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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Empty and Quiet

I’m really having trouble adjusting to this new season in the life of the church I serve.

For the past five plus years, Community of Faith United (COFU) has used space in our building. Since they moved in, there has always been someone around and people coming and going all times of the day.

It has been, as the expression goes, a “beehive” of activity. And I just have to say that I absolutely loved it.

Here is a bit of my personal theology as it relates to church buildings. And I know I have alluded to some of this before.

First, the building we use it NOT the church. The church is people.

Second, the buildings that churches meet in belong to God. Back in 1983 (I’ve seen pictures), we burned the note indicating the end of payments for this building we meet in. Society says that we “own” the building; scripture teaches that God is the true owner of it. NOT US. We are, to use the proper word, “stewards” of that building.

This means that we are responsible for upkeep and maintenance on it. All of that is well and good, but we still recognize that God is the owner and therefore He has the final say as to how it is to be used.

Third, as far as capacity is concerned, what is that, really? Some consider capacity to be defined as people being a little uncomfortable because one room (the church auditorium) is full for an hour per week.

I think there are a lot of flaws in that viewpoint. It is a very narrow perspective.

Here is what I think: no church is truly at capacity until it is being used all hours of the day, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. I would like to see every room full of people every day of the week. Then and only then is a church building FULL.

Well, anyway, we were close to that with the three congregations besides the English-speaking group that uses the building plus COFU. Something was always going on pretty much any time of the day, any day of the week.

But since COFU moved into God’s building (and this is no kudos to us), they have grown and flourished. Hence, for the past year and a half, they have been looking for new facilities. They thought they were going to be able to purchase and move into a warehouse that another charity owned, but after months of negotiation and planning, the deal fell through.

Recently, another church in our area—Crossroads—invited COFU to use space in what used to be a library in Northglenn. The church converted it to a community center that housed their benevolence ministry. COFU and this ministry are joining forces. It should be a great deal.

Anyway, this arrangement came together, and as a result, COFU has moved out.

And now, the building seems to empty, and it is deafly quiet. It is almost creepy.

But I tell you--I refuse to go back to a world where it stays that way for very long. I am going to challenge the church to take on some type of ministry that allows us to use God’s building to serve the community and help people.

There is no doubt that we have plans to reclaim some of the space for Sunday school rooms. That is well and good, but again, that only uses those spaces for an hour or two a week. There are a whole lot more hours where, unless we take intentional steps, they sit empty and quiet.

Please pray for our church as I challenge the folks in this regard. I want to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

We will see what the Lord has planned.

Continuing in Daniel 9—when the Lord answers Daniel, He talks timeframes and the number seven is very prominent. Seven is a very important number in Hebrew numerology. And it implies the whole concept of completion and fulfillment. Notice two verses at the end of the chapter:

"A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place… After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple. The end will come with a flood, and war and its miseries are decreed from that time to the very end"
(Daniel 9:24, 26 NLT).

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what the Lord is referring to here. If I had to guess, I would say He is talking about the coming of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. But here is the main point of all of this: God’s timing is perfect, and history will unfold in the way the Lord sees fit. Everything happens exactly on time, not a minute late, not a second early.

I believe this applies to churches as well.

Lord, thank you that you are in charge of human history. We are all at your beck and call.

Thank you for allowing our congregation and your building that we use to house COFU for a few years. I pray that you would continue to bless this organization and use them in their new space.

Show us now, in this new “seven” ahead of us, how you want us to continue to use your building to minister to folks.

We are available, Lord.

“Let us join our hands that the world will know
We are one in the bond of love”

(BH 2008, 387). Amen.
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The Minute You Started Praying ...

I wonder what it would do for each of our prayer lives if we learned what happens in the spiritual realm when we pray.

Take anything you have been praying for. Think about how long you have been asking. And think about the way that Satan works over time—everything He whispers in your ear.

“This is a waste of time.”

“God isn’t going to answer THAT prayer.”

