Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Magazine

I left the house about 9:00 this morning with a long list of things to do. Drove almost 300 miles getting them done. Enjoyed the whole day. I need more days like this.

After the business part of the day was over, I went to Mount Magazine. I was already in that neck of the woods anyway. In Paris the temperature was 97 (on my truck readout). It was 91 at Cove Lake and 84 at the lodge on top. Mount Magazine is the tallest mountain in Arkansas at 2,753 feet.

My parents are both from Paris so we spent some time at the lake and on the mountain when I was a kid but it's been YEARS and YEARS since I've been up there. I'll have to take Deana and Riley.

I remember riding (literally) on my uncle Dwight as he floated in the lake. I learned to ski on Cove Lake. My cousin and I (I had little to do with it) pretty much sank my uncle's boat one day. Those are just a few of the great memories I have of this place.

Memories can be wonderful things. And memories can be horrible things. I decided today that I will cherish the wonderful memories and unhook myself from the horrible ones. By nature I tend to do just the opposite. The long drive down the back roads from Mount Magazine to Little Rock gave me plenty of time to talk to God about this. Let me share how that conversation went in case you also need to cherish some memories and unhook from others.

I thanked God for the good memories. I asked him for more things to make new memories of. Do you realize just how good God is? He wants to fill your life with the stuff the makes great memories. If you are like me you have a hard time seeing the good. It's not that there isn't a lot of good; it's just that the bad is so much easier to see. Today I asked God to help me recognize the good things he does for me that make the great memories like I experienced today.

Then I confessed my sin that was tied to the horrible memories and I repented. To confess means to agree with God that whatever it is is a sin. God already knows what I've done so I'm not telling him anything new. But I am agreeing with what he already knows. To repent is to turn away from the sinful thing and turn toward Jesus and his plan for that part of your life. The neat thing is that God will help you once you agree with him about the sin and turn from it toward Jesus' plan. How awesome is that!

There were a couple of things that I'm not sure I had ever honestly confessed and repented of. I'm glad God got my attention today so I could do that. Now I'm ready to unhook from all of that. Like a train engine pulling too many cars overloaded with cargo, I've been dragging stuff around for a long, long time. Sometimes you just have to unhook from the excessive and unnecessary stuff. Some have said you just need to put down all that excess baggage you've been carrying around. I won't forget the lessons I learned through those times but I won't let them drag me down anymore.

That frees us up for so much more than we've been experiencing. Does that sound good to you? Do you have some things in your past that you haven't gotten past? I did, too. I'll pray that you can know the freedom that only God can give.

If you want to see what Mount Magazine and Cove Lake looked like today, check out my photos in this Facebook album.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Working on a Hot Day

Yesterday and today have been hot and humid where I live. I watched the weather last night and the reporter warned about working outside between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. It was too late; I had already spent almost 4 hours mowing the lawn. I have the tan lines to prove it! I should post a picture. That would definitely break the internet.

But I'll use better judgement, otherwise you wouldn't be able to continue reading my wonderful posts!

The reporter was right. It's too hot to be outside for very long, especially if you are working. I have friends who have no choice because their jobs demand it. Their weariness by the end of the week is understandable. My weariness at the end of a few hours mowing the lawn is probably due to laziness.

So with all the wisdom gained from last night's news, what did I do today? I worked outside right after lunch. That's between 10:00 and 5:00, right? What was I thinking? But I didn't have to be out very long. Still my shirt is soaked and my mouth is dry.

Have I told you about the time I worked in a warehouse? An older fellow worked there, too. He was retired from IBM so he should have been smarter than to do what I'm about to tell you he did.

We would unload trucks and put orders together. One particularly hot summer day when break time came along, he pulled up a box and sat down. Then he reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette. And lit it! It was hot enough to burn down the gates of you-know-where and he lit a cigarette! And chased it with a cup of coffee.

He wasn't the kind of guy to drink iced coffee. Hot, black, strong. He would often offer me "a slice of coffee" with a grin on his face. It was thick. So he's drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.

I love coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. But never outside on a hot day. Never in a steamy warehouse on a hot summer day.

Another person once told me that the most refreshing drink for him during a break from hauling hay was…wait for it…coffee.

I don't get it. I want iced tea or gatorade or plain old water.

I guess coffee has water in it.

When your life is dry and parched and barren, don't forget the refreshment of God's Word and God's people. The Bible and believers can help you through some tough times. I just got off the phone with a Christian friend who helped me think through some things. Yesterday I was texting encouragement to a Christian friend.

God has given us the Bible and other believers to help us through whatever we're facing today.


clipart from tinyclipart.com
photo from lovethispic.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Books, Books, and More Books

Pastors have libraries. Academics have libraries. Pastors who are also academics (or vice versa) have libraries.

I agree that there is just something about a book. To hold it, touch it, smell it... My iPad holds more books than my bookshelves do but it doesn't feel the same. It doesn't smell the same. Honestly, it's not as impressive to look at, either.

