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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Preschool Graduation

Preschool Graduation

Once again, the vivid language of Peterson’s translation—The Message—sparks a lot of insight into a controversial passage. I will get to it in a moment …

But first, I just have to ask all of you to pray for me. I’m about at the end of my rope. Over the past THREE weeks, I have made numerous calls to my oncologist. At one point, his assistant did call me back to tell me that someone would be calling to set up an appointment. She indicated that she had talked to the doctor, and he had said that he would see me before I left on my trip.

All well and good. But that conversation occurred four days ago! And four days ago, I had waited two weeks up THAT point! What is going on?

A couple of things. First, I am not worried about cancer. The Lord has proven to me that He is my MAIN doctor and will take care of me.

Second, as a dear sister in Christ reminded me the other day, the doctor has a lot of other patients who are more serious and critically ill than I am. I understand this. I really do, but he is the one who told me that if I had “issues,” to get in touch with him.

Third, this is very unsettling. To say that I am not a high priority on my doctor’s list does not give me much comfort. I don’t know …

So, please pray for me today as I make another call. Several have counseled me just to keep calling and bugging them. I just don’t want to blow my stack, but honestly, I am close. I don’t need this with everything else going on and preparing for this trip.

This is my number one prayer request right now as I prepare to leave: my health. Please also pray for my mom and sis as well. We are ALL dealing with some type of cold or something. I was sharing with some people last Wednesday night. They asked how I was doing. I think this sums things up for the three of us: we don’t feel all that bad, but we don’t feel all that good . . .

Enough said.

On to the passage for today—this is probably one of the most controversial passages in the whole book of Hebrews. I am just going to cite it here from The Message:

"So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!" (Hebrews 6:1-3 MSG)

I share this with folks at church all the time. In studying the Bible, one must always consider the canonical context of any passage. In other words, I don’t interpret verses in isolation. I have to keep in mind the broad sweep of major doctrine in the Word.

Now, I know that some would disagree with me, but even so, I believe that scripture is very clear that once a person is born again or converted or saved (whatever word you might want to use), then it is impossible for that person to be un-born again, un-converted, or un-saved.

So, to think that this passage somehow teaches that one can lose his/her salvation is not even on the radar screen FOR ME. This is the biblical context.

Let’s reference another context—the book of Hebrews context. So far, up to this point in the book, a major focus has been the wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness. They got “saved” from Egypt in the Exodus experience, but when it came to going into the Promised Land—they failed miserably.

This is a critical piece of the puzzle for understanding these verses. The other is the immediate context. I will get to THAT tomorrow (Lord willing and I am not in jail).

Back to the book context: here is what I believe. Even though the Israelites “tasted” (to use a crucial word in Hebrews 6) salvation at the Exodus, they were indeed not really saved in the New Testament conversion sense! How do I know this? They didn’t persevere!

If someone is genuinely saved, they will press on to maturity (another concept in the verses above). They will grow. They will graduate from fingerpainting in preschool and move on from the elementary, foundational teachings.

If someone does not mature, then I believe it indicates (in spite of a lot of church experiences or walking an aisle or teaching Sunday school or whatever), he or she was never saved in the first place!

In short, this passage is NOT about losing one’s salvation; it is about failing to persevere and thus demonstrating a lack of salvation EVER.

The more I read these verses, the more I conclude that this writer of Hebrews trying to shame His listeners. It is almost as if he is saying: don’t keep acting like little preschoolers, grow up! If indeed you are saved, graduate from preschool!

This is a very good reminder to me. I’m angry with the doctor. I’m sure he deals with people like me all the time, for one reason or another. I want to be different even in my anger.

Yesterday, at the dentist’s office (I was getting a cavity filled—not a whole lot of fun either on my jaw or my wallet), but I heard a Country Western song. I’m not a real fan of Country Western music, per se. There are worse music genres out there, but the title of the song was “Keepin’ It Country.” I looked the song up last night. Jake Owens is the singer. It is not a Christian song (in spite of that, I don’t mind it too much), but I wish I could write one today called, “Keep on Keepin’ On.” I’m going to sing THAT song to Jesus this morning. Amen.
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Stuck in a High Chair

Last night, Brian, a brother who leads our Round Table discussion on Wednesday nights for adults, made a great statement (among many. He is doing a very good job). He stated, “I am sick and tired of hearing people say that they are leaving their church or don’t like it because they are ‘not getting fed.’ It is not the job of the pastor to feed you; it is your responsibility to do it yourself.” Amen and amen.

Whenever I get on this topic, for some reason, I visualize a grown man sitting in a high chair with a bib and bonnet on crying and waiting for someone to stick food in his mouth. Now, of course, this is laughable and would never happen, right?

Just for fun this morning, I went to Google and searched “grown man in a high chair.” Guess what? I actually found a story!

On Thursday, May 16, 2013 (or sometime thereabouts), late at night in a McDonalds in Cork, Ireland, a rather inebriated man sat in one of those baby seats that restaurants provide. And, he quickly discovered that he could not extricate himself from the seat.

As a result, three police officers had to be called. There is a hilarious picture of these three Irish policemen/women standing around this guy as he sits in a high chair! Please see this picture on my Facebook page. I hope I can download it. Just in case I can’t, you can find the article online. (“Man stuck in McDonalds baby high chair freed by police,” metro.co.uk, accessed February 27, 2014).

I can’t stop looking at this crazy photo, but what dawns on me is that is a metaphor of the contemporary American church.

We are “raising” a batch of babies who are stuck in a high chair with their mouths open!

The longer one stays there, the more “stuck” he or she becomes. This is in effect what happened to the Israelites. They were wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years, but they were stuck in a high chair.

I guess the police finally extricated that drunk out of the baby chair in McDonalds, but the Israelites were not as fortunate. All but two died in the “chair.”

But this is rather embarrassing, isn’t it? There is not one of us who would be ashamed to have anyone take a picture of us in a high chair. We fancy ourselves to be mature adults who at least can poke food in our mouths, right?

Well, I think this is what the writer to Hebrews is capitalizing on in the following verses:

"You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong" (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

By now, you ought to be teaching others, but you still need someone to teach you. You are living on milk, not solid food. That is a baby! Pure and simple.

Someone who complains about not getting fed is admitting to being a baby!

Now, I hasten to say that I do not diminish the importance of teaching/preaching. To do so would be patently wrong.

No matter how mature or immature we are as believers, we still need instruction in the Christian life, but what is that instruction EXACTLY? I happen to believe that Sunday school lessons and sermons should serve as PROMPTERS.

In other words, what I learn at church should be like watching a food ad on TV. I can watch commercials about food and restaurants forever, but that activity, in and of itself, will never actually FEED me. If I want to be fed, guess what?

I have to go to the grocery store or go to a restaurant, order food, and put it in my own mouth!

This is what the writer to Hebrews is talking about. An infant does not know how to do what is right. It is all about action. Once I start acting, then I learn how do it more and more. This is the “training” and “skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”

I like to get all hot and bothered by this, but I think preachers/pastors play into this because we love to be regarded as religious experts, modern-day rabbis where the adoring masses come to sit at the feet of a beloved teacher.

Honestly, I think people who follow a specific teacher, rather it is their pastor or Charles Stanley or Beth Moore are immature.

Please hear me: I don’t think Charles or Beth promote themselves that way AND not everyone who benefits from the ministry is a “groupie.” But many are.

I believe that the best teaching and preaching does not draw attention to the speaker. In fact, I like it when people are underwhelmed by what I say and overwhelmed with the way that God spoke.

As Joel Gregory, my pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, used to say quite frequently, “It is the job of pastors, not only to preach the Word, but also to model a reproducible form of Bible study in the pulpit.” Amen. In short, we need to teach people who to feed themselves! Are you kidding me?

Lord, thank you for allowing me to be a pastor and to teach and preach—I love it and I am firmly convinced that it is very important, but Lord, help me do it in the RIGHT WAY. I don’t want to serve a church full of babies because that strokes my ego. I would like to serve a church full of mature adults who can feed themselves and thus obey and live and discern right and wrong through practice.

“In my life, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified.” Amen.
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Dullard

Is that a word? Let me look it up to make sure. Yep. Webster defines it as a “slow and stupid person.”

Well, I’m not sure that translates exactly … Here is the verse that captured my attention this morning. The writer is speaking of Jesus, our High Priest, “according to the order of Melchizedek:”

"Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11 NASB).

The Message Version translates it as “a bad habit of not listening.” I like that.

I don’t think the word “dull” in this passage is a comment on his listener’s intelligence. I believe it is a comment on their lifestyle—the acquired habit of not really listening to God’s Word.

I believe that “dull” people can actually be very smart and intelligent folks who have just checked out. They might populate Bible studies and make insightful comments to give folks the idea that they are growing believers, but in actuality, they are not.

I think this is another word that could reflect what happened to the people of Israel in the wilderness. I’m sure that many in the group of folks who camped on the plains of Moab had a thorough knowledge of God’s law, but when it came time to exercising faith and obedience, they fell way short. They missed the boat entirely.

I have so much to say about this. I don’t know if I can get it all in this morning. This may be one of those two-part deals. Who knows?

I guess I have to say that I am very tired of the whole “I will come for a Bible study but don’t ask me to do anything mentality.” Bible studies are the easiest things to get people to attend, for a while at least. Think about it. It is rather comfortable. One can come and sit. He or she can be in the same room as teaching wafts out. They can see other believers. They can appear to look spiritual as stuff is discussed and pray a closing prayer and get up and go about their business, patting themselves on the back. It is very deceptive.

Now, please hear me—there is nothing wrong with this, per se, unless it doesn’t result in any spiritual growth or life change.

I’m struggling with the fact that, with this same group of folks, if you stood up and said, “Okay, next week, we are going to spend the entire time in prayer OR (worse), we are going to go out and knock on some doors,” few if any would show up.

Yesterday, I landed on a way to put my hypotheses to a test, and this is no big deal. It really isn’t even one of the two scenarios I shared above. But it is different and involves action of some sort.

I was visiting with Brian. He and his family are planting a church rather close to my old neighborhood in North Thornton. Right now, during the winter, they meet in his family’s home, but during the summer, they choose to meet at a local park on Sundays—“the church with no walls,” as he calls it. I like THAT, by the way.

As we were sharing, the thought occurred to me, “Some Sunday this summer, we are not going to have our usual service in our building. We can just go meet with Brian and his group.” I mentioned this to him. Brian’s eyes lit up. “We partner with another church in our area. Sometimes, one or two folks from that church come to our service. It is a huge boost.” There you go.

Why can’t we do this? There is no reason. Now, I know some won’t like it. And I realize for those who are physically unable, this might be a little bit of an issue. I have sympathy for THAT, but not for folks who will complain and get mad and not come, just because it is a little different and they won’t be sitting on a pew.

I think I have mentioned this before, but Marilyn has a friend who is a part of a recently planted church that regularly dismisses “sit down in a church building” worship services in favor of “go out in the community to volunteer to help someone else” worship services. This is part of the DNA of the church. They just do this as a matter of course. Like it.

Notice how I put that. Both are worship service. One just involves sitting and listening or singing or giving an offering or whatever. Nothing wrong with that. But the other is also worship, as the Bible defines it. I don’t know where we have strayed with some sort of perverted idea that “sitting” is worship and “acting” is not. This is part of the dullard (spiritually dull) thinking.

But I know people would get mad. These same people would tell me they don’t have time to volunteer in the community or just flat wouldn’t do it, no matter when it was scheduled.

One more thing. And this is part of the judgment of God. Part of what happened with the Israelites in the wilderness. The longer one sits at Bible studies and sit-down worship services and refuses to worship also through action, the more hard and dull his or her heart becomes. It does become a habit.

The answer to all of this? Well, I need to pray about this morning. Before I spout off, I need to make sure I am a doer and not a dullard.

There’s the contrast and as a preacher, I like it because both words start with a “d.” Doer vs. Dullard.

Jesus, help me today as you continue to bring things to light, as the spiritual scalpel cuts and exposes and lays things bare. This trip is forcing me to deal with some issues in my life. The heat is on, but good. Help me not to be a dullard, but a DOER.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Amen.
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The Man of the Bush and the Man of Tears

Kind of unique combination this morning, don’t you think? I love how the Lord pulls things together for us. You are awesome, Jesus!

Okay, so back to Sunday. It was an extremely busy day with a staff meeting after the service (this is about the best time of the week for us to meet). When I concluded that, I raced into the Hispanic church service. Jorge and Vida had asked me to officiate a Baby Dedication.

There was a family in the service with two of the most beautiful little children you have ever seen (I know—they all are—and that is no cliché). There was a good crowd in Torre Fuerte. It was great to see the brothers and sisters. Actually, I had originally planned to stay for the whole service and join the church on their fourth Sunday fellowship meal, but I had to leave to do a couple of things in town before heading south to get ready for the 6:00 meeting at Ken Caryl that night. Did you follow all of that?

Not sure I can and I was there! Ha.

Anyway, twixt and tween all of THAT, I sat down in front of the television to catch a few moments of one of my favorite golf tournaments of the year—the Accenture Match Play Tournament from Tuscan, Arizona. I love to see the head to head competition that match play brings out.

For those of you who are not golfers (and are more sane than those of us who are), match play operates on a hole-to-hole basis. If you have a 10 on a hole and your opponent has a three, it still only counts as one hole lost. At the end of the day, whoever wins the most holes wins the match.

For just about every other golf tournament throughout the year, the man with lowest score beats everyone else in the field.

Back to Sunday—it was the finals. Jason Day—an Aussie—was playing a relatively obscure Frenchman named Victor Dubuisson (pronounced Dube-we—saun. Madame Guiberteau, my French teacher in elementary and junior high school, would be pleased. I love saying the name). The match went into extra holes because the two golfers were tied after 18 holes.

I won’t go into detail at this point. But Victor pulled off two of the greatest shots I have ever seen, literally hitting his golf ball twice out of terrible situations—a cactus and a bush—to tie Jason Day and continue the match.

One of the commentators, an Englishman named Nick Faldo, commented about Victor’s last name. He said, “Literally, it means ‘of the bush.’”

Now, let me back up a little further: up until this tournament, relatively few people here in the US had ever even heard of this man, and all of a sudden, out of relative obscurity, he almost wins one of the top tournaments on the tour.

Like millions of others (I am sure), I’ve been scouring the web to read about him, to learn about him. One interesting fact (I hope I am correct about this): he dropped out of school at the age of ten just to play golf, and he has literally played every single day of his life since then!

One more thing: apparently, he doesn’t mind being alone—for weeks on end—just playing and practicing.

Somehow, all of this reminds me of what it must have been like when Jesus emerged on the scene at the age of 30. All those years behind the scenes in total obscurity. Then, suddenly, He was out there pulling off, not just two “miracle” shots, but also multiple miracles, day after day after day.

But we do learn about what Jesus was experiencing in those years and in His three years of ministry. He was dealing with all the human stuff that you and I go through, including and especially the hard parts:

"While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:7-10 NLT).

Because Jesus experienced everything we face—temptation, suffering, and tears—he is qualified to be our Priest and our Source of eternal salvation.

