PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

De-Mystifying Quiet Time

At dinner last night, Marilyn and I had an interesting conversation. Frankly, it is one I have had rather frequently over the years as pastor.

Marilyn voiced something that I believe a lot of Christians struggle with, myself included.

She said, “John, I feel that I am really struggling with reading the Bible in the mornings. I just don’t seem to get anything out of it. It seems to be more and more difficult.” And, many that have told me this add one more thing, “So, I just don’t do it any longer.”

This topic comes to mind on the last day of 2013 because for many years, my first sermon of the New Year was invariably a challenge to people in the congregation to establish or re-establish a “daily Quiet Time with the Lord.”

I have not changed my opinion about it. I still believe it is very important, but somehow, over the years, the whole subject of a “Quiet Time” has taken on a lot of baggage that seems to trip people up or weigh them down with so much guilt that it is a burden to heavy to bear.

Telling people that they have to have a daily Quiet Time could for some (maybe many) become akin to legalism. The thinking goes this way: if I have a Quiet Time, I am a spiritual person. If I don’t, I am a dog.

Now, let me hasten to say that I firmly believe that the essence of Christianity is a daily relationship with Jesus. Relationships require communion and communication, but WHEN and HOW that is accomplished varies significantly from person to person. Are you kidding me?

We all acknowledge this truth on a human level. Every significant friendship I have is different.

Have you heard this statement really good friends make? “We haven’t seen each other in years but when we got together, it felt as if we had never been apart.” How about that? Now, I will acknowledge that this type of bond is rare. Most friendship feed off of regular or at least fairly frequent communication.

But my point is: I think we need to quit trying to force stereotypes on people that end up causing more unnecessary guilt and burden.

Back to Marilyn’s comment—I think a lot of people really struggle with the fact that each morning, as they open the Word of God, there is no lightning bolt or miraculous heavenly epiphany in which the skies open up and a dove descends.

Of course, there are times when meeting with the Lord and communion with Him bring something like this experience and give us a “warm fuzzy.” But can we acknowledge that most days are rather mundane and unspectacular and rather routine?

Thus, here is THE issue: if I don’t FEEL as if I got anything out of the Bible or don’t even remember what I read, is it in fact a waste of time or am I doing something wrong? What is wrong?

Again, these are questions and this issue has come up frequently. As Marilyn voiced it again, I thought of an answer that I believe the Lord gave me a few years ago. It goes something like this:

“Sally, do you remember what you had for dinner a week ago? Do you remember what you had at lunch three days ago? How about yesterday?”

Most of the time people answer that they don’t remember.

My next statement is: “well, then, you must not have gotten anything out of it if you don’t remember, right?”

Just because I don’t remember what I ate patently does NOT mean that I didn’t get anything out of it! I enjoy eating (a little too much, I’m afraid), but some of the meals I enjoy the most, I get the least out of in terms of emotional enjoyment.

In fact, what I am concluding is that the right kind of food is often not a lot of fun to eat AT FIRST. But down the road, I feel a lot better over the long haul.

But all of us have to guard against “the sugar high” approach to spiritual food.

Oh, man. This cuts a little close to home because I have consumed way too much processed sugar over the past few weeks. I love it. It gives me an initial buzz as all sugar does, but oh, man, a few hours later, I feel lousy.

For example, Sunday, after church, I headed over to Eastlake to get my mail out of my post office box. Right near the post office is a bakery in the middle of Eastlake. The woman who runs this bakery always puts a sign out on the main road through this little community. It reads, “Fresh and hot cinnamon rolls today!”

Can you guess where this is going? Right. I got one and ate the whole thing. They are rather large, and I am telling you. Oh, man, was it good. One of the best ever. I had it eaten as I drove downtown to visit a guy in the hospital. I really enjoyed it, but as the day wore on, I hit bottom. My sugar high was done.

All I am saying is that we need to guard against this same approach to a “Quiet Time.” I just believe that reading the Word each day is equivalent to a good spinach salad. It may not give you the buzz that sugar does, but like all good food, it sticks with you and gives you sustained energy.

So, I counsel people: stay in the Word. Read it each day. Keep on doing this no matter what, whether it “feels” as if you are getting anything out of it, or not. Just keep “eating.” It isn’t “glamorous,” but it keeps you alive.

We need to de-mystify the whole concept of “Quiet Time.”

Here are the verses for today from a book we don’t talk much about—Nahum. I’m back in the Old Testament, having finished 2 Timothy.

"The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet" (Nahum 1:3 NASB). Or how about these verses in the Message Version?

"God is serious business. He won’t be trifled with. He avenges his foes. He stands up against his enemies, fierce and raging. But God doesn’t lose his temper. He’s powerful, but it’s a patient power. Still, no one gets by with anything. Sooner or later, everyone pays. Tornadoes and hurricanes are the wake of his passage, Storm clouds are the dust he shakes off his feet” (Nahum 1:2-3 MSG).

Oh, Lord, every time I see a cloud today, I will think of you, and I will acknowledge that you are BIG.

I just don’t see how people miss you. Help me not to today. You are indeed serious business. I want to continue to commune with You throughout this day, the last day of 2013, and not just in these moments of my “Quiet Time.”

Lord, I lift up some dear friends of mine—Sam and Becky. Becky had a stroke yesterday and is in the hospital. Take care of her, Dr. Jesus.

“I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me!” Don’t know where this hymn is, but I am not going to cite it today. Just want to worship. Amen.
Comments

An Unencumbered God-Hug

When Rob was on staff at our church, he made a comment to me that has stuck with me. This is not an exact quote, but the essence of it was, “John, you preach more Sundays than just about any guy I know.”

Until he made that comment, I had not really thought about this before he said that. Why?

Well, first, I think that preaching ranks up there pretty high on the list as one of, if not the main part, of my job. It remains as the one time each week when I have the most opportunity for ministry with the most people in our congregation.

Second, I love to preach more than I ever have. Some guys I know who are pastors dread it, and they complain about having to come up with a sermon each week. I’ve never felt that way.

In fact, I love studying more than I ever have. In all the things I do each week, it is “the eye of the tornado” for me. It is a refuge. It is a quiet place to go, literally and metaphorically.

Since I got cancer, I have shifted my schedule somewhat to give me more extended time to work.

On a day like today, I will finish up a study guide for the message this coming Sunday to send off to Betty. In addition, I will begin to work on my sermon for the second Sunday of January today. I hope to get a chance to go to the library at Denver Seminary if it is open to pick up some commentaries and turn in some others. It promises to be a good day of study. I’m looking forward to it.

Well, anyway, that is way too much detail. Sorry about that.

I say all that to say this, and I know it sounds rather contradictory. The more I preach, the more I realize that doing it absolutely every Sunday may not be best for me or for the church.

I seem to do better after a lay-off. We had two Sundays in early December where the boys and girls did a Christmas musical and the adults did one as well. I did not preach those two Sundays. I felt it helped me as I preached the next two Sundays to do a better job.

Plus, and here is where I am going with all of this: I want to allow more people in the church to preach this coming year. I think it helps them. I know the church appreciates hearing a different voice now and again. AND, I need to hear a sermon MYSELF now and again.

Last Saturday was a difficult day for a lot of reasons, but late in the afternoon, I sort of lost it over some misplaced receipts. I looked and looked and looked and could not find them, and for some reason, it pushed me over an edge.

My mom and sister were concerned about me. As we were talking, I said, “I am glad I am not preaching tomorrow. I need to hear a sermon.”

And I am convinced that I need to hear one more often.

Years ago, I used to listen to sermons all the time. As a family, we received cassette tapes from Ron Dunn, the traveling Bible expositor (one of the best preachers EVER, in my opinion) and Richard Jackson (the long-time former pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church). I would just stick them in my tape player and listen.

I am far, very far, from doing that now.

Anyway, back to yesterday, I was so glad to HEAR a sermon yesterday. And I have to say that Jeremy, our youth pastor, did a fantastic job. One of the best things about his sermon on the sufficiency of Christ from Colossians 3:1-17 is his illustrations. They were excellent.

One is particularly noteworthy. He was explaining repentance, and he said, “It is more than just feeling sorry for your sins.” He went on, “When I get home from work (his full-time job is at the VA counseling vets), I am carrying a back-pack, lunch box, the mail I just picked up, and other items. I open the front door of my house. My kids are usually there waiting to see me. They want a hug. In order to do that, I have to drop all the stuff I am carrying so that I can hug them fully. THAT is repentance” (parentheses mine).

The second he said that, I wrote in my notes, “Repentance is an unencumbered God-hug.”

As I was leaving church yesterday, I backed out of my parking space and into a truck parked behind me. I thought I had really wacked it hard. I jumped out to see the damage. There was none, thankfully, but the owner of the truck was standing there. He saw it all. It was a dear brother in the Hispanic church. His name is Jose. We looked over his truck.

I said, “Oh, brother Jose, I am so sorry. I don’t see any damage, but if I did, please let me know. I will be glad to pay for it.”

Jose replied, (his English is a bit broken; but it is still better than my Spanish), “No problem, brother. But I am worried about you. You seem very stressed.”

You know what he did? Right. He gave me a hug, and as he did it, he prayed for me in Spanish.

Get it? When we unencumber ourselves (repent), and turn to God in faith, we can then embrace Him and He hugs us back using God’s people. I so appreciated Jose’s ministry to me.

This appreciation of the role of people in our repentance/faith comes out in the final words that Paul ever wrote. Think about that—the final words. It could have been a profound theological statement. It wasn’t. It was a greeting to fellow God-huggers and Paul-huggers:

"Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and those living in the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed at Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick at Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus sends you greetings, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters. May the Lord be with your spirit. And may his grace be with all of you" (2 Timothy 4:19-22 NLT)

Father, there is nothing more important today than unencumbering myself so that I can continue to trust you and love you. Thank you for the way You used Jeremy yesterday to remind me of this and for the way you used Jose to show me.

I needed a hug. And you provided that for me. How many others need it as well?

I’m not sure that this isn’t one of the most important things that everyone who comes to worship needs—a God-hug delivered by a loving brother or sister in Jesus.

“There is sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright” (BH 2008, 619). Amen.
Comments

Truly Alone

Paul makes another remarkable statement in the final verses of 2 Timothy 4:

"The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen" (2 Timothy 4:16-18 NLT).

I’m not exactly sure what specific time he is referring to here because he appeared before so many judges in the latter years of his ministry. Maybe it was in Caesarea. Maybe it was in Rome. Who knows?

The statement he makes reminds me of a very pithy statement in one of the gospels: "Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away" (Mark 14:50 NLT). One of the added aspects of the sufferings of Jesus was the fact that the men He had been with and invested in for three years—at the moment of His greatest need, abandoned him AND, more than that, betrayed Him. Peter is at the top of the list.

Paul was in the same boat in His trial—everyone abandoned him.

But Paul responded in the same way Jesus did on the cross. He asked the Lord to forgive them.

All I can say to all of this is WOW.

As I sit here this morning, I honestly can’t think of one thing I have ever gone through in my life where I was totally alone, like Jesus or Paul.

I just have to pause a moment and think about this … I just can’t.

But this whole discussion reminds me of a distinction that Mary made a few years ago. I met her through a good friend of mine, Kenny. She was serving in a church in our community. Somehow, we got on the subject of the struggles that Single adults face. She was herself Single.

She made a significant comment I have never forgotten. It is germane to this discussion. I’m paraphrasing her a bit at this point: “John, I think we need to make a distinction between being ALONE and being LONELY. Those are two different things, but they often FEEL quite the same.” She said something like that.

I may not be able to relate to Paul’s experiences on the “alone” aspect, but I certainly can on the “lonely” aspect, especially as it pertains to life and ministry.

I’ll have to be honest to say that, since I have gotten cancer and it has (through a series of events relating to my own health and to my mom’s and other factors) led me to move back into my childhood home, I have realized how lonely I was living on the north side. It is weird that I am just now realizing it.

At the time, all those years, I didn’t really think about it as much. But looking back, sometimes it was acute and sharp.

Now, was I alone? Oh, no.

But the feeling of loneliness was overwhelming at times and it wasn’t always related to living in an apartment or house by myself. Sometimes, but more often than not, the feeling of loneliness occurred in a crowd of people.

Do I have to say that one can feel lonely and sometimes it is more poignant in a crowd of folks?

This can happen for a myriad of reasons. I think the main reason is that, as a pastor, I am often privy to information or circumstances or struggles that may be unique to my role.

Am I complaining and griping about it? NO! It just goes with the gig.

But back to Paul—even though he wasn’t a pastor necessarily, I believe that he was in a unique position as he dealt with everything he went through. It was tougher and worse for him since he ministered to so many churches. He was in a position of giving and giving and giving.

At the time he needed to be on the receiving end—no one helped him. It was either fear or apathy or indifference or whatever. Paul alludes to it as sin. Otherwise, why would he ask the Lord not to count it against them?

But moving beyond all that, Paul was alone on a physical level and YET, he really wasn’t. The Lord stood with him!

I have a picture in my mind of a lawyer or advocate who takes the witness stand to testify on behalf of the accused. This is what Jesus did for Paul.

This is what He does for us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This is the only reason any of us continue to be saved.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He gives testimony of God’s saving power, not only in recent experiences but also in all future challenges as well.

I just have to spend some time this morning reflecting on my lonely experiences and thanking God for rescuing me.

Lord, I thank for all those very valuable experiences in which You made your presence in my life and my life in yours more real than ever. As Andre Crouch said, “If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that You could solve them. I’d never know what faith in God could do.” Amen. Through it all.

Take care of Jeremy today as he preaches for me. Thank you for him.

I pray for all the folks who will be sitting in that auditorium today who are desperately lonely. Stand with them, Jesus. Let them know You are there. Yes. You are THERE.
Comments

Opponents in Ministry

Before I get into the topic for today, I just have to share a further word about our beloved boiler—it stopped working AGAIN yesterday. This time, it cost us $266.00 plus dollars to get it up and running again, and the same company, who sent out a different man, wanted to charge us much more.

A return to normalcy in the world of dealing with plumbers!

This still does not diminish the miracle on Christmas day. In fact, it makes it even more amazing.

We have some big decisions to make about what we are going to do. Our neighbor Holly’s dad, John, is a general contractor. He came by yesterday to talk with us about some work we want to have done on our house. He brought a guy who is in the home heating business. All of us had a very good conversation about some possibilities for moving forward.

Me thinks that the days are numbered for our boiler and current water heater. Again, I don’t consider myself any kind of predictive prophet but I think you can pretty much count on THAT! Ha.

John is a very nice guy, a believer. And he is very knowledgeable. We appreciate all the contacts he has, plus his knowledge and expertise.

Enough said about that.

Back to the final words that Paul ever wrote, as he gets specific and takes names. Are you keeping track? Among others, he mentioned Demas who deserted him and John Mark who helped him (ultimately).

Another prominent allusion is to Alexander:

"Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said" (2 Timothy 4:14, 15 NLT).

I just did a quick search for this character on Bible Gateway. Paul alludes to an Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20 along with Hymenaeus. I wonder if it is the same guy as he refers to here. Probably.

Opponents don’t go away easily. Apparently, Alexander didn’t. Paul warns Timothy about him. “He fought against everything we said.”

Oh, boy. This is another one of those topics that touches a cord for me today.

Here is what I would say about my own experience. I think some of my biggest opponents over the years would be shocked to find out that they are opponents of the ministry. They are, as Marshall Shelley’s classic book calls them, “well-intentioned dragons.” The subtitle of the book is “dealing with problem people in ministry.”

I’m not sure when things shifted for me … well, maybe I am. It was a comment Betty made one day.

But when I first started as pastor of First Southern, I had several “well-intentioned dragons” in the congregation who either felt it was their duty to set me straight when I shared ideas or just flat opposed just about everything I recommended.

It was interesting: it was not always what I said in sermons (I’ve had my share of that over the years as well; believe me) but more often than not, it was what I said and did OUTSIDE the pulpit.