But my iPad is more functional. I'm not the kind of guy that dog-ears a lot of pages or has sticky notes hanging out of my books so I find the functions of the electronic books better. You can see all the notes and highlights in one place and then click to go to that page in the book. For the most part, ebooks are cheaper. And I can pack up my library and move it easily. In fact, I do that almost every day. Yesterday I had my entire ebook library with me at a coffee shop. Today my library is in my living room. Tomorrow it could be at the church.

But real books (as opposed to ebooks) have advantages. The entire concept of a "page turner" is awkward with an ebook but is exactly what your favorite book is. The inside front cover of your book is a great place for a personal note from the person who gave it to you. You can loan your book to someone - I hope you get it back! Or you can just pass it on to someone else and not care about getting it back.

After moving into a new home several years ago, Deana and I had an open house. A friend stood at the bookshelves gazing at our collection. He said, "You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their library." After everyone left I removed some books from the shelves.

After moving to a new church several years ago a member stopped by the office and noticed a particular book. She took offense even when I told her it was a Bible study showing how the book and movie were not biblical. It wasn't the book but a book about the book. She thought I shouldn't even have that.

So your books reveal a lot about you. I have spent most of the last decade reading about what is known as the incarnational/missional movement. I'll not explain that now but it's a call to be the church like the first century believers were the church. I have many, many books on the subject. Real books and ebooks.

I spent three days recently shelving books for a new pastor in town. He has over 4,000 books in his library. (I do, too, but most of mine are on my iPad and don't take very long to shelve.) I noticed that he had only a few of the books on the incarnational/missional movement. That's not a big deal, really. It just shows a different perspective or focus in ministry.

He spent years at a seminary teaching preachers about preaching. (I also spent years at a seminary but I was learning how preachers are to preach!) He has dozens of books (probably hundreds) but I only have maybe a dozen. It's all about perspective and focus.

I say all of that to get to the point of asking you to look at your library. Maybe you are a paper-page-only kind of reader. Or you may only have ebooks. Or you can be somewhere in between with a mix. But take a look. You'll see a pattern that gives away some of your preferences.

Novels. Biographies. Poetry. Classics. Science fiction. History. Romance. Suspense. And on and on.

My library is deep but narrow. I have a lot of books but not books about a lot of subjects. I should branch out. Maybe you should, too. As I branch out into new genres I want to make sure I'm not filling my mind with stuff that contradicts the Word of God. I should be able to find books that don't hack away at my foundation of faith. I should steer clear of books that ignore biblical principles of how we are to live.

That may sound easier than it really is. I guess we who are Christians owe a great deal of thanks to authors and publishers who bring us books we would be glad to put on our bookshelves. Or in our iPads.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Another Resolution?

I've had interesting conversations lately regarding racial reconciliation. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention had the Annual Meeting this week in Phoenix. I was not able to attend but watched some of the sessions online and read articles, blogs, and social media posts about some of what was going on there.

The big news-making item was the passage (after at first ignoring) a resolution condemning the alt-right racist movement. I think the resolution was good. I would have voted for it. In fact, I said "Aye" when President Gaines called for those in favor to affirm the resolution. My vote didn't count, of course. Only registered messengers in attendance can vote. But I stand in favor of the resolution.

Every year at the annual meeting Southern Baptists affirm a handful of resolutions. These are statements of agreement of those who are messengers to that meeting. The polity of Southern Baptists calls for churches to be autonomous; we have no higher earthly entity than the local church. All the denominational structures are to support the church to carry out the mission of God on earth. Other denominations do have a hierarchy to which churches must answer; we think the biblical pattern puts the church at the top of the hierarchy. An upside down pyramid, as one friend calls it.

So the resolutions are representative of the feelings of the people who attend the meetings to represent their churches. The resolutions serve no authoritative functions. They do, however, direct our attention to issues many of us think are important for this hour.

You should be aware that the Southern Baptist Convention - about 50,000 congregations throughout the U.S. - was started in 1845 so that southern churches could have a voice in leadership. Northern churches had refused to allow those supportive of slavery to hold such positions. Thus, the SBC was born in that shadow. We have come a long way since, but most of the progress is recent. Resolutions and substantive actions in the last 20 years have shown the progress in both word and deed.

But there are plenty of words and deeds still today that show room for progress exists.

Racism is not a one-way street. Nor is it a two-way street. Have you ever seen video of a busy intersection in Thailand or the Philippines or Guatemala City? Or any of hundreds of cities around the world? Imagine standing in the intersection with hundreds of cars each minute buzzing you from all directions. That's what racism seems like to me.

But somebody needs to stand in the chaos and give direction. More than one somebody; several somebodies. Somebodies that represent all sides. Somebodies that care to see improvement for all, not just for those like them.

I don't pretend that Southern Baptists are the sole leaders in this but I do think many of us want to help lead the way.

