read in one of Ronnie Floyd's books that the most common reason pastors are fired (or leave before being fired) is not because of theological issues but because of leadership issues. I don't feel pressured by my church to leave but I don't want to "lead" them to the point of wanting me gone, so I thought a few hours would be a wise investment. My real motivation is to improve my ability to lead the church to accomplish God's mission.

Here are some key things from the various speakers I engaged.

Andy Stanley says vision must be so simply stated that everyone can get it. Better to have a vision statement that is not fully fleshed out but well understood than to have an elaborate all-bases-touched vision statement nobody can remember. I'm praying about some statements to bring to our key leaders for feedback and improvement.

A panel of youth leaders discussed issues regarding cultural trends. I gleaned from that to be connected to the people I serve (any age) because that's how I can know what is important to them. The idea is not to get out in front of their preferences and lead them where they want to go, but to learn what consumes and directs their lives so I can show how the Bible answers their questions, brings clarity to their confusion, or guides them in uncertainty. The worst thing a sermon can be is disconnected from the people the preacher intends to impact with it. The same can be said about the life of the pastor not just the sermons he preaches.

Christine Caine says, "Your thoughts are like a train, they will take you somewhere." She was teaching from the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It's so easy to let our minds become corrupt with worldly thinking. Leaders are not immune to this; maybe they are more prone to it. We can think about the metrics of membership and budgets. We can think about growing an online audience. We can measure success as a secular corporation would. Before you know it our thought-train is far down the wrong tracks.

Ed Stetzer points out that all believers are to show and share the gospel, to demonstrate it and declare it. Our lives and our message must be centered on the gospel. Leaders must teach our churches to do this and must lead the way doing it.

Johnny Hunt talked about loving the people. I've heard him share that his mentor Adrian Rodgers would enter the sanctuary early, walk through it slowly, engage many of the people, and be the last the leave after the service. A hand shake, eye contact, and a few moments to listen will go a long way in gaining trust for leadership.

Todd Wagner's video series on being a godly man included this quip: Silence in the midst of sin is a sin. Leaders have to speak up. And we must do so in love. Isn't it easy to just remain quiet when controversy comes up? It is for me. People look to leaders to speak up. Maybe they need clarity. Maybe they need to know they aren't the only ones who recognize a problem.

I will plan to spend more mornings listening to what godly men and women can teach me about leadership. And I'll ask the Holy Spirit to help me put it into practice.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Put It Into Practice

If you want to be the best you have to practice. Other than Allen Iverson, I can't think of a professional athlete who has said publicly that practice is overrated. Steph Curry recently said he wanted the coaches to point out what he was doing wrong so he could correct it and be better.

Riley didn't want to go to summer football workouts this morning. I can see why. He had a friend over and they would have preferred to sleep in. It's summer, isn't it? These are optional workouts and many of his teammates are skipping some, most, or all of them.

For a group of boys who haven't won a football game in two years I cannot understand why they wouldn't want to get in all the practice they can, even if it is optional. To me, optional workouts are opportunities to get even better.

It all comes down to an attitude of desiring to be the best you can be. That's also true for parts of our lives other than sports.

Daily I am confronted with the responsibility to live my life to glorify God and make his name known to all people. And daily I realize my faults and failures that led to a distorted witness. Every day I have the option to put into practice what I claim to believe.


Sometimes I don't want to do what it says. I made Riley go to practice but God doesn't make me obey. Often I wish he did.

Do you recognize yourself in my confession? What are we to do when we don't do what we ought to do?

Confess the sin of disobedience. Tied to disobedience may be apathy, selfishness, uncontrolled passions, or a number of other sins. No matter the sin, we can confess them and be assured God will forgive us.

Yield to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. The popular Christian song forty years ago said, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus..." For me, a day is often to bite too big to take. But this moment is manageable. "Jesus, help me honor you right now in this moment facing this situation." If you can pray that prayer in each moment of opportunity or temptation you can win the battles.