“He doesn’t care about you.”

“Just give up.”

Et cetera.

I’m thinking about petitions that fit in that category in my life. The devil has uttered all of that garbage to me … and more.

I can’t remember where I heard this, but years ago, I listened to a sermon on cassette tape where the preacher said, “As Abraham waited to see the fulfillment of God’s promise of a child, he gave up even praying about it.” Remember, from promise to fulfillment, it took twenty-five years, and in the meantime, Abe and Sarah weren’t getting any younger.

Each year that passed made it less and less likely (from a human standpoint) that it was ever going to happen. Hard at first; absolutely impossible at 100 and 90.

Over the years, I’ve thought about that statement in that sermon. I’m not sure it is accurate. Maybe so.

I can’t think of any specific incidents right here and now, but I know that there are things I have prayed about and then forgotten, but the Lord didn’t.

In fact, I know that every single prayer I have ever prayed has been heard in the divine throne room. Every syllable of every prayer.

But the question is: why are answers to prayer delayed? Well, there are a lot of reasons and many of them beyond my limited capacity to understand as it comes to the mind of God, I am sure, but the passage today gives one answer.

It is difficult for me to move very quickly through Daniel 9—this chapter has to be one of the great prayer sections of the whole Bible. The heart of Daniel and the prayer that comes from that heart—off the charts.

As he finishes praying, (well, he wasn’t technically done—he was still speaking to the Lord), the angel Gabriel (the passage uses the word “man”) shows up. Daniel had seen him in a previous vision, came to Daniel. Daniel was very weary at the point in his prayer process.

Let me stop right there. Real prayer is hard work. It is a struggle with God and a struggle with man.

I say, “struggle with God” because one has to battle with the flesh.

I’m not indicting these folks. I love them. But we are seeing more and more folks come for the Wednesday night Bible study I am leading. It is a great group.

However, I wonder how many would show up if we reverted back to our former plan of just having prayer time. The numbers would be less.

Why? Well, there is something about prayer—just announcing it—that elicits a battle from the flesh. It is just not something the Christian crowds will ever gravitate to—at least not American Christians.

Thus, we battle the flesh. We battle the world. And we battle the enemy. Any serious praying puts us right in the fray.

That is where Daniel was and it was hard on him, and he was tired. This is the setting for the angel’s message to him: "He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision’” (Daniel 9:22, 23 NASB).

A couple of things stand out in this response. First, the angel said, “The minute you started praying, the Lord sent me with an answer.” Why did his journey take so long? Again, who knows?

Second, the angel told Daniel, “You are highly esteemed.” In short, God has high regard for you.

This answer flies in the face of Satan’s accusations. The angel was saying in effect, “This answer took a while to come to you. You are highly esteemed.” Those two statements don’t go together in our minds, but they do in God’s.

Therefore, the bottom line is KEEPING PRAYING AND DON’T STOP.

Yesterday, the Lord encouraged me in a couple of significant ways. I’m certainly in a place that most folks don’t esteem—especially potential candidates for staff positions. But I’m thankful that the Lord operates on a different level.

Right or wrong, good or bad—I’m now kind of in the mode of believing that I think anyone who is potential staff needs to join the fellowship FIRST and then we might consider them as a paid person. Maybe.

This is a whole new subject for another day. But I refuse to be discouraged and let Satan prevail because of appearances and what other people think.

Lord, thank you today that you are a prayer-answering God. Your ways are NOT my ways. Your thoughts are radically different than mine.

God, I confess that I am so focused on what I can see and my opinion of that and the immediate. I live in a microwave culture. I’m so impatient. I am not patient. AT ALL.

But your plan and your way of doing things differs radically from the way we do things. Lord, I need grace and strength to keep on going, to persevere, to believe that you are still on your throne despite numerous setbacks and delays and obstacles. Help!

Thank you for the encouragements of yesterday. Thank you for hearing my pleas and answering. I believe that help is on the way even as I type these words.