Another resolution? Yes. And maybe more. Those who think we don't need a resolution might not be able to see the depth of the issue. At the heart of this resolution was the importance of the gospel.

I really don't know how any evangelical Christian can have a problem with that.

Click here for the text of resolutions.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Enthusiastic

Deana and I have been using the Bible app in our morning devotional time. We like it because it keeps us moving along. Some devotionals have video segments along with the readings. Lately, we've been going through a series of week-long devotionals by Craig Groeschel called the Stay Positive series. We just finished "I'm Enthusiastic." Yes, I know…it's Tuesday and these are supposed to be a week long. Actually, they are 4 days so we start a new week the day after finishing the previous week. And sometimes we get behind. Anyway, it's Tuesday and we just finished a week's devotional. That's not the point!

photo cred: iconicontent.com
The point is what I learned this week (or so). The word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words that mean "in God." What do you think of when you think about enthusiasm? Maybe a perky person. Maybe an excited person. Maybe a person who is really into what they are doing. At the root of the idea of enthusiasm is the concept that when we are "in Christ" we should have the best outlook, the best attitude, the best relationships.


Here are a few verses that help us see why.

Romans 6:11
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you see how being "in Christ" should give us all the enthusiasm we need?

Are you bored with your job? Focus on being in Christ.

Are you tired of living and don't see a way things can be better? Focus on being in Christ.

Have relationships been a topic you'd rather not talk about? Focus on being in Christ.

In Psalms we read, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and then all the concerns of this world will be worked out and provided. In other words, when we focus on being "in Christ" we can be hopeful, fulfilled. Enthusiastic.

Try this and see if your spirit is lifted:
  • Read a little bit of the Bible each day.
  • Thank God for the blessings you are aware of.
  • Ask God for help with something you are facing.
  • Take time to notice God's hand at work in creation and in your circumstances.
  • Spend time with an enthusiastic Christian.
Oh, you can get the Bible app here: www.bible.com/app

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just an Inch

I'm listening to the Arkansas Razorbacks play Mississippi State in the SEC Baseball Tournament. A Razorback just hit the ball to deep to right field. The State right fielder races to the wall, leaps, and catches the ball robbing the Hogs of a home run. The radio announcer hesitated making the call because the ball was above the fence. If the right fielder missed the ball it's a home run. If he caught it it's an out. After several seconds the player shows everyone he caught the ball.

Phil Elson, the Razorback's radio announcer, made a great, enthusiastic call. I've always like Elson for that. He was the voice of the Arkansas Travelers minor baseball team in North Little Rock for years before moving to Fayetteville. He said, "Poole [the right field] is 6'4". If he had been 6'3" that ball would have been a home run."

It's that close. So many athletic contests are games of inches. How many football coaches have been second guessed after not making a first down on fourth and inches? The instant replay recently instituted in Major League Baseball has show runners to be out or safe by just a matter of inches. Basketball players sometimes look like they've drained a 3 only to have the referee notice the shooter's toe was on the line. An inch cost the team a point.

Sometimes an inch separates a team from their goal. So close but they miss the championship. Even a builder knows how important an inch is. Ask the guy who had to tear out a wall because is was just an inch out of square. So close.

I don't know the exact physical locations of heaven and hell. Heaven is the eternal abode of those who follow Jesus. Hell is where those who do not will spend eternity. Heaven is perfect. Hell is awful. Heaven is the apex of desire. Hell is the pits.

Such a great difference between heaven and hell but the real difference is much closer. The difference between heaven and hell is the choice an individual makes regarding following Jesus. What choice have you made? It's your choice: follow Jesus or not. People don't usually choose hell but that's the only option if you choose to not follow Jesus.

Here's the choice I made almost 45 years ago. I realized I was a sinner when I heard the truth of the gospel and that is a problem. I understood that Jesus died on the cross, absorbing the punishment and paying the penalty for my sins. I believed Jesus is the Son of God and what he did on the cross is the only remedy for my sin problem. I confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord and committed to live my life following him and for his glory.

Because of that I am confident that heaven is my eternity. You can know that, too. Will you choose Jesus? Let me know if you'd like to talk about this. Heaven is close than you may think.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nancy & Jim

People come into our lives at what seems a random order. What seems random is part of God's plan. He uses each person for a purpose. In fact, you may be the person that God is using for a purpose for someone else. The hard part is noticing what each person is doing in your life.

I attended two funerals today. The first one was for Nancy Phillips. I met Nancy at Second Baptist Church in Russellville in 1993. I never knew her very well. She was always at church. She was well respected in the church and community. I knew her husband because Joe was the county judge.

Nancy's main contribution to my life was through her daughter, Linda. Linda is a Christian counselor. She's good at both. I wandered into Second Baptist Church after a divorce and I didn't know if life was worth hanging around for. The church was about to start a small group Bible study called "Making Peace with Your Past." Linda was the facilitator. I had no idea what the class was about but I knew my past was making me miserable so I showed up for the first session. That class, that church, and Linda changed my life. I'm sure that I'm here today because of those days.