Man, right now all these memories are flooding my brain. It is hard to know what to say and what not to mention…

One of my earliest deacon’s meetings in which I invited the wives to attend ended up unearthing several opponents I didn’t know I had. One guy said, “I don’t like this idea you are proposing. It isn’t going to work. I thought you said you weren’t going to change anything for a while when you got started.”

Of course, that isn’t quite what I had said, and I thought as he was speaking, “So, the bottom line is that YOU don’t want to reach anyone.”

Much more to share about that first deacon’s meeting. I won’t do it this morning. But I left from that meeting devastated.

It is hard to think that some of the greatest opponents of ministry are sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, thinking they are doing God a favor by gracing the church with their presence. And they are weeds in God’s garden.

What I have discovered is that the preaching of the Word eventually exposes folk. They may be able to cover up their true identity for a while, but eventually, the Gardener weeds them out. It usually takes a while with a lot of pain and agony, but He does it.

Back to Paul’s comment: he turns Alexander over to the Lord for HIM to deal with him ultimately. God is the ultimate JUDGE.

However, He calls us to be judges in the sense of discernment in the church, as the final verses of 1 Corinthians 5 affirm. We are to JUDGE those INSIDE the church.

Back to what I have learned over the years—I will never ask permission from anyone to reach people for Jesus. I don’t have to. Our Boss has already commissioned us. Now, the METHOD may be up to debate at times, but not the MANDATE.

In addition, I think a lot of church work involves just working in and around folks who are “well-intentioned dragons.” More and more, I am going to focus my attention when it comes to moving forward in the church on the folks who want to move.

Please hear me: this is not to say that I don’t care for and love and minister to the others, but you can’t let opponents stop the work of God! Paul didn’t.

This is a hard lesson for a “people-pleaser” like me. But the church is more important than I am. It is more important than any one person’s opinions or feelings.

Lord, I thank you for the opponents of ministry that Paul faced. Thank you for the way the apostle responded and the way you took care of him and Your church.

Thank you for all the lessons, many of them very painful, that you have taught me through the years.

Take care of the weeds and the wheat in your church. Ultimately, you will make those distinctions on the Day of Judgment. In the meantime, keep me on track, loving you and following you. Amen.
Comments

Second or 513th Chance

As I read Paul’s epistles, I am more and more drawn to sections of his letters that give personal references.

The last chapters of Colossians and Romans are a special case in point, but there are smaller sections in other letters as well. 2 Timothy, purportedly the last letter that Paul ever wrote, is an example.

What strikes me in all these sections of Paul’s writings is how candid he is. He calls “a spade a spade.” In the post yesterday, I referenced his comments about Demas. In the verse for today, there is another striking reference, but it is for an opposite reason.

"Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11 NLT).

He urges Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to visit Paul in prison.

What is amazing about this is the history of that relationship.

John Mark had been a trusted companion of Paul. He is mentioned in Acts 16 as having gone with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey as an “assistant” (Acts 16:5, NLT).

Not too many verses later (v. 13), Luke the historian makes a passing allusion to Mark again, saying that he “left them and returned to Jerusalem.” He gives no other explanations. We really don’t know what happened. If all we had was that verse, we would still wonder.

But there is more to the story.

At the end of chapter fifteen, as Paul and Barnabas prepare to head out on another journey, the subject of John Mark comes up again.

"After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus" (Acts 15:36-39 NLT).

A couple of things are noteworthy here. We find out that Mark deserted the mission when he returned to Jerusalem. And Paul didn’t like it. We still, however, don’t know exactly why.

And this is important because the other member of the first missionary team evidently saw things very differently. He did NOT see Mark’s departure as a “deal breaker.”

As a result, Paul and Barnabas had such a heated disagreement over this issue that it caused the break-up of the relationship, at least the ministry aspect of it.

I think this fight was more the result of the character of each of these men of God, Barnabas ever the encourager and Paul the teacher. Both men’s gift sets came to the fore in this issue with Mark, and it was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

But for Paul, looking at the end of Acts 15, again, if that is all we had, he was done with Mark. And we would forever be left to wonder what happened.

Well, this verse at the end of 2 Timothy 4 tells us. Somehow, some way, Mark came back into the good graces of Paul the missionary, so much so that he asks Timothy to bring him along on his prison visit.

I like this story. It is encouraging to me today.

I’m glad we serve a God who gives second chances and more, much more. Whenever I think that I have blown it to the point where I am irretrievable, I remember this story.

I’m so glad that in the grace of God, there is forgiveness and restoration, AND the Lord can use anyone at any time.

This leads me to think of a conversation with a woman I met at Southwestern Seminary. We even went out on a couple of dates. Surprise, surprise.

Somehow, we got on the subject of immorality and how it affects people in full-time vocational ministry. (Yes, I know. It is a rather awkward subject on a date; maybe this is why she preferred not to continue our friendship!?!). I said something like, “If I were ever to fail the Lord in that way, I know I could never continue in ministry. I would be done.”

Somehow, she knew me well enough to make an amazing response, “No you wouldn’t. You would find some way to preach.”

You know. That is right. But it says more about the grace of God than it does about me. There are always second and 513th chances with God.

Lord, my heart is full of gratitude this morning. Thank you, thank you, thank you as 2013 is drawing to a close, for another year of overwhelming mercy and grace and forgiveness on YOUR part. I am on the receiving end, over and over.

Have mercy on me now and into 2014, if you allow me to live that long.

“I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river” (BH 2008, 618). Rivers, oceans, and fountains describe your mercy! Amen.
Comments

An Answer to Prayer

I hope all of you who bless me by reading this blog had a great Christmas. We sure did, in spite of the bumpy start yesterday morning.

As I was lying in bed yesterday morning, freezing from the neck up, knowing that we had no heat, and dreading the ordeal (and expense) before us, I prayed, “Lord, please help us to get this fixed and not have to pay any money.”

When everyone was up, I went down to the basement where our boiler is. I relit the pilot light of the water heater next to it. Someone might ask, “Ah, John, why did you do that?” Made me feel better, I guess. Ha. I did for a second or two. But try as I might, I could not for the life of me figure out why our boiler was not working.

We gave up pretty quickly and called a plumbing company. The operator said she would relay the message and a plumber would get back with us. In about a half an hour, Clinton called us and said he would be there soon.

We waited about an hour, trying to calculate what this little “issue” was going to cost us.

Finally, he arrived. He looked over our boiler and opened it up. He discovered that the pilot light was out. There is one on our boiler too. Hey, I was close!

Anyway, we asked him how it went out. Clinton said, “Well, did you guys have a lot of wind here yesterday?” Yep. “Well,” he went on, “sometimes huge gusts of wind will blow right down the chute an extinguish a pilot light. It can happen.”

He lit the pilot light. He also showed me how to do it.

As we were visited, almost offhandedly, he interjected, “I was talking with the boss this morning. He told me that all the work we do today is FREE for the customers.” Huh? What?

Marilyn and I were standing there. We looked at each other. Did we hear that right? A plumber doing his work for free on a holiday?

Clinton went on, “Yeah, we did that on Thanksgiving as well. I had to go fix a heater for a single mom that day. She cried when I told her it was free.”

What is that? A miracle. And an answer to prayer.

We rejoiced for the rest of the day.

God has a way of working, especially when we are beginning to doubt.

Just the other day, I was commiserating with my mom and sister, and said something like, “Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like God answers prayer and He doesn’t care.”

There are requests I have been making of the Lord for years, and years and years. And, up to now, it doesn’t SEEM as if He has answered.

But lying in bed, my teeth chattering, I ask the Lord to take care of this heat problem and He does. Go figure.

I can’t and won’t. I’m not going to begin to try to figure out how and why God answers some prayers and seemingly not others.

But anyway … I think He allows circumstances like we faced yesterday just to tap us on the shoulder, “Ah, I am still in the prayer answering business, just in case you really wanted to know.”

No matter what happens, I can’t abandon my faith in God and trust in Him, regardless of whether He does what I want Him to do or not.

I wonder if that is why Demas left Paul. Look at these words in 2 Timothy 4:

"Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10a NASB).

Now, this is purely conjecture on my part—a dangerous thing. Why would one of Paul’s trusted companions abandon him in his hour of need? This is shocking. Who knows? Paul does not go into detail.

But here is one possibility: maybe he was praying that his friend get out of prison. The Lord did not answer in the way Demas wanted. It was tough on him, and he just punted. He left Paul because he loved “this present world” more.

This is an ominous statement.

When we love God and love our neighbor, we show that we value our future home MORE than this world.

Lord, thank you again for what you did for us yesterday. I am going to write a note to that company and thank them, but we all know it really YOU. We are so grateful to You. Thank you for caring for us and for answered prayer—not just that one, but also a host of others. Let me cite them …

I choose to love You today with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. I choose to love my neighbor. I choose to continue to pray for all the prisoners all over the world, prisoners like Saeed. Free him, Lord and encourage his family never to stop believing and trusting.

“Sight was gone and fears possessed me,
But he freed me from them all” (BH 2008, 617). Amen.
Comments

A Christmas Parable

First of all, Merry Christmas to everyone. I hope you have a great day in Christ.

Ours has started off not so great—no heat in our house. It is freezing in here. It has kind of knocked us off center this morning.

The dollar signs are dancing in our heads. Can you imagine how much it is going to cost to have a plumber or heater guy come on Christmas day??? I guess we are going to find out.

Well, anyway, the adventure continues.

I just wanted to share my little parable with you as we wait for a call back. I can’t imagine there are too many folks out and about on Christmas morning. Again, we will find out.

Anyway, yesterday, I turned from 112th to head south on Irma. It was about 2:30 PM. I immediately noticed a big dog running across the road a few blocks ahead of me. It startled me a bit because at first, I thought it might be a coyote or some wild critter (humm, I wonder why THAT thought crossed my mind??). But even in those few short minutes, I realized that it was a German shepherd.

As I arrived at the point on Irma where I had seen him, I slowed down to look for him among the businesses on the west side of the street. I didn’t see him, shrugged my shoulders, and headed on back to the church.

Fast-forward an hour and a half later, I heard a bit of a clamor as Calla and her two kids, Dayton and Sydney arrived. I went to the auditorium to find out. Calla was outside the front door with a German shepherd! I have to believe it was the same dog I saw earlier in the day. She was on her phone.

I creaked open the door to ask her what was going on. She replied, “The dog has a collar. His name is Charlie. I’m calling the 800 number on his collar, and they are trying to reach the owner.

I emerged slowly from the church building. I’m a little gun shy of strange dogs.

But I could tell immediately that this big dog was scared out of his wits. He was running back and forth and all around, but he kept coming up to the front door of the church. We eventually corralled him there.

With assurances from Calla that she was going to stay with the dog, I went to my office to try to find the number for Animal Control for the city of Northglenn. I called the number. No one answered, of course.

I called 911. The operator seemed very busy. On several occasions, he interrupted me to take another call. When he was finally able to talk, he said, “Sir, there really is nothing we can do. If you want to wait for a couple of hours, maybe we can get an officer to come your way, but he won’t be able to do much either.”

I was getting a little agitated. Our Christmas Eve service was going to start in a half an hour! “Well, we are trying to reach the owner, but we haven’t as far as I know quite yet. We are getting ready to have a service. What if we conclude and we all are ready to leave? What do we do then?”

“Well,” the operator replied, “I guess, since he has a collar and doesn’t seem to be a threat, just let him go.” Oh, great.

I need to say that the dog, even though nervous and skittish, did not seem to be dangerous at all, but still … just let him go?

In the meantime, as I had been on the phone, Calla brought the dog inside and put him in a classroom. She had spoken with the owner, FINALLY. He was on his way.

You have never seen a happier owner or dog when he eventually arrived fifteen minutes prior to the service. And, oh, may I add that a pastor was happy too.

"In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8 NASB).

Happy Birthday, Jesus! I am so thankful for your first appearing, a crazy lost dog like me, but I will be even gladder for your second appearing when You will take me home. Amen.
Comments

The Prize

Whenever I hear that word—PRIZE—I am reminded of a couple of very prominent childhood memories.

First, I think of the prize in Cracker Jacks’ boxes. Isn’t it weird that some little “thing” inside a box of sugary candy would be a motivation? These days, I don’t need any extra incentive to eat something with sugar in it, on it, or around it.

But as a kid, my mom would buy packs of Cracker Jacks, and I could hardly wait to open one, not to eat the popcorn, but to find the prize. I soon realized that the best way to do this was to grab a plate out of the cupboard, open the box, pour the contents on the plate, find the prize, open IT, and then eat the caramel-covered popcorn.

For the life of me, as I sit here this morning, I can’t remember one of the hundreds of prizes I received (it is a wonder that I was able to fit through the front door of our house)! I guess it was just the fun of receiving a prize!

The second childhood memory I have is my very first award ceremony in second grade.

A little history here: I was such a poor student in my first years in elementary school. In fact, I could not read at all as I approached the start of my third grade year. Because of this, my parents did two things. My mom took me to a friend of hers—a former fellow teacher. Mrs. Stringer tutored me for the whole summer at her house. My mom dropped me off there and left me for a couple of hours, but believe it or not, it was actually kind of fun.

When the new school year started, my parents took me out of Pitts Elementary (how is that for the name of a school?) and put me in a private school—Graland. The administrators who tested me thought that it would be best for me to repeat second grade. So, that is what I did at the new school.

Anyway, one of the customs each year at Graland toward the end of the school year was “Field Day.” Somehow, I don’t think we ever had “Field Day” at Pitts. Maybe another reason why the name described my experiences there!

The end of my second grade year—Mrs. Claussen—my second-grade teacher at Graland started class by saying, “Today is Field Day. Let’s head on out to the field.” I was totally unprepared, as I remember. I think I had my tennis shoes on, but no gym shorts (I am not even sure I owned a pair).

Mr. Prieser (how do I remember all these names?) lined us up to run a hundred-yard dash. He said, “Go!” I ran as hard as I could and looked to my right. Richard Riley and I were neck and neck. He just barely beat me.

Then, we moved to the high jump pit. I can’t remember the teacher in charge of this sport. He told me to run and jump over a pole in front of a sand pit. Oh, okay. Somehow, I did some type of scissor kick and got over the pole. The few people standing around applauded. Humm.

Anyway, when the day concluded, we all gathered in the middle of the field. Mr. Comfort (another unusual name; he was anything but “comfortable”), our principal, had some ribbons. My memory is a little hazy at this point. Anyway, I left the field that day with a red ribbon for second place in the hundred-yard dash and a blue ribbon for high jump! Not a bad day’s work!

Those are significant memories.

We don’t talk a lot about it, but someday, on the Final Day, there will be a rewards ceremony to end all rewards.

Peyton Manning, our awesome quarterback and the best one EVER (yes, I said that), eclipsed a touchdown pass record set by Tom Brady in 2007 this past weekend in Houston. Ever humble and self-deprecating, Manning brushed off his accomplishment, giving credit to the team and organization, but also, he said something like, “Records are made to be broken. Brady will probably do it next year.”

All accomplishments and the prizes to go with them (I don’t think Peyton won any actual “prize” for throwing 51 touchdown passes this year) are temporary at best. I think my second grade high jump mark stood for thirty years … Ha. But I don’t have the ribbon any longer, believe it or not!

But someday … as every Christian who has ever lived from the beginning of time is standing before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there will be a ceremony of ceremonies as He hands out prizes.

Notice what Paul says about it:

"And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT).

Recently, someone asked me about all the different references to crowns and prizes in the New Testament. I’m not sure we need to make hard and fast distinctions, but I love the description, “Crown of Righteousness.” How about that as a prize? Our heads will be adorned ultimately and finally with who the Lord made us from the foundation of the earth and the moment of our salvation—the righteousness of God in Christ! We will receive that prize right along with Paul and Spurgeon and Billy Graham.

The apostle doesn’t seem to make any distinctions here. He gives the prize to all who have loved or looked forward to His appearing.

And, of course, whatever the prize or crown is, we will all turn around and cast them at the feet of Jesus!

Lord, You are ultimately and finally the One who deserves all the prizes and all the gifts. For anything I am today or anything I accomplish, it all goes back to you.