“Let us love our God supremely,
Let us love each other too”

(“Brethren, We Have Met to Worship,” BH 2008, 386). Amen.
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Attractional, Relational, or _______?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with my friend Roger who lives and serves in Associational work in Iowa. Actually, he had called last week to check on me, and it took me a while to get back with him. I’m in that boat with several folks who have called me over the past couple of weeks. Somehow, when I get treatments, it slows me down enough that I get kind of behind on phone calls—for some unknown reason. I’m glad most of my friends understand this.

Well, anyway, as our conversation progressed, we got into the topic of church in general. Roger has always been such a great sounding board on this topic and has been since we first met back in 1983. Wow, has it been that long, Roger?

He was planting a new congregation in the Morrison area. It is a western suburb of metro Denver that backs right up against the foothills. Ken Caryl Baptist Church was sponsoring the new work, and I helped Roger out as a summer missionary. This was the summer before my last year in M.Div work at Southwestern, and it was off the charts.

We walked a lot of streets in Morrison and knocked on a lot of doors that summer. We began having services in an elementary school, and it was great to see things launch. I particularly enjoyed the fellowship with Roger and his wife Missy. They always had a meal prepared when I headed over to their home in the late afternoon—that’s when my job started each day. We would visit around the table and then Roger and I headed out.

Several years later, Roger took a pastorate in Loveland and then moved on to Iowa. We have stayed in touch all those years. A couple of years ago, he invited me to Ames to do a preaching seminar with the pastors in two associations—the two he works with there.

It was one of the greatest experiences ever. I enjoyed getting to meet some of the guys who serve in Iowa. I still think about them now and again. In fact, I asked Roger about them yesterday.

Anyway, back to the point, we got on the subject of church. I told Roger about a comment my pastor friend Dan had made a couple of years ago: “John, I read somewhere that what is happening is that medium-size churches like the ones you and I serve are going away. Where things are headed is that there will be house churches or mega-churches and very little in-between.”

When I said that, Roger jumped in, “Yes, two types of churches—attractional and relational.”

Now, I had never heard those distinctions before Roger’s comments, but immediately, it made sense. Some people value the intimacy of relationships more than anything else. They want to try to get to know everyone in the church and they want to know their pastor and want him to know them.

Others gravitate to churches because they are looking for a good “show” and they value anonymity. They want to slide into a church, sit on the back row, and slide out. If they miss a Sunday or two or ten, no one will notice, and that’s what they like.

Okay, now I have caricatured those two church modes—I know. But I think they are fairly accurate as a general rule. Of course, you find both types of folks in both types of churches. This goes without saying. But Roger is talking about the overriding philosophy of ministry of these churches and the folks that populate them.

And I think he is dead-on right.

But then, Roger asked, “Okay, John, so what type of church is yours?”

Humm. Another great question.

“Well,” I replied, “I think we are somewhere in between those two philosophies.” What does that mean?

On one hand, we have really worked to make some improvements to our building and our “front door” (literally and metaphorically—we actually got a new front door that is beautiful). We got a new playground; we got a new sound system; and we are working on finishing up a new Welcome Center.

Now, those things may appear to be rather insignificant, but they all needed updating, and I think each of those items is designed to improve our ability to attract new people.

On the other hand, most of everything else we do is relational. Most of the people who gravitate to our church want relationships and value them—and not just with few people in a class who are the same age. They want a relationship with me and with everyone else.

But again—here is the point. We are betwixt and between. We are ______ mode. No name for it yet.

I wonder what that means. There might be some who would say, “Being a relational church means that you stay intentionally small, and if that intentionally small group is not open to ‘outsiders,’ it will quickly decline and die.” I think this is true.

I know I don’t really have an “attractional” mentality, and even if I did, I don’t think we could attract many people. There is really no way we can compete with the larger churches on the north side, and I don’t care to.