Somehow, I wish I could introduce Jesus to people in such a way as they would be as fascinated to know Him and know more about Him as I am about some obscure French golfer who played well in one tournament.

Jesus, thank you that your tears qualified you to be my Priest forever. As I sit here this morning, I can’t begin to thank You have taken care of me all the times through my life that I have cried.

Many of them were in French class with Madame Guiberteau. Oh, man. All of this brings back memories.

You took me through THAT. You can do anything, Lord!

I am reminded this morning of a song by Dallas Holm, one of my favorites—“Jesus, I’m An Open Book.” One line, “I can’t believe that I cried so many tears.” You were there for every one. Amen.
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Good-Bye to Public Life

Good-Bye to Public Life

First of all, I need to say that I am NOT doing this. Rest assured (or maybe some are disappointed—ha). No, it is the title of an article I came across this morning, an article written by Alec Baldwin.

The title intrigued me, and honestly, from what I knew of him, I’m glad he is leaving public life.

This article is his response to the label that the media has pinned on him that he is now a “homophobic bigot.” This is about the worst thing that a Hollywood type can be called these days, I guess.

I started reading this article, but soon discovered that it is lengthy, very lengthy. So, I was not able to finish it. If I have time today, I might try to wade all the way through it.

But in the part I read, Baldwin defends himself as a friend of the Gay and Lesbian community, having worked with them in his acting career. He then goes on to describe the press, as he has to deal with it these days.

They camp out as his apartment in New York City. They put their cameras in his wife’s face and that of his baby. Apparently, one reporter chased his wife as she rode her bicycle. She fell off as a result, and he only laughed at her.

I guess this sort of explains his recent blow-up caught on camera. All the news shows aired it. It was not pretty.

Well, anyway, it is hard for me to have a whole lot of sympathy. Here is an individual who has sold himself down the river of fame and popularity and being in the public eye (and all that is entails), only to discover now at the age of 55 that this lifestyle is somehow NOT what it is cracked up to be.

So, now, after making his millions, he is leaving public life. Boo hoo.

I have generally been very disappointed when I have met “public” figures or have come close to meeting them. I’m talking about sports heroes. One on one, in personal contact, not that great.

And I realize that if you are famous, you have to guard yourself. You can’t be buddies with thousands of people who come up to you, stick a paper in your face, and want your autograph.

When I was in seminary, a friend and I had the opportunity to go to a Dallas Mavericks basketball game in which the home team was playing the Philadelphia 76ers. We had great seats, right on the court. And they were right by the radio crews for the Mavericks and the 76ers.

We went to see this game because Dr. J was on the Sixers.

He is (or was) one of my favorite all-time players. But that night, he was injured. He didn’t play.

At one point, he started walking our way. I was amazed. Apparently, he was doing an interview right next to where we were seated. I reached out to him, “Hi Dr. J, can I get your autograph?” He brushed me off as someone would wave at a fly, pointing at his wrist, as if to say, “I can’t. I’m injured.”

I didn’t know his wrist was injured.

It put me off a bit. And again, I understand, but here is a man that makes a living because people like me pay a lot of money for tickets to see him play.

It is the same for Alec Baldwin. The media made him; now the media is destroying him, or at least his reputation.

I’m glad that it is exactly the opposite for us as believers. We embrace the God who made us and saved us through the redemption we experience in Christ and He makes us new and grows us to maturity so that we can live in “public life” in a way that honors the Lord.

It is not easy. We get labeled to. That same media that follows jerks like Alec Baldwin does not wipe their feet on Christians. That’s okay with me.

They didn’t “like” Jesus either. I know that the media was we know it today did not exist in His day, but there was a “pop culture.” Jesus didn’t fit into it. He didn’t cater to it. In fact, it was just the opposite.

But here is the verse for today. I’m just going to cite it. I will say more about it tomorrow.

"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).

This verse will forever be associated in my mind with a sermon that Andy Hornbaker preached at Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood back in the late 1970’s. The Lord used this verse and that sermon in my life in huge ways. I remember thinking, “You mean Jesus had to LEARN obedience, just like me? Are you kidding?” It was a landmark spiritual moment.

But all this makes me think of Andy. In the summer of 1978, we went together to the U. S. Open golf tournament at Cherry Hills here in town. From the moment we got in, Andy wanted to see Arnold Palmer. We found him rather quickly as he was teeing off on the second hole. Both Andy and I watched in amazement as he walked by us. He wasn’t ten feet away as we gazed at him from outside the ropes. As he walked down the fairway, Andy said something like, “I can’t believe a nothing like me gets to see Arnold Palmer.”

I’ve thought about that statement through the years. I like Palmer too. Don’t get me wrong. But, I think Andy Hornbaker in the annals of eternity is and will be far from a “nothing.” As far as God is concerned, he is a bigger something that Palmer, Erving, or Baldwin combined.

Jesus, thank you for all You suffered. Thank you for using suffering, oftentimes, most times, out of the public eye, away from the lights and cameras, under the radar. That’s okay. I want to be famous in heaven and then cast that crown at Jesus’ feet. Amen.
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Wayward

A word in the passage for today stood out to me.

The writer to Hebrews is setting up another contrast in the early verses of chapter five as he continues to talk about the High Priesthood of Jesus.

The comparison is between a human priest and Jesus. He sets the stage with these comments:

"Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses" (Hebrews 5:1, 2 NLT).

A human priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and WAYWARD—a very descriptive term.

Webster defines it as “following one’s own capricious, wanton, or depraved inclinations” and uses the word “ungovernable” as a synonym.

For the human priest, he has sympathy and understanding with the WAYWARD because He himself is a member of the human race.

I don’t want to get ahead of the Bible or myself here, but here is the amazing thing about Jesus: so does He!

Now, of course, we all acknowledge that Jesus was never wayward, EVER. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet He was without sin.

But His humanity gave him sympathy so that He is able to deal gently with us. And (again, anticipating a bit) more gently than a human priest. Why? Because He is God as well as man.

I personally think, as my friend Bob and I discussed a few days ago, that contemporary American Christians are guilty of the same first century heresy the early Christians faced. It is called Gnosticism.

It is too early on Sunday morning to get into a detailed discussion of this false doctrine (not sure I could any time of the day or week—ha). But one thing it advocated was the separation of the earthly and physical from the heavenly and spiritual, thus condemning the former while lauding the latter.

This separation allowed them to be quite profligate in their behavior while at the same time worshiping God.

But, in so doing, they demonstrate a complete misunderstanding and indeed denial of the Incarnation of Jesus.

As a result, many of the theological councils in the succeeding decades wrestled with this very issue. And again, without going into detail, basically affirmed the following teaching: Jesus was at one and the same time in one person, fully God and fully man.

What does this mean? My humanity is not unspiritual! Now, I am not condoning sin here. Please don’t misunderstand me. No. Never. But Jesus has sympathy with our humanness.

And, as our High Priest, He will not pull a “Fred G. Sanford” when I am dead-level honest about what is going on with me. In fact, nothing I pray to God and do causes Him to have a heart attack!

Praise God!

Well, yesterday with the guys was awesome. I just have to share this. I topped my personal best score of 127. My top game was a 133!

We had thirteen total there. This included three boys and two youth.

I went to pick up Tom yesterday. He is one of our youth. As I pulled up to his home in Federal Heights, I heard someone calling out, “Hey Pastor John!” It was Tom. He was walking along the street. His buddy Joe was riding a bike next to him.

Joe accelerated and stopped next to my car.

“Joe, I haven’t seen you in a long time. How are ya?”

I bet you can guess where this went from there. Tom and I ended up in front of Joe’s house. His dad Jim was standing next to a car in his garage. Two other guys were there as well. We visited a bit as Joe went into his house to check with him mom.

It wasn’t long before Joe was with us as we headed to the bowling alley. We stopped for lunch at a local Chick Fil-A. I think Joe had a good time.

I think all the guys did. Dave Jr., the pro and my instructor along with his dad Dave and mom Debbie were there. It was great to see them. The other guys were Paul, Bryan, Jack, Dean, Jim, and John along with Dayton his son and Dayton’s friend, Marco. Marco comes with his mom and brother very regularly to church. The other boy who bowled was Lucius. I need to ask Dave, Debbie, and Dave Jr. about the exact connection, but he was there with his mom and another lady—very nice folks.

The three boys did extremely well. We high-fived a lot. At one point, after a strike, Dayton jumped up in the air, and I realized that he wanted me to grab him! A body bump! Glad I figured out what he was doing or we both would have been injured! Ha.

I could kick myself. I took a camera but I didn’t even pull it out of my coat pocket!

We didn’t pray together or study the Bible, and yet, I believe we had a very spiritual time. We got to visit with one another. We laughed a lot. And we got to meet some folks at the bowling alley. Awesome.

Jesus, I thank You again for Your priesthood. I’m grateful that you became a human without the waywardness of humanity so that you can have sympathy and understand of everything human.

Thanks for all those guys yesterday. Hanging out with them and laughing as much as we did was SO AWESOME. I pray for Joe and his family as well as some of the folks I met yesterday to get saved.

Lord, this is a busy day. We have an India meeting with the folks at Ken Caryl this evening. I commit that time to You—three weeks from today … Amen.
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Our Resource in the Journey

We have something or should I say SOMEONE that the Israelites did not have in their journey in the wilderness. They did not have Jesus in the two ways He makes Himself available to us.

First, when we get saved, Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit actually takes up residence in our lives. He enables us to live the Christian life, bearing the fruit of Christ’s character, “against such there is no law,” as Paul says in Galatians.

Second, we actually have a High Priest who is at work on our behalf RIGHT NOW. Praise God!

Through the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus took the experience of His humanity back to heaven as He sat down at God’s right hand. He finished the work of salvation. He rules. But He also serves as our Priest.

"So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:14-16 NLT).

I’ll tell you: this is such a huge encouragement coming off of verses eleven and twelve.

“Succeeding” in the journey (if I can refer to it that way) absolutely does NOT depend on us. If it did, all of us—every single one of us—would end up in the same boat as the Israelites. We need faith, the same kind of faith that Josh and Caleb exercised, but beyond that, we need our High Priest.

There are two declarations about the humanity of the Lord that are in the passage I cited above. Jesus understands our weaknesses. Oh, man! This does NOT mean that He is tolerant in any way about our sin. Nope. But we do not go through anything that Jesus has not experienced Himself.

The text also says that he faced all the same “testings.” Now, of course, we understand that the Lord tests, but Satan tempts—both sides of the same coin.

In Luke 4, the scriptures say, “When the devil had finished EVERY temptation, he left Him until and opportune time” (Luke 4:13, NASB, emphasis mine). In Matthew 4 and Luke 4 (there are some minor variations in those two accounts; the actual temptations are the same), we have a chronicle of Satan’s full arsenal unleashed against the Son of God. He fired at Him with both barrels, all barrels. “Every temptation”—that is what the text says.

So, nothing comes my way that Jesus has not experienced.

BUT, and here is the crucial difference, He was without sin! This is his qualification as the perfect sacrifice on my behalf. His humanity qualifies Him to be our Priest. His sinless perfect qualifies Him to be our Savior—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Therefore, I can come boldly to the throne and receive mercy and grace.

This is what I need.

Please pray for me. I have not heard from the cancer doctor in over a week. Last night, my mom and sis continued to urge me to try again. Somehow, I have been stuck a bit. I don’t know why. Maybe again, it is a perennial struggle for me—the paralysis of analysis.

Here is a typical thing that happens to me. Up in the master bedroom of our home, we still have boxes and boxes of slides my dad took. There are literally hundreds of them, carefully chronicled and inserted into slide carousels. This is so typical of my dad—I have to laugh.

Well, my intention for months has been to take those slides out of the carousels and scan them into my computer—a huge project. I have had several of these boxes sitting in my room for months and months.

The other day, Marilyn was in my room. She looked at those boxes and said, “What are you doing with these?” I explained my plan to her. She shook her head, “John, you have been pondering this plan for months. Just go through these and the other boxes and pull out the slides with pictures of people on them and throw the others ways, but just do it.”

She knows me very well.

So, I just started yesterday. She is right. My dad liked to take pictures of landscapes and mountains and buildings. Some of these it is obvious that he bought them and interspersed these purchased slides of landscapes in the carousels. Sure enough (I hate to admit it), in this huge collection of slides, I’ve discovered only a few pictures of us as a family. I am pulling those and throwing the rest away. But I am taking action FINALLY.

By the way, Marilyn sometimes gets a little embarrassed when I refer to her in this blog. Sometimes, she thinks I portray her as a spiritual “goody two shoes.” She has never used that term. I coin it here. I don’t mean to …

Well, in this instance, she just kicked my tail. I would say that sometimes we need that, right?

But, back to the point--is there a lesson here somewhere???

Lord Jesus, I thank you that you present yourself as our resource for the journey—the resurrected and exalted Son of God. I come to you as my High Priest. You understand all our weaknesses and foibles—even the paralysis of analysis. Even that.

I lift up Lettie and Mitch and Marge and Wayne and Scharline. I’m getting with some men in our church for a bowling fellowship. Should be a blast. I want to have a good time with the guys that are coming and hope it is a mutually encouraging time. I can hardly wait to use my new bowling ball, cut to my specifications (the one that Dave Jr. gave me) today. 300, here I come baby! Amen.
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The Illusion of Secrecy

This is one of those times in which I feel I need to “camp” on a couple of verses for a while.

Do you ever have the sense that the Holy Spirit is prompting you, calling you to pay attention to what He is telling you, no matter how long it takes?

Could this possibly be the God-side of meditation?

To be honest, I have always struggled with that concept in the abstract. How does one “meditate” on scripture? Do you sit in a yoga pose with your hands pointed to the sky, your back erect, and your eyes closed? I do think that so-called eastern religion has kidnapped this concept to a degree. It is hard for us to get a biblical handle on it for many reasons.

The main reason is that we rarely take time to stop, for one thing, and then stop and THINK for another.

If there is something to be gleaned from the Word and the Holy Spirit wants me to understand and grasp it, doesn’t it make sense that I ought to drop everything else, STOP, and chew on it—until I get it?

There is nothing “mystical” about this. It is a very practical matter, in my opinion.

And, I want to add one more thing. I haven’t actually “gotten” any passage until it translates into action. I believe that this is an important part of meditation as well—not only heavy-duty pondering that allows the Spirit to give me understanding and wisdom, but also discerning courses of ACTION. And then, as Nike coins, “just do it.”

This is one of those times for me and Hebrews 4:12-13 is the “bone with meat on it.”

I picked another version to read it from today, the very wordy Amplified Version. Sometimes the “wordiness” of this version is a little difficult to wade through. At other times, it helps shed light.

"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, naked and defenseless to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12, 13 AMP)

The Word is a double-edged sword! Could there be anything more lethal? I don’t think you want to be skewered with that?

Okay, this is graphic. Sorry, but I believe that this is the image here. It is the picture of someone who has been stabbed by a sword in such a way as his “guts and ‘innerds’ are totally exposed!