I would like to know how long my high jump record stood in the annals of Graland’s sports history, however. Maybe Jesus will share that information on Judgment Day. I’m sure everyone will be on the edge of his/her seat.

“There’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine
And the white-robed angels sing their story,
‘A sinner has come home’” (BH 2008, 616). Amen.
Comments

No Good Categories

Please forgive me if I sound like a broken record. I know this topic seems to come up now and again in this blog. As I pondered and prayed about it yesterday and this morning, I debated whether or not to write about it AGAIN this morning, but I just decided to do so.

For better or worse, this blog has to continue to be my honest reflections. The minute it stops being THAT, I’m going to quit writing each day. And, quitting writing is NOT something I am going to do, EVER.

This topic seems to come up in my mind and heart the more I pray for the congregation I serve.

Here it is: is the church I serve dying? It just seems that, as I pray for revival, I just continue to seek ways the encourage folks and equip them in a way that will fulfill my responsibility in this whole thing.

I can’t make it grow. I know that. Only God can do that.

But what is my responsibility as the “sheep dog” in this church?

Somehow, as I ponder this, there are two ways to go. First, I could just engage in a lot of feverish effort on my own and “try” a lot of things—whatever that means. Well, I will tell you what it means—I end up doing a lot.

I think I have learned this lesson over the years—if it is my idea (and not God’s), I end up doing it alone.

This whole mindset takes me back to my pre-cancer days. And it almost makes me sick even to write about it. Can’t. Won’t.

But the opposite end of the spectrum is also a possibility. I wonder how many guys in my boat are doing this—NOTHING. There is a huge temptation just to sit back and let the machinery run. It is easy. It doesn’t exact a lot of opposition or turmoil. It is comfortable.

And let’s be honest—if you are lazy, you can pull this off and live this way a long time before anyone gets his/her dander up, especially if you have been serving in a church as long as I have.

This sound crazy, but again, I am just being honest here.

And, I will hasten to say, “There is no way I could operate that way.” I might think I could get away with that approach to ministry for a while, but I know the short leash that the Lord has me on, and I don't like it when He gives it a swift YANK.

I believe lazy pastors face severe discipline from the Lord for thinking that they can mess around with God’s church. No one gets away with that. It may seem like it for a while. But ultimately, they never do.

Therefore, having said all that, where is the middle ground here between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Gee whiz. I bet no one has ever wrestled with THAT question before!!! Only a million times over church history!

Those words—“God sovereignty and human responsibility”—sound so spiritual and antiseptic. But they really aren’t. They are elusive and tough and sweaty.

So, yesterday, on the way to church, I was talking with Rob. He still calls me every Sunday morning. This practice started when I was diagnosed with cancer. It is always great to hear from him. Some Sundays, I’m just not in a position for one reason or another to talk with him, but he just leaves an encouraging message.

Other Sundays, like yesterday, I am able to talk. As our conversation was winding down, I said, “Rob, I would like your opinion on something I am really struggling with. Churches are living organisms, right? We believe that church is the body of Christ. Well, all living organisms have a life cycle. They are born, live, and eventually die. And, there is not really anything that any of us can do about it. We all are born, live, and in spite of our best efforts, we are all going to die. If that is true of churches and you are in one that is dying, what do you do?

Rob’s answer was a very good one. He replied, “Well, John, we really don’t have good categories to describe when a church fails or dies, but it seems to me that instead of fighting it, we ought to celebrate it. Think of the thousands of folks that have been ministered to over the years at First Southern.” My citation of what Rob said is a little convoluted, but it is the essence of his response.

A lot more food for thought.

First, he used the words “fail” and “die.” Now, those are two radically different concepts, but he expressed the dichotomy of the struggle. When a church is in decline, is it “failure” or is it “death”? Good question. I would say it depends. If the church is blatantly involved in or supportive of sin, then I can see God shutting it down.

If not (and of course, no church is perfect), then I would say not …

Second, “celebrating” seems like a great idea and a radical paradigm shift. Do we struggle and fight just because we are all getting older? Nope. We just live and adjust to it. I certainly am not able to do things I used to do as a twenty year old, but in some ways, I am better than I was then and wouldn’t go back to my twenties for all the money in the world. Well, …

Anyway, you get my point. We can rejoice in what the Lord has done and is doing now.

Third, Rob said, “We really don’t have good categories for this type of discussion.” Amen to that. Besides, my perspective is so limited. I’m just focusing on the here and now. Using my own analogy, who is to say that these days at First Southern are a twenty year old in the hospital with an illness? We will get over it and jump back into the fray.

I know of one SBC church here in Denver that has experienced a huge turn-around. In fact, my family and I used to attend there. The church dwindled down to a few people. Now, hundreds attend.

Fourth, and I said this to Rob, just because a church has a lot of folks going there, doesn’t mean it is healthy and vibrant, and even it is truly is, it too, as a living organism, will someday die.

Fifth, I reach a certain point in all this discussion where my mind comes to the end of what I can think about (I know all of you are glad!) and I just have to come back to the Lord and me. Here is what I want to be able to say when it is all said and done:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7 NASB).

"You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming" (2 Timothy 4:6-8 MSG).

I just want to remain faithful to the Lord and let the Lord take care of all this “church stuff.”

Lord, I am available to you today. This is YOUR church. You purchased her at a high price with your blood. You love her much more than I ever could.

I confess my tendency toward “paralysis of analysis.” I just need to go out and share Jesus with someone today and let you take care of all of this.

“With my sins forgiven I am bound for heaven,
Nevermore to roam” (BH 2008, 616). Amen.
Comments

Poured Out

Today’s sermon will be my last for 2013. Next Sunday, Jeremy is preaching, and I am glad that he is. I’m looking forward to hearing him preach. I have every anticipation that he will do a good job AND, I am in a position where I need to hear a sermon myself.

Not that there is anything drastic going on with me, but this time of year, the weariness starts to set in. It is not a physical issue. And it is not burnout. Nope. I just find that my gas tank is rather empty, and I need to ask the Lord to replenish it.

This may sound bad, and I don’t mean it to, but here goes: I’m always glad when the Christmas season and the holidays are over. I love celebrating Jesus’ birthday and all its meaning. But every year (and somehow, this year more than ever), it just feels as if we are on autopilot. We are limping along just to get to late January.

When I first started and noticed this trend during the holidays, my thought was, “Well, come January 2nd, we will be back to normal.” But recovery was NEVER that short lived. It usually takes well into the month for folks to be “back” to normal, whatever that is! Ha.

So, let me see if I can encapsulate this: the “holidays” (I’m talking about the mindset) start in early November and continue to late January. That’s basically three months!

A few years ago, I read an article from some church growth “expert” who contended that when you really looked at it, there were about ten to fifteen Sundays in the whole church year where you had an opportunity to grow. At first, as I read the article and thought about it, my reaction was, “This is crazy.”

But the longer I am in this work, the more I believe the writer is correct. Here are the “seasons” for effective church work: a few Sundays in February and March, but then people start taking breaks and things get choppy around Easter, followed by all the end of school year stuff; a few Sundays in June up to July 4th after which things shut down till school starts; and a couple of Sundays in late September through October until the holidays start in early November.

There you have it! Man, I never really articulated that before! That strikes me and it lends even more significance to the part of 2 Timothy I quoted a couple of days ago, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB). How about that?

AND, I need to add a caveat to what I wrote about “church seasons.” It is all nonsense! God can and does work at all times of the year. There is never an offseason with the Lord! Praise God! I’m so glad.

Well, the verse for today brings me back to a subject I discussed in a previous post several months ago. My foggy memory recalls discusses the whole concept of “drink offerings.” Here is the verse:

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6, NASB).

Paul perceived his life as liquid in a container. The process of maturity is akin to the Lord gradually tipping the glass over as the water spills out. He views himself as a drink offering.

This concept has a rich history in the Old Testament. I’m not going to go into detail here, but in this verse, it is clear that “Paul understood the struggles and toils of his apostolic ministry as a libation (another word for drink offering) upon the sacrificial service of the churches among which he ministered” (Peter J. Leithart, Biblical Horizons Newsletter, No. 25: The Theology of the Drink Offering, May 1991, parenthesis mine; this article is available online and is excellent).

So much to say at this point. Mainly, I am convicted. Paul epitomized the concept of “sacrificial service.” Are you kidding me? And here I am—complaining when we are going to have a few less folks because of the Christmas holidays.

This is one of the reasons that I absolutely HAVE to be in the Word every day and maybe multiple times each day. The Word of God is a compass; it is a reality check; and frankly, it is a cold slap in the face!

I am honored to be able to serve my Lord, and I cannot think of any other way I would rather “spend” the life and breath He allows me today than in serving Him—every drop of my life as long as He allows me to live, poured out as an grateful offering to the One who gave it to me in the first place—all the praise and honor and glory evaporating back to heaven. Poof! Gone! But with Him in glory forever! Amen.
Comments

Spiritual Junk Food

Before I talk about the passage for today, I just have to share something.

Yesterday evening, a family in our fellowship made the trek from Northglenn down to our house in rush hour traffic on Friday night to bring us some food. I’m not going to name them because that is not why they did it—to be recognized. It was a very nice gesture and met a very specific need in our family.

As Marilyn told them last night, “Thanks so much for this. My mom doesn’t feel like cooking, so the responsibility falls to me. Of course, he (pointing at me) doesn’t cook.” Well, she is right about that.

Much of the time, we got out to eat, but other times, Marilyn does prepare our meals. It just gets to be hard trying to figure out what we can eat. My mom doesn’t eat a lot because she just doesn’t have the appetite. I’m “trying” to stick to a better diet (more on that later) and so is Marilyn but we don’t always succeed….

Anyway, it was just a nice thing to do and we appreciated it VERY MUCH.

Shortly after and in the months following my cancer diagnosis, Betty and others at church provided food for us. I’m naming Betty here (like this family, she doesn’t want “recognition” either but I am going to do it anyway!) because she did a lot for us. Again, we appreciated it.

This is a ministry in our church that usually falls to her—providing meals for families in times of crisis. We have a lot of great cooks in our church, and they are very willing to help out. And the families we give food to benefit from this ministry. Many of them tell me how much it means to them.

Anyway, I just had to mention this.

Speaking of food … the language of the passage for today in the Message Version struck me:

"You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you —keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant" (2 Timothy 4:3-5 MSG).

Here is the phrase—“spiritual junk food.” Oh, man. Am I an expert on this subject—“junk food” or what?

As many of you know, about this time last year, I embarked on a quest to lose some weight, and the Lord helped me with this. I dropped about 30 pounds. It was awesome.

Here is my progress report after about a year: I have gained a few pounds back, but I can easily see how I could gain it ALL back, and it would take that long.

I’m finding that I am venturing back into the dreaded realm of “junk food.” This past week, for example, on two occasions, I actually ordered potato chips as I was getting a sandwich at a couple of places. Here is the deal: I LOVE chips of all kinds, especially Doritos. It was common, in my pre-weight loss days, to eat half a bag in one sitting. I love them.

And, on occasion, I don’t think it is all that bad to eat a few here and there, but that is exactly the problem. Lays, the potato chip company (they may own Doritos too), says it very well, “Nobody can eat just one.” I try and usually fail.

Potato chips are one thing, but sugar is once again emerging as a problem. I’ve received a couple of boxes of candy and cookies from folks at church. These “boxes” contained all sorts of treats. Again, I appreciate these gestures, and I try to sample a small amount of the treats each time I open the boxes.

How do you think THAT is going? Yeah, right.

After weaning off chips and sugar, getting back into them a bit NOW has created an interesting problem. I realized this before, but now, it is more noticeable than ever. All of you who are reading this blog know this, I am sure. I THOUGHT I did, but I guess I forgot.

There is kind of an immediate blast of energy that hits you for a while, but then, it doesn’t take long for you to go into the tank. There is a precipitous drop. I am noticing this more and more.

When I eat right or try to, it is kind of boring and quickly becomes “routine” and “difficult.” But if you can just do it, you get sustainable energy that lasts a lot longer and you feel better overall.

Sundays are a case in point since the last couple of Sundays, I have sampled some of the sugar treats in a couple of Sunday school classes. When I do that, my energy goes down quickly, often during the service (the worse possible time) and REALLY goes down on Sunday afternoon.

When I eat right through the morning, I have energy all day.

Well, I think I have beaten that horse enough, right?

Anyway, this is the analogy that Peterson is drawing out of this passage. So many Christians in so many churches are junk food addicts. They gravitate to the potato chip and candy messages that make them feel good for a while. It is kind of an emotional “warm fuzzy.” But it is not sustainable in any life change or fruit. It may have exactly the opposite effect.

Think about it: if all I ate was junk food, I would not be that healthy and would spend my time walking around in a sugar induced daze most of the time. What kind of life is that?

I am committed to feeding the flock I serve with a healthy dose of spiritual meat, potatoes (not chips), and vegetables. Preaching this way is hard work. It is not very glamorous, especially if you talk about sin. (There’s that very non-politically correct term that got Phil Robertson in a lot of trouble—I think I called him Phil Johnson yesterday. You know who I meant). It is a prescription for having a smaller congregation. That’s for sure, because the crowds prefer junk food. It is easier and quicker, just like a McDonald’s drive through.

I’ve really been struggling with the ever-diminishing number of folks who are showing up at First Southern these days. I want to do something to “attract” more people. Maybe lighten up on the sermons and preach little sugary and fluffy messages in which I never mention sin and its consequences.

I think about it and Someone stops me. I just can’t do that and won’t. If this means that I go down with the ship and am the last one standing to lock the door as my family and I drive off, so be it.

The passage for today encourages me not to give people what they want but what they NEED. I’m working for God. I’m just going to stick with my responsibility to explain and apply the God-breathed Word.

Oh, and one more thing—about this time last year, I asked the guy who put the fat loss class together, (his name is Dee; I’ve mentioned this brother in this forum before), “Why isn’t there more people in this class?”

His answer really helped me in my work, “John, there is never going to be a crowd of folks involved when you tell people that health is never, no matter what all the commercials in the New Year say, NEVER a quick fix. It takes discipline and hard work. Most people don’t want THAT.”

There you go.

Lord, I am flagging a bit these days with all the mega churches and their huge shows and programs. Thank you for the filling of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.

Also, Lord, I choose to put my hands firmly on the “Preach the Word” steering wheeling and maintain my focus on you. If I am wrong in any way, please show me and help me, Lord. Unless I hear different, I am going to stay the course.

Oh, and also, thank you for that family and for Betty and for others in our congregation who minister by cooking and giving food. Bless these folks and encourage them today.

“In my heart rings a melody,
There rings a melody of love.” This has to be the best hymn ever for men and women singing parts. Love it! (BH 2008, 614). Amen.
Comments

The Quick and the Dead

This whole Phil Johnson quote hullabaloo continues. And I tell you: it is showing me how convoluted and twisted this nation has become.

Where do I begin with all the fall-out from this?

For gay people, this represents another example of “hate speech” that needs to be shut down and silenced. Generally speaking, this is how that community (an example of which is GLAAD) deals with differing opinions to theirs—shut it down, silence it, condemn it (and the ones who share it), and censor it. No debate. No toleration (a huge tenet of the LGBT community when it comes to their viewpoint).

If the shoe were on the other foot, they would take their case to the Supreme Court so that they could be “heard,” but not Christians. Anything and anyone but Christians.

For believers, I believe that what is happening is that all of this has the potential for making us more silent than we already are. We are afraid of being characterized as bigots or homophobes or Nazis so we just clam up. I pray we don’t.

I do think that there is more outcry over this, but the truth is that we never hear about it because the media as a general rule doesn’t cover it.

For example, the Christian bakers who were ordered by a Colorado judge to make cakes for gay couples has experienced a huge rallying of support. You NEVER hear about it. It only gets passing mention if you do.