Well, anyway, all of this is food for thought. And like most discussions about church that I have with Roger or Dan or anyone else—eventually, you always come back to this, “But God can do anything in any situation.”

No matter what type of church one is in—a Holy Spirit revival would help out—right?

I think it is significant that just as I am in the middle of all this discussion and quite frankly “angst” about the church I serve, I find myself in Daniel 9.

I’m telling you: the average American Christian and his/her pastor does NOT pray in this way.

Most of us are very myopic and selfish and “my immediate needs oriented” in our praying.

Daniel, in this prayer in chapter nine, is on the other end of the scale. He is praying for the nation. He is praying for Jerusalem as he lives hundreds of miles away in a distant land ruled by the Medes. But he is confessing the sins of his nation. He is agreeing with God about sin and evil and taking responsibility for his role in all of it. He is grieving and weeping. He is seeking God’s glory.

Here are the final sentences of his prayer: "O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name” (Daniel 9:17-19 NLT).

Again, we don’t pray THIS WAY. THAT is our problem.

Lord, you are in charge of nations and churches and people. Thank you for my friend Roger—his support and encouragement. I thank for our discussion about church and how things play themselves out in church life these days. This is very valuable to the kingdom and to me. Thank you also for what you are doing in the church I serve. I love my church family.

And yet, Lord, I confess that the more I think about all of it, the more depressed I get … until I confess my own sin and the sins of the church community I serve. Lord, we are focused on so many other things than you. We are preoccupied. We are busy. We have shoved you into a corner.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Forgive us for idolatry and misplaced priorities. Smile on us again, Lord, so that relational and attractional and ________al churches alike—all kinds and if I have missed another type or two—those also—can see you move in power.

“And we pray that all unity may one day be restored”

(“They’ll Know We Are Christians,” BH 2008, 385). Amen.
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"We, The People"

I bet you think I am going to talk about the United States Constitution today, huh? Nope, but the passage I read today in Daniel 9 brought this famous beginning to mind.

Let me back up a minute. Even as I was going through my final preparations procedures to preach yesterday, the burden of revival seemed to weigh even heavier on my mind and heart. I won’t re-preach my sermon here, but I was proposing a lifestyle evangelism methodology to our folks yesterday. It is based on Oscar Thompson’s Concentric Circles of Concern—the best book on evangelism that I have ever read, by the way.

This book and what it proposes is our bedrock evangelism strategy and has been since I started as pastor. One of these days in this blog, I will talk about it in more depth.

Oscar Thompson was an evangelism professor at Southwestern Seminary and passed away in 1980 before he completed the book. His wife Carolyn made sure it was finished and published.

Since then, a reprint/revision of the book—a paperback version has come out in which Claude King (who worked with Henry Blackaby on Experiencing God) has come out. It has a few more bells and whistles than Thompson’s original book. It is okay. But I still prefer the original. I have two hardback copies that I value as if they were gold.

Anyway, as I was preparing to preach the message, I almost scrapped it at the last minute because Satan whispered in my ear, “Oh, John, nobody is going to do this. That is not where people are. They don’t care about reaching anyone. Why bother?”

I’ll tell you—talk about reaching lost people and make steps to do it as a leader and all hell will break loose. It never fails. I actually believe that the combat zone that Paul is referring to in his famous Ephesians 6 passage on warfare has something to do with this. Think about it: whenever we challenge people to share and actually do it—we are attempting to capture soldiers from the enemy, and he doesn’t like it.

As I was wrestling with all of this on Saturday night, the Lord brought something else to mind. I’ve thought a lot about it since.

There is a very prevalent notion out there that somehow, in the life of the church, BEFORE we can actually reach people, we must be discipled FIRST. As if the two are somehow separated! Are you kidding me? And I want to ask the “disciples” (pun intended) of this very naïve and extremely evil view—how do you know when the magic moment has occurred? “Ok, now, I am discipled and now I am at a point where I can actually share my faith and focus on reaching people.”