I sure am glad I met Nancy Phillips. I'm also glad I met Jim Meister.

Jim's funeral was at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church this afternoon. His grandchildren are friends of my son so Jim's son and daughter-in-law are our friends. I met Jim last summer when he was in the hospital and our friends were out of state.

I walked into Jim's hospital room not knowing anything about him and not much about his situation. He was dealing with complications from a hip surgery. He was clearly in pain when I met him.

Instead of complaining about the pain and excusing himself from the visit, Jim welcomed me and struck up a conversation as if we'd been friends forever. Jim's a member of a church that is much larger than mine. In fact, he taught a Sunday School class that was larger than my church.

But Jim didn't want to talk about himself - except for his grandkids. He wanted to talk about my church. He kept talking until the pain was too much. Then he asked for pain meds. After the nurse brought him something he kept talking with me until he drifted off to sleep. I said goodbye although he never heard me, and I left. I was so encouraged and I expected to encourage him. That's just the kind of guy he was.

So God moves people into our lives for a purpose. Receive that blessing! And be the blessing to those people into whose lives God moves you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Under Surveillance

As you may remember, several months ago I captured video of a military helicopter landing in our yard. A man got out and the helicopter left. I later learned this was a drug sting. By the way, I was not the object of the operation.

Yesterday a military helicopter flew around just above the treetops. My guess is that someone in the area is under surveillance. This reminds me that someone is always watching.

At Christmas-time the shopping malls are extra busy. The police set up a video monitoring system to keep watch over the parking lot looking for thieves.

At Back-to-School time the police will set up the little trailer carrying a radar gun and MPH display.

Recent global news reminds us that our email or phone conversations may be monitored.

Even the customer service line you call from time to time says the call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.

Someone is always watching. Do you think your smart phone or smart TV can really record video of what you are doing?

Bigger than all of these watchdogs is the fact that the God of Heaven and Earth and All Things is aware of everything you do. Some people actually consider His ability to know all things as a "watchdog" kind of thing. That's not his motive.

It's not that God is watching to see what you do wrong. He's watching to see when you need help. And he's always ready to help with the best help you can get. More help, better help than you can ask or imagine.

Because he loves you.

I'm not sure if the guy in the helicopter loves the guys growing dope. But I am sure that God loves you. He has a plan for your life that includes everything that is best for you.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Way Things Are Supposed to Be

Riley's truck is a work in progress. We've done a lot to it. We have a lot to do.

I'm not really a handyman so I am in way over my head. One of the first projects we tackled was to fix the driver's side door handle. It's not as easy as the youtube video makes it look. We had to clean out enough space in the garage to park it inside because of rain storms headed our way. Altogether it took several trips to the parts store, dozens of views of the videos, and most of a week to get everything apart, fixed, and put back together. But it works and I don't care if I never get to do that again.

Today we tackled the lock on the back glass panel. The truck is a GMC Yukon with a fold down tailgate and a fold up glass. The glass wouldn't lock and Riley is always carrying around a bag full of baseball gear I'd rather not replace and a set of speakers (that we can't get to work!) that don't even belong to him. So we needed to get the lock fixed.

I poked and prodded. We could hear the motor trying but nothing moved. So I removed two screws from the panel covering the inside of the tailgate. That just gave me enough of a view to coax me into removing the other dozen screws and taking the panel out of the way. That wasn't bad at all but the whole time I'm wondering if this will go back on easily. Riley told me later he was wondering the same thing!

Now with the panel removed it became clear we needed to removed a metal plate covering the lock mechanism. I tried to talk myself out of it but my son was watching and I couldn't turn back now. I'm no good at just looking at a bolt head and judging the right size wrench to use so it took several random choices before I got it right. In case you ever have to remove the plate covering the lock mechanism on the tailgate of a 1996 GMC Yukon, you will need a 10mm socket or wrench. If you already knew that, I don't care!

And a vacuum cleaner. You'll need a vacuum cleaner. All the foam backing inside the plastic cover was no longer stuck to the cover but was either dust or in small strips/pieces. It was greasy. What a mess! So you'll also need some of that orange hand cleaner, too. We have some left from the time we changed spark plugs and wires.

Don't tell Riley, but I'm not sure what I did to fix the lock but he's really impressed. He said, "Wow, I'm gonna tell Forrest tomorrow that you fixed it!" Forrest is the guy at church who can fix anything. He's usually the guy we have to call to bail us out when we have reached the end of our wits and ability. It's happened more than once. We also call Jon. He's the guy who told me that I'd just have to work as quickly as possible - that was when I had removed the fuel filter and gasoline was pouring out like a fire hydrant.

So I'm not sure what I did to fix the lock but I could tell that this one part needed to move when Riley pushed the unlock button on the key fob but it didn't. I could see that a spring didn't look like I thought it should so I wiggled it around to the other side of a thingy. I helped the moving parts move.