An internet article I found about this contained a video about all of this from a local newscast. The reporter indicated that the bakery story is not the only one of its kind going on right now in our country. There is a similar battle going on with a florist in Washington state and a photographer in New Mexico, both of whom refused to serve gays. Please see this article and video online (“Baker Faces Prison for Refusing to Bake Same-Sex Wedding Cake,” www.breitbart.com, accessed December 20, 2013).

Here is my opinion on all of this, two things. First, this is only the beginning of how this issue is going to escalate.

Second, (and this is heavily on my heart), I don’t perceive myself as any kind of predictive prophet. However, you can mark this down: at some point, in the future, a gay couple will approach a church asking a pastor to do their wedding, and when he refuses, he will go to jail. MARK MY WORDS! This will ultimately affect how the church does its business.

I’m ready. I will go to jail if I am told to perform the ceremony of a gay couple.

I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t been sued up to this point. I don’t even do weddings for people who are living together, for crying out loud!

All of this brings me back to the passage I read yesterday. It is the context for the famous words I am going to quote today.

The Word of God—nothing else—is our standard for faith and practice. It obviously is for Phil Johnson, whether he framed his words in a politically correct way or not. And he should be able as an American to voice his scripturally informed opinion wherever he wants.

I honestly believe that GQ magazine baited him a bit. The question from the interviewer to which Phil gave his response was something like, “In your opinion, what is sinful?” Come on! They knew what they were going to get, and their goal is to sell magazines. But all of that doesn’t matter.

But on to 2 Timothy. This is the dividing line—between those who espouse the Bible as the ultimate authority for life and those who don’t. That’s it, in a nutshell.

The statement about the Word is in the context of the verses I am quoting for today. Let me start out by citing the KJV for verse one:

"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1 KJV).

I love this language, especially the word, “quick.” I can’t imagine how this word was ever associated with people who are alive. I guess the epitome of “slowness” is a dead person! I don’t know!

Here are the first two verses of 2 Timothy 4 from the New Living Translation:

"I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1, 2).

The point is the same: every single person will someday stand before Almighty God to give an account of their lives. Only believers in Jesus will make the grade, so to speak.

But here is another thing about this passage. I am convinced because I believe 1 Corinthians 3 and other passages affirm this that believers will also stand before God—not in condemnation judgment, but in a judgment of works. Can there be any greater incentive than this for the command that follows: “preach the Word”?

I don’t think so.

All this hullabaloo (I like that word; it fits in this instance) surrounding Phil Johnson’s comment have further solidified my conviction that I am not wavering from what the Lord called me to do, no matter what.

Oh, and one more thing, I will laugh my head off when Phil’s family tells A&E that they are not going to continue and they pull out of the network totally. It will be a little hit in the pocketbook for THAT network. Ya think??

Lord, more than ever, I choose to preach the Word, “in season and out of season.” I do believe that these days in our nation qualify under the latter category.

I choose to lead our congregation to continue to love the Word, live the Word, and most importantly, share the Word. All of us—no matter who we are—need You. You are the answer to all of this.

“Face to Face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face—what will it be” (BH 2008, 612). Amen.
Comments

'Sin is not Logical'

Where does this quote come from? A now ex-TV star who dared to share his Christian beliefs.

The A&E network suspended Phil Robertson, one of the stars of “Duck Dynasty,” for comments he made in a Gentleman’s Quarterly article. Some of his statements are admittedly a little crude. I’m not going to quote them here, but after reading his statements, I do not disagree with what he said.

In essence, he claimed that all types of aberrant sexual behavior were sin, and he confided that he can’t figure them out. They just aren’t logical because sin is not logical.

After that issue of the magazine came out, it wasn’t long before the network put Phil “in hiatus from filming indefinitely.” And in decrying what he said, the network affirmed its support for the LGBT community.

On one of the news channels last night, a certain individual was blasting Phil for using his religion as a hate tool to bludgeon gays.

All I can say is, “What is our world coming to?”

The more I think about this whole thing, the angrier I get. Let’s see if we can take stock here.

Phil did an interview with a magazine in which he expressed his opinions and beliefs, both of which happen to correspond with what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage.

And, instead of dialoguing with him about what he believes or having a conversation, he is censored and condemned and thrown off the TV show on A&E.

Now, I have not watched “Duck Dynasty” all that much, but it seems to me that anyone who has seen the program and certainly network executives would at least suspect the Christian viewpoint that Phil Johnson espoused. And, could it possibly be that his morality may be one of the reasons for the show’s success?

It also qualifies as “reality TV,” does it? This network is making a lot of money off of folks who are just being “who they are.”

And all of this is okay and acceptable UNTIL one of these stars DARES to share his/her own views, and then he is booted off.

This is outrageous!

Our culture gives any and everyone the right to free speech, including the members of the LGBT community. Anyone can say anything about anything UNLESS it is a Christian talking about Jesus or sin. Those two words are not tolerated in our culture AT ALL.

For everyone who labels Christians as haters or homophobes, I want to ask them what their authority in life is. And of course, many, if not all, would answer that it is their own feelings or opinions, and those are conditioned by a culture that is rapidly condoning all types of sexual behavior.

Have you heard about the school in our state that allowed a boy to go into the girl’s bathroom and locker room? Some of the girls were interviewed on TV. Their faces were not shown. I understand why. They would be vilified. But they expressed discomfort about going into those places with a boy in there. One girl said, “I am just not going to use the bathroom as much at school.”

Are you kidding me? This “boy” has to the right to use any facility he wants, but what about the girls and their rights?

All of this amounts to a denial of biblical categories and standards. It is an attack on all the fundamentals of the gospel, and it is the reason why churches need to proclaim the gospel more than ever.

And we find the solid truths we believe in the Word of God. Here is Paul’s comment about it:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NLT).

For all those who attack Phil and others, our response needs to be, “Take it up with God and His Word. This is the authority for our faith and practice and opinions. What is yours?”

Lord, I affirm today that you are the creator of the universe. You created man and woman—two sexes—and established the first institution—marriage. You designed sex to be shared between a man and a woman in the context of marriage.

Anything—absolutely anything outside that—is SIN. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, regardless of who we are or what we have done. This is why You sent Jesus, born in a manger, who grew up to die on the cross for us and come back from the dead.

THIS is the message we need to proclaim as we stick with the God-breathed book—Your Word.

“When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me” (BH 2008, 608). Amen.
Comments

An Encouragement for My Mom

Betty has put together some Christmas baskets for “shut-ins” in our fellowship. Yesterday and today, Jim and I are helping with the delivery of several of these.

I’m glad to do this because it gives me an opportunity to visit in the homes of some people in our fellowship. I like “visitation.” I wish it were something we could continue to do.

It has pretty much gone by the wayside when it comes to a viable outreach activity. People just aren’t home, and when they are at night after work, they aren’t interested in someone disturbing them. I get that. I now use the phone mainly, and I try to set up appointments at the church office. It is okay. It just doesn’t seem the same …

Here I am complaining that it is hard for people in the church to CHANGE. I am the worst of all! I am bemoaning the loss of something I LIKE to do, regardless of its effectiveness. Oh, well.

It is still viable for church members, however. I’m glad about that. I think you can learn a lot about how to minister to people when you visit in their homes.

Anyway, Jim and I made two visits yesterday. Both were excellent (I am not talking about what WE did; I’m referring rather selfishly to the encouragement I received. It is all about ME, you know! Ha).

The first couple we visited was Harry and Muriel Brandt. They live right down the street from the church. Their grown son, Ken, and his son Ted live with Harry and Muriel.

As Jim and I were getting out of my truck, a cat who had been perched on the Brandt’s driveway rubbed up against Jim’s leg and walked with us up to the front door. When Harry greeted us, the cat was right there, wanting to go in.

I said, “Harry, we’ve already been greeted by your cat.”

He replied, “That cat is not ours! I bet you didn’t know that we are running a retirement home for all the cats in the neighborhood!” Ah, no. I didn't know that! Ha.

We had a great visit with this couple and Ken who was home because he was off work on vacation.

Harry and Muriel have had a lot of physical challenges in recent years. They aren’t able to make it to church very often. I can tell they miss it and want to, but it is very difficult.

They asked about how I was doing. Harry interjected, “Hey Pastor John, if you ever need money to pay insurance or medical bills, let me know. I’d figure out some way to help you.”

Really, as I sit here reflecting and praying this morning, it hits me that this is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. He cares. He genuinely cares. And I know that he and Muriel don’t have a lot, but I know he would try.

Well, we continue to talk and Ken said, “How is your mom?” I answered, “Well, she is doing okay. She’s got a lot of physical challenges she is dealing with.”

Ken jumped in, “She sure did a good job teaching Ted. He really liked her. Her class was the last time he went to church.”

“How is Ted doing?” I asked.

“Great. He is just about ready to graduate. He pretty much got a full scholarship to school. He had had some issues in Junior High but they moved him to another school and then on to Thornton High School where he was valedictorian of his class.”

“Wow,” I replied. “That is awesome, Ken. You raised a real brainiac, it sounds like. What school is he graduating from?”

“Colorado School of Mines.”

Whoa. For those of you who do not live here and may not know—this is no slouch school. It is a very tough engineering college. Fernando, Jennifer’s husband (Jennifer is my Spanish tutor), went there. He is a brainiac as well. (My new word of the day. I like it—BRAINIAC. I wish I were one!).

I couldn’t be more impressed. In fact, Ted was around yesterday. We got to visit with him as well. It was an awesome visit.

When I got home last night, I told my mom. She was amazed and gratified.

We are all rather dumbfounded to here this about Ted, not that we are surprised. He is an awesome young man. You just never know how a kid in Sunday school is going to turn out.

Our second visit was equally encouraging. We got to spend some time with Jack. His wife Nancy passed away a few weeks ago. I think I told about her funeral service in this blog—one of the best EVER. I laughed at that service more than any other in recent memory.

Jack is doing well. I have a lot of respect for him. He was married to Nancy for sixty years—60! I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be in that house without her. He told Jim and me that the hardest part was the nights. That’s when he misses her the most.

Lord, thank you for Harry and Muriel and Ken and Ted and Jack. I lift up these dear saints and their families. Thank you for the relationship I have had with them for YEARS.

Thank you for using my mom and sister in the Sunday school class they taught for years. You just never know what the Lord is going to do.

In the meantime, the challenge is to stay faithful to the One who is always faithful to us:

"But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you" (2 Timothy 3:14 NLT).

I love you, Jesus, and your people.

“What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face—
The One who saved me by His grace” (BH 2008, 607). Amen.
Comments

'Footprints in the Sand'--Bah Humbug!

Even as I write that title for today, I have a feeling that I might be ruffling some feathers.

Somehow, the poem “Footprints in the Sand” has achieved cult if not near canonical status.

I discovered that yesterday as I was doing a small funeral for the friend of a lady in our church. This poem was in the little funeral program and the family played a song of a lady singing the story of this poem.

Now, before I go further, if this poem gave the family comfort, I say, “Great.” I know a lot of people really appreciate it. I’ve seen pictures on people’s walls in their homes with this poem on it. I think I have received a couple of those pictures over the years as pastor. And I appreciate the thought. I really do.

All metaphors are limited. I get that too.

HOWEVER, the more I am exposed to this poem, the less I like it. I patently disagree with its theology. And, I will go a step further: I think it is a little dangerous, as all false teaching is.

Now, on one level, one can find some justification for the whole idea of “when you were going through difficulty, there was only one set of footprints because I was carrying you.” I don’t know much about the work of shepherds, but I have seen artist depictions of shepherds actually carrying their sheep ON OCCASION.

And, the Bible exhorts us in a couple of different passages to cast our cares upon the Lord.

But nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Lord carries us in times of difficulty.

After the service yesterday as I was pondering all of this—the very first verse of Psalm 23 came to mind, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” How about that? Whatever the metaphor “valley of the shadow of death” means, I cannot imagine that it is a pleasant experience, in any stretch of the imagination.

But this verse is very clear. It does not say, “Though the Lord carries me through the valley.”

This whole thing strikes a cord with me because, through the years, when I faced tough, gut-wrenching difficulty at church or when I was diagnosed with cancer, I said to the Lord, “Lord, I don’t want to go through this. I want out!” In other words, essentially, what I was asking God was, “Pick me up and carry me!”

Now, we can argue semantics here. Of course, there is an aspect of this in our walk and relationship with the Lord. We use words like “strengthen,” “sustain,” or whatever.

But I contend that in each of those situations in my life, the Lord did not lift up me up and out. He commanded me to walk through those difficulties. Me. Myself. They were situations the Lord designed, and laid out before me, and I was the one that walked through them.

Not alone, mind you.

Somehow, this poem gives the impression that if we just trust God, our difficulties will be easier, if we let God “carry us.” Am I the only one who could say that this is not ALWAYS the case? Now, of course, we as Christians have extra resources that unbelievers do not, but it is not always God lifting us up in times of trial. It is often God walking with us THROUGH.

This is what Paul is talking about in the passage for today:

"But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it" (2 Timothy 3:10, 11 NLT). Notice all the “I’s” in these verses! Paul isn’t bragging. He is giving a testimony about walking through all the stuff the Lord allowed in His life.

Thus, this is one problem I have with the poem. It gives the picture of the abdication of personal responsibility.

The second problem I have is the picture it presents of our relationship with Jesus. This is the whole Charles Sheldon “in His steps” theology. If you are not familiar with the book, find it and read it. It presents the picture of the Christian life as each of following Jesus’ example just as we would some famous historical figure like Abraham Lincoln.

Indeed, there is one passage in 1 Peter that exhorts us to do this. I won’t get into an explanation of that verse here and now.

Suffice it to say that I believe the Bible is clear that our relationship with Jesus is a lot more intimate than someone carrying me ONLY when I get into difficulty. I would like to argue, that if this is the case, I need Him to carry me ALL THE TIME! I have said this often, but I think the “good times” are more of a test of faith more often than the bad times. How about that?

But anyway, the Bible makes it clear that when we get saved, Jesus Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit DWELLS IN US and we live IN HIM. This is what baptism pictures—we are united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. This means that suffering is part and parcel of our life in Christ.

He is there ALL THE TIME in me and I in Him as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

The truth is: His spatial relationship with us as believers does not change EVER. He is close to me ALL THE TIME.

Lord, I thank you for the fact that You live in us and we live in You—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Thank you for empowering me to walk through all the “stuff” you have put in my path. There is no way I could have done it, no way I can make it today, without your saving empowerment in me and my identity in You.

More, much more, than carrying me—LIVE through me today!

“It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home” (BH 2008, 606). Amen.
Comments

The Truth Will Out

"For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes's and Jambres's folly was also" (2 Timothy 3:6-9 NASB).

As I read these verses today, the immediate question that came to mind was, “Who the heck is Jannes and Jambres?” I did a search on my IPad in YouVersion to see what the cross-reference passages were in the Old Testament. None. Humm.

I checked my own notes. Not much help there.

I searched in Google and found two references to the magicians of Egypt who opposed Moses prior to the Exodus. The Bible refers to them in Exodus 7:11 and 8:7, but there are no specific names. Interesting.

I just need to spend some time scouting this out and I will do so today. Off the top of my head (a dangerous place with less and less hair), I would say that J and J emerged out of Jewish tradition or maybe even apocalyptic writings.

It is just interesting that Paul would name them here in his tirade against false teachers in the church at Ephesus.

One of the interesting things about the Pastoral Epistles is that Paul doesn’t seem to be shy about naming names of folks that are in opposition. These are solemn and very specific warnings—interesting.

More and more, as a pastor, I feel compelled to be aware of everyone who is “out there” vying for the attention and money of the Christian community. Invariably, week-by-week, I seem to get a question about someone on the radio or television. Well, not so much television. I think the cost of television has priced even many of the frauds off the air, except for the remote cable channels, but I could be wrong about this since I don’t watch any religious broadcasting EVER.

What is the point of all of this? Well, I think Peterson’s translation of 2 Timothy 3:9 sums it up well:

“But nothing will come of these latest impostors. Everyone will see through them, just as people saw through that Egyptian hoax."

Eventually, who a person is WILL come out, even if they hide behind a TV camera.