The Word exposes inner stuff AND verse thirteen adds, “all things are exposed and naked to eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

As I read that, another verse came to mind:

"On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:16 NASB).

When I was a kid, one of my Sunday school teachers said, “Someday, absolutely everything you have ever done, whether anyone else has seen it or not, will play on a giant screen before God our judge.” It was horrifying!

Well, the verse in Hebrews reminds us that this is going on in effect RIGHT NOW.

So, how does all of this fit with what the writer to Hebrews is talking about? Well, for just about every single person in the nation of Israel at Kadesh Barnea, one would have guessed that they were believers in the Lord. They had followed Moses in the wilderness all the way to that point, but God’s command to go into Canaan and possess the land actually served to expose what was really going on. They did not trust the Lord AT ALL!

That command and their lack of response to it EXPOSED the whole the nation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb.

For those two guys, the command revealed that they trusted God and were ready to move. “Let’s go take this land. Sure there are enemies, but aren’t they like grasshoppers?”

I think we struggle with this as believers.

I honestly believe that our secrets are huge barriers to moving forward in our walk with Jesus. Satan would lead us to believe that we can have secrets. The reality of it is that absolutely nothing is secret. God sees everything now. And, someday, all our secrets will be exposed. I’m not sure how that “movie” will fit in with the judgment of God, but it will somehow, even if it is reminder on judgment day of all that Jesus has forgiven.

I do know that on THAT day, no one will be able to pull the wool of God’s eyes. They can’t now. They just think they can.

But what to do?

I believe that true and honest fellowship as well as spiritual progress occurs when we tell God our secrets and then we share them with another brother or sister. If Satan can stop us from confession, he can keep us in bondage. Until we confess to God and to someone else.

And until then, our secrets are our gods.

Yes, I do think it is possible for believers to struggle with idolatry as well on occasion, but remember, God is jealous. He will not tolerate rivals for long. This is His love for us AND stern discipline.

Lord, thank you for loving me enough to point out issues and areas of my life that are impeding further progress. I don’t want to be like the Israelites who, through their unbelief, drew a line in the desert sand and said, “Nope. We are not going further.”

I want to go on and not go back. Amen.
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A Surgeon's Scalpel

I continue to have encouraging conversations about the trip to India. Yesterday, I had another one with a brother named Phil who has taken frequent trips to India. In fact, he is going next week.

He had a wealth of experience and counsel to share, even down to a detailed description of the airport in Mumbai. I am going to pass this information on to Nancy and Pam in our church. I know it will help them as much as it did me.

Phil has an interesting ministry. He does many things there. But one of the main aspects of his ministry is training pastors. He equips them in their ministry and their study of God’s Word. These men certainly don’t have a lot in terms of possessions or resources. In fact, I was interested to learn from Phil that it was only recently that a study Bible in the Hindi language has been published.

Prior to this, Phil has helped these guys create their own study Bible of sorts—fascinating work.

One part of my conversation with this brother sticks out in my mind. He said that he teaches these guys to have a daily encounter with God in the Word, and out of that encounter, to preach that word to others. Phil used the Greek word “rhema” to describe this. I want to come back to this concept in a moment.

He affirmed me as he shared this, saying, “This is what your blog is every day, John.” If you are reading this, thanks, Phil.

That is exactly how I perceive what the Lord led me to do since my cancer diagnosis: preach a sermon through media every day. I can’t take any credit for it. It just flows out of my daily encounter with Jesus and through my fingers and onto this computer screen. It is crazy, really.

And, I can’t believe anyone actually reads this! Again, to everyone who is reading these words today, thank you so much.

But I have long believed that there is (or should be) an organic relationship between the Quiet Time and the Pulpit. If what I preach does not pass through the filter of my own life, it is merely a speech. It is hollow. It is empty. It is a parrot mouthing words.

Anyway, back to “rhema.” There are actually two Greek words for our English word “word.” (Did you get that? Kind of confusing). The first word is LOGOS. It is the word John uses to describe Jesus in John 1. It delineates a “full and complete word” and is used to describe the Son of God—the person. Jesus came as the full and complete revelation of God.

This term is also used to describe the written Word of God—the Bible. This is the way it is used in the verses for today. I will cite them from the Message Version:

"God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what" (Hebrews 4:12, 13 MSG).

I have always struggled a bit with how these two verses relate to what the writer to Hebrews was saying in verses one through eleven. Remember, he has been referring to the example of the Israelites in the wilderness and how they failed to reach God’s goal for them—REST. On the heels of that, he warns us not to follow their example of disobedience.

How on earth do we do THAT? We like to discount the experiences of others who lived thousands of years earlier than we live and write them off, “That will never happen to me. I’m not going to miss God’s goal for my life.”

Don’t be too sure.

These words are chilling.

There is absolutely no way to reach God’s rest apart from the Word of God—the Logos of God. And not just a casual encounter with it. We must let it penetrate the depths of our being like a surgeon’s scalpel.

Talk about precision.

I marvel about what surgeon’s can do. Sure, you hear about slip-ups on occasion. As much as our culture puts doctors on a pedestal (almost worshiping them), they do make mistakes, but still … they perform intricate and delicate and precise surgery, going exactly to the right spot.

This is what LOGOS does. We do not have the ability to diagnose our “issues,” but Dr. Jesus does with his surgeon’s scalpel. He probes our lives and exposes our sins and errors. Nothing and no one is hidden from the gaze of our God.

So, back to the Greek words. One is LOGOS. The second word is RHEMA. This is a partial concept. It delineates that which has been spoken by a living voice, a spoken word. As you can see, this is a little different concept.

Thus, going back to my conversation with Phil, here is how I parse this out. When I allow LOGOS to perform surgery in the deepest recesses of my life—we like to think we have “secrets” but we don’t—then it functions as RHEMA.

What goes in comes out. Or at least it should.

Lord, thank you for LOGOS and RHEMA. I am convicted today about an issue in my life. Cut it out, Dr. Jesus. As a preacher and teacher who has told others how to get “in,” I don’t want to miss out on the goal myself. This is a very real possibility. It gives me chills. Who am I to think that I am immune to missing the goal?

What a tragedy and waste that would be!

Also, Lord, I pray for Lettie. She is back in the hospital with pneumonia. Heal her, Lord.

“Christ, we do all adore Thee” (BH 2008, 674). This is the last hymn in my edition of the Baptist hymnal. I’ve actually looked at every single hymn in this awesome book. Wow. What a treasure chest! Amen and amen.
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Rest Up!

The biblical concept of rest is a foreign one to many American Christians—especially me.

Rest is the main topic of chapter four of Hebrews. This chapter pulls together several key Old Testament “threads.”

The first one is creation rest. God created the world in six days. On the seventh, God rested from His work. It is amazing to me that even God RESTED. It certainly wasn’t because He was tired, but this is the connection we (American believers) always make—rest is always associated with physical fatigue. Nothing wrong with that, but this is NOT the biblical concept of rest.

This leads me to talk about the second aspect of rest in the Old Testament—SABBATH REST. One of the ten “words” is the command to observe the Sabbath, one day of rest per week.

Now, of course, this concept became fodder for all the legalists, especially the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. I’m sure most of you have read the rather ridiculous and minute applications of this command—what one could do and/or could not do on the Sabbath. All of this misses the boat, of course.

Jesus went out of His way to do things on the Sabbath such as heal people just to torque these folks off. Well, not really. But He wanted to teach them the true meaning of Sabbath.

I remember sitting around a table with a group of leaders at First Southern several years ago, and somehow the topic of Sabbath came up. The question floated out there, “When do Christians today have a Sabbath?” We go out of our way NOT to be legalists (heaven forbid). We consider the other nine commandments to be valid, and they are.

But then, we turn around and boast about the fact that we don’t worship on Saturday like Jewish people because of the resurrection. Fine. Dandy. But what about Sabbath?

As we were discussing this, someone said, “Well, isn’t Sunday supposed to be a Sabbath for us as believers?” As soon as that question escaped his lips, we all laughed. Yeah. Right. Sunday a day of rest? Are you kidding me? We were all sitting around a table at church in mid-afternoon on a SUNDAY talking about this.

Most of us, by then, had been at church for eight hours. A day of rest? Ah, no.

We never really resolved that. This has always bothered me. I think we are missing the boat somehow.

Well, back to rest. The final thread that Hebrews four pulls together is CANAAN as rest. God promised to give His people the Promised Land as a place of rest. I believe “rest” in this instance meant the cessation of having to go to war as a nomadic people AND having to fight for their own land. God was going to give the nation of Israel her own property.

Well, all of these concepts are tied up in the biblical concept of rest—finished work, cessation of work, and victory. And I believe that this is what Jesus was inviting His disciples (all of us included) to in Matthew eleven when He says, “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.”

Hebrews four is the capstone appeal in the Canon. It is God’s intent that all believers experience the rest of God. We experience this as we, in contradistinction to the Israelites in the wilderness, obey God in faith.

"So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:9-11 NASB).

The book of Hebrews is a challenge to persecuted believers. It is a call to keep on going and not go back. It is a call to rest from our labors of trying to “achieve” pleasing God through toils and labors and just rest in our relationship to Jesus. Rest on the finished work of Christ in our behalf.

I honestly believe that the biblical concept of rest, if we think of it in the right way, is exactly the opposite of fatigue. It is energizing. It is motivating. The rest of God actually propels us forward.

The Israelites missed it because they were afraid and intimidated. Think about it. They did not go forward and missed out on REST.

I honestly do think that physical rest is wrapped up in this concept. Nothing wrong with rest.

A dear sister in the Lord and her husband met with me yesterday. They have recently taken a trip to India. They asked how I was doing. I told them about some of my physical symptoms these days. She said, “John, if you are fatigued on this trip, just pull back and rest.” Good word!

There is a lot of trust and confidence in the Lord involved in rest. He can take care of things—most of the time a lot better—with me out of his way.

Rest lets God work when I am not.

Humm. Hear that cement head? I’m referring to me.

Lord, I choose today to be diligent to enter your rest, as you define it, and to the extent that I have opportunity to lead others to do so as well. The full-orbed biblical concept of REST.

“We consecrate our lives to You
With thanks for all these things” (BH 2008, 672). Amen.
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Coming Up Short

Ask the guys I play golf with. There are not many things I get more frustrated with than leaving a putt short. The direction was good. My line was correct. I just did not hit it! UGH.

This is the feeling in a silly game. Big deal!

But how much more frustrating and tragic in our walk and relationship with the Lord!

Is there any more tragic story than that of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites? God delivered them from Egypt and slavery with the Exodus—an event that towers over the Old Testament as the greatest act of salvation EVER. God delivered His people. He led them out with the intent to lead them to the Promised Land.

And they got right up to the brink—the ball was hanging on the lip of the cup (to go back to my golf analogy)—but when it counted, they blew it. They sent the spies into their future home to look at it, and only two out of the twelve came back with a positive report. Only two guys out of the entire nation.

There was a moment in time when the Lord gave them an opportunity, but they did not go forward.

You remember the story. Shortly after they balked, they realized that they had made a mistake. They tried to correct it, “Oh, now, Josh and Caleb, we get it. You have explained things so that we understand. Got ya. Let’s go on in.” Too late. They were soundly thrashed. The moment had passed.

And, they spent the next forty years going around in circles until every last one of the malcontents died, all except Josh and Caleb.

The book of Hebrews gives the explanation of why:

"God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God" (Hebrews 4:1, 2 NLT).

It all goes back to faith. We either trust God or we don’t.

But here is the thing that makes this so troublesome to our “I walked an aisle in a Baptist church twenty years ago” theology. I may think I got saved “back then,” but if I don’t continue to trust God, all of what I experienced gets calls into question.

In other words, Hebrews warns us on numerous occasions that salvation is indeed a point in time deal—the new birth, conversion, whatever. There is a POINT in time, a moment, when, through repentance and faith by grace, I walk out of darkness into light.

HOWEVER, salvation is also a PROCESS of sanctification. It is a pilgrimage. It is a walk with the Lord that bears fruit.

So, if I say that I got saved twenty years ago, and yet there is no fruit and there is no walk that continues, then was I really saved?

Well, here is my answer to that question: God only knows, but based on this story, I would say, “NO.”

Let’s couch this in New Testament terms. Were the Israelites (Joshua and Caleb excluded) saved? Well, they got to experience the Exodus. They “tasted” (this is a term that Hebrews uses) the good work of God, but the fact that their faith didn’t last indicates to me that they were not.

So many stories come to mind at this point. Several years ago, a couple visited out church and it wasn’t long before both made a “profession of faith.” It appeared as if both were gloriously saved. I visited in their home on several occasions with the purpose of helping them grow in their new-found relationship.

However (long story), they gradually pulled back and away from the church, and we lost contact.

Were they saved? Well, again, only God knows. But if I had to hazard a guess, I would say, “No.”

We have to discern this type of thing over the long haul. That is why the warning of this passage in Hebrews 4 is so crucial. When God speaks, we must obey as we mix the message with faith. This is how the Amplified Bible puts it (as usual, there are a lot of words):

"For indeed we have had the glad tidings [Gospel of God] proclaimed to us just as truly as they [the Israelites of old did when the good news of deliverance from bondage came to them]; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it was not mixed with faith (with the leaning of the entire personality on God in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness) by those who heard it; neither were they united in faith with the ones [Joshua and Caleb] who heard (did believe)." (Hebrews 4:2 AMP). Amen.

One more thing: please pray for Nancy, Pam, and I as we continue to prepare for this trip to India.

Yesterday, the Lord reminded me in no uncertain terms that I need to be alert and aware and ready for warfare as Satan is on the march. I got blindsided, and I can’t allow that to happen again.

Lord, I thank you for the continual challenge to trust You and obey what You tell me to do. And the acid test of obedience is faith. If it doesn’t require faith, then in all likelihood, it is not something You are asking us to do.

I choose to mix this warning today with faith. I don’t want to come up short. Help me, Lord. Help me.

I lift up Pam and Nancy in this regard as well.

“Though dim our faith may be;
Whatever for Thine we do, O Lord,
We do it for Thee” (BH 2008, 671). Amen.
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Two Weird Responses

Whenever I get discouraged and think nothing is happening in the church I serve, the Lord always comes through. Always. It is just not in the way I would have chosen.

First of all, we had a really good day yesterday—an unusual amount of enthusiasm and camaraderie along with fellowship.

The meal that Torre Fuerte provided for us was off the charts—a ton of well-made food. “Soco,” one of the women in the Hispanic church, made some apple salad that was the best I had ever eaten. Betty, who was sitting next to me at the meal, said the same thing. She and Jose Antonio, her husband, sat across from me at the meal, along with Jose’s sister Sheva and her husband, Roberto. We had a long visit. I even got to try out some of my Spanish. They were very patient with me.

As usual, I was the last “Anglo” to leave at the conclusion of the meal. I enjoyed visiting with folks in the Hispanic church.

Let me back up a minute. Something hit me as I was concluding the English-speaking service. I was talking about the meal that Torre Fuerte was preparing. I stated, “This congregation suspended their service …” And somehow, the Spirit stopped me. “Well, not really. They are still having a service, but it doesn’t have songs or a sermon. Humm. I wonder what would happen if we did THAT some Sunday. Food for thought.”