Then we tested the lock and it worked. I'm a genius in my son's eyes.

Really, all I did was notice a few things that didn't seem to be the way they were supposed to be. And I helped them get how they were supposed to be. I could have been completely wrong in my assessment of how things are supposed to be, but I was right this time.

My role as pastor of a family of Christians is much the same way. I look at stuff going on in our lives and compare that to how things are supposed to be. Then I do what I can to help them get how they are supposed to be. The Word of God is my guide - not a youtube video or a self-help book or my personal opinion - so I am confident in His directions. Someone is stuck and I help them get free. Something is in the wrong place and I help show the right place. And so on.

I'm better at that than I am at fixing stuff on Riley's truck but I still sometimes wonder if everything will go back together the way it should. I've learned that God's grace is sufficient for that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tornadoe and Potatoe

I'm subbing in 7th grade English today. In the second class a couple of kids are kidding a girl about how she spelled "tornado." She added an "e" at the end. She said she spelled it like it sounds. I've heard people say it as if it had "uh" at the end. But, alas, there's just one way to spell "tornado."

I asked them if they knew who Dan Quayle was. They didn't. So I explained that he was the Vice President under George H. W. Bush. I'm not sure they knew who he was, either.

Then I told them about the time Vice President Quayle was doing a photo op in a classroom of elementary students. He was helping them prepare for a spelling bee or test or something. The teacher gave him a stack of notecards. He called out a word and the students spelled them. One notecard had "potatoe" on it. That's right. It was spelled incorrectly on the notecard prepared by and handed to him by the teacher. Mr. Quayle should have caught the mistake but, either because of nerves or ignorance, he corrected the student who had spelled the word correctly.

Of course, the media misrepresented this and made Quayle out to be a buffoon. The media does what the media does and they do it very well. Gone are the days of an unbiased media. Perhaps those days never existed, it's just something to say to lament the sorry state of affairs these days.

And, of course, I took plenty of opportunities in class today to add an extra "e" to as many words as possible.

(By the way, it's hard to write a post including the words "tornadoe" and "potatoe" spelled with the extra "e" because autocorrect automatically corrects them.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Second Day of Spring

Today is March 21 and it is the second day of Spring. Yesterday there was a lot of hype on the weather broadcasts and in social media. Not so much today. And today is just as pretty a Spring day as yesterday was. The second day just doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Even in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Thursday got more hype than Friday even though Friday was still first round action.

Heaven won't be that way, I don't think. There will be no second day let down. The beloved hymn says, "When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun." Day 3,650,000 will be just as good as Day 1.

It's my personal opinion that heaven won't have 3,650,000 days. Not even 2. There will be no sun because the Lamb is the light in heaven. I see that as just one eternal day. I wrote a song about that years ago. Here are the lyrics.


The Bible speaks of heaven as the hope of all the saved,
Secured as our destination by the life that Jesus gave.
To get there just one thing you must do, to get there just one way:
Believe in Jesus then make preparation to live in an eternal day.

Heaven's a place of rare beauty, that's one thing we know.
We'll stand with our loved ones around King Jesus and praise him while ages shall roll and roll and roll.
And then we'll sing for a million years, shout for a million years, sing for a million more, shout for a million more;
That's the just the beginning of an eternal day spent in the presence of God.

Remember how Enoch walked so close to God that he was not?
God must have had something so special in store that Enoch missed life's last stop.
And I believe John must have seen it, too, as down through the clouds that city came - 
A city not built by hands of men! It's our home for an eternal day!

Heaven's a place of rare beauty, that's one thing we know.
We'll stand with our loved ones around King Jesus and praise him while ages shall roll and roll and roll.
And then we'll sing for a million years, shout for a million years, sing for a million more, shout for a million more;
That's the just the beginning of an eternal day spent in the presence of God.


Here's a link if you'd like to hear the recording by Jubilee (Carri Corbitt, Donny Joe Martin, and me) from a long time ago.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Be Faithful and See What He Will Do

Our Bible study Sunday night was from Malachi 3. That's right, "Will a man rob God?" I've been preaching a series of sermons on Sunday mornings called Letting Go. Let Go of your Fear. Let Go of Your Past. Let Go of Your Own Plans. Let Go of Your Defeats. I thought about a sermon called Let Go of Your Money but I thought I'd let Malachi handle the heavy lifting.

First, let me put out there that I believe God gives each person/family all he/they need to tithe, live, and be generous. Failure to do any of those three is a sign of shoddy stewardship. And I believe that what God provides is exactly what you need, maybe not what you want but what you need.

6 "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty. 
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 
8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. 
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
"In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the Lord Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.

As you read the text of Malachi 3:6-12, you should notice that God expects people to be faithful in stewardship and he has no problem testing him in the matter. The word "test" is not a word that means to determine what a person knows or doesn't know, which is usually a negative thought, but to prove the validity of something, which is usually a positive. God is saying, "Be faithful and you have proof that I am who I say I am and will do what I say I will do."