I will never forget a young preacher that Joel Gregory invited to fill the pulpit one Sunday at Travis Avenue Baptist Church. He was a “rising star” in SBC circles. He had an amazing story of living under a bridge for several years growing up and other spectacular twists and turns of poverty. It seemed compelling.

Not long after he preached in our church, news came out that he was a philanderer and had been in just about every church he served as a pastor. As the news of his escapades unfolded, it called into question everything he had ever uttered from the pulpit, including the “living under a bridge story.”

Sometimes, it takes a while, but as the old expression goes, “the truth will out.”

There is a lot of value to a personal relationship with a biblical teacher over the course of a lot of years. This type of relationship is not always possible over the airwaves or the television screen. This is why I discourage people from getting their spiritual instruction that way, but I know people still do it.

And, there are exceptions that prove the rule—Chuck Swindoll and Adrian Rogers (though dead yet he speaketh) come to mind, for example. I will name THAT name. There are others, not a lot.

Anyway, this seems to be a delicate subject in our day and time—not for Paul—but for us. I say this because people get attached to folks and to speak against them in any way is a threat. But I think this is part of my responsibility as a pastor, whether folks like it or not.

Well, enough said there. We had a good day yesterday. I’m thankful that folks seemed to be more upbeat in our service yesterday. A family visited our fellowship. (Speaking of history) I have had a lot of history with them—several funerals. Lonny and Lela—the mom and dad in this family—were members of our fellowship. They both have passed away, but many of their adult children continue serving God. It was great to see several of them yesterday. They just came to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, Marilyn asked about them. I gave her the background of my twenty-year relationship with the family. She said, “It was great to have them. They had ‘gumption.’” That is a family word we use often for “enthusiasm.” Amen.

I agree. But again, there is no substitute for long-term relationships.

Lord, guard the flock I serve from false teachers and spiritual frauds. Give all of us discernment. It isn’t just about what comes out of a person’s mouth. It is about the life that backs up the teaching. This is not something one can hide for long. Thank You that always, always, always—the truth will out.

“It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home” (BH 2008, 606). Amen.
Comments

Old and Better

I’m sure you are wondering about THAT title. I will get to it in a moment.

But first, I have to comment about last night—a hugely encouraging evening for me.

As many of you know, I “turn into a pumpkin” on Saturday nights, usually. I’m not sure where I came up with that statement. Not sure what it is supposed to mean. But to ME, it means that I rarely do anything but work on my sermon, watch a little TV, and try to go to bed early in order to get ready for Sunday.

Usually I do this.

Last night, I didn’t. I got to the church at about 4:30, and it was already a beehive of activity. Folks were practicing in the auditorium. The Hispanic church was getting ready. What was going on?

Well, two things. First, Jessica Gonzales’ dad (she is the wife of our youth pastor, Jeremy) was putting on a concert to benefit Hope House, a place that ministers to teenage moms. He had invited people to perform and others to come and enjoy it.

One of the “performers” in particular caught my eye first, then my ear. I looked at this girl and said, “Wow, she looks like …” And sure enough it was—Katie Jo! That’s her name when I knew her as a little girl in our church. Years ago, her family moved on. Now, she has grown up. Her name is Katie. She sang a couple of songs—off the charts! I couldn’t help but still see her as a little kid.

In the “intermission” to the concert, I walked straight up to her, pointed my finger in her face, and said, “You are coming back here soon to sing THAT song to this church again.” I caught her a little off-guard, but we laughed about it. I’m trying to schedule her. Hopefully, we can get it done.

She was not alone in doing an excellent job. Jessica and her sister Julia sang together. Julia actually sang a couple more songs by herself. She has an awesome voice.

Others from our congregation as well as folks who knew Dean sang as well.

Dean did a superb job of pulling things together. Awesome! He is an excellent vocalist and facilitator himself. I was impressed. Still am.

My original intent was to come, stay for a few minutes, and return to pumpkin status, but I ended up staying for the whole thing! I kind of shocked myself, but hey, routines are meant to be broken occasionally, right?

Back to the Hispanic congregation—they were sponsoring an outreach event in the “back forty” of our church property (actually it is far from “forty”—2.3 or 2.6 acres is all we have—probably the smaller number). The set up a couple of makeshift little shacks and a crèche where Santa Claus sat to welcome boys and girls.

Jose from Torre Fuerte was explaining the rationale for this through Jorge who interpreted, “Pastor John, many people object to having Santa Claus. We know that the Christmas season is about Jesus, not Santa, but the world does not know this. We invite people to stop for Santa, but Santa will share the gospel.”

Jim from our congregation was Santa. I know him. I know he would do that anyway.

But Torre Fuerte had Christmas lights and food and a fire going. They want to build on this little scene each year, and they hope that more and more people from the community will participate.

I believe it could end up being a big deal, but I was so encouraged that they had the courage to make a start—as small and seemingly insignificant, as it might appear to be.

Five loaves and two fish--that was small too.

Anyway, back to the title of the blog for today. Over the past several months, I have really been struggling with fatigue especially when I sat down to read or study, and I have been wondering what was going on.

The other day, after a visit to the doctor, I FINALLY figured out what the problem has been. DUH!

I don’t know how to say it except … I finally had to embrace old age.

What am I talking about? BI-FOCALS!

I have fought it for years. I delayed as long as I possibly could, but I finally gave in.

The reason I have delayed is that in my mind—the day I got bi-focals (or the fancy term is “progressive lenses”) is the day I would check into a nursing home.

As I protested and struggled, Marilyn said, “Oh for crying out loud, just do it!” And I think she wanted to go on, “And shut up about it, you little baby.”

Well, I did and I can’t believe how much better I am seeing this computer screen and my Bible or commentaries or the sports page or … Fill in the blank.

I finally decided to lay aside my ego and pride and “appearances” in favor of performance and truth.

I am old-ER and prefer to be able to read. So be it. Ha.

This is Paul’s basic challenge to Timothy in chapter three of his second epistle. That long list of sins at the beginning of the chapter—I cited them yesterday—could be easily misinterpreted and written off.

A casual reading might categorize them as characteristics of lost folks. They are indeed, but that is not Paul’s point. One realizes this when he or she reads the following verse:

"Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these" (2 Timothy 3:5 NASB).

What? Are you kidding? This list is all about people in the church who are phonies—people like me pretending to be … young (in my case) or Christians (in Paul’s) but denying the power of God. He goes on to say—avoid folks like this.

He is not telling Timothy to avoid lost folks. He is urging him to avoid PHONIES.

Lord, this is tricky when we think about people in the church who give every indication that they are believers—they have a form of godliness—an appearance, the veneer. But they are fake.

I’m sure every church has people like this. I know we do.

Save them or move them out, Lord. I don’t know how else to pray.

Beyond that, show your power through me—this old geezer with “progressive lenses.”

“When we all get to heaven,
There will be no more glasses on each face
When we all SEE Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory” BH 2008, 603, “slight” modifications of words and emphases mine). Amen.
Comments

Another School Shooting

Yesterday, my heart sunk.

I just happened to turn on the radio as I was driving around. It quickly became apparent that it was not “business as usual.”

Apparently, a student entered Arapahoe High School with a shotgun. He shot another student. She is in critical condition in a hospital in Littleton. Then, he turned the gun on himself and killed himself.

Arapahoe High School is not that far from Columbine.

This is the one-year anniversary of the New Town, Connecticut shootings.

It is insanity.

The encouraging thing about all of this is the way students and teachers and administrators and first-responders reacted to the situation. Apparently, there is an established protocol of locking the doors to classrooms and hiding in inconspicuous places et cetera.

When the student entered the school with a shotgun, he made it known that he was after a certain teacher. Somehow, the teacher found out about this relatively quickly and hastily excited the school, hoping to draw the gunman out with him. This was a good move on his part.

First responders arrived immediately and took over the situation, evacuating the students to a nearby church. Things seemed to go very well.

Please pray for the one girl who was shot. She had surgery, but she is still in critical condition.

Anyway, it is just sad … very sad.

As I sit here in prayer this morning, there are a couple of things I want to say. First, what is it going to take to make these schools wake up and have armed security at the door? Are you kidding me? Someone with a gun can just walk in the front door and start shooting!

I have heard all the arguments against doing this. None come anywhere near to convincing me.

I still agree with the individual who said, “The only solution to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.”

Come on! When are we going to wake up?

Second, many who disagree with this and want stringent “gun control” (watch: heretofore shotguns have not been considered as dangerous as assault weapons; now, they will go on the list) are among those who tolerate and promote all kinds of violence in all kinds of media, especially video games.

“Call of Duty” is one of the most popular these days. It depicts blood, guts, and gore. How do I know? Well, I have a pastor friend who loves video games. I’ve actually seen it at his house. (I am not criticizing him for this; see below). Many of these students live in the video game world.

But you don’t have to confine criticism to that media—look at movies and television—guns and shootings galore.

I want to make myself clear here: I know there is a line when it comes to the depiction of violence. I believe it is up to parents and families to draw that line and make those distinctions, but I do not agree with more government intervention in this industry either.

Back to guns—I was visiting with a man about the incident at Arapahoe High yesterday. He said, “When are people going to wake up and start clamping down on guns?”

I said, “Gun control only limits law abiding citizens from protecting themselves and using guns for hunting and sports. This will not solve the problem. Criminals will find a way to get a hold of them regardless of what law is created.

He replied, “Well, I don’t see why anyone needs an assault rifle.”

I replied, “I hear you, but still, I don’t want the government telling me what gun I can have and can’t have. I still believe in the 2
nd Amendment.”

I guess my views are coming out here.

If one is a Christian, I believe he/she has a better handle on what the REAL issue is here. The passage I read this morning in 2 Timothy 3 lays it out pretty well:

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4 NASB).

There is more to this passage. I will get to it tomorrow. But here is the deal.

God created man in His image, as the culmination of creation week in which He declared that everything is good.

Man sinned, marring God’s original purpose for mankind. And thus, because Adam sinned, sin passed down to all men because all have sinned. We are born with a sin nature. And sin has had a pervasive effect in our culture, no doubt. We live in a fallen world.

Having said that, however, does not diminish the fact that everything God made is good.

Therefore, the bottom line issue is NOT first of all guns or video games or television or movies or whatever—it is that man is a sinner and needs to be saved by the grace of God. This is his only hope.

Lord, the message of Christmas is now, on the day after ANOTHER shooting tragedy in an American high school and another one HERE in Colorado, more vital than ever. In these the last days, sin and evil are only getting worse.

Our world is on a greased pole down to hell.

God’s answer is still and always that little baby born in a feed trough. For anyone I see today—anyone who alludes to this tragedy—give me boldness to share the truth.

Turn this around, as You are wont to do—for Your honor and glory.

“Thro’ the gates to the city in a robe of spotless white,
He will lead me where no tears will ever fall” (BH 2008, 602). Amen.
Comments

Quarrelsome

I am inching my way through this awesome letter, and I love every minute of it—so much of this is extremely relevant in my life right now.

Here are the verses for today:

"The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:24-26 NASB).

That word “quarrelsome” stands out in the passage. Peterson in the Message puts it slightly different:

“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands."

“Quarrelsome,” “Argumentative,” just about the same thing. I have to tell you that this is a real trap that seems to be easier to fall into the longer I go on in ministry.

When I first started as pastor of First Southern, people said things, and I flared up inside, but I did not respond, and sorry to say this, I took out my frustrations on my mom and sister. I did a lot of damage with that approach. I call it the old “kick the dog at home” method of retaliation. I soon discovered that this approach didn’t really help me AND hurt the wrong people! Are you kidding me?

As the years went by, I morphed into a different and equally damaging response technique. I just internalized everything. If I had to put a name to it, I would call it the “beat yourself up on the inside” methodology.

This is equally as bad because it leads to sickness and anger and sleeplessness and stress-related health issues. In some ways, I still struggle with this, but after my cancer diagnosis, I have come to the conclusion that nothing is worth damaging my health—nothing.

As I sat on this couch for all those months during chemo, I asked the Lord to help me learn to respond to folks more appropriately. The Lord reminded me that anger is not wrong. I think the more spiritual term is “righteous indignation.” I’m not sure there is a whole lot of practical difference between the two when it boils down to it.

But here is the thing: why was I afraid to show anger? Well, I think it goes back to trying to be a people pleaser. But the downside (the huge downside to it) is that you hurt the people you love or yourself AND you don’t really respond appropriately to whatever has happened or whoever wronged you.

When Jesus saw the moneychangers in the temple, He didn’t go home and kick the dog! He unleashed his righteous indignation on the offenders themselves! No one left the temple that day without knowing who the offenders are.

I am asking the Lord to help me with this, but I am still struggling with it.

Not long ago, a telephone repairman came to the church. We had been having a problem with our phone lines. The gentleman who came did not have the best attitude or demeanor and he said something that ticked me off. I replied, “I don’t appreciate your attitude!” He flared up, “Listen, I don’t have to take this. I can just walk out the door.” Well, I said something like, “Fine. If you are not going to fix the problem and have ‘attitude,’ go ahead.”

As those words came out of my mouth, I was immediately convicted. I apologized to the man, and out of that, I learned that this man was actually dealing with a health issue and trying to work at the same time. It turned out to be a ministry opportunity, but it would not have had I continued to unleash on him.

Before I go further, I need to say that it is not wrong to be honest or rebuke someone or confront them. It becomes wrong when I or anyone else step over the line in attitude or Christ-likeness. Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers and drove the merchants out of the temple as they both desecrated the worship of God, but He did it with a pure heart. Wow.

But back to the topic. Here is where I am with this. Most people that quarrel in church life say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it. And (just being honest here today), the longer I go in this work, the shorter my fuse is. I seem more and more ready to flash anger and call “a spade a spade.” That could be good at appropriate times, but for me, as occurred with that repairman, could easily step over a line.

It is interesting that Paul, in this passage, does not stop with the negative—“don’t quarrel; don’t be argumentative.” He moves us to give a rather long list of positives: be kind; continue to teach (as he or she keeps his/her cool); be patient when wronged (hard one there); and use gentleness in correcting those who are wrong. Oh, man—that is VERY HARD.

Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t “gentleness” an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit? He does this work in us; we can’t do it ourselves.

Interesting though that when I am gentle, I am allowing the Lord to grant folks repentance and bring them to their senses. In my perennial efforts to be a “fixer”—to tell people off and set them straight—I am actually doing more damage. The Lord can do better work than I can when I flash (inappropriate) anger.

Lord, the stakes get higher the longer I serve in this ministry. I can do so much damage to my testimony and that of the church I serve.

Again, Lord, I am asking you to help me learn how to respond appropriately to everyone. This includes legitimate and right times to be righteously indignant.

Spirit of God, fill me so that always, always, always, whether I am angry or not, the fruit of Your character comes through.

I’m glad I won’t have to worry about this someday: “When I die, hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away” (BH 2008, 601). Amen.

Oh, and by the way, I am ticked off that the Broncos got beat. Where does THAT fit in this discussion? Ha.
Comments

Mr. 'Slop Bucket' and Mrs. Christmas China

I still remember two sermons I heard on the passage for today. I may still have them on cassette tape. The first preacher is D. L. Lowrie who served for many years as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lubbock, Texas. I think he is one of the best expositors of God’s Word EVER.

Before I go further, let me cite this passage—the same one I quoted yesterday but from a different translation:

"In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets—some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing" (2 Timothy 2:20, 21 MSG).

In Lowrie’s sermon, he talked about his mother’s kitchen growing up and a very prominent container called a “slop bucket.” It does not take too much imagination to figure out what went into this trash receptacle. Lowrie’s descriptions of it were very vivid.

I am certainly no kitchen connoisseur (as most of you know) but I would imagine that just about every kitchen has some sort of trashcan. It is a crucial implement that one uses just about every time in the kitchen in the course of cooking or eating.

On the other side of the spectrum of usage is the china our family uses only for special occasions.