People looked at me a little strange as I had my public epiphany.

Over the years, I have often wrestled with just that idea. Marilyn has a friend who is a vibrant believer. Her church does this relatively frequently. It is just in the DNA. Instead of having a “sit down in a pew worship service,” they go out on a Sunday morning and serve someone in the community. Think about the impact of THAT!

Think about what could be accomplished if 100 people were unleashed to serve, even for a couple of hours.

As you can tell, I am probably going to lead our church to do this. Please pray that I will know when and how.

Here is what I fear will happen—one of two things. First, if I announce it in advance, I’m afraid many people will just stay home.

OR, and this is my preferred approach. Say nothing in advance. Then, when people show up, tell them that we are going out to do _________, whatever. In my mind of unbelief, I can just hear people, “Are you kidding? I came for a Bible study. I came to worship. I did not come for THIS. NO WAY! I’m out of here.”

Oh, well. I hope I am wrong. I hope.

Anyway, back to yesterday. After the service, I encountered two rather weird responses.

First, I always try to retrieve the response cards and read them. One I pulled out of my pocket because a man handed it to me as he left. This was the first time this gentleman had visited. He was an older man in a black suit with a white shirt and dark tie.

Here is the gist of what he wrote on his card: “I will pray that this church return to a true worship (hymns and traditional music) and that the leadership of the church would dress in a way that is more appropriate to the worship of God.” Something like that.

Okay, so, even if I felt that way, I would never write that on a card and hand it to the pastor after my first visit! Are you kidding me?

Let me just say that his comments were inaccurate. I don’t know what he thought he heard, but Calla led us to sing two very traditional hymns yesterday! She did an awesome job of doing it, by the way.

I guess he was commenting on my attire. I haven’t worn a coat and tie (except on special occasions for YEARS! I made that intentional choice in the interest of reaching people in our community. We only have a couple of men who wear coats and ties each Sunday. Most guys who come don’t. A majority of men who visit don’t…

I’m not going to say anything else. I don’t have to justify myself to a person like that. I feel this was a very superficial and fluffy comment.

Why not just be gracious and walk out the door of a church if you feel that way? But no. Some people have to kick the cat (or the pastor) on the way out—whatever.

The other thing that happened scored even higher on the “weird scale.” I was standing in the food line in the hall visiting with Jeremy and Jessica as an Asian woman with a black briefcase approached me. Her English was broken and she was agitated.

I tried to escort her to the Korean service down the hall the other way, but that seemed to agitate her even more, “No, no, no. I want the Pastor, the Pastor.”

“I am he.”

When she found this out, she launched into me. Honestly, I could not understand much of what she said, but she got in my face. She pointed her finger at me often. Then, she reached in her briefcase and pulled some books and brochures out.

As she was doing this, she got frustrated again. She was fuming. She said, “I cannot find one book. I have to go out to my car.”

Well, by then, I was done. When she returned, I stated, “Ma’am, I have to go. Leave your books with me.” And I headed toward the fellowship hall.

She handed me a business card. I didn’t even have to look at it. It is at the office. I left it there along with the books that will probably end up in the trash, but I am fairly convinced that she is a member of some cult.

Both these responses have unsettled me a bit, to be honest.

However, the more I think about them (this may be even “weirder” to say) what is dawning on me is, “You know we must be doing something right if Satan is attacking us in this way.” I look at both of these responses in that way.

Oh, well, the beat goes on. The challenge in all of this is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The book of Hebrews often calls upon the experiences of the Israelites in the wilderness as a case study for us. Their experiences call us to learn from history.

"For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:16-19 NASB)

The greatest challenge today is not dealing with Satan. He is defeated and his tactics are not going to work. No. The greatest challenge is continuing to believe.

Lord, we must be doing something right for Satan to attack in this way. I pray for these two individuals. I lift them up to you.

Keep us on the faith path—the straight and narrow. Not matter what. I love you, Jesus. Amen.
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Kobe and One Month from Today

So much racing through my tiny brain this morning. One of the benefits of writing this blog every morning is that it helps me remember what the Lord did/showed me yesterday AND what I need to do today. Kind of weird to say that …

Anyway, first things first.

Yesterday, I went to the church to do a couple of things and then headed over to the Northglenn Rec Center to watch Kobe play basketball. I bet you are thinking, “Kobe Bryant, in Northglenn? Are you kidding?” No, not THAT Kobe.

Ah, let me think for a moment….

Let me just say that I would not walk across the street to see him play. I know his well-documented “behaviors” are probably not unusual for NBA players (not ALL but many), but I still have a huge struggle with him and what transpired in our state a few years ago. It’s not an anti-Lakers thing (although that is a part of it; actually I’ve always been a quasi-Lakers fan except when they play the Nuggets). It is a moral thing.

No, this Kobe is a young man I have known since he was a little baby. Now, he is a young junior high school man who is on a Northglenn city youth team. Last Sunday, his granddad told me, “John, you have to watch Kobe play. This is really his first year. He is a natural.”

Bernard was right.

Kobe’s team won 42-10. It was a wipe out. They were far superior to the other team. Kobe played defense. He rebounded. He blocked shots. At one point, some of the players on the bench were calling for him to get the ball so that he could take a shot, but it didn’t seem to faze him. He caught the ball as they cheered for him, but he passed it to an open teammate who scored.

He is a cool and calm customer for sure.

I visited a little bit with his dad and mom and siblings—the whole family was there. These are the kind of things that I LOVE to do as a pastor. I was a little overwhelmed with emotion as I sat there at that game. Who am I that I get to share in these kinds of moments? It is all because of Jesus.

I took some video of the proceedings with the camera on my phone. As I did it, I was thinking, “Some day ESPN is going to call me and ask for it on the day Kobe wins MVP. I can just hear it, ‘And we actually have video of a game that Kobe played his very first year in basketball. We received it from his pastor whom Kobe credits (along with his family of course) as being one of the main inspirations in his life.’”

Well, okay, that last part may be a little stretch …

I actually may try to post that actual game footage on Facebook. I’ll see.

Anyway, an awesome time, but as the day progressed yesterday, another thought dawned on me—a month from today, if the Lord wills, I will be leaving for India. My planned departure date is March 16th. I think the flight leaves at 6:30 PM. It is going to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Mumbai and from there to Kolkata.

We leave on the evening of March 16th and actually arrived at our destination at 8:30 AM on March 18th. It will be BY FAR the most time I have ever spent on an airplane. Should be interesting. Now that the trip is one month out, I feel the urgency to ratchet up my preparation on several different levels. I will talk about those in the days and weeks to come.

Thank you for your prayers. I still have some health concerns that I would like to address before I go.

Well, today should be a lot of fun. The Hispanic congregation is providing a meal for us after the service today. The reason? They just want to thank us for allowing them an opportunity to do church in the building! Isn’t that awesome?

We ought to thank them and have a meal for them. I actually hope to organize this, but they are nothing but a blessing.

On the very Sunday of the restart of this congregation last June, there were six people in attendance. I know. I was one of them.

Since then, the church averages in the fifties! Isn’t that great? The Lord is really using them. I still remember the nativity scene in the back lot of the church for Christmas …

The passage for today is a profound one when it comes to one of the major emphases of the book of Hebrews. I’ve already indicated that one thing that is rather unique about this book is that it focuses on the heavenly session of our Lord—what Jesus is doing as our King/Priest at the right hand of God’s throne.

But the verse I quote today is another emphasis:

"For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (Hebrews 3:14 NASB).

The key word in that verse is “IF.” This isn’t about works salvation; this is about works as evidence of salvation.

We like to focus on the conversion event as Baptists and well we should, but the primary evidence of someone’s conversion is that they “hold fast the beginning of their assurance firm to the end.”

This is a huge debate in some religious circles, but I do not believe that anyone who has been genuinely saved can lose their salvation. Jesus affirms this in John 10. Once He has a grip on us, no one can snatch us out of His hand! Praise God!

But, for someone “who walked an aisle” twenty years ago, but since then, has demonstrated no fruit—I would say, based on the verse I cited above, that he or she was never saved in the first place.

Of course, the other thing about this is that ultimately, God knows. He will sort all of it out and sort all of us out on Judgment Day.

Another thing I have learned is that if a person is genuinely saved, no matter how far he or she strays from the Lord, the Lord WILL bring the person back.

Jesus, I thank you for saving me. Oh, man! I have no clue where I would be today if you hadn’t saved me! I know I wouldn’t be here preparing to preach a sermon and to take a trip to India. I shutter to think.

Thank you for the grace that saves us at the moment of conversion but also, thank you for the grace that sustains us.

Thank you for Kobe and his family—they are such a blessing to so many.

Thank you for Iglesia de Torre Fuerte. They are more of a blessing to us than we are to them. I pray for the health of the congregation today. Help them in their search for a pastor.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (BH 2008, 668). Amen.
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Keep Each Other On Your Toes

Yesterday was a great day, in spite of the “heart break.”

I received an email from a family friend, Valerie, who informed me that the Russell Stover candy store on Colorado Boulevard had closed. No! But she did recommend another candy store that I am going to have to check out. Thanks, Valerie!

Thus, obviously, we didn’t go there yesterday. Instead, we went out and bought some furniture! Ha. Kind of a different tactic, don’t you think? And while we were at this discount, closeout furniture store, I even found something for myself—another bookshelf. I’m always on the lookout for them.

Since I have moved in with my mom and sister, I have purchased three of them. One I bought at a garage sale. Another one at a used furniture store. And then, number three at this store yesterday. These three get added to the SIX bookshelves I moved in this house last summer.

Ah, I know what you are thinking. I just hope my mom and sister don’t think the same thing or I might be kicked out on my ear.

Let’s see. These nine bookshelves I own now get added to the six I have in my office at church. Whoa. That is a lot of books.

But I will tell you what: I love books more than ever. This is quite a turn from a kid who, when he started third grade at Pitts Elementary School (how’s that for the name of a school; it is no longer there; a Jewish synagogue bought it) literally could not read and in fact HATED reading.

I owe this to my mom who found a former teaching friend who tutored me. Plus she and my dad moved me to another school and back a grade just so that I could catch up. They were on top of things as parents. I am forever grateful to them for that.

Well, anyway, too much information there … On to the passage for today. I had a lot of work to do yesterday, but about 2:00, I decided that I wanted to go out and hit some golf balls at a driving range off of Arapahoe Road. The cool thing about this range is that they actually have heated stalls from which to hit.

As I pulled up, someone honked a horn. It was Bart! He is a very good pastor friend with whom I often “tee it up.” A few weeks ago, he had had hernia surgery, and has been “out of pocket” in terms of playing golf. Of course, there has been about six inches of snow on the ground for the last week or so. That has played a big part as well.

But at it turns out—it was his birthday as well! The same birthday as my mom! And he decided, after sitting around for a few weeks trying to recover, he was finally ready to try a few swings. We found a couple of spots on the range next to one another and fired away. He was hitting the ball very well.

But, truth be known, we did more gabbing that hitting golf balls.

One of the many topics we covered had to do with spiritual growth, as we get older. I can really relate.

I see how easy it is just to slide along. I love my routines. I love “holing up” and reading a book from one of my fifteen bookshelves as I prepare for another sermon or series of sermons. And as if that were not enough, I like going to the library where there are a hundred more shelves to choose from. Add to that, all the routines of a typical week in ministry. It is just so easy to get in the flow with that and look up and you are ready to retire.

Easy, so easy.

What is difficult is being available to the Lord for different challenges and opportunities.

This is hard to admit, but one of the things that is going to be difficult about this trip to India is that I will be out of my routine for a few days. I have so many so many routines. It is embarrassing, but even as I write that, I am even more embarrassed. It is not going to hurt me to be out of my routine to have an opportunity to see a different part of the world and experience what the Lord is leading us to see and do.

When you weigh it out THAT way, it does seem a little ridiculous.

But this is the essence of one of the first solemn warnings of the book of Hebrews. Each and every day, we must be in a position to hear God’s voice and respond in obedience, no matter what He tells us to do. This is much easier said than done:

"So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul. These words keep ringing in our ears: Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in the bitter uprising" (Hebrews 3:12-14 MSG).

It was a rather innocuous day when the Lord told the Israelites to go into the Promised Land, but they balked. And you know the horrific consequences of their decision. Most of them missed out on what God had for them.

I’m convinced that one of the roles of leadership in the local church is to listen to God AND encourage others to do so as well. We have a mutual responsibility to “exhort one another daily” (this is the KJV translation of these verses). We do this OR we face the alternative—hardening. “Hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (again, KJV).

What does that mean? Well, this is no grammatical definition. It comes from experience. Every time we say “no” to God it becomes harder to say “yes.” There is also an element of God’s sovereignty in it. He is under no obligation to continue to make His opportunities available. We take them OR they may be gone.

Just like that Russell Stover store. I should have done a better job of patronizing them. They would probably still be in business. Well, …

Lord, my main job today is to hear Your voice. You speak loud and clear through your inspired Word. I love these mornings where I sit here in the stillness … It is so quiet. I’m here. I’m ready.

A great little chorus, “As We Go.” Here is a line: “May we live what we have learned” (BH 2008, 667). Amen.
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My Mom's Birthday and A Bar Raised High

If it weren’t for the fact that February 14th is my mom’s birthday, I wouldn’t have much use for Valentine’s Day.

The other day, I was talking with a Christian brother. I asked him, “So, what do you do for your wife on Valentine’s Day?” He rolled his eyes and uttered, “Well, I always try to do something, but it is a hokey holiday.”

I think a lot of men AND women feel that way. But I will always remember it and value this day.

One of the best memories I have of this day is that ALWAYS, ALWAYS, my mom gave Marilyn and me a valentine on her birthday. Most of the time, it centered a on a box of Russell Stover chocolates. This brand and the way they make chocolate rank very high on the list for me.

I always thought of Valentine’s Day each Christmas when a dear sister in Christ in our church, Nancy Beaty, always gave me a HUGE box of chocolate candy each year. I mean this box was huge! One year, someone saw me looking at it and said, “Certainly, you are NOT going to eat all the chocolate in that box, are you?”

My response: “Watch me or don’t!” Of all the things I loved about Nancy, it was the huge box of chocolate candy she gave me that I will remember.

Nancy is with Jesus now. I miss her.

Just a couple of days ago, someone knocked on my door. It was Debbie. She came in and handed me a little package. Guess what it was? You got it. Chocolate candy. It was awesome. And, I will continue to enjoy her gift. I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings!?! It was very nice of her.

I walk a fine line at this point. I’m still trying to maintain my weight loss, so I TRY to avoid sugar as much as possible, but everyone in the church knows that I love it. They know it. And they still give me gifts of sugar and candy and chocolate. And I appreciate it and usually eat it EVERY TIME.

However, if you are reading this, please don’t give me any more chocolate candy, well, at least for a few days … Maybe until Sunday. Ha.

Back to my mom—she seems to be doing okay. She just has a lot of health challenges: blood pressure, macular degeneration (still gets shots in the eye), back pain, and stomach issues and more. Please pray for her.