Those who are faithful stewards will see the truth that God blesses those who are faithful, provides for them, and gives them a good reputation in the community.

Certainly, we want God to bless us. Be faithful and see what he will do!

And we want God to provide for us. Be faithful and see what he will do!

Did you notice the third promise? God will give the faithful and good reputation…"all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land." That was a promise to God's called people of the Old Testament, Israel. A good way to relate that to today is to realize that faithfulness of Christians - the Church - will result in blessings, provision, and a good reputation. Remember, God's called people (Israel in the past, the Church today) have always been tasked with carrying the blessing of the Good News.

If you have tried sharing your faith recently you may have noticed a negative reception to your effort. Have you wondered why? Could having a good reputation in the community help? I think so. I think that Christians who are faithful to what the Lord says will have a reputation in the community that will open paths for sharing the gospel.

For the sake of the lost around you will you consider being faithful? Not just in stewardship but in all things?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why I Read the Bible

I've been subbing in a Bible class this week. They have daily work that is turned in today. As they scurry to finish, one student asks for help with one of the questions: what is the most important verse in Ephesians?

That's a great question! Not knowing whether or not the teacher had provided a correct response in lecture or notes, I offered a few suggestions.

Ephesians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 4:7
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Ephesians 5:1-2
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 6:13
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

But how do you choose? Even this list leaves out some really good stuff! That's what is so good about reading the Bible: each time you read it you'll learn something. The Bible is refreshing, challenging, exciting, and new.

I challenge you to read the Bible. Read Ephesians and let me know what your favorite verse is.

FYI - the teacher's notes say 3:20-21.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3a)

Do you ever wear down? I watched a student writing his assignment with a pencil that was barely two inches long. I'm sure at on point the pencil was new and full length. But with use it wore down.

The lead wore down from being rubbed against the paper. The wood wore down from being cut away by a sharpener.

At times the pencil was sharp even as it was wearing down.

Once the process started, the inevitable end was that it would wear down. Wouldn't it be cool if the pencil could be restored to its original form instead of wasting away?

Technology can provide material that might last longer. Other writing utensils have been created. But the standard pencil will wear down.

I feel like the standard pencil. The rub of ministry is a grind although it is also invigorating. The sharpening of education, friendships, retreats, and quiet times help my usefulness and slow the wearing down. But the wearing is still happening.

That's why Psalm 23 is so special. Jesus cares for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

When I look to him for all I need I find that what he provides is all I want. When I follow him he gives me rest. When I obey him he refreshes me.

And, most importantly, when I realize who I am - one of the Shepherd's sheep - he restores my soul. It's my soul that recovers more slowly than my body. It's my soul that remains tired even though my body is back up to speed. It's my soul that is still hungry and thirsty after my body is fed and watered.

In the New Testament Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5).

If we connect the Psalm with the Beatitude I think we learn the key to overcoming the grind of living, the reality of emptiness, and the hurt of brokenness: our Shepherd takes care of us when we follow him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Best

Why do people choose to as little as possible?

In a college English class the final exam was an essay. We were to bring paper and pen. That was all. On the last day of class prior to the final one student asked, "What is the minimum number of pages that the essay must be?"

The professor said he had no minimum because his minimum would become our maximum. From his years of experience, he knew student would do as little as possible.

The 7th and 8th grade writing classes I have subbed in the last three days had assignments of writing summaries. They were given an article with maybe 200 words. Their summaries were supposed to be no more than 80 words. Other rules applied, like including the relevant points.

As I told one class, "Yes, 10 is less than 80 but I don't think you can give an adequate summary in 10 words." They wanted to do as little as possible.

I even gave them the chance to expand their summaries if their work was a little light. Only one student (out of 6) chose to look again at his work. The others just wanted to play on the Chromebooks provided by the school. So I didn't let them. Those who put out little effort on the assignment could not use the class for a study hall or recess.

They wanted to do as little as possible. Now I'm not the teacher and I don't grade the papers but I'm pretty sure she won't be very impressed with some of the work.

But I can't just talk about students. I'm the same way sometimes. Some days the time I spend reading and studying the Bible is pitiful. And sometimes my prayers don't hit the 80-word mark, either.

I don't think God keeps a word count but I do believe he cares about the effort we put into spending time with him. I think he wants to hear you voice your praise, your concerns, your needs.

I don't think God keeps a stop watch on your study habits but I do believe an Olympic swimmer might be able to hold his breath longer than most of us spend reading the Bible. I think God wants to spend more time with us than we give him.

Did I read my Bible today? Yes.

Did I pray today? Yes.

But did I give God a minimum effort or did I give him my best?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Beat of a Different Drummer

I thought that line about following the beat of a different drummer would be a good class motto for the Dardanelle High School Class of '82. It's not our motto. I'd have to look in the yearbook to find out what the motto is.