In our home, we have a cabinet in the “dining room.” This is a special eating room adjacent to our kitchen. In this cabinet, my mom has some fancy crystal pieces along with china we use only for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The “Thanksgiving” crystal is a little more versatile in that it could be used for other occasions, but the Christmas stuff is definitely designed only for one season.

Honestly, as I sit here this morning, I cannot remember the last time we used either one. It has been at least fifteen years. It could be longer.

The trashcan and the Christmas china are at opposite ends of the “usability” scale, but each are equally important, right?

Mr. Trashcan could boast to Mrs. Christmas China that he is more important than she is. And Mrs. China could whine and complain, “I haven’t been used in fifteen years. What is going on? I want out of this cabinet. This is ridiculous.”

Please don’t think I have lost it. I haven’t quite yet! Ha.

I’m actually picking up on another sermon I remember from Ron Dunn. He personified the faucet in the sink in his kitchen. “Mr. Faucet” was crying because he hadn’t been used in a while.

In this same sermon, Ron Dunn said something I have never forgotten as well. “God makes each of us for use in one or two BIG things.” Something like that. Interesting.

Here is the point of all this personification of inanimate objects: it is not up to a faucet or trashcan or piece of china to use itself. It is up to me! That piece of china sitting in a cabinet with dust on it is doing exactly what I want it to do. It is there. It is ready for me to use it whenever I want.

In this regard, it is no different from the trashcan or the faucet that I use a whole lot more. I just use it on “fancy occasions.”

Therefore, what Paul is saying in these verses is that the goal for all of us is to be an implement that God can use any and every time HE choses.

The kitchen analogy in these verses breaks down a bit as we think of the fact that we would never use Christmas china for a trash receptacle—NEVER.

However, I could choose to do that, IF I wanted. I would be dead as my mom would kill me, but I could theoretically use those fancy plates for transporting or disposing of trash. The truth is: I can do anything I want with any of the receptacles in the kitchen. I own them. They are mine. Whatever.

It is the same with the Lord. And should be the same with me. The goal of the Christian life—is for me to be ready for God to use me whenever He chooses. If that means I sit on a shelf behind glass in a fancy cabinet and that is what He wants, I will do that. If He wants me to contain trash and old scraps of food and refuse, so be it.

The difference of coarse is that I have never seen plates cry or complain or try to wriggle out of the dining room cabinet, but I have seen a lot of people, including yours truly, do it.

Yesterday, a brother on our budget and finance team called me. Jim was tasked with a job of projecting our future based on the financial numbers we have over the past couple of years. I’m going to share these numbers Sunday as a challenge to the church, but the trend is not pretty.

If we continue to see the drop in income we are currently experiencing, we won’t be around very much longer. We just won’t be able to pay the bills.

Everything in me wants to fight and battle and work even harder to change this trend. And, on one hand, I will.

But on the other hand, I’m not so sure that increased EFFORT on my part is what the Lord wants. I believe that the first thing He wants is for me to be right with Him. Then, like the slop bucket or Christmas china—He wants me to be available to Him. He takes it from there.

Lord, search me and try me this morning—show me if there is anything in my life I need to “cleanse myself” from (as other translations of this passage indicate). Otherwise, I am available to you—however you want to use me. I can’t believe that you want this church to die and fold up and close its doors. Use me, Lord, to turn the trends around.

If not … use me to serve you as this church continues to decline. I am available to you, either way.

Lord, I pray for Mitch today. He is in ICU with pneumonia and an infection in his heart—serious stuff. Heal him, Lord.

“Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care” (BH 2008, 600). Amen.
Comments

"Fence-Cutting"

As I sit here this morning, I am deeply grateful and thanking God for the amazing ways and means He uses to encourage us. And I really needed it yesterday.

Let me back up for a moment. For the past several months (I am really not sure how long but it SEEMS longer), we have been watching as the city of Northglenn attempted a massive job right next to our property.

After years of promise, it finally started to come together.

Just south of our property was a ditch. It was overgrown with trees and bushes. It was a rather steep drop-off from our church property. Often, when the children or youth were playing a game involving a ball on the back of our church property, I always worried when the ball bounced and rolled toward the “ditch” because, to retrieve it, one had to take his/her life in his/her hands.

What made the “ditch” dangerous is that, over the years (well, I guess, years ago), the city used it as a dumping ground of sorts—large pieces of broken concrete were interspersed in and among all the foliage.

Added to that was all sorts of garbage.

How do I know? Well, we had intimate knowledge of that creek because, on volunteer day with the city, we always stepped up to assume the dubious task of cleaning up that creek.

The last time we did it, Bob, J. B., Bill and I were staring at a shopping cart wedged in the bottom of that creek. We were trying to figure out a way to extricate it when Anne observed our “paralysis of analysis.” She jumped in the water, grabbed it, and unlodged it herself. We were all in shock but we finally moved to help her and in no time, with many of the rest of the group helping us, we hoisted that cart out. It weighed. Let me tell. It was caked with mud and debris. No telling how long it had been in there.

But do you get the idea?

Fast forward to recent months and yesterday—the transformation has been nothing short of incredible. The city cleared all the debris and cement and foliage out of there. In addition, they leveled out the sides of the creek bed and installed a cement trail along the creek.

The cement path connects the Greenway Trail on both sides of Washington Street.

Another hazard: people in the past who were walking along the former trail had to try to dodge traffic as they crossed Washington Street.

The new trail goes under the street and emerges on the west side of Washington. This is where the dedication ceremony was yesterday.

Man, as I headed over to the “ribbon-cutting” ceremony, I could not believe all the work that had been done. The main reason for all dirt moving, as a gentleman explained to me, was to alleviate the flood issues. “When we get a lot of rain or snow,” he commented, “all the water flows from the Northglenn Marketplace across the highway, down this way and floods Washington Street. This work has created a place for the water to go.”

I could see all that as I stood there yesterday—a carved out flat place just south of the ambulance company led into what looked like a fountain with stair steps. This amounts to a spillway for the water. He went on to explain that the tunnel with the cement path for pedestrians under Washington Street was the final place for the water to flow.

Remind me NOT to walk that trail after a good rainstorm! This is good information to know.

Well, the ceremony was very basic as the city manager, John, opened things up, “Hello everyone, we have called this a ribbon-cutting, but in effect it is a ‘fence-cutting.” True. There was one of the florescent orange fences across the entrance to the tunnel.

The mayor—Joyce—gave a greeting. It was great to see her again. She attended our 50th Anniversary celebration service at the Ramada Inn back in 2010. I haven’t seen her since.

Pam, the coordinator of the project spoke as well. She looked and sounded relieved to have this huge project almost behind her now.

Finally, with most of the City Council standing there alongside the mayor and a huge pair of scissors, they “cut” the fence and we all applauded. Actually, there were about fifty folks there. Not bad for a windy Tuesday afternoon in Northglenn.

Afterwards, Michael stepped forward. His official title is “Cultural Programs Supervisor and Northglenn Arts and Humanities Foundation Director.” How about that? He said a few words about the statue that was being dedicated also. The name of the bronze work is “Bee My Honey.” It sits up near the sidewalk along Washington Street.

The artist, Colette Pitcher and her husband Gary, were in attendance. Kind of cool.

At the conclusion of the both ceremonies, Pam invited all the folks to the church for a reception. I took my first walk in the tunnel with Mayor Joyce. We both remarked how cool it was to be able to cross Washington Street without risking life and limb.

We made our way to the church. There were about twenty-five folks who ventured over. Betty, Pam, Mary Ann, Al, and Ray from our congregation were there. We got to visit with folks. Betty invited the mayor to church. Joyce replied, “I’d love to come. Is it okay if I bring my five year old grandson?” Absolutely. How about THAT?

I took a lot of pictures at the “fence-cutting” ceremony. I will post them today on my Facebook page. I also have some “before” pictures of the ditch. I took them the day we pulled that shopping cart out of the creek (or should I say Anne pulled the shopping cart out—we helped HER. Ha).

Okay, so here is the encouraging thing. While we were standing there before the ceremony, someone said, “Man, there sure is a lot going on in this part of our city. On Friday, the ground breaking ceremony will occur for the new Walmart just up the street.”

“A lot going on in this part of the city”—wow! Who’d have thunk it? I never would have.

Lord, I pray that part of what is “going on” will be a movement of your Holy Spirit. Send a great revival and spiritual awakening in our city.

"Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:20, 21 NASB).

My main goal today, Jesus, is to be available and faithful—USEFUL to the Master, prepared for any and every good work. Thank you, Jesus, You did it again!

Again, this song: “Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful” (BH 2008, 598). Amen.
Comments

Cancer and Gangrene

Now, let me start off by saying that I am NOT talking about me when I use those two words! Let’s get that straight.

However, I was shocked to see the word cancer in the verses I read today. Here’s a Bible trivia question: is the word “cancer” actually in the Bible? Well, prior to today, I would have said, “No. No way.”

Well, I would have been wrong. Sort of …

Let me go ahead and cite the verses for today:

"Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way, they have turned some people away from the faith" (2 Timothy 2:16-18 NLT, emphasis mine). This is the New Living Translation. If you read this blog frequently, I am sure you are noticing that I quote from this version regularly. I like it.

Again, I think it is important to realize that each translation operates with a translation philosophy.

At the risk of boring all of you to tears this morning, I think it is important for people to know what the two basic translation philosophies are. I teach this regularly at the church because I think that many believers are confused by all the translations out there. People who don’t know the Lord harp on this as they attack the Bible as they make statements like, “The Bible has a bunch of errors in it” and “What about all the translations out there? Don’t they say different things?”

Right along with this is a huge misunderstanding in the church about the challenges of Bible translation. Some go so far as to argue that the only viable version out there is the King James Version. They tend to pound a pulpit as they scream, “All other versions are heretical!”

Well, I certainly do not believe that this view has any merit. I do like the KJV. Don’t get me wrong. It is a beautiful translation, one of the most famous in history, but I hardly ever use it and almost never refer to it in sermons. Why? Well, the bottom line is that language has morphed and changed a lot over 402 years! We just don’t use “thee’s and thou’s” in common parlance any longer!

I could say more about all this, but I won’t chase that rabbit now.

Back to translation philosophies—there are two of them. The first is “word for word equivalence.” One of the main examples of a version using this philosophy is the New American Standard Bible. The Lochman Foundation, in sponsoring this translation, strove to translate the Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible to the order and flow of the original text. This makes for some awkward reading and phrasing at times, but this is no knock. It is an excellent and accurate version.

The other philosophy is dynamic equivalence. The emphasis here is readability. Many other versions, including NIV 84 and the New Living Translation, fall in this category. These are excellent translations as well.

Back to the passage I quoted above--the actual Greek word transliterated is “gangraina.” One lexicon in defines this word in the following way, “the localized death of living cells; if not treated will continue to eat away at tissue until the eventual death of the patient.” Humm. Interesting. Three lexicons actually indicate that cancer is a viable definition of this term! But basically, it does mean, “gangrene.”

And the NASB brings this out in its word-for-word literal translation:

"And their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus" (2 Timothy 2:17 NASB).

All of this is interesting. I don’t know if I like the fact that cancer and gangrene are synonymous, but both words accurate portray the danger about which Paul is speaking.

“Worldly and empty chatter” is like cancer in the church!

Now, of all people, that image communicates with me as a believer first but as a pastor.

I have had extensive experience with cancer and have know folks with gangrene, and can I just say, “You don’t want to mess around with either one.”

In fact, both diseases are so serious that even one day’s delay could be lethal. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to start treatment YESTERDAY.

As you probably know, gangrene is so dangerous that often, the only solution is amputation!

It is interesting that in talking about this, Paul names names. He does not mess around. Specifically, in the context, as the next verse indicates, he is referencing false teaching, but I think his comments here apply to all types of inappropriate speaking in the church.

This is ominous and weighs on me today as I think about First Southern.

Lord, again, I am reminded with this very graphic language about all the dangers the church faces, many of them are from within. As a cancer patient myself, I am reminded that you don’t mess around with disease that kills blood cells. Empty chatter and false doctrine—if left alone—kills! It is a grave danger for the church.

I pray for everyone that is reading this blog today—that they would not EVER tolerate it much less engage in it. Protect our churches from CHURCH CANCER and GANGRENE.

I pray that Christians would rise up like oncologists and doctors to say, “This must be dealt with!” So be it, Lord. Amen.
Comments

Work Hard

"Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT).

As I read this verse today, I have to chuckle a little bit—maybe to keep from crying.

So much happened yesterday, it is hard to keep it in my head, but I will say that as I was trudging up the stairs to the office entrance on the north side of our building, I thought, “I wonder how many obstacles there could be to sharing the gospel on any one Sunday.” I think we set a record yesterday. I can’t name all of them, but I will talk about a few.

For one, it was absolutely freezing cold, as it has been for the last few days with a few snowflakes coming down.

In addition, the other day, someone turned off the boiler in our building. Duane called to tell me about it. Who on earth would do such a thing? On the coldest night of the year? Once again, we fear it is vandalism—someone who has a key and can get in to cause havoc. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of it.

But Duane was worried that once we got the heat on, the pipes would burst since in all likelihood they would be frozen. We had that happen once, and the whole basement was flooded with water. We actually had to cancel services on a Sunday a few years ago because of this. Back then, it wasn’t vandalism; it was a boiler malfunction, and it just shut off.

So, I was expecting to walk into a freezing building and pools of water, but thank the Lord! This did not appear.

Scott, our worship leader, resigned yesterday. Please pray for him and his family. The Lord has been working on him and leading him in other directions. It was and still is kind of blow, but I never fault anyone who is following the Lord’s leadership in his life. Scott is doing this. I will miss him and his family.

When a staff member leaves, it is always difficult, but in spite of this, the service went well.

I go back to my comments about the Children’s musical on the first Sunday of December. The adults did a great job of communicating the Christmas message and the gospel. We do not have any professional singers in our congregation (with the exception of Calla who I would stack up against anyone). But having said that, please don’t read it as a knock. It isn’t. We have people who sing from the heart because they love Jesus.

Jim sang a solo yesterday. This is the first time I have ever heard him do this. Wendy, one of out teenagers, sang as well. The Lord used them both. It was awesome to see.

A few of the boys and girls sang along with them in one song and participated in a little manger scene later on. Excellent!

We also shared the Lord’s Supper. This tied everything together well, I thought.

Kind of funny as I drove him after the service—all of my memories of Sunday night church came flooding into my mind. It has been several years now since we met on Sunday night, but no one misses it—including and especially me.

Yesterday, I went back to my former routine. I plopped down in a chair for a few minutes in front of the television, watched the first quarter of the Broncos game, turned it OFF (I’ll explain why in a moment), and started my preparation for Sunday night. It is a prayer thing. It is a mindset thing that I have to do regardless of whether I am preaching or not.

In fact, when I am not preaching, I feel more of a burden to be prepared and to pray for the service.

Back to the Broncos—it did not take me long after I started as pastor back in 1989 to realize that it was best on Sundays NOT to watch the game until after the service. I just got too “into it,” too absorbed and focused on it, to the point where I was taking a radio to church to listen to the game and then dashing into the auditorium at the last minute for the service. What a joke!

So, that is when I just started recording games on a VCR. With the advancement of technology, I moved to Tivo. I used it for years. Then, I transitioned into EyeTV—a gadget that allowed me to record games on my computer and then burned DVD’s. Comcast—the cable provider—started to block this type of recording, so now, I am forced just to record games on our Comcast digital recorder. I still record every game.

Anyway, too much detail (are you asleep yet). The bottom line is that I just can’t watch the game and be prepared for any service at night.

We had an awesome service last night with all four congregations. Each group led worship and Scott interspersed Christmas hymns into the mix as a way to transition from group to group. It gave them time to set up and hook up their instruments. It worked extremely well.

The final group to share was the Koreans. Crystal (Pastor Dong’s wife) and her daughter-in-law, Grace, did an excellent job of sharing a couple of songs. When they concluded, Lydia came up on stage.

She shared that she had broken a rib in a car accident recently. She gave glory to God that He had healed her. She also added that she was not able to play her two instruments as well as she wanted to as a result. Are you kidding me?