This is ludicrous. And it is evil. I say that because I believe it is another plot of Satan to keep us from encroaching on his territory and hiding in church buildings in classes getting “discipled.”

Here is the bottom line: some believe that discipleship and evangelism and separated and consecutive events. One happens and then it is finished. And then the other—evangelism—happens. Bogus.

Here is what I believe—evangelism is part of discipleship and they are not separate and consecutive. They are one and the same and concurrent! Can I actually be a biblical disciple in the classroom?

If I wait until I am ready to share, I guarantee I am never going to do it. Am I downing all kinds of training? No. But come on! If I have a testimony of what the Lord has done in my life, I have enough to start—right?

Our problem is not training. We have training coming out our ears in most churches. Our problem is PRAXIS—“DO IT,” as Nike says.

And the blind man that Jesus healed is a case in point. Shortly after his initial encounter he was in a position to have to give a testimony and he knew very little, but did that mean that he had to bypass an opportunity to share because he was not “discipled”? Here is a paraphrase of his testimony: “I was blind and now I see.” Is that enough? Are you kidding?

So, I battled through all of that on Saturday night, and came to the conclusion that nothing was going to stop me from challenging myself (first) and the church I serve to be intentional about sharing Jesus first with folks in their family who need Jesus and then other people close to them in their “concentric circles” and I proposed a very simple method for getting at that.

Take that, Satan. Whether anyone in the church does it—is up to him or her. But it won’t be because they were not challenged.

And I am going to battle this segmented view of ministry from now on. Again I say, “It is bogus.”

All of that having been said, however, the need of the hour is still a work of God in my heart and in the heart of God’s people. And in chapter nine of Daniel, he takes the first step in moving in God’s direction. Now, Daniel was a servant of God. This is clear from page one of his book, and yet, he stands with his people in their sin as the Lord brings it to mind, and he prays to God as part of his people in—here it is—confession. Notice the word “we” here:

"I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: ‘O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land’ (Daniel 9:4-6 NLT).

O Lord, we love you. We praise you for being a great and awesome God.

We acknowledge that we continue to find all kinds of excuses not to tell the story of Jesus and His love. We have hidden in classrooms and church services and then have gone out to a lost and dying world and have refused to speak—using all kinds of excuses. We have failed, and in the meantime, as each day passes, people are dying and going to hell as we sit back getting “discipled.”

High school students in particular are going to hell all around us. They are killing themselves and we are silent.

Father, do a work of revival in our lives that begins with confession, but as you are doing that work, move us out and open our mouths. Open mine today.

Oh, God, forgive us. Amen.
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Another "Letter" from Another Church

I put “letter” in quotes because it really wasn’t a letter. It was an email in letter form. Same thing, basically.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I talked about a letter I received asking us to consider bringing this pastor and some folks from her church in for revival services.

Well, right about that same time, I received this email letter. This time it was from a church on the north side. Again, I am not going to use specific names.

Basically, the pastor is making a plea for prayer that goes something like this. First, it begins with a description of the church, including a vision statement. Second, he says (I’m paraphrasing here), “We are currently running 275 and are having new people saved each Sunday. We need all the prayer support we can get.”

Third, he lists four prayer requests (again, a paraphrase):


    There it is. He concludes by thanking everyone for praying for them. I’m glad to do it. And I want to ask you to do the same. Please lift up these requests to the Lord. None of us needs details to pray for other churches.

    But I think that is exactly my point.

    I remember years ago, I received a letter from a church telling me that they were going through the Denver Metro phonebook and they were praying for us.

    It came at a very crucial time of discouragement in my life and ministry.

    But back to this letter … somehow, it just doesn’t sit right with me. I have to be careful here, and I think this is a huge issue among churches and pastors—jealousy. I’m sure there are some who are receiving this email and are thinking, “You have 275 in worship every Sunday and every week you are seeing people saved and you want us to pray for you? Are you kidding?”