Celebrate the victories. I'm one who is prone to focusing on the losses and minimizing the wins. In baseball, a batter is great if he wins the battle with the pitcher one time out of ten chances. Not many players in the Hall of Fame can boast of a .333 lifetime batting average. So focus on the times (or time) you put God's word into practice and faithfully obeyed. I've learned how adjusting my perspective helps me stay the course...or makes me yearn to return to the course after veering off.

Live out your faith in community. Faithful living is much easier, much more rewarding, and much more purposeful together with others taking the same journey. You need to be part of a local body of believers: a church. And get involved with a small group that studies the Bible, shares life and ministry, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

I want to do my best as a follower of Jesus and I believe many believers feel the same way. Everyday we have to get up, get in the game, and get it done. And we are not alone. We have each other and we have the Bible and we have God's Spirit. We can do this! "Hear God's word and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21).

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

True Equality

Have you noticed that when we compare ourselves with others we look for the highest level of comparison. By highest I mean most desirable. For example, Johnny Bench and I are both baseball players. Merle Haggard and I are both singers. AJ Foyt and I are both drivers. Billy Graham and I are both preachers.

See what I mean?

Even in our likenesses there are huge differences. And I'm really not much like Johnny Bench, Merle Haggard, AJ Foyt, and Billy Graham. Those are misleading comparisons.

Personal claims have hit the news recently that make me wonder if pseudo-comparisons are being implemented. "I'm African American." "I'm married." "I'm in love."

I tweeted on June 16, "Despite having a DQ Blizzard today, I identify as skinny." I'll not post a picture but you can trust me that this is wishful thinking.

In a culture infatuated with moral relativism, we need a standard of truth. We need clarity in assessments. We need honesty.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible reveals the truth, clarity, and honesty we need. With God as its author, the Bible shows us who Jesus Christ is...his person, his character, his will.

Read the Bible and you will find this truth: we are all sinners in need of a Savior (see Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23).

As our society struggles to equalize everything from wages to sexual preferences, we must remember that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

The greatest need is not for...

  • marriage equality (recent SCOTUS decision)
  • wage equality ($15 minimum wage in California)
  • talent equality (all the technology used in a recording studio)
  • opportunity equality (immigration reform).
The greatest need is for a Savior and the realization that we are all equally in need of a Savior. Can we look at every other person on the planet and see that we are all equal?

A Southern Baptist pastor needs a Savior just as much as an atheist does.

A Republican needs a Savior just as much as a Democrat does.

A capitalist needs a Savior just as much as a socialist does.

A CEO needs a Savior just as much as an entry-level clerk does.

An American needs a Savior just as much as an Asian does.

A heterosexual needs a Savior just as much as a homosexual does.

I need a Savior just as much as you do. You need a Savior just as much as everyone else does.

The Great Equality Debate should begin and end with realizing we are equally guilty of sin, equally in need of a Savior, equally loved by God, equally died for by Jesus, equally reconciled to God when we believe in and follow Jesus.

My friend Mark Lanier wrote a song entitled "The Ground Is Level." Here's a link to it.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. All other inequalities can distract those who have the Good News from sharing it with those who need to hear it. All other inequalities can distract those who need to hear the Good News from seeing their greatest need, greatest opportunity, and greatest gift.

Only one difference matters. Only one distinction separates people. Those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will spend eternity in heaven; those who reject Jesus Christ will spend eternity in hell.

But until we die we all stand on level ground at the cross: sinners in need of a Savior.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

VBS Week

One of the great weeks on the church calendar is the week of Vacation Bible School. It's different than when I was a kid. No macaroni glued to cigar boxes. The music is a modern style. Decorations are more elaborate. We can post albums of photos online instantly.

But somethings remain the same. Jesus Christ is the center of attention. Kids that never go to church come to VBS. We say the pledges (not all churches do and I understand that). And it takes volunteers to make it happen.