But I think the toughest challenge she deals with is just the loss of independence.

Here is a woman that raised two teenagers, sent them off to college in a different state, and basically lived on her own for over a decade. She pulled all of that off. And now, she isn’t able to drive, and many of her friends have passed away.

She often says it (and I have heard other seniors say the same thing), “Getting old is not for cowards.” Amen. I’m watching it first hand, but given everything she is dealing with, I think she is doing remarkably well.

I love my mom but I also respect her—A LOT. In fact, I was always kind of scared of her as a kid. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but she always set the bar high for Marilyn and me and challenged both of us with that high biblical standard. We both knew she was the parent and we weren’t. That also.

I laugh at parents that struggle to discipline their kids. Who is the adult here? Step up to the plate! Come on! Believe me—that was never a problem in our house. It usually took just a look.

So, we are going to spend some time together today. And glad to do it. She is 86 today!

Not sure what we are going to do, if anything unusual. We asked her last night what she wanted to do. She said, “Oh, I don’t know … I just don’t care at all about eating.” We will find something. We may even stop at the Russell Stover store on Colorado Boulevard near Cherry Creek. Yes, there is a Russell Stover store. The Lord is good.

Oops, didn’t I say I didn’t want any more chocolate for a few hours? Well, …

This passage today reminds me of how my mom raised Marilyn and me, as I have said before—the bar raised high. Of course, the Lord’s “bar” is even higher—VERY HIGH:

"So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe, faithful in everything God gave him to do. Moses was also faithful, but Jesus gets far more honor. A builder is more valuable than a building any day. Every house has a builder, but the Builder behind them all is God. Moses did a good job in God’s house, but it was all servant work, getting things ready for what was to come. Christ as Son is in charge of the house" (Hebrews 3:1-6 MSG).

The call of the Son of God is a call to the “heights,” as high as He is right now, seated in and with Christ in the heavenly realms, as Colossians 3 reminds us. This is where we are in Christ right now. Thus we need to focus on Him. An eternity with Him “in the heights” is what awaits us. In the meantime, He is running “the house.” He is the Ultimate Parent.

I’m thankful that God the Father gave me such a great mom.

Lord, there is no one on this planet whom You have used to have more impact on my life than my mom. I’m thankful for her life and ministry. Only eternity will reveal her impact. Help her, Lord, with all the “stuff” she has to deal with. Help her to have a good day. Use me to encourage her as she has encouraged me. Amen.
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He Sweats the Small Stuff

I love the language of the passage for today in the Message Version. Love it!

But before I get to that … a couple of things. First, last night was awesome! As you know, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, I have been struggling with the viability of Wednesday nights. Is this something that we should try to keep “limping” along or not?

Well, I thought we had a great group of folks there last night that made an effort to bring their kids. It was great to see Tina there, for instance. Recently, she took a job at the airport that calls her to work on Sundays. He two awesome kids—Wendy and Ethan—continue to come. Calla picks them up and brings them.

But I know this is hard on Tina. Last night, at the Round Table discussion, she was there “with bells on,” to coin an expression. When the study concluded, she said, “I’m so glad for this. I really miss Sunday. I work with other people at the airport who wish they had a service to go to, but they can’t because they work on Sundays.”

Humm. I think this is an untapped avenue for reaching people. But rather than try to start something on some other night, I think we are just going to keep working Wednesday and try to find a way to let the word out that it is available for folks.

Brian did an awesome job of leading the study. Indeed, what he shared was VERY provocative, especially for me. I’m going to send him an email later today because the study and discussion has sparked some things with me. Great!

I just appreciate that someone else is available to teach this. I think it is good for folks in the church to hear another voice than mine. I get sick of hearing myself! I can’t imagine what others think.

Second, I just have to go back to my past two days’ discussion about partnership. One of the main topics of conversation between Jeremy and me the other night is this overwhelming challenge of ministering to teen suicide. I just can’t get that young man whose funeral I attended last Saturday out of my mind.

As Christians, we are good at wringing our hands and complaining about what is going on. And of course, we have THE answer—Jesus. But, we are not always very good about getting the Word OUT.

Jeremy and I are both burdened that we need to minister to our suicidal culture. And it won’t be easy. As I indicated, this is a complicated issue, especially as it pertains to what is going on in high schools today. And I have no clue.

But we are beginning a concerted prayer and research process to see what we can do.

Here is a conviction both of us arrived at very early in our discussion: there is no way that our church BY HERSELF can tackle this. NO WAY. This can only start to be effective as we work with a NETWORK of churches across our city.

And, as we think about that, it raises more challenges and questions. Please pray for wisdom as we seek to gather the resources of multiple churches in partnership. I’m excited to see how the Lord is going to work all of this out.

Stay tuned …

On to the passage for today. Again, I love the language that Peterson uses:

"It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed" (Hebrews 2:16-18 MSG).

The incarnation means that Jesus entered “into every detail of human life.” The good, the bad, the ugly—whatever. He came to earth to experience it all.

And He took that human experience BACK to heaven with Him after the resurrection. Why is this important?

Well, remember I said earlier that Hebrews gives us a crucial perspective—one that is not matched anywhere except in isolated passages in the New Testament. It focuses on what Jesus is doing RIGHT NOW at the right hand of the throne of God.

Here it is: He is serving as our High Priest. We know Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This was John’s declaration. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins, but at one and the same time (this is impossible for a purely human standpoint), He is always the Priest who continues to administer the sacrifice of Himself on our behalf, not in the tabernacle or temple, but in the very presence of God Himself.

But we have this cliché that we always spout to one another. It is another one of this quips that is intended basically to shut someone up and silence them when they are talking to us and we don’t have “answers.” Here it is: “oh, John stop whining. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.”

I have a problem with this statement. One man’s “small” is another man’s “big.” Just because as some religious expert I don’t consider a problem big, doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that the small things maybe tax us more than the big things. I think it is easier to trust God with BIG things. We know we can’t handle them.

Small things are frustrating because we think we can or should handle them, but we can’t do it. AND, what often adds to the frustration is that, because we believe they are small, we are almost embarrassed to talk about it.

In steps our High Priest and using Peterson’s language—Jesus entered into EVERY DETAIL (this is small stuff!) of human life. Sure, we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Okay, sure. Or big stuff. Any stuff. But I praise God that Jesus DID and DOES on my behalf!

Jesus, I thank you that there is not one thing in the universe—big or small—that I cannot bring to you, day or night, 24 hours a day. AND, I’m grateful that you have (to use another cliché) “been there and done that.”

You understand daily health struggles AND the despair that leads some to consider taking their own lives. Both/and. All of the above. Praise God!

Love this chorus: “We have come into His house and gathered in His name to worship Him” (BH 2008, 666). Amen.
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Scared to Death of Death

Yesterday, I wrote about a potential partnership with a church in Oklahoma. Even as I did that, I was thinking of another partnership that has proven to be a huge blessing in so many ways.

For several years, we have served alongside North Metro Church in an effort to reach Federal Heights.

Back in the summer of 2010, right before my cancer diagnosis, First Southern and North Metro were involved in a joint effort to put on a summer outreach event. It was a big undertaking. We certainly could not have come anywhere near pulling this off without the folks from North Metro. No way.

But I still remember walking up to the school where we held the event one day and a group of folks from our sister church were standing there. They were already aware of the fact that something was going on with me. They just said, “Hey Pastor John, we are praying for you!” It was awesome.

And this type of support and encouragement has continued to this very day. I have so many friends at this great church. And it goes all the way to the pastor, James.

Yesterday, we got together over lunch and talked about dozens of things. James, if you are reading today, brother, thanks so much for the fellowship and encouragement. I always appreciate the times we get to hook up.

As I sit here this morning reflecting on that conversation, James helped clarify a couple of issues for me. And, one other thing.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about and talking about encouraging a get together with some of the pastors on the north side.

Again, going back to the summer of 2010, we just haven’t met as often as we used to, for a myriad of reasons. I have missed that fellowship. I’ve talked to some of the brothers, James included, about this, but it has just been lingering in the ether of an idea but no action.

This is something that is real “issue” for me. As my golf coach tends to say quite often, “John, you tend to overthink EVERYTHING. Just step up and hit it!” “It” is the golf ball. But “it” can be translated into ministry stuff as well.

Over the years, I think I have become much more deliberate, to a fault, with just about every decision. I can’t figure out why, per se. Maybe this is another thing I don’t need to overthink. Ha. Who knows?

But anyway, as we were sitting there, James recommended a restaurant and a date and a time and pulled out his cell phone and called this restaurant and reserved us a meeting space. Bang, bang. Done. In a short period of time before I could even pull my cell phone out of my pocket!

So, there you go. Another benefit of partnership.

I’ll tell you. I am a real advocate of it. As far as North Metro is concerned, I have never ONCE sensed any territorialism or selfishness from anyone in this congregation. I don’t think this type of attitude is typical, especially for a church that is only a couple of miles away.

But we are very different type churches. And this is no knock against North Metro or First Southern. Please don’t read it that way. We have some very strong commonalities, but we are different in many ways. One of our commonalities—maybe the most important—is that we both want to reach people AND we both know that we can’t do it alone.

Honestly, I don’t know of any church, no matter what size, that can. This is a topic I will explore in a subsequent post—maybe tomorrow. This very topic came out in a conversation with our Youth Pastor, Jeremy, later that afternoon.

Oh, and by the way, where did he and his family serve before coming to First Southern? You got it. North Metro. Another HUGE blessing of the partnership.

One of the topics of conversation yesterday—with both James and Jeremy—was the whole issue of teen suicide. This is a burden on us all.

The more I talked yesterday, the more I realized what a thorny issue it is. Teenagers are dealing with so much more today than I was back in the Dark Ages when I was in High School. And, quite honestly, social media contributes to it. Like every other technological advancement in our day and time, there are good points and bad points.

I heard just the teaser of a report on the radio yesterday that many youngsters are now abandoning Facebook. Interesting. I wonder why. I’m just now getting the point where I can find it on the web and post something each day. I barely know how to navigate and do anything else. Now, it is on the way out? Great.

But this is the point: the ways people communicate and thus the challenges of these “different” ways continue to morph and transition.

I wish the church were more nimble and responsive, but it is difficult for us “old guys” to change! Ha.

Anyway, we live more and more in a culture where we have to face death in a lot more ways. Suicide. Disease. Murder. Name all the ways. These hit home more because we read about them. Know people. See it on TV. Watch it played out in a video game. Read about it on the web. These types of things have always happened, of course, but these days, media brings them to our attention more readily.

For example, I just found out today that Tom Brokaw has an incurable type of cancer. I read about it on my IPad.

Anyway, all of this can be very intimidating and scary. How should we as Christians respond? Well, we certainly grieve over those who pass away—for any reason. We never get used to death, even though it is part of human life. But here is the key:

"Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15 MSG).

Praise God! Jesus, as the Incarnate Son of God, DIED. He really did! He died FOR US, the death we should have died, the death that is the wage of sin. He died in our place in order to destroy the devil’s monopoly of death. He came to kill, steal, and destroy. This “mission” started in the Garden of Eden. It continues today. But Satan does not have the last word.

Jesus died and rose again in order to free us from death as the penalty of sin. Of course, all of us are going to die, physically, but sin and death are swallowed up in victory, as 1 Corinthians 15 reminds.

Thus, we don’t have to be scared of death. We can look it in the eye bravely.

Lord, again, I think You for the gospel. Thank You for what Jesus did for us on the cross. Thank you that sin and death (as separation from God) do not have the last word for those of us whom you have saved.

I honestly believe that one of the answers to suicide is to embrace the One who died! He willingly gave His life so that we can find hope and meaning and purpose in ours.

Death is no answer. Death is a reality, but You are in charge of death and life and victory.

“This day the noise of battle,
The next, the victor’s song” (BH 2008, 665). Amen.
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Partnership and the Salvation Pioneer

A lot to share this morning …

First of all, I want to give you a health update. I have been experiencing some pain in my neck plus the lump seems to be getting a little bigger. Another doctor I saw yesterday said that I shouldn’t be too concerned, but my mom and sis as well as a friend recommended that I have someone check “the lump.” After debating all day about who that would be, I finally decided to call Dr. Jotte and go back to him. Marilyn reminded me that, in my last visit with him, he did say, “John, I’m not worried about that lump but if it changes or gives you problems, let me know.”

So, anyway, “worry” is not a word that describes how I feel. “Nagging concern” is a better term for it. I also wish I could get over some of the fatigue I continue to experience. I use that word to differentiate it from just being tired for all the normal reasons. It just feels that something is going on …

Thanks for continuing to pray for those two issues.

Well, yesterday, I was so grateful to receive a fantastic email.

Let me back up a bit and give you some context.

A couple of years ago, the Baptist General Convention of Colorado entered into a partnership with Oklahoma Baptists. And honestly, I think it is proving to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.

At First Southern, we started reaping the benefits of that relationship almost immediately. One day, a group of pastors from Oklahoma just showed up at our church. I was not there at the time. It was the middle of the week. But they arrived, knocked on the door, greeted Betty, and just prayed for us! How about that?

I actually got to correspond with one of the pastors after he visited. We still keep in contact.

These guys were headed somewhere in our state for a meeting, but they just felt led to stop by and pray for us.

Then, a few months ago, Bob set up a meeting with me and several pastors/staff leaders from Oklahoma. They stopped by the church, and we got a chance to visit with one another. One of the guys in that meeting serves a church in Claremore, Oklahoma as pastor. His first name is Graydon.

Somehow, in that brief time of fellowship, we made a connection.

Since then, this dear brother has emailed me quite often. His messages are short. He usually just says that he and his congregation are praying for us and asks if there is anything specific requests. His messages are always timely. They remind me that the Lord hasn’t forgotten about us.

The message yesterday was no exception. He indicated that his congregation, North Park Trinity Baptist Church, was interested in moving forward with a partnership with First Southern. Please check out the church’s website: www.northparktrinity.com. Isn’t that incredible?

Back to the meeting with Bob and the other pastors—one of the things that came out was that we wanted any partnership to be a mutual relationship. I echoed this. We didn’t want to be on the receiving end ONLY. I advocated for any relationship to include ways we could help believers and churches in Oklahoma as well.

This is still my conviction.

So, please pray. The congregation as a whole at First Southern is not really up to speed on all of this. This is my fault. O me of little faith! I guess I never really believed that anything like this could/would happen. That is hard to admit.

I’m excited to see how the Lord is going to use this and what will unfold.

All the credit for this goes to the Lord. This is another one of those things that the Lord has just dumped in our lap like a great big wrapped Christmas present! “Here, John, I’m still at work. I’m going to use a congregation in Oklahoma, a group of folks you have never met, to show you.” There.

Jesus is actively at work on behalf of His kids. I have an intellectual belief about this, but sometimes my wavering faith needs a shot in the arm.

