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 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.
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 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


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


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.