I think about that because I'm sitting in the teachers' workroom at school. The band room is next door. They are practicing and I can hear (and feel) the beat of the drum.

Have you ever felt the drums as the marching band goes by in a parade? That's what I remember most about the Christmas parades when I was a kid. That and Santa Claus making his appearance on top of the firetruck.

Even when you can't see the drummer you can hear the drum. Sometimes you can feel it.

Every day I'm reminded of how the culture I live in does not line up with my worldview. I try to see everything through the lens of God's Word and I try to live my life by the principles taught there. It's not an easy task but when I am able to do it I notice a clear difference.

Something needs to guide me along the path of godly living as the path winds through the world I live in because I'll stray without that help. I need a cadence to keep me in step. I need the reminder of a sound from somewhere else.

God gives the guidance. His Spirit whispers to my spirit about what I should do and decisions I should make. I'm never left alone. He is always with me. That's the promise of Scripture.

Along with the Holy Spirit, I have friends who are also believers who help me. The Proverbs tell us that one man sharpens another like iron on iron. We (believers) need each other. The Christian life is not meant to be lived in solitude but in community.

So I look forward to gathering with my church family. I cherish times of fellowship and Bible study with Christian friends. Don't you?

The nudging by the Holy Spirit and the reminders from believing friends are that drumbeat that helps me keep in line and in step. I believe God sends believers into the world to make a difference through relationships with all people. Lots of voices bombard you each day with attractive offers that will pull you away from the Lord. But there is a drummer tapping a cadence. Can you hear Him?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Be Still and Know

One of the hardest things to do is be still. I'm constantly fidgeting even when it looks like I'm still. I generally don't move too far from the podium when I preach but look closely and you'll notice I shift weight from one foot to the other frequently. Even when I drive it seems I do the same thing because I weave. A lot. Ask the policemen who have stopped me over the years!

The Bible says to be still before the Lord and know that he is God. Often we are just too busy. The constant movement of our schedules and routines keeps us from really knowing God. We run to him when we are in trouble nut don't give him much attention otherwise.

I suggest that a little quiet and still time with the Lord on a regular basis equips us for the hectic times that certainly come. Maybe a few minutes being still before the Lord in the morning will help you deal with some chaos that comes later in the day.

Be still. Be quiet. Listen. Read his Word. Agree with him. Thank him and praise him.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Misleading

Inside where it's about 72. Looking outside. Clear skies. Only vapor trails break up the blue. Flags stand straight out in the wind. The only hint that I have that it's colder outside than it looks is the jackets people who are walking by are wearing. That and I know it's February 3. But these days it's just as likely to be 72 outside on February 3 as it is to be 30.

Today the temperature outside is in the mid 40s. The wind makes it feel like upper 30s. From this table I might not think it's that cold. A few steps outside the door and I believe it. I'm wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a sweater vest. And pants. The run to the truck isn't too bad. I wouldn't want to be working the car line at school without a jacket, though. Maybe a hat, too.

Looks can be deceiving. Ever heard that? It applies to a lot of things.

How can we know if what seems to be an opportunity presented by God is really from God or a misleading look-a-like placed there to deceive us? You know, Satan will try to deceive us by making his option look as good as or better than God's option. So we can't just jump at anything that looks like it might be from God.

I have a friend who once said he would walk through any open door. I reminded him that Satan also opens doors in front of us - doors that God would never open for you. Not every open door is the way God wants you to go. We must be discerning.

Discernment is, according to Sinclair Ferguson, "the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action." Have you ever put a food into your mouth that you've never tasted before? Everyone was watching to see what you would do. You mouth twitched this way and that. Your eyes searched the air for an answer. Maybe your nose crinkled and your eyes watered. Maybe not. Then a smile. You tasted it and found out you liked it. It was good.

Discernment is tasting (or testing) to see if something is good. Not in the sense of enjoyable, sensational, or fun; but in the sense of right, true, fair, honorable, and godly. A discerning person, therefore, can tell the difference between something that is actually good and something that is not.

Everybody has a some ability to discern. Some people have a lot of ability to discern. That's a gift from God. But even if you don't have that special measure of discernment you are still required to be discerning. You are still required to test the choice, weigh the options. You have to decide whether God opened the door for your good or Satan opened it for your harm.

Your decision is more likely to be right if you'll do this: pray, weigh the choices against God's word, and consult the input of faithful Christians.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Transitions

I'm working part-time as a substitute teacher. Today's assignment is to fill in for a teacher who is part of the Senior Field Trip. Several teachers are out and, of course, all the seniors are gone.

With the seniors out of the building the juniors are at the op of the heap.

I remember those special times. Like the first day after the seniors' last day of school when I was a junior. We called ourselves seniors even though some of us were still struggling to make the grade. And we let everyone on campus know that we had transitioned to the top of the pecking order.

There's just something about moving up, moving on, transitioning.

In reality there isn't much different about a person from one day to the next. He may have received a degree or an honor or a promotion. He's much the same but he has something like a diploma to tell him he's different.