The writer to Hebrews confirms this as he continues this comparison between Jesus and the angels. Unlike these spirit messengers, Jesus cuts a way through the forest for us:

"It makes good sense that the God who got everything started and keeps everything going now completes the work by making the Salvation Pioneer perfect through suffering as he leads all these people to glory. Since the One who saves and those who are saved have a common origin, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to treat them as family, saying, I’ll tell my good friends, my brothers and sisters, all I know about you; I’ll join them in worship and praise to you. Again, he puts himself in the same family circle when he says, Even I live by placing my trust in God. And yet again, I’m here with the children God gave me" (Hebrews 2:10-13 MSG).

Jesus is our Salvation Pioneer! What an awesome term! I can just see the Son of God with His Daniel Boone hat on and a machete in His hand—blazing the trail for us. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea!

Jesus, help us to keep our eyes on you and give us the grace just to keep up. There is no way any of us can fathom where the trail is going to lead, not on a personal level, not on a corporate level.

I pray that today you would bless Pastor Graydon and the dear brothers and sisters at North Park Trinity Baptist Church in Claremore, Oklahoma. If they do nothing else that what the pastor shared in that message yesterday, they will have already blessed us way beyond measure.

“All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?” Amen.
Comments

Michael Sam

I’ve just about had it.

The other day, I was having a conversation with some friends. One is a believer. The others are not.

Somehow, the subject of homosexuality in our culture came up. One of the men looked at the Christian and me and said, “You guys (he was referring to evangelicals in the United States) need to give up fighting against gays. You are never going to win.” He is certainly not a supporter of the gay/lesbian agenda, but he is a realist.

From a couple of different standpoints, on one hand, I hear what he is saying. But from my perspective as a believer, there is no way I am going to stop. My way of “not stopping” is that I am going to continue to preach the Word of God.

In fact, just yesterday, I referenced Romans 1 in my sermon. The language is pretty clear there.

Proclaiming it is one thing. Dealing with it is another. I’m very wearied of the latter.

Every morning as I am eating my breakfast, I turn our little tabletop TV on to watch ESPN for a few minutes, and this morning, the news was filled with discussions about and interviews with Michael Sam.

Sam played football for the Missouri Tigers last year. He is a candidate for the NFL draft, and I guess, projections are that he could go rather high in the draft. But he has “come out” and admitted that he is gay. Apparently, he told his teammates at Missouri about it earlier this season, and they supported him. So, he feels emboldened to “come out” to the world.

And he is being treated as some sort of hero. Give me a break!

How is this going to fly in an NFL locker room? Put that aside: if I were on a team in which someone admitted that he was gay, I would be very uncomfortable, for a lot of reasons.

But our culture and now our sports culture lauds this. What does this mean?

Well, I am not going to become some sort of anti-gay activist. I just feel more compelled than ever to get the truth of the gospel OUT THERE.

You NEVER hear this in our politically correct culture or in the media, but those of us in the helping professions have to deal with the “other side” of this issue. We deal with people who drank Satan’s Kool-Aid and found out it was battery acid. They lived the “gay” lifestyle and it caused them pain and agony and they contracted some sort of disease.

I’ve actually watched people cry their eyes out, sobbing as they collapse on the floor in my office.

How about airing THAT, ESPN? I’m not sure I can watch that network any longer.

Back to our job as believers—it is to preach the gospel and to make sure that we live it.

I’m not going to re-preach my sermon from yesterday, but this is Paul’s point as he gives instructions to the young preacher Titus in chapter three of that epistle. He urges him to preach the gospel, lays that gospel out in summary form (as another one of the faithful sayings), and urges this so that people in the church will live godly lives.

The writer to the book of Hebrews gives a similar exhortation in the first verses of chapter two. Here is the quote for the day:

"So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?" (Hebrews 2:1-3 NLT)

Pay attention to what you have heard. Don’t neglect the gospel. Don’t ignore it. This is the first of one of the solemn warnings (there are several more) in this book.

As Christians, we get all hot and bothered about the evil in our day and time—just like I am today. The subtle temptation in all of this (as I have already mentioned) is to get on a bandwagon and fight against a cause.

I still remember a young woman who came to our church a few years ago. Her regular practice was to go picket abortion clinics. If that is what the Lord leads someone to do, that is well and good.

But she became frustrated with the church and me very quickly because I did not stand up in the pulpit and try to get folks to go with her to picket. Of course, she wanted me there too.

I didn’t feeI led to do it and I told her that picketing is not the primary job of the church. Our primary responsibility is to preach the gospel so that folks can be saved. This is God’s answer to homosexuality and abortion, first and foremost.

Please: I don’t want anyone to hear me say that I don’t believe in advocating for moral issues in our culture, but again, our primary job is the Great Commission.

Lord, the news about this football player again reminds us how far away from you we really are.

I recommit myself to preaching the gospel and to sharing it. Whether it is a popular political issue or not, I am committed to standing on the truth.

Have mercy on us as a nation, Lord. Please don’t destroy us just yet as you did Sodom and Gomorrah. Not yet. Please.

“O Church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain” (BH 2008, 663). Amen.
Comments

A Reunion of Sorts

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of the young man who committed suicide. I didn’t realize how hard this was to do until I got home after the service. I was totally drained of energy and could do very little but doze off not once but a couple of times. The weight of his death seemed to get heavier as the day wore on. What a waste!

I didn’t get to see the dad or mom, but I did get a chance to visit with some members of the family at the reception afterwards. More about that in a moment.

One of the very good parts about yesterday was all the people I got to see who, at one time or another, went to First Southern. There were quite a few.

First of all, it was great to see them.

Second, it was a little sad because, to the very last one of them, I miss them—each one.

“Jake’s” sister “Mary” greeted me when I was still in the parking lot. I honestly had not seen her for at least a decade. She is now a grown-up young woman. She was just a little kid when I first met her, kind of in the shadows of her two older brothers, but not now. We visited a while. I’m going to try to call her tomorrow and catch up.

When I entered the reception area, Raini came up to me. It was great to see her. She is a perennial encourager. I have a vivid memory of her sticking her head in my office door a few years ago, “Hey Pastor John, how are you?” It was striking and noteworthy. She approached everyone that way, with her hand out, looking you in the eye.

Shortly after that, I got to see Shane, Carla, Bethany, and James.

Just the other day, I was headed south on Colorado Boulevard. There is a certain street, right before 120th Avenue, where I used to turn and head to their home. Before I could think, I thought of them and almost turned down that street before my brain kicked in, “Ah, John, they don’t live there any longer.” Oh, yeah, right.

They were/are very good friends. We shared a lot. I mean, A LOT. Heart stuff. Church vision stuff. The kind of things that pastors don’t get to tell a lot of people. This reminds me of the kind of like all the comments the players made about the Super Bowl. Many said, “You better enjoy it. You may not get back here.”

When the Lord brought them to our church, I thought, “Man, they are great friends. Isn’t this the way it is going to be with everyone in the fellowship?” Ah, no. I didn’t realize it at the time. I do now.

Pastor Dan was there. When the family of the deceased boy left our church, the Lord led them there. He has as much history with them as I do. Dan was seated next to a table where the family had provided sheets of paper for everyone to record memories about this young man. Good idea.

As I entered the auditorium, Bruce and Beth stopped me. This is an awesome couple that served the Lord with distinction in our fellowship. They taught our Singles’ class and made an effort to minister to me, not as pastor but as John the single adult. They are now members at Riverside. Bruce has had his own health challenges, but both of them looked good, real good.

I saw Debbi and Hunter. She and her kids have a close relationship with the family.

Charles and April were there along with their kids—awesome (a word I find myself using a lot this morning—sorry) to see them. April sang a song in the service. This was a very emotional time for me.

I still remember her singing at First Southern … During our 50th Anniversary celebration, she sang as well. When she started, she blew my socks off. “Wow, I thought. Is that really April?” The Lord has gifted her. I always felt that, but somehow, through the years, she has just matured. She is even better.

I know it was tough for her to sing yesterday, but the Lord used her again.

At one point, as the service was drawing to a close, Charles walked by with one of his children. After attending to her, he sat down next to me. We visited a bit. We had a good conversation. It means a lot to me, but I don’t think I’m going to share it here.

Leaving the service, as all of meandered down the hallways at Riverside to the reception in the gymnasium, Lynda said hi. She was with her two daughters. We greeted each other with a refrain that was common to the day, “Great to see you. Sorry it is under these circumstances.”

I still have vivid memories of one of, if not the first of my visits with Lynda and her grandmother at an apartment complex in Thornton. After the visit, my car had been “booted” because I parked in an “off-limits” parking spot! Lynda was upset about this. So was her grandmother Reba. When the story finally filtered out at church, folks there were not as sympathetic. Many only laughed about it. Big joke. I guess I can laugh now, but it wasn’t too funny at the time, extricating myself from that situation. Ha.

Another memory …

Anyway, get the idea? I hope I haven’t missed anyone that I saw yesterday. I probably have. But it was amazing to reconnect with all these folks and to realize that we are forever linked in significant ways, not just through Jesus, but also because we have served together in the same fellowship. These are significant relationships I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

Back to the reception: at one point, this very tall young man came up to me to shake my hand. “Pastor John, do you remember me?” Ah, no. Sorry. “I am Duane _______.” He said his last name. “Are you kidding me? The last time I saw you, Duane, you were just a little blonde-haired kid! How are you?” He is no longer a child. That’s for sure. Now, he works downtown. He introduced me to his wife. I saw his brother Melvin and his mom Shirley.

They fit in the same category as all the others I have mentioned, but it has been way too long since I’ve seen them.

Duane went on about his life, “I’ve been in the Army and the Navy and got injured.” I may not be totally accurate in what I have quoted here, but he told me he had been in two branches of the military. Are you kidding me? This little kid turned man is a war hero!

It was at that time that I realized it was time to go. My mind thoroughly blown, I headed out the door.

All of this—because of Jesus. This is what the writer to Hebrews says about Him in comparison to the angels:

"But to the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. You rule with a scepter of justice. You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.’ And God never said to any of the angels, ‘Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet’” (Hebrews 1:8, 9, 13 NLT).

Jesus, You reign on Your throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everyone I saw at the funeral yesterday. I could have written volumes more about each of them—these valuable relationships in the body of Christ. There is a connection there that is hard to describe in words.

Honestly, Lord, I miss them. Some I see more often than others. But thank you that they were all there yesterday to support the family.

I lift the family up to you as well. It is still so hard to deal with …

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform” (BH 2008, 664). Amen.
Comments

The Boy that Walks Backward Up a Wall

I am a few days late with this story. It came out a week or so ago. I actually started reading some articles last Wednesday as I prepared to teach for Brian on our first “Round Table Discussion” for Wednesday night. We ended up canceling because of the weather.

But I can’t get this extremely weird story out of my mind.

So, in the home of 32-year-old Latoya Ammons in Gary, Indiana, her mom, her grandmother, a nurse, and CPS (not sure what those initials stand for) watched as a little boy walked backward up a wall and on a ceiling.

Other credible folks witnessed “stuff” as well. Charles Austin, Gary police captain, is among that number, calling the house a “portal to hell.”


Other types of phenomena have occurred as well. Ammons’ 12-year old daughter levitated off her bed. Three of Ammons’ children exhibited sinister signs such as so-called evil smiles and speaking in deep voices. People have heard dogs barking (the family does not own pets) and some have even seen shadowy “figures.”

One article I read has a picture of a front window in the house in which you can make out some sort of “figure” standing there.

Anyway, I think I have said enough. You can certainly go to Google and find these stories and read more about it yourself.

This was the subject I was going to “throw out” on the table for discussion Wednesday night. Maybe it was good that I didn’t.

What do I think about all of this?

First, I certainly do believe in the demonic and Satan. No doubt there.

Second, I am convinced that demonic activity is somehow on the rise. I believe that the book of Revelation indicates that as a further characteristic of the eschaton, but I don’t think we have seen anything yet. I believe we are in the millennium now, and that Satan’s activity is hindered somewhat, but right before Jesus returns, he will be “let out” of his hindered state to wreak even more havoc.

Third, there is a certain amount of horrified fascination among people in the world about all of this and how people “handle” it is even more revealing.

Some of the articles cite clairvoyants and other so-called spiritual experts. I’m not sure about the spiritual condition of Latoya’s family. I say that because some articles give the idea that they might be believers. Hard to imagine. (I’ll get to why in a moment). But they have tried all sorts of weird tactics to get these demons to leave the house. Plus, a Catholic priest has done some exorcisms in the house …

I think I will refrain from comment about THAT.

Fourth, it is hard for me not to think of that episode of the Andy Griffith Show where Andy, Barney, and Gomer go into the “haunted house.” It is one of my favorites, and the whole thing turned out to be a hoax.

I’m not claiming that here per se. I don’t know.

I don’t believe that Christians can be demon-possessed. I believe they can be demon-oppressed, but this whole story does not appear to be about demon-oppression.

An interesting follow-up to this story is that the family has since moved out of this house. Another family has moved in (unbelievable right there, no matter what you believe or not about all of this) and they have not experienced any of these things.

These types of things just demonstrate the veracity of scripture but they always end up in the same place—a dead end. We can speculate and wonder and surmise all we want, but I think we are better served focusing on what we KNOW from the Word.

This is another reason why I love Hebrews. This book gives us a perspective of Jesus that no other book in the Word does. It focuses on what scholars call the present “heavenly session” of Jesus. What is Jesus doing RIGHT NOW?

"And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:3, 4 NASB).

Having died, having been buried, having risen, and having ascended, Jesus is right now seated at the right hand of God’s throne.

This fact means that Satan is defeated. He is real and active as are his minions. But both he and they are toothless tigers. They have no standing before the One who is seated.

I think as Christians we are better served riveting our focus on Jesus. We need to play offense rather than defense.

Lord, I pray for this family in Gary, Indiana, and for all who witnessed these phenomena. Turn the tables on Satan, as you always do. I pray that this incident and this story would cause people to seek you and turn to you.

I don’t have to be convinced that Satan is real; but I am amazed how often I need to remember that Jesus is Lord!

“No weapon fashioned against us will stand;
The battle belongs to the Lord” (BH 2008, 662). Amen.
Comments

A Shrimp Snob

Having finished Zephaniah, I am back to the New Testament book of Hebrews—one of my all-time favorites.

I still remember my New Testament class at Southwestern seminary—the second half of New Testament. At the seminary, they plan was to teach the New Testament in two segments. The first class dealt with the Gospels, primarily. To be honest, I can’t remember who my professor was in THAT class (I don’t know what that says). But I do recall the second half class.

Bruce Corley taught it. The Lord used him to make an impact on my life, and I have told him so. He was a scholar who loved Jesus—the best of both worlds, I think.

Dr. Corley’s favorite book was Hebrews.

He told us that as he challenged us, “Men, master one book of the Bible. It is all good of course, but pick one.” This is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of what he said.

We spent a good deal of time on Hebrews in the course of the semester. There are so many things that are intriguing about this book. The first is that the author is unknown. And speculation abounds, of course.

I can’t recall who Dr. Corley thought is the author. I think he believed that it was Paul. Could be.

I don’t think so (expert New Testament scholar that I am—ha).

I believe it was Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, because that is what this book is all about—encouragement. Whatever.