I am thankful for the 20-something volunteers who are here early and stay late every day. They prepare for their responsibilities and love on the 50-60 kids. I wonder if a church with 10 times the kids also has 10 times the volunteers. Or are we just blessed with great volunteers? I think I know the answer to that.

Let me be honest, sometimes I wonder if the church understands what the church is all about and is supposed to do. Then VBS Week rolls around.

For many years I've harped about what we call churches with small membership. It's easy to just say there are big churches, medium-sized churches, and small churches. But membership has nothing to do with whether your church is big or small. All churches are big or small not based on numbers but on vision.

I'm proud to pastor a small membership church with a big vision.

I must go now. I can hear kids in the hallway. It's time to rotate!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Loving Sinners

You'll hear a lot of talk these days about how Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Usually the declarations come from people who do not embrace Christianity and are not disciples of Jesus Christ. They may attend church or claim to be Christian but their lives don't bear the fruit to back up their claims. That's not to say that authentic Christians won't say the same thing, but I see much more coming from people outside authentic Christian faith.

I get their point. Jesus loves everyone. He demonstrated his love by giving his life for the sins of the world. Just a few hours before he died on the cross Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus demonstrated the greatest love, the perfect love. And Christians are to love each other with that kind of love. We are to love our neighbors with that kind of love. (See the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 for an explanation of who your neighbor is.)

Yes, Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Jesus' love for everybody compelled him to do something about sin. Sin creates a barrier between God and the sinner. Hear these words from the Bible that describe how God's love for us resulted in action.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Clearly, Jesus loved everybody and his love for everybody resulted in actions directed at the problem of sin. And we are to love everybody like Jesus did. We can't die for the sins of the world. We can't even die to pay the penalty for our own sins. Only Jesus can do that and he already did. Our love for everybody results in actions that help people in sin's bondage see the way to forgiveness and redemption and freedom found only in a commitment to Jesus Christ.

Was Jesus ever content to leave sinners in their sin? No! He stated that his purpose was to "seek and save" the lost (Luke 19:10). Save them from what? Save them from their sin. When Jesus began his public ministry he said, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). To repent means to turn from the carnal way you are living and toward the way of life in Jesus Christ. Jesus called for people to change from ways that seem right to them or from ways that are considered right by the culture.

And Jesus did this because he loves everybody. So Christians who are content to let sinners continue in their sin unabated and unchanged are not loving everybody like Jesus did. And non-Christians who cry for us to love everybody like Jesus did do not yet understand the love of Christ and the word of God.

Followers of Jesus, we are to love everybody like Jesus did so we cannot just leave sinners in their (our) sin and we cannot ignore the ethical and moral decay prevalent in our culture. Remember when Jesus told a woman to "go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11)?

So what can we do? First, we should pray. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict us of our own sin; and then confess that sin. Unconfessed sin hinders your fellowship with God and the flow of blessings from God into your life. Pray that other believers will confess their sins, too. Professing Christians who live without regard to their own sins do more harm than good in helping those without Christ see their way to him. Pray for those in your relationship circles and for opportunities to speak truth (in love, always in love) to them regarding biblical principles and cultural issues. Pray that revival occurs within the church and awakening occurs within the culture.

Second, don't dodge opportunities to speak the truth in love. But do be careful in choosing the words you'll say and the tone with which you'll say them. Jesus was most often gentle in his conversations; we should follow his example. It seems to me that those who are outspoken about homosexuality, abortion, poverty, immigration, and other hot-button issues have strongly held opinions. All caps, bold text, screaming, and name-calling probably won't accomplish what you think it will. Those are wedges not bridges. Those hurt not heal. We can be bold (confident) without being mean-spirited.

Third, live out the "good deeds" and the "Good News" for their good and God's glory. Christians are to be salt not to agitate and aggravate wounds caused by sin, but to heal the wounds and restore and preserve the image of God within us. Christians are to be light not to burn and blast the eyes of the sinner but to illuminate the need for and way to the Savior.

I think we all agree that Christians are supposed to love everybody like Jesus did. Let's make sure we are really doing it like he did.