She did an awesome job of leading worship. Oh, man. I still can’t get over it. She played two traditional but very unusual instruments. I will try to find a picture of both and attach them to my Facebook blog entry for today.

Afterwards, we all shared some fellowship and food (of course) in the basement.

Okay, so back to the verse I cited for today. Hard work? Even as I write all of this, I am imagining someone saying, “Hard work? Seems like a piece of cake day. You didn’t even preach, you wimp!” Maybe I am a wimp, but when the day had concluded and I came back home to watch my recording of the game, I was and still am thoroughly exhausted. Thoroughly.

Why? A lot of emotional energy expended. I will just leave it at that. That’s one thing. I would chalk up some of the rest to spiritual warfare.

But here is the bottom line: I believe that the enemy is just making it harder and harder just to continue to meet and continue to share the Good News, particularly during this season.

But we are not going to stop EVER. I am determined to get a “well done” from my Boss someday.

Lord, thank you for yesterday and the great job the choir did plus the service last night. Thank you for all for preview of heaven we experience when all four congregations gather together. What a testimony to the Christmas message—the Savior born in the feed trough in a barn in Bethlehem came as the Savior of the WORLD.

“Man and beast before Him bow,
And He is in the manger now;
Christ is born today,
Christ is born today” (BH 2008, 183). Amen.
Comments

His Unwavering Faithfulness

The Lord stopped me today as I was reading in 2 Timothy at a section of Paul’s letter that the English translations set off as a quote, and I believe they are correct in doing so:

"This is a trustworthy saying:
If we die with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.
If we deny him, he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is" (2 Timothy 2:11-13 NLT).

This is another one of those “faithful sayings” that are sprinkled through the Pastoral Epistles. Even as I write that, something sparks in my mind that this needs to be a sermon series, maybe one to start the New Year. Humm. There you go!

But this one in 2 Timothy 2 is a little unique. If my memory from previous study serves me correctly, this one is a quote from an early hymn in the church. No one can be “bulldog-matic” (an Andy Hornbaker Sr. term) about it, but it does make sense.

Paul cites this hymn to buttress his exhortations to Timothy. He has been challenging him to endure and to continue to preach the gospel, no matter what, and he elucidates a critical scriptural principle—we are identified with Christ in everything He went through—EVERYTHING. This is what baptism pictures.

We are identified with Jesus in His death (Galatians 2:20), in His burial and resurrection (Ephesians 2:4-7), and in His reign as Lord at the right hand of God’s throne (Colossians 3:1-4).

As a result of this, we must speak for Him and live for Him. Failure to do so amounts to a denial of our relationship with Him and recalls Jesus’ warnings about being ashamed of Him.

However, the bottom line is not our efforts or abilities to gut out faithfulness; it is all about His faithfulness to us, no matter what we do or don’t do.

I can’t begin to tell you what a timely word of encouragement this is for me today.

As my mom and sis and I were praying last night, we all prayed for the church. We are dealing with some “issues” these days. Ha. When is a church NOT dealing with issues? But anyway, as we finished, one of us said, “With everything going on, is there any way that the Lord can bless the service tomorrow?”

You know, really, that is a good question.

But think about it. This same question could be asked every single Sunday in every single church on the planet. Come on! I’m not making excuses for sin, but every week, something is going on, especially those weeks that I lean back in a chair and think, “You know, I think things are going pretty well right now.” Let’s see. I think I can count three, maybe four Sundays in twenty-four years I’ve said that, but still …

Anyway, here is the point: it doesn’t depend on US! It ultimately depends on HIM and His unwavering faithfulness. Praise God!

Back to last night, as we all prayed, the Lord did a work in all of our hearts (as He usually does). We thanked God for a lot of stuff, among which is the following:

--Joe the dog got his stitches out yesterday; he is back!

--Neither he nor we got rabies.

--I received a great email from a brother in the church.

--Enrique, a boy in our church whose appendix burst, is doing a lot better.

--Don will have open-heart surgery soon because most of the arteries in his heart are blocked, but he didn’t have a heart attack!

--Jesus Christ was born, lived a perfect life, died a substitionary atoning death on the cross, was buried, rose from the dead bodily on the third day, and now is seated at the right hand of the Father where He rules as Lord and serves us as Priest. This Jesus lives in me and I live in HIM. Glory Hallelujah!

You know what? I’m going to put my focus THERE today—a busy day with the adult choir leading worship today and tonight—all four congregations gathering together for a candlelight service and fellowship. It should be awesome.

Lord, GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS! Amen.
Comments

The Word of God is Not Chained!

Can you imagine how Paul’s years in prison worked on him from an emotional standpoint? I have never been in jail myself, but I would think that the mental part of imprisonment is the toughest.

And, back in Paul’s day, I wouldn’t imagine that Roman prisons were the nicest and most sanitary of places.

Of course, as one reads the record in the book of Acts, I’m not sure that Paul had to endure prison as others did. I am speaking of his time in Caesarea and his first incarceration in Rome. In the latter place, he was basically under house arrest, and it appears he had some freedoms that other prisoners in his day would not have.

Be that as it may … it was still prison.

And, if I were in that boat, I think I would start asking God questions. And those questions would turn into gripes and the gripes into murmuring. Pretty soon (and I am speaking from personal experience here) one is in such a pickle that it puts a person on the shelf.

Need I say more?

But Paul did not allow himself to go there—at least, not that we know. Or, if he did, he repented and the Lord brought him back. I know it wasn’t easy.

It never is.

Anyway, Paul recognized his situation: he was in chains. This was a fact. But he also realized another crucial fact: the Word of God was NOT.

"Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen" (2 Timothy 2:8-10 NLT).

There is nothing in the universe that can stop or contain or limit or tie down God’s Word! What an awesome thought! Well, one thing … I will get to that in a moment.

But THAT realization led Paul to find ways to let it out. What were they? First, he preached to the guards in prison. Philippians one reminds us that every guard in the place knew where Paul stood. I’m sure they got an ear full. Can’t you just hear the conversation in the barracks? “I have to be chained to him today. Would anyone trade with me? I’ll take Christmas day, if you will trade me two days of not having to sit next to that guy and hear his ‘message.’”

The basic lesson I learn from Paul is that wherever he was, he started with those closest to him and when they rejected the message, he branched out from there.

Second, and this relates to the first, he shared with any and everyone who visited him. In Rome, in the final chapter of Acts, it looks as if that was a pretty sizable group. I don’t know how Paul did it. Maybe he stuck his head out of the window of his rented house. Who knows?

Third, and I think this is crucial, he took the time he had in prison to WRITE. I believe that in the plan and providence of God, the Lord had to chain him down to get him to sit long enough to have the epistles we have and enjoy in the New Testament.

But think about it: as Paul wrote, and the letters were sent out, people in the churches could read them and then share them with someone else who passed them on to others and so forth. Eventually, they found their way into the Canon of scripture and this process goes on and on and on.

I thought of this last night as Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, was on a news program. In the course of the interview, he shared a verse from the Bible. He didn’t give a reference, but he shared it nonetheless.

I’m sure there is some sort of law against it, isn’t there? If there isn’t, just wait. Someone will come up with a reason you can’t quote the Bible on TV or in public.

Billy Graham predicted that the day would come years ago.

When it does, will we still share it? When we are in a prison for sharing it, we will STILL find a way to share it.

Nothing can stop God’s Word … except me when I refuse to read it, ingest it, and here is the clincher—OPEN my mouth to share it.

Lord, I thank you that nothing can stop your Word except my refusal to share it, but even then, if I don’t do it, the rocks will cry out and/or you will find someone else whom you can use.

Here am I, Lord. Send me. Use me!

“Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful …” (BH 2008, 598). I love this song Steve Green sings so well. Amen.
Comments

Three Powerful Analogies

I have to be honest. I am struggling with something that occurred yesterday. It has been eating on me all night—one of those things that causes me to wake often in the night, and it hits me again, like a ton of bricks.

I’m not going into detail at this point …

Even as I wrestled with it, my mind drifted to my Quiet Time this morning. I have kind of learned to develop a sense of expectancy when it comes to what the Lord is going to say when I read His word in the morning. Invariably, (it may take a day or two), He does speak directly to what I am dealing with.

Today is a case in point. Here are the verses for today:

"Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things" (2 Timothy 2:3-7 NLT).

Before I comment on these three analogies, I have to say one thing. This is going to sound weird, but it won’t be the first or last time something I say/write will sound that way: Satan’s attacks are a compliment from the enemy!

If an individual or church were not doing anything, then Satan would not attack!

Sometimes, when I get discouraged about the church, the Holy Spirit brings this to mind. When I begin to think nothing of eternal significance is going on and we are not where we need to be (and of course no church ever is), I think about all salvos the enemy fires at us—from without and from within. It seems to be an inordinate amount. It probably isn’t any more or less than other churches deal with, but it seems more because of all the sleepless nights I have experienced in the past 24 years.

As I sit here, things are coming into focus. This past week has been huge for our ministry in the community—one of the biggest weeks ever. First, I go back to my visit at Northglenn High School. This is a huge open door, and I can only see it getting “wider open” in the days and months ahead. We can actually go into this public high school and have interaction with students! I can’t get over it.

Second, for months and months (maybe it has been over a year; I can’t remember—it has been a long time), the front entrance to our church property for the folks going south on Washington Street has been blocked because of a construction project just to the south of our church property. The city of Northglenn renovated Grange Hall Creek and added a cement path along it that goes under Washington Street. It was a huge project. They moved a lot of dirt and it disrupted traffic.

But now, it is almost done.

We got a call from Pam, the lady at the city who is the coordinator of the project, inviting us to the “ribbon-cutting” for this project next Tuesday. She asked if people could park in our parking lot for this ceremony. Of course.

But Betty had a great idea. I called Pam back and said, “Hey Pam, listen, we were wondering if we could host a little reception in our church building after the ceremony. We would like to have coffee or hot cider and cake for the folks who come. Let me know if that is something you would like to do. If so, we would be glad to host it.”

Several days went by. Pam did not call. Finally, the other day, she did. She left me a message at church, “Yes, John, great idea. We would love to take you up on that offer.’

Betty followed up with her yesterday. Everything is arranged for next Tuesday. Awesome!

So, get it? The Lord has dumped two huge opportunities in our lap to network relationships in our city. This networking is the foundation for gospel-centered relationships. In short, you can’t share with lost folks unless you are around them and have contact with them. Who knows where all of this will lead?

I’m excited, but as I think about this, it is no wonder that warfare is increasing.

This brings me back to what Paul says in the verses I quote above. In exhorting his young disciple, Timothy, Paul says that in ministry, we are like soldiers, athletes, and farmers.

First, soldiers. Soldiers cannot be distracted by civilian affairs. What does this mean? Well, here is how I take it through the lens of my experience right now. Conflict and difficulty have a pull to them. And that pull is away! I can’t totally figure this out, but when I am going through a tough time, I want to escape. I want to be AWOL because I just don’t want to deal with it. I’m tired of dealing with it.

But who does? Somehow, as I sit here, leaving means that there is no one on that corner to lead this congregation to engage our city in this event. The Lord chose our church to be in Northglenn with these opportunities. If I tuck tail and run, who will do it?

I’ve got to stay at my post so that I can continue to be at the disposal of my commanding officer.

Second, athletes. The soldier faces the suffering of conflict or battle. The athlete faces the suffering of discipline and exertion. But every athletic contest has rules and parameters. If I want to compete, then I must discipline myself to train within the parameters of the event. Football players train for football. Basketball players gear their preparation for what their game demands. You get the point.

What is the discipline of ministry? Well, a lot could be said here. I think one of the main issues is maintaining a personal walk with the Lord, no matter what happens.

My pastor friend from Oklahoma sent me an email yesterday—very timely. In each of his messages, he concludes by saying, “Keep your eyes on the Son.” This is the discipline of someone who serves the Lord.

Third, farmers. The suffering here is just dog, hard work. If one keeps his/her hand to the plow, then he/she is the first to reap the reward. Certainly, this is an eternal reward, but I also think the immediate benefit is fruitfulness.

I am going to focus on the folks who bear the fruit of Christ’s character and pray for the others.

Well, there is so much more to be said in this regard. I need to “chew” on these truths today. More later.

Lord, you never promised it was going to be easy. Why do I always resist suffering? I would rather not, but I’m thankful for Jesus. I’m thankful for believers like Paul and Saeed Abedini and others who are suffering for the gospel to this very hour. I’m enlisted in that same army. I’m on that same team. I’m working my 40 acres of this part of the kingdom. Let me get back at it today!

“Let it be said of us that the Lord was our passion,
That with gladness we bore every cross we were given” WHOA. How about THAT? (BH 2008, 597). Amen.
Comments

Loyalty

What is it about us as believers that we tend to kick a brother when he is down?

The passage for today is a poignant reminder of this.

"As you know, everyone from the province of Asia has deserted me—even Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show special kindness to Onesiphorus and all his family because he often visited and encouraged me. He was never ashamed of me because I was in chains. When he came to Rome, he searched everywhere until he found me. May the Lord show him special kindness on the day of Christ’s return. And you know very well how helpful he was in Ephesus" (2 Timothy 1:15-18 NLT).

There are several very striking statements in those verses. First, Paul states that everyone in Asia deserted him.

I am floored by this comment.

Think about all the people in all the church he ministered to. He went there as a missionary and shared the gospel and started congregations. Most of the spiritual energy was going out from him to others.

But when Paul really needed some folks to minister to him—they deserted him. Even Phygelus and Hermogenes. Off the top of my head—I don’t know who those two guys were. I’m not sure there are any other references to them in the New Testament, but whatever. They were obviously close friends and ministry companions of Paul.

The people that are closest to you can hurt you the most.

Added to the indignity of being a “jailbird,” Paul had to deal with rejection from his closest friends. Why?

Who knows? I can only guess. But somehow, I think that once a person goes to jail or prison, there is a different perception of him or her. Now, remember, Paul was innocent of any crime except preaching the gospel. It wasn’t as if he had murdered anyone. But I still think there is a stigma. It is awkward and people don’t handle “awkward” well.

Plus, I am sure that people were afraid of ending up in prison themselves through an association with Paul.

Who knows?

It just hits me today that the greatest missionary in the history of the church spent much of the final years of his life totally alone except for prison guards. I can’t imagine how lonely he must have been.

And yet, he was not totally alone. Of course, the Lord was with him, but also, one man stepped up to the plate—Onesiphorus. At first, as I read that name, I thought of the book of Philemon, but the guy about whom Paul makes an appeal to Philemon is Onesimus—different guy.

Onesiphorus—this guy that we don’t talk much about—stands out in the history of Christianity (albeit in a behind-the-scenes role) as a guy that ministered to Paul when no one else did. “O,” as I am going to call him, was Paul’s one link to the church—his one buddy that visited him and sought him out and cared for him. O and his family were there for the apostle.

Only eternity will tell how important and vital this ministry was.

This is a testament to loyalty—a nearly lost commodity in our current culture. Very few people are loyal to anything or anyone.

Let Peyton Manning have a bad game or throw interceptions in a playoff game, and many “loyal” Bronco fans will jump ship in a heartbeat. What have you done for me lately? That’s the focus of the hour.

In no arena is this truer than “church work.” No matter what you have done and how long you have done it, it often feels that people are poised. They seem to be on the edge of their seat. Just ready and waiting for one thing they don’t like or understand, and poof, like a puff of smoke, they get mad and are gone.

I try to teach and remind folks often that our ultimate loyalty should be to God—that no matter what happens in our lives and no matter whether we understand it or not—we need to be followers of Jesus to the end of our days. True.

But this passage carries that further, I believe. All of us want to know that we also have some—maybe even one person on the planet like “O”--who will believe in us and stick with us to the end.

We all need people like that and more importantly, we need to BE people like that. I’m not talking about blind loyalty. I’m talking about true biblical eyes wide-open loyalty—believing in someone because you know him or her to the depths of their being, and you know they follow Jesus.