The second thing that is intriguing about this book is the opening. Like the gospel of John and the first couple of chapters of Colossians, this is some of the best Christology in the New Testament. The author (whoever he is) jumps right into the deep end of the pool.

I want to quote the first two verses from two different versions. First, the Amplified. It is a little verbose, but I think it brings out the right sense of the passage:

"IN MANY separate revelations [each of which set forth a portion of the Truth] and in different ways God spoke of old to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets, [But] in the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of all things, also by and through Whom He created the worlds and the reaches of space and the ages of time [He made, produced, built, operated, and arranged them in order]." (Hebrews 1:1, 2 AMP)

The part I want you to notice is the contrast. In the past, God spoke through various and sundry means, but in these days, these last days, He has spoken to us IN SON.

Here is the New Living Translation:

"Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe" (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NLT).

This translation certainly reads better than the Amplified, but it still lacks the punch of the original language. These days, God has spoken to us IN SON.

Jesus is the full and complete and FINAL revelation of God. The final word. Nothing else needs to be said. God said it all in Son.

I like this as an answer to cults. I like it as a way to refute certain groups who claim to have “a word from God”—a prophecy or word of knowledge or whatever. There are a lot of ways people frame it today.

Now, before I go further, I do believe that God speaks today, but I believe that He does so in concert with the full revelation of God in Christ that we find in the Canon of scripture. He leads us; He guides us; He gives direction. All of this I affirm, certainly.

But ADDITIONAL revelations? Nope.

One more thing: I did meet a brother from Africa several months ago who did share that the Lord used a dream to turn him from Islam to Christianity. But the dream focused on Jesus!

This passage is such an affirmation this morning. It confirms what I believe about the focus of ministry for the local church: Jesus.

I need to find this exact quote in Spurgeon’s works, but someone asked him, “What is the focus of your preaching ministry?” His answer was, “Jesus.”

The follow-up question was, “What if people don’t want to hear about Him?” And this was Spurgeon’s answer. I love it!!! “I just keep preaching Jesus until that is all they want to hear.”

Our appetite for solid biblical food and sustenance is cultivated by eating good, solid food.

There is a great restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida, right by the St. John River. Betty’s brother Dean and his wife Willene and I go there when I visit them in Florida. It serves the absolute best shrimp I have ever eaten. It has spoiled me forever. I am now a shrimp snob. I don’t even order it anywhere else. Nothing holds a candle to shrimp at Parks.

Lord, I thank you for Jesus. Thank you that you sent Him as the final word that ends all speculation and conversation. Jesus, You are it! Let me love you more deeply and fully today than I ever had. I recommit myself to exalting You and preaching You and serving You.

Awesome phrase in this hymn:

“We meet to part, but part to meet
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy” (BH 2008, 661). Amen.
Comments

Teen Suicide

A few days, if you remember, I placed a P. S. at the end of one of my blog posts. I asked you to pray for a family I know in which the 17 year-old son killed himself.

I cannot begin to tell you how deeply this has affected me. I am feeling some sort of combination of anger (not totally at this young man and certainly not at the family) and sadness and almost despair.

My anger is mainly directed at the current culture of teens that somehow makes them feel that this is some sort of option for “solving” (or not) their problems. Are you kidding me? Why does THIS have to be the fad now?

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to minimize it, but that is my rage. This is Satan. He comes to kill and destroy, literally.

Yesterday, Jim and I went to visit the dad. He has been a good friend of mine since the day I started at First Southern back in the Fall of 1989. He, along with his mom, dad, brother, and sister, were active and prominent members of the fellowship. I have had a long history with this family and love them a lot.

Where do I start in talking about this?

Somehow, I feel I should not even use real names here, because I don’t want to come anywhere near adding any more pain to what they are suffering. I don’t think they would mind, but still …

Let’s call this family the Smiths (again, not their real name). Let’s call the dad Jake and his brother Fred.

Back to when I started at the church, I spent a lot of time with Jake and Fred. They were boys at that time. We went out to eat. We played racquetball. They helped at the church. Jake was an awesome greeter. Fred made (makes) me laugh. He is real character. Well, both are.

I watched these two boys grow up and mature as they entered the youth group and graduated. I was heavily involved in both of their weddings and honored to be.

Jake and his wife had a girl as their first child. Their second was a boy. I have vivid memories of him as a blonde almost white haired little boy. I can still see him … This is how I remember him.

Jim and I talked about this as we left the home yesterday. We both remember him. We watched him grow from “baby-hood” to being a little toddler.

At some point, in that time period of his life, Jake and his family moved on from First Southern. I didn’t see him much after that, but still, Jake and I kept in contact rather periodically. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, we met for lunch to catch up.

I still hear from Fred as well. He and his awesome family moved to Grand Junction a few years ago, but Fred and his wife (I have always liked her) visited the church one Sunday. Like old times …

Do you get the idea? This is one of the hugest blessings about being in one church as long as I have. The Smith family is one of many. I’ve had the privilege of longevity and depth—generations of ministry.

Anyway, back to yesterday, as Jim and I visited with Jake. He told us how his son shot himself in the middle of the night in their home.

It is just hard to get one’s mind around it. And, when that happens, there is a ton of collateral damage. Someone has to find the body and deal with it. Then there is the visit to the morgue. All the questions. All the struggles. Family, friends, wondering. The emotions—anger, rage, grief, and questions—the list goes on and on. It has to be one of the most horrible things that can ever happen.

And, as Jake talked, we were all reminded that some people who try to kill themselves, don’t quite get it done so they are left brain-damaged or handicapped in some way for the rest of their lives.

One man I heard about recently tried to blow his head off with a shotgun and missed. He got only half his head and lived.

This family’s story is one of many. Last year, during the holiday season at Thornton High School, nearly ten teens killed themselves. And this is only one high school. This type of thing is occurring at schools all over the country.

It is epidemic, and you don’t hear about it that often. And I know there are some good reasons for this, certainly. But what are we doing?

Well, all of us who know Jesus know the answer, but somehow, that message is not getting out there as a way out of the despair that causes someone in their teens—with their whole life before them and all the promise it holds—to choose another option than suicide.

This is one way to deal with this—very small. I’m going to make sure I pray even more concertedly for the teenagers I know. And, when the Lord gives me opportunity, try to affirm them and encourage them and make sure they know that their lives count and the Lord has a plan for them.

If all of us did that—there might be a few less suicides.

This is insane!

These kids need to know that the Lord is in charge of life and death and for those who live on this earth in relationship with Jesus AND with all of this life’s pain and struggles, there is a future and a hope:

"For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more. And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed. On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again. I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Zephaniah 3:17-20 NLT)

There are eleven promises in those four verses, if I added correctly. Eleven “wills.” Very hopeful. Very. If we would just trust Jesus.

Lord, today, by faith, I claim them all and trust You to calm all my fears in the here and now AND look forward to the day I will go home.

I lift up the “Smith” family. Again, I love them and pray that you would give them the grace to go through this, something they will never “get over.” Time will pass, but they won’t get over this. But Your grace is fully operative in and through things we don’t get over.

“Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise” (BH 2008, 660). Amen.
Comments

Just Add it to the List

In the press conference yesterday, someone asked John Elway how he has learned to get over Super Bowl losses. I liked his reply, “I haven’t. Just add this one to the list.”

I had to laugh out loud as I was driving along and heard this yesterday. Somehow, I am gravitating more and more to honesty and humanity.

Prior to hearing that on the radio, I had just had the opportunity to spend some time visiting with Bob. As always, we had a very lively and fruitful conversation. We were both able to share some things with each other. It was awesome.

Near the end of the conversation I said, “Hey Bob, when you contacted me about getting together, you mentioned that you had something you wanted talk about with me.”

“Yes,” he said. He went on to explain that he is putting a conference together for later this Spring. The gist of it involves addressing what I would call “end of life” ministry issues. As the Baby Boomers get older, these types of concerns become more and more important. He listed several involving money, funerals, caring for aged parents, et cetera. It was rather a long list, but a good one. He is bringing in experts who just happen to be believers to speak to these issues.

A part of this conference has a theological component. This is where I would come in. Bob asked me to teach a segment on “the doctrine of death.” As those words came out of his mouth, something ignited within me, “Yes.” That’s it.

It has been hard to get it off my mind since yesterday. I am looking forward to delving into this doctrine.

The truth is that my cancer experiences and Elway’s comments dovetail very nicely with all of this.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic at this point because as Dr. Jotte told me in the waiting room at the Cancer Center the other day, “John, with the low grade cancer you have (present tense), there is a five percent mortality rate.” But he used the word “mortality.” And, I’m sorry but that is an inescapable element with cancer—no matter what kind one has—death.

And somehow, what makes it more difficult is the penchant in our culture (and I don’t know how else to say it; Bob calls it a re-emergence of Gnosticism; I think he is on to something) is an ever-increasing denial of humanness. We live in this dream world of actually believing we can “get over” things.

We are uncomfortable with long-term illness. I say “we” because, prior to getting cancer, that is the way I was. I was impatient. I wanted to pray for folks and have them be healed just to resolve it and be done with it. This is hard to say. I wanted that because I was uncomfortable.

If we can’t put it in a microwave and cook it FAST and finish it, we don’t want any part of it.

Here is the truth: regardless of what happens physically with cancer, you NEVER get over it. NEVER. Remission does NOT mean cure!

And, because we are human and every human leaves this world the same way—death—we don’t “get over” anything, especially losses and tragedies.

What is the expression? It is almost a joke in some quarters, but it is NOT funny. People say, “I will take that one to the grave.” We take everything to the grave!

What a ludicrous question? “How did you get over your past Super Bowl losses?”

It hit me that John Elway has been involved, one way or another, with six out of the seven Super Bowls the Broncos have ever been in AND his record is 2 and 4! And all four losses were blowouts! You don’t “get over” that.

All of this is tied into the doctrine of death. And I believe all this uncomfortable-ness regarding long-term illness and the longing to “get over” things is a reflection of our view of death.

The more funerals I do, the more I realize how awkward we all are when it comes to death.

Now, I am not talking about being overly consumed with and being morbid. But come on! Every single one of us is going to die! We are all going to get something we won’t get over, and whether it is in an instant, or it is a long, slow process of illness, it is going to happen! It is inevitable as part of the human condition.

And I will tell you that I have less and less patience with folks that somehow always have to put up a front that everything is peachy and have to correct you for being real. Of course there are limits. But come on!

The doctrine of death, as Bob and I discussed yesterday, is very closely linked to eschatology as well. These topics emerge—the Second Coming along with heaven and hell. Oh, there is a taboo subject. But I won’t get into it here.

Notice what the prophet says about “that day:”

"On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed, for you will no longer be rebels against me. I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you. There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain. Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will never tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid” (Zephaniah 3:11-13 NLT).

“The remnant will do no wrong.” How about that? Don’t you look forward as a believer to THAT day when we live forever in the presence of the One who saved us and we see Him face to face?

I wish I could sing it like Sandy Patti. “We shall behold Him!” Amen.
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Surely

The Lord uses this word twice in the verses I read this morning. I will get to them in a moment.

First, I want to talk a bit about a brother in the Lord I have just met. We came into contact with him as a family because we are going to do some work on the house. He is a general contractor as well as a pastor. How about THAT as a combination?

His name is John. He is Holly’s (our neighbor) dad. We have actually started this running joke. I call him “First”—short for 1 John. He calls me “Second.” We haven’t found a “Third” yet, but who knows? Ha.

As I have said many times before in this blog, I have a lot of respect for guys that can actually build things or fix things. I consider them very valuable. I can make a list: Chris (the Lord moved him and his family to another church), Bill (ditto for this brother), Duane, Bob, J. B., Ray, John, John, et cetera. These are guys in recent history that have been in the fellowship or still are. We “use” them all the time (an unfortunate term, I know, but I hope I “use” it in a good way, pun intended).

One of the reasons they are so valuable to me and to the church is that I am on the opposite end of the scale from these guys—I am NOT a builder and VERY MUCH NOT a fixer.

Actually, I now have two pastor friends who have a construction background, come to think of it. My pastor friend and golf buddy in Aurora—Bart—and now First.

First and his wife Lynn came over yesterday afternoon to discuss some of the projects he is going to help us with. We just spent some time in fellowship.

As it turns out First has served several churches in the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination. If my memory serves me correctly, Judy in our church came from that denominational background. SBCers and CMA folk have a lot in common from a doctrinal standpoint.

Anyway, God has used First to lead many people to Jesus in Illinois and Idaho, before the Lord moved him and his family to Denver over a decade ago. Since then, the road has been rough for them.

“Denver is the toughest place we have ever served as far as leading people to Jesus and church growth is concerned,” said Lynn. First agreed.

“When I started here,” he went on, “we had a Sunday night service, a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and we went out soul winning on Thursday nights. Now, all of that is in the past. As far as Sunday night was concerned, we tried to limp it along for years, but I finally asked, ‘What are we doing?’ Prayer meeting became a challenge for people to get off work and get to church. And people don’t seem very interested in seeing other people converted to faith in Jesus. So, we have had to approach it in a different way. Lynn and I regularly prayer walk our neighborhood and seek opportunities to share. After sixteen years, things are just now starting to open up.”

I have condensed a rather long conversation we had. This is not an exact quote, but I hope it accurately portrays the gist of what he said.

As I sit here this morning, I’m deeply grateful to the Lord for our talk. I can’t believe how all of what he said tracks almost exactly with my experience as pastor of First Southern over the past twenty plus years.

We used to have Sunday evening services. We tried everything to keep them going including home Bible studies, but that “program” simply outlived its usefulness. I’m telling you when we backed off trying to push something, anything on Sunday nights, I think people were relieved. There is no way we are going back to that.

Monday night “visitation” is the same thing. I have talked about this in previous posts. We used to have a lot of folks show up. We got into cars to visit people ostensibly to share Jesus, and we had chances to do it. But things have changed. People don’t want to be bothered when they finally get home and close the garage door.

I could say a whole lot more about this, but I won’t at this juncture. Readers, you know what I am talking about.

Tick, tick—two down. One to go. We are actually starting up our Wednesday night ministry again. Brian is going to be leading a “round table discussion” each week for adults; Jeremy will be training and leading the youth to reach out; and Calla will be working with the boys and girls. We are going to see what is going to happen.

Here is where I am with Wednesday night: this is our last TRY. If we fail to get much of a response, then I think it is gone, but I am encouraged that it could be a good opportunity for spiritual growth and ministry. We will see.

My point, however, is this. It was just good to hear that we are not the only church around that is going through this type of transition. It is hard for all of us, no matter what our denomination. I’m sorry about this for First and his congregation, but it just helps.

In all of this, we (especially pastors) like to live under the delusion that we are trying to keep things afloat FOR God. This is not really the case. He doesn’t NEED us and the truth is that He is the One who tries harder than any of us EVER could. This is reflected in these words from Zephy 3:

"I have wiped out many nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers. Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors— none at all. I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings. Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’ But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds." (Zephaniah 3:6, 7 NLT).