When a person comes into a saving relationship with Jesus you may not see much different about them the next day. She wears the same clothes. She drives the same car. Her class schedule is the same.

But something is definitely different. It's on the inside. You can't see it now but you probably will notice outward changes soon.

The diffence is that God gives his Holy Spirit to each person who trusts Jesus for salvation. The Holy Spirit begins working on the person to change them from what they were to what they can be. The transition has begun.

Some inward changes surface faster than others but the changes are happening. I'm glad to know this because I sometimes expect changes to be seen right now. I have to remind myself that this is happening in other people, too.

Instead of being harsh like I am prone to be, I must learn to see others who profess faith in Christ as people who are on a journey of transition from who they were to who they will be. I am better at that than I used to be. Maybe that's the Holy Spirit working to change me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing and Rewriting

Have you ever had to edit or revise and project? I've spent many years in classrooms working on assignments. I've written and delivered thousands of sermons and lessons. I have even written a few songs. And I've had to rewrite often.

Almost everything needs a rewrite or at least a tweak or edit. The best case scenario is to notice that before you publish or delivery it. I bet you have posted something on social media and immediately saw a typo or wish you had said it differently.

In a children's sermon I used the illustration of squirting out toothpaste then asking thr kids to put it back in the tube. You can't. Trying is messy.

It's best to think about what you say or write before you let it out for everyone to hear or read.

I think it is best to think about what you are about to do, revise your planned actions, before actually doing it.

Whether it's a delete key, a reset button, or an inner nudge, it's good to consider and reconsider.

I'm sitting in a class of seniors. Their teacher left these instructions for the day: revise your short story papers. They really wish the teacher wasn't sick today because they have lots of questions.

Revision requires help.

So let's talk about your life for a minute. Are you pone to putting something out there before thinking it through enough? Yeah, me too. I sometimes say or do things that I soon regret. How do we keep from doing that?

Some people remove themselves from possible situations. They become reclusive and deny themselves and those around them of what could be some great interactions.

Others choose not to care. They say hurtful things with little or no remorse. They treat people however they want without regard for those people. That kind of attitude eventually makes the person calloused to relationships.

A good way to keep from regretting what you've said or done is to revise,edit, rewrite. God has given us a great gift to help us do that. The Holy Spirit is God and he dwells with us, in part, to nudge our spirits to think twice before acting. He does that through truths we find in scripture; he'll point us in the right direction as we read and recall what the Bible says.

Why don't you give this a try. Read the Bible regularly. Pray before you read asking the Holy Spirit to help you understand the truths you'll read. Throughout the day ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you make decisions, interact with people, and post things online.

The revisions prior to action can make a big difference in how the day goes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

You Can Always Go Home

Riley turned 16 Saturday. The Department of Finance and Administration issues driver's licenses but they were closed until today because of the holiday. We tried to get his license BEFORE his birthday but couldn't; he had to be 16. So we waited.

He also had to get shots for his 16th birthday - a requirement for school - and that was scheduled for this morning. On the way home from the health department we stopped at the revenue office and got the license. The lady taking the picture made him smile. He thinks he looks like a clown. I say that's better than looking like a criminal.

Then when we got home Riley loaded his Yukon and drove to school. Without ME!




For 12 or 13 years he's had either me or his mother with him on the way to school. Until recently, his mother or I was the driver. Transitioning to the passenger on these trips was hard enough. Now I had to stand in the driveway…alone…while he drove away…alone.

But we've practiced and prepared for this day. The last two years have been everything from frustrating to joyful. We should have been ready for today. From the technical perspective of driving a car, I guess we are ready. It's the emotional part you really can't prepare for.

One of Riley's older brothers wasn't eager to get his license. I asked him why and he said, "Once you get your license you have to get a job." He'd been watching the oldest brother and saw the pattern.

So Riley drove to school today. Soon he'll drive to his girlfriend's house. Wait…he doesn't have a girlfriend so that can wait! Then he'll drive to meet his friends at the Promenade. He'll drive to the ballpark. I guess a drive into work isn't too far away. Then to college. Then away.

But he can drive! So he can drive home!

Freedom is an awesome thing. It's both frustrating and joyful. But it is hopeful, too.

Jesus sets free from sin all those who submit their lives to him. You will no longer be bound by the burdens and problems of sin. You'll still be living in a world marred by sin. You'll still have to deal with the consequences of some of the sins you have committed. But the burden of guilt is laid upon him. The fear of eternal punishment will be gone. The hope for better choices is ahead.

Sure, you'll be free to choose sin if you want. And that will have consequences. But you'll be free to return to him in repentance, confessing your sin and receiving forgiveness. Just as eager as I am to go see my parents, you'll be eager to repent and confess. There is always good stuff waiting for me when I go see my parents. There will always be good stuff waiting for you when you repent and confess.

You can always go home.

Now that he can drive, I wonder how long before he gets a girlfriend...