Father, the reading of this passage is painful. It brings back a lot of memories for me. Many of the people to whom I have been closest over the years have left the church. They are gone. Many of these departures have been because you have led them away. That is all well and good (no problem even though it is still painful. I miss them more than ever).

But others—it hasn’t been so well and good. Something happened and they got sideways with me and/or the church and instead of sticking it out, they chose to leave. Honestly, it is hard not to take those kinds of departures very personally.

You are in charge of it all, Lord. You know what you are doing.

But sometimes, ministry can be a very lonely place.

It seems more difficult than ever just to trust, just to be vulnerable, because you never know who is going to stay or go—for whatever reason.

Thank you for all the loyalists. I need to contact them and thank them. Thank YOU for them.

But whatever, Lord. I put my trust in you, and I choose to go on no matter what or who.

I lift up Bob and Don today—both of whom are having surgery this morning. Take care of them both, Dr. Jesus.

“A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky” (BH 2008, 596). Amen.
Comments

A Visit to Northglenn High School

I had a great experience yesterday, one which I believe was an answer to prayer.

I was explaining this to Betty when I returned.

Let me see if I can articulate it. It just seems that, over the years, especially recent years, that our church’s opportunities to reach lost people have diminished greatly. And I don’t think that we are alone in this regard.

When I first started, we regularly have five to ten folks visit each week. They just walked in the door, and we didn’t really do anything except open our doors and receive them.

Once people came to us, we had an organized visitation program where we sent folks out to see them in their homes and talk with them. These visits gave us opportunities to share the gospel on occasion. All of this is well and good.

But somewhere along the way, all that dried up.

Fast forward to 2013, we rarely have folks visit unless someone in our church invites them and the organized visitation program went by the wayside years ago. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons.

First, people just don’t want to be disturbed once they close the garage door after coming home from work. We tried calling to make appointments. People were busy or didn’t answer the phone. We tried just showing up. That didn’t work well.

Honestly, at our house, if the doorbell rings after dark, we usually don’t go to the door. I think most people are in that same boat.

Second, especially this time of year, it seems more and more difficult just finding folks in the dark. Maybe my eyesight is diminishing … I don’t know. A couple of weeks ago, Jim and I tried to visit a lady in our church. We drove way out east to an area called Reunion. We had not planned to call in advance, but we couldn’t find her place, so we decided to call. She answered the phone, “Well, John … Umm. I am sitting here in my pajamas right now. This just isn’t a good time.” She was very cordial and honest.

So, we basically spent an hour driving with nothing.

It just doesn’t make sense. When we were actually doing visitation, oftentimes, even with MapQuest, people would drive around for a long time, not finding an address they were looking for.

Therefore, we have transitioned out of the “formal visitation program.” This year, I tried something different. I tried to challenge folks in our church to network relationships on their own to share the gospel. Of course, this is fundamental and basic for every believer. On the front of our bulletin, at the top of the list of staff, is the phrase: “every member: missionary.”

How did this go this year? Well, the jury is still out. More on that later.

Anyway, as I pondered all of this, I just started praying, “Lord, just give us opportunities to be with lost folks. This is foundational to all of this. We have to have outlets to be with people in order to share.”

This prayer came out of frustration. I mean, really, how does a church do this these days? Fliers on doors are a waste of time and resources. Visitation is done. We like to think we are all witnessing and sharing as a lifestyle, but I don’t think it is happening. I know it isn’t in my life, to be honest.

How can I lead others in “lifestyle evangelism” if I am not doing it?

I’ve come to believe that, in addition to encouraging folks to share on their own, that the church needs to be open to outlets and opportunities to reach people as well. It is both/and.

Well, anyway, I am confident that the Lord has answered prayer when the opportunity at Northglenn High School opened up.

Have I talked about this before? Again, in addition to my eyesight, I know my memory is failing …

The STEM program at Northglenn High School stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” Kerry is the director of it and actually, the philosophy of education is pervasive throughout the school. Northglenn High School (NHS) has moved to a problem-based approach. Each teacher gives his or her students a real life problem to address and the school invites people from the community to interact with students as they make presentations on these topics.

This is what Jeremy and I learned about when we visited the school a couple of weeks ago. I told Kerry we were honored to help out.

A week ago, I got an email from Kerry. They needed some folks on December 3 and 4 to help as the students were working on this problem (I won’t articulate it exactly as they did), “What is the status of the American dream in our society today and how can we help people achieve it?” Something like that.

Yesterday afternoon, I went over the school to volunteer my services.

There were six other adults who were there also. Adam is a youth pastor at a neighboring SBC church. Ivan is head of security at a hospital. Kalid is a physician. Dave is the director of a non-profit company. Michael was a former teacher at Northglenn High. And then there was me.

After a brief orientation, we walked into a classroom where students in groups of four were seated at tables. I found a table and as I approached it, Taylor, Allisa, Joey, and Jonathan sprang to their feet. They introduced themselves with smiles on their faces. I sat down in front of them, and off they went on their presentation.

After twenty minutes or so, I finished and moved to another table with four more students.

In each situation, I had the opportunity to interact and dialogue and ask questions and act as if I were some kind of expert.

Actually, it was hard to suppress giggling. Here I am, a Baptist preacher, invited into a public high school to visit with eight students face to face for an hour.

Are you kidding me? God, you are awesome! Thanks for answered prayer. I just want to be available whenever Kerry and the school calls. I pray that others might step up as well. This is a no-brainer.

Use me, Lord. I pray that these students would see Jesus in me. Give me opportunities to share.

"Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13, 14 NASB). Amen, Lord. Part of this means sharing it, giving it away. It is too valuable to hoard myself!
Comments

The Best Guard EVER

As I sent the verse for today to Marvin, who works in a jail here in town as a guard, something dawned on me.

Here is the verse for today, one that is very familiar and also one of my favorites:

"For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:12 NASB).

The Message version translates it this way:

"This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end" (2 Timothy 1:11, 12 MSG).

Paul’s famous statement in verse 12 is, of course, directed related to the context of what he has been talking about, in this case—his call as preacher, apostle, and teacher. As are most things in the Christian life, it is a mixed bag.

On the one side, Paul has the joy and privilege of serving. There is nothing like doing EXACTLY what the Lord built you to do. For me, there is an exhilaration that comes with preaching that I get in no other way. Whatever I do for the rest of my life, I know that preaching will be a part of it. Someone may have to prop me up …but as long as I have breath, I am going to preach. I’m going to find somewhere to do it.

I deserve no accolades for this. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel,” to quote it in King James English.

Having said all of that, however, there is another side to things—the suffering part. What I have gone through is nothing. It is a drop in the bucket compared to Paul.

This is something that I can’t get over as I reflect back on Paul’s final years in ministry—he spent most of them in prison! After his arrest and appeal to Caesar in Jerusalem, the Romans escorted him (a polite way of saying it) on a very difficult and arduous journey to Rome. Look at a map online or in the back of your Bible. It is a long way from Jerusalem to Rome, especially back then.

On the way, he spent two years in prison in Caesarea—just sitting around and waiting. Now, he did get to preach there, but it was such a waste of his time. Not the preaching part, but knowing he was innocent (the Romans knew it also) and just having to play out the hand of going on to appear before Caesar.

When he got to Rome, he was under house arrest—whatever that really meant. He had a measure of freedom, but he was still in prison. He continued to preach. That is how the book ends and the movie fades to credits—as Paul was doing his thing—preaching.

Here’s where things get a little more fuzzy. We have some hints of what he did as we read some statements in the Pastoral Epistles. But I think Paul was in prison two more years in Rome, got released, traveled/preached more, was re-arrested, imprisoned in Rome again, and martyred there.

Think about that. How hard. How frustrating. How exasperating. He is the first missionary of the Christian church and he is staring at the walls of a prison most of his final years. This makes no sense. If I were him, I think my greatest challenge would have been a mental one, “Lord, I don’t get this. What on earth is going on?’

I am sure Saeed Abedini is feeling the same thing. Do you know that name? This is the Christian pastor and American citizen who is in prison in Iran. What is our government doing to secure his freedom? This is outrageous!

Well, anyway, back to Paul. He went through a lot.

But those final years—where his constant companions were prison guards—taught him a lot about the Lord.

Sometimes, I have discovered that you just have to quit all your figuring and trying to figure and just release things to the Guard. “He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” There’s King Jimmy again.

What is it that Paul was asking God to keep? Well, I think he is referring to his life. Paul turned his life over to God and God’s plan and purpose and wherever it goes from there—through land or stormy seas or dark prisons—wherever. The Lord is going to take care of us all the way to the end. “That day” is a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

You know what? Among all the reactions we will have when we see Jesus—I can’t imagine how awesome it will be—one of them will be a huge, collective, sigh of relief as we ALL—every believer from the beginning of time to the last millisecond of human history—will sigh a sigh. Whew!

He did it! He got us THERE. We crossed the finish line. We are home.

“I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noon day fair,
Nor if I’ll walk the vale (defined in the hymn as the valley of death) …
But I know whom I have believ-ed” (BH 2008, 353, parentheses mine). Amen.
Comments

"God Gave Us Christmas"

I’m going to warn you upfront. I’m going to brag a little bit this morning.

When I got home from church yesterday, my mom and sister asked me, “So, how do you think that went this morning?”

First, I have to give you a little background so that you can understand that loaded question.

I am developing a pet peeve about this time of the year. This is going to sound bad, but I am going to say it. Much of what goes on in churches is just a waste of time or at least, it feels like all of us are just treading water, THIS TIME OF YEAR.

Why?

People are busy, pre-occupied with all the trappings of the season. If they are parents with kids, they are busy with the end of the school semester “stuff.” If they are grandparents, they have family responsibilities or they are traveling. Please hear me. Nothing wrong with any of this per se—just reality.

That is one side of the coin. The other is just as challenging. For a lot of people, the “holidays” are just a downright depressing time of the year. This occurs for a myriad of reasons. Maybe I will explore them one day—not today.

I will mention the fact that yesterday, a man who shook my hand as he was leaving made this comment when I asked him how he was doing, “John, I have just been depressed, but I will get out of it.” I can’t get over this. I looked him in the eye and told him I would pray for him. He admitted what a lot of people feel this time of year.

So, back to the topic—both of these issues—extreme busy-ness and depression—make church almost superfluous this time of year. Now, again, I am just being honest. Sometimes, I just think we ought to close down between Thanksgiving and the first couple of weeks of January. What’s the point?

Now, I can just hear all the protests, “Well, John, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Our church does a lot. There is a lot of opportunity for ministry. And we have choir musicals and special programs.” Blah, blah, blah.

Now again, I am speaking from my own experience in a small church here in Colorado. We are not First Baptist Dallas or Prestonwood or a mega church with a huge music ministry—a choir of hundreds and an orchestra in some humongous pageant.

Every year, I hear about churches with multiple “performances” with thousands in attendance. Again, all well and good. But I wonder how many people attend those pageants who just want a special “show” for Christmas and have a church already or have no intention of repentance and faith.

Anyway, as you can see, this topic has pushed some buttons for me.

You might ask, “Well, John, just because you are down on this time of year doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities out there.” Right. And, the Lord has used us in some significant ways this time of year. But it is rare. This is my experience.

Anyway, all of this is to give background to my mom and sister’s question.

Here is how I answered, “It was off the charts.” Calla and the kids did a fantastic job yesterday with their Christmas musical. I just can’t get over it.

I attended “dress rehearsal” on Saturday. I had a part in this presentation and I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. I can preach sermons each week without looking at my notes, but to learn a few lines in this play--aged me ten years!

Anyway, Calla runs a tight ship. There is no messing around. And the kids know it. She keeps them in line without turning things into a military camp. They love it and have FUN. She is gifted in that regard.

And, she wrote the little play! It was centered around a children’s book with that very title, God Gave Us Christmas. It is a wonderful presentation of the gospel in a children’s story.

The kids had parts in this play. They spoke out. They stood up to sing. Some sang solos.

Okay, so here is the thing I liked about it: it was SMALL. It did not feel like a pageant. It felt as if we were sitting in a living room for a family gathering and these boys and girls were sharing.

I got to visit with a dad whose little son was in it. I’ve never seen this dad before. I greeted him and told him that his son did a fantastic job. He was the youngest child in it—I think the boy’s name was Triston. His dad smiled at me—one of those “dad” smiles.

You know what? Maybe I might have to retract everything I said about “this time of year”! Who knows?

"And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News" (2 Timothy 1:10, 11 NLT).

Lord, thank you for being patient with me and working with me in my preconceived notions and prejudices and struggles. Thank you so much for yesterday and the way you used Calla and those kids.

I pray for that dad and his son.

I pray for the man who is depressed.

I pray for all the busy people, who may not know it, but they need to pause (maybe even STOP) to focus on God’s gift to us!

“Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest” (BH 2008, 595). Amen.
Comments

Coach Briles

I received some tough news yesterday. I had been exchanging emails with a friend from college—Jack--who is a rabid Baylor Bear fan—still. He gave me some news about the coach of the football team, Art Briles.

Let me back up for a second—Coach Briles ranks way up there next to Grant Teaff as the two most successful Baylor coaches EVER. Teaff was the coach way back in the dark ages when I was going to Baylor. He was responsible for the resurrection of the football program in the nineteen seventies and won the Southwest Conference championship in 1980. Those were fun times. We had some good players back then. At the top of the list was middle linebacker Mike Singletary who ended up starring for the Chicago Bears for years.

After Teaff left, we went through another drought for years before Baylor hired Art Briles. He was responsible for recruiting Robert Griffin III—RG3—and the rest is history. We started winning again and beating good teams.

When the Redskins drafted RG3, I thought the program would go on another slide for a few years. Nope. Last year, we struggled a bit until we beat nationally ranked and undefeated Kansas State. This began another winning streak that continued into this season. We moved up in the rankings to number 3 in the country until Oklahoma State beat us last weekend—still hurts.

Anyway, of course, players win games, but Coach Briles is a big part of that.

And his personal story is very compelling. I learned more about him after a friend called. He did not know much about Baylor football but somehow got curious. He also does not know the Lord but he was so impressed about Briles’ story.

He called me to tell me to watch an ESPN special about Art Briles. I found it online and watched it. Wow. That’s all I can say.

Briles comes from humble beginnings. He grew up in a “one stop light” town in Texas—Rule. He played football in high school (his dad was the coach) and then went to University of Houston where he continued his football career. His folks came to every game.

One game, Briles looked for his family in the stands but never saw them. After the game, Coach Yeoman called pulled him aside to tell him that his dad, his mom, and his aunt had been killed in a car accident. Can you imagine?

He continued to play football with the goal of honoring them.

When his playing days were over, he spent a lot of years successfully coaching high school football in Texas before moving to the college ranks, eventually becoming a coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston. Baylor hired him in 2007 and he has turned things around.

Just an amazing story—he is a very humble guy as one can easily see when watching the ESPN special.

Recently, Baylor gave him a ten-year extension on his contract! This is unheard of with coaches, but it is well deserved. I hope Baylor keeps him for a long time.

Anyway—what is the news? Jack told me that last week, Art Briles’ brother (he is in the ESPN special) fell in the bathroom, hitting his head. He died from his injuries. The funeral is this week.

Unbelievable.

Of course, the other thing about Coach Briles is that he is a believer.

When I think about him, I wonder how anyone can deal with what he has gone through. The only way is the power of God.

"So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:8-10 MSG).

What a good reminder for us all—whether we have dealt with the tragedies Art has faced or not! The only way to make it is the power of God.

The One who empowers us is the One who saved us and called us. As Paul says, “we had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea.”

Lord, certainly, as I sit here this morning, I know I would never be here if it weren’t for you. Thanks for the power to save me. Only You can save. Thanks for the power to sustain. That is the only way any of us can make it.

My family and I need your power today.

The church I serve needs a fresh infusion of power. Sing through the boys and girls today as they present, “God Gave Us Christmas”—a fantastic gospel presentation.

I lift up Art and his family as well.

“I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship You, oh my soul, rejoice!” Amen.
Comments