Twice the Lord says, “Surely, they will worship me now. Surely they will listen to me.” Everything the Lord allows in our lives is for a divine purpose, as it was for Israel. He calls us away from idols and sin and distraction, to come back to Him as the One True God, all the while “hoping” (if I can use this word for God) that we will turn around.

This is actually the bottom line reason things are so tough here in Denver and other towns as well. For many of us (pastors included), God is far down the list of priorities. Plus, showing up at the church building three or four nights a week is not really any gage of spirituality; it could actually be a deterrent to it.

Humm. Food for thought.

Thank you, Jesus, for First and his wife Lynn and their ministry. Bless the congregation he serves. Thank you for the encouragement yesterday. I really needed it.

Lord, we place the church and its “programs” in Your hands. Help us to worship You and depend on You, not our programs. Help us to reach this lost culture with the gospel of Jesus. I think it is actually going to take getting out of the church building to do it. Move us out and on.

“Were it not for grace,
I can tell you where I’d be,
Wandring down some lonesome road to nowhere,
With my salvation up to me” (“Were It Not For Grace”). This song has been on my mind and heart the past few days. Amen.
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What a Downer!

Oh, man. Absolutely the worst game in the history of the NFL! At one point, someone in Dean’s house asked, “Up to this point, what has been the most lopsided loss?” Before I could chime in, someone else said, “The Broncos versus the 49ers. We lost 55-10.” From then on, we all just hoped it wouldn’t be THAT bad.

I had a great time at Dean’s, meeting his family and laughing a lot. When the Broncos scored their one and only touchdown, he pressed a button on his CD player and it blared out some typical football “we just scored a touchdown” music. We sang along, raised out hands, yelled, and screamed. It was hilarious. Of course, it was the only time we did it the whole LONG night.

As I said, I had a great time of fellowship at Dean’s house, but I left totally depressed.

If it is possible for cars to be driving along a street and a highway in total silence, it happened last night. It was even more depressing.

After the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 98, folks were standing on the street corners. Horns were blaring. People were yelling out the windows of their cars, even on a cold night in February.

But not last night.

It will be interesting to see what happens these next few days for this city. I know it will take me a while to recover, for sure. After reading just about everything I could get my hands on about the Broncos the past few months, now, I don't want to read or hear anything about them. At least for a few days.

My mom and sister felt the same way. When I got home, both of them were ticked off. “What happened to them?” I had no answers. We just couldn’t watch any postgame stuff—couldn’t bear to.

But life goes on. The Broncos had a good season. It was a lot of fun. The better team (are you kidding?) won.

Oh, well.

All of this is balanced over against a challenge that Jeremy gave yesterday.

Let me back up a second. One of the reasons we had our special Koinonia day yesterday was to introduce a challenge to the church. I mentioned it in this blog yesterday. It is, “Read the Bible in 90 Days.”

When Rob was on staff at our church a few years ago (before I was diagnosed with cancer; it was THAT long ago), I asked him to attend a conference about this. He brought back some material that has been sitting on a shelf in my office library since. Recently, the Holy Spirit brought it to my attention.

The whole idea is to read the Bible cover to cover in 90 days. And this course argues for the benefit of doing this as it gives the reader the ability to see the broad sweep of scripture and more readily discern how it all ties together. I like it.

There are study materials for adults, youth, and children that go with it. It should be interesting.

I introduced it to the folks who were there yesterday. Here is one thing I said, “Church, listen, please do not look at this as some legalistic requirement. This is a challenge. I’m presenting it to you that way. Many of us have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation over a long period of time. All well and good. But this is about doing it in a relatively short period of time to derive benefit out of God’s Word in a way maybe you have never done before. Let’s go for it!”

It should be interesting to see who jumps in and who doesn’t.

Anyway, after this challenge in our little “order of service” in the fellowship hall, Jeremy and I had arranged for him to direct the prayer time. He is leading the youth to pray for the persecuted church. I thought Jeremy tied this prayer focus and Read the Bible in 90 Days Challenge together excellently.

I won’t quote him verbatim, but I hope I am relatively close. One thing he said was, “There are some Christians in the world that live in countries where even owning a Bible is illegal.” The specific country he led us to pray for was Afghanistan. He went on to say, “In Afghanistan, Christianity is illegal. If people discover that you are a believer, they have carte blanche from the government to kill you or your family and the authorities will not stop them. They look at Christians as we look at terrorists.”

It was very sobering, and this morning, as I sit here depressed because the Broncos got beat, even more so.

The Lord has ways to give us a cold slap in the face, and He isn’t an aftershave. He is judging the misplaced priorities of evil people AND He disciplines believers when they got off, even a little bit. There is nothing wrong with cheering for the Broncos, but I think many of us this morning are realizing it has been a little over the top (ya think?).

So were the evil responses of the Assyrians. God judged them but spared His people:

"I have heard the taunting of Moab and the revilings of the sons of Ammon, With which they have taunted My people And become arrogant against their territory. ‘Therefore, as I live,’ declares the Lord of hosts, The God of Israel, ‘Surely Moab will be like Sodom And the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah- A place possessed by nettles and salt pits, And a perpetual desolation. The remnant of My people will plunder them And the remainder of My nation will inherit them’” (Zephaniah 2:8, 9 NASB).

The whole idea of the remnant. The Lord will give them the ultimate victory. In the meantime, we need to recover our focus and urgency.

Lord, I thank you for allowing me the privilege of living in the United States of America will all the freedoms we enjoy. We are free to cheer for our team and mourn losses. But we are also free to pursue higher priorities.

Give the church I serve and me a hunger for the Word of God. As we look at this challenge, I pray that many would embrace it—not for any legalistic or bragging rights reason—but for You and You alone.

I’ve come to a hymn I love this morning, “Lead On, O King Eternal.” Great hymn of the faith, but whenever I come to it, I can’t help but laugh. A friend in the Sunday school class at Travis when Marilyn and I were in seminary told all of us that when she was a kid, she thought the name of the hymn was, “Lead On, O Kinky Turtle!” Melinda, are you reading? Was this you? Do I remember correctly? Ha, ha. Amen.
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Super Bowl Sunday and Spiritual Preparation

Okay—what I said about Broncomania prior to the divisional game versus San Diego and then prior to the AFC Championship against New England—multiply both of those games by three.

I’ll tell you how bad it is: a couple of days ago, I just quit listening to any sports radio show that talked about the Super Bowl. I—even I—just couldn’t take it any longer.

As we were driving along yesterday, Marilyn said, “I will be so glad when this game is finally over.” Amen.

But again, what is it like to “have church” in a city that has a team in the Super Bowl? My short answer: hard.

I doubt we will have an overflowing crowd today for several reasons. First, I just think some people stay at home because they can’t handle more that one big event a day. They can handle multiple events on Mondays through Saturdays—this is never a problem, but Sundays always seem to be a different matter.

Second, even though the forecast is not for snow per se, it promises to be another cold and icy day.

I’ll tell you: anyone that knows me knows that I am NOT a fan of snow, but the last few days, I would say that things have been borderline, sort of in the universe of kind of being pretty. The snow attached itself to the leafless trees in town. Everything—I mean everything—has been white. It has been so cold and the snow so flakey that it sticks to everything.

Third, this is a “Koinonia” Sunday for us. And it has been a while. On these Sundays, we forego our usual Sunday school format with everyone divided by age.

Instead, we meet in the fellowship hall all together. We eat. We have a brief study in which everyone participates (hopefully). We sing. And then, we head upstairs for a service that starts at the regular time but it is rather abbreviated as well.

Today, there is actually a special purpose of the Koinonia Sunday, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the Super Bowl. We had planned this months ago.

I will tell you more about this tomorrow.

Anyway, I’ve just listed all the reasons why I think we won’t have a big crowd (relatively speaking) today, but as John Elway was quoted as saying on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the Broncos played the heavily favored 49ers in the Super Bowl, over twenty years ago, “We’ll show up.” Ah, they did show up but got beat 55-10.

I hope that is the score, in reverse, today.

All of that having been said--something has been on my heart for the past couple of days. I feel the urgency to begin to lead the church to prepare SPIRITUALLY for this trip to India.

Now, over the past few days, I have documented my struggles and health issues. I plan to go to the doctor (s) this week to get to the bottom of things—hopefully. And, all of that aside, none of us knows what is going to happen in the next five minutes.

But I am still planning to go—hope it works out. AND, I think that I, Nancy, and Pam, along with the whole church needs to prepare ourselves. And the more I think about this, the more I realize that the church needs to do this FOR ANY KIND of mission trip—youth or whatever.

I am convicted that we (especially I) have not done a good job with this.

The other day, I searched Google for this topic, “Spiritual preparation for overseas mission trips” and found relatively little. I was shocked.

There is a lot about what I would call “physical” preparation, for lack of a better term. This is getting one’s passport and visa and packing the right clothes et cetera. This is important, but how does one prepare himself/herself SPIRITUALLY for such a venture?

For anyone reading this blog today or whatever day—please share your thoughts. I would really appreciate hearing from all of you. This will help me as I seek to do it and lead our church to do it.

In the meantime, some ideas spring to mind. I will share the first one in a moment. But from here on out for the next month (maybe not every day) I am going to share more about this on my Pastor John Talbert Facebook page. Please go there also to see and interact with what I write. I would really appreciate it. Again, it will help us.

Here is the first and most basic thing I can think of: it is as crucial as EVER for myself, Pam, and Nancy to spend time EACH DAY with Jesus in the Word and in prayer. Why?

Well, I am not going to try to run down exact references here, so don’t hold me to this, but I think it is in the first chapter of Mark—the busiest chapter in the Word of God. Early in Jesus’ ministry, he was seeing hundreds of folks coming to him for healing.

Early one morning, the disciples found Jesus out in an isolated place communing with the Father. They came to Him. It was a “Super Bowl Sunday” type day in which their minds were focused on everything going on. Remember what Jesus said? A John paraphrase, “All of this is well and good boys, but we are moving on. We are not staying here. This is not why I came.”

Jesus’ time with the Father provided clarity and focus for His mission. This is why, as far as spiritual preparation is concerned, time with the Lord is so crucial. It was for Jesus. Even Jesus faced the oft-occurring temptation of diverting from His mission.

Here is another reminder to us of this same thing on Super Bowl Sunday from our brother Zephy:

"Seek the Lord, all who are humble, and follow his commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly. Perhaps even yet the Lord will protect you— protect you from his anger on that day of destruction" (Zephaniah 2:3 NLT).

Lord, it is so hard to stay focused for so many reasons. Of all the things I seek today—a Bronco victory is way up there—my primary effort and focus needs to be on seeking You. Give me the grace to do that—today, in preparation for this trip, and in leading the church today.

As the world stands up to cheer at Met Life Stadium in New York or in homes today (I will be watching the game in a dear family’s home this afternoon and looking forward to it), I choose first and foremost to “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (BH 2008, 657). Amen.
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Dove Release

Before I talk about this, I want to share a couple of things.

First, I am still in the go mode when it comes to this trip to India. I just wanted to say it. The more I pray about it, I still definitely feel led to go, in spite of all the issues and unanswered questions about my health.

Second, my main problem right now is NOT whether or not my cancer has returned. Honestly. I would be lying if I said I am not concerned about it, but my primary issue these days is just how I feel.

I’m just not well. And I don’t know why.

Someone may ask, “Well, what is going on?”

Well, I don’t want to bore everyone to tears by giving a lot of detail at this point, but it has to do with sleep or lack thereof and some other weird kind of symptoms. For example, the past two days, I have had a headache that I just can’t shake.

So, please pray that I can get to the bottom of what is going on. There are many possible explanations for all of this. But it has gone on for several weeks now.

Yesterday was a case in point.

Last Sunday, Pastor Ilamarques called me from Brazil. He had returned to his home country because his elderly father was critically ill. As it turned out, his dad passed away.

Ilamarques and I talked a bit. He told me that his dad’s funeral service had been a wonderful celebration of his dad going home to be with Jesus. He also indicated that he was going to stay in Brazil a few more weeks. I was glad he could do this.

At one point, Ilamarques said, “Brother John, I was wondering if you could do a favor for me?”

Absolutely.

“There is a family I have been ministering to in which the father passed away. Could you do the funeral for me?”

I was glad to do this to help Ilamarques out. He has always been such a huge encouragement to me. He preached for me one Sunday when I was going through chemotherapy. I have preached in New Generation (that is the name of the congregation he serves that uses God’s building with us in Northglenn) on several occasions.

That funeral was yesterday.

The second I drove up to Horan and McConaty Funeral Services, I recognized the man I had been speaking to about the funeral arrangements. We had met several months ago in my office. His name is Kent. He was standing there with his brother and some other folks. Kent’s wife is Brazilian. Her name is pronounced Flovee.

There were not a lot of folks at the service. We had some music; I read a eulogy; I preached a short message. When the service concluded, Stephanie, the funeral director walked to the front of the auditorium and announced that there was going to be a dove release.

I knew this was going to happen. The family had requested it. I was not really looking forward to it.

Why? Well, in just about all the funerals I have officiated that had a dove release it was always accompanied by some “New Age” type rhetoric. Let me just leave it at that. Plus, they were for the most part rather hokey.

Maybe those of you who are reading this have had different experiences. This was mine.

But yesterday was different. Tom, the owner of the doves and the head of the company, stood before all of us in the parking lot of the mortuary with a dove in his hands.

He said, “We all need to be reminded that the moment Kerry (the man who passed away; Kent’s dad) breathed his last, his spirit went to be with Jesus. What we are doing today pictures the flight of his human spirit to the presence of God. Kerry’s spirit has left us, just like these doves will in a moment. His spirit like these doves will be out of sight, but it doesn’t mean they disappear. They are still around. We just can’t see them. Kerry is with the Lord. He is still around. We just can’t see him any more.”

I don’t know … I was honestly very favorably impressed with how Tom tied things together. Afterwards, I told him so. He said, “John, this is a Christian ministry, and I believe that it is the reason we are still around when a lot of other dove release companies are not.” Right on.

This provided a good segue for me as I stood before the casket at Fort Logan. I told the family, “This casket holds Kerry body, but not Kerry. As the dove release pictured, his spirit went to be with the Lord.” And then I added this additional biblical fact. “And it wasn’t just his spirit. His spirit and soul—his eternal personality--got a brand new resurrection body that will never get sick again or get old.”

Praise God!

It was good. All of this stands in contradistinction to the words of judgment the Lord pronounces in Zephaniah. A couple of statements in chapter one stand out:

"I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners to punish those who sit complacent in their sins. They think the Lord will do nothing to them, either good or bad…. Your silver and gold will not save you on that day of the Lord ’s anger. For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth" (Zephaniah 1:12, 18 NLT).

I’m glad that this will not be my story, and I also rejoice that I can stand up at funerals and in the pulpit this Sunday to say that Jesus offers another alternative to what will happen with unbelievers “on the ultimate day of the Lord’s anger.”

Father, every bit of my life and human life in general is under your control. I pray for this family in their grief. I pray that I would be urgent in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus so that more and more people would experience the “spirit release” and “resurrection body” that is part and parcel of life with you forever. Amen.
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