    There is something wrong with that. I believe the biblical model of prayer is that you pray when things are going well and when times are challenging. What is more difficult? Well, of course, it is harder to pray when things are going well.

    Look at Paul’s letters—Colossians and Philippians in particular. Paul begins by commending the church and then he prays basically that the good things they are doing would continue and be enhanced.

    Therefore, if I know of a church that is doing well, I should pray for her.

    But again, I go back to my email of a day or two ago—when I say “a church is doing well,” what criterion am I using? This is the problem.

    If a church is right in the middle of God’s will and folks are dropping like flies—attendance is decreasing and no one is getting saved—is that an “unsuccessful” church? Absolutely not.

    I don’t know. It is just so difficult to keep equilibrium in church life because of all the misconceptions and false views of God and church that continue to bombard us. Let me be more specific—me.

    So back to this email—I think it would have been better if this pastor had just asked for prayer and given no details. But that is just me. Whatever. I’m glad that there is a church on the north side that is seeing folks saved every Sunday. Praise God!

    I guess that I would never feel comfortable sending out such an email.

    AND, I’ll tell you what—and this is just me—if God brings revival (as He defines it) and we start to have financial troubles as a result and/or some newspaper shows up to interview me, here is my stock answer: “No and please do not mention my name in any article you write and I prefer that you not write one.”

    And, one final thing: I do feel led to take the lead from that church in Aurora who prayed for us years ago. Instead of asking prayer for our church (and there is nothing wrong with this; in fact, I do it now: PLEASE PRAY FOR US), I feel led to send out letters letting other churches know—whether they are adding numbers of folks and seeing people saved every Sunday or NOT—that we are praying for them.

    Lord, I thank you that you are Lord of the church.

    Give us--give me the same type of burden that caused Daniel to respond in this way:

    "During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes" (Daniel 9:2, 3 NLT).

    “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
    Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love”

    (BH 2008, 385). Amen.
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    Lonnie's Funeral

    Since I was diagnosed with cancer, every funeral (and honestly, there have been quite a few in the past couple of years) has taken on new significance.

    Why? Well, I guess because this disease has caused me to think about death more than I ever have AND, more importantly, to value each and every day that I am breathing and able function more than ever.

    Yesterday’s service was unusual because there was no “service”!

    Let me explain: shortly after Lonnie passed away, his daughter Barbara called. She said, “John, we want Lonnie to be buried next to mom at Fort Logan National Cemetery. Their schedule is very full. They have an opening for Friday at 9:00 AM. If we don’t take that time, then we will have to wait a week, and we don’t want to do that.”

    “Where will the service be held?” I asked.

    “Well,” Barbara replied, “we talked it over with dad several days ago. All he wanted was a graveside service. You know Dad. He did not want a lot of hoopla.”

    How about that for a word—“hoopla”?

    I can certainly understand it when you consider that Lonnie buried his wife, three of his children, and one grandchild. His granddaughter’s name was Leta. She and her mom, Lorraine, out of all of Lonnie’s family were fairly regular attenders at our church. I saw Leta grow up into a fine teenage young woman, but a rather strange disease (and right now, I can’t remember what it was) took her life.

    It was very sudden and very tragic and hit Lonnie hard, the severest blow of all. He was never the same after Leta died.

    Therefore, it is very understandable that he did not want a lot of “hoopla” at his own funeral.

    Back to my conversation with Barbara, I went on, “What I usually do at the graveside is very short and brief. I usually read some scripture, say a few words, and then close with prayer. Is that okay?”

    “Yes, absolutely. That is what we want. Short and sweet and to the point.”

    Okey dokey.

    I arrived at the “staging area” yesterday morning before anyone else. Soon, other vehicles came and came and came. I was amazed at the number of people who showed up for this service.

    The hearse pulled up. A young man jumped out and started walking back to my truck. “Are you the pastor?” he asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Well, we will be getting started in a little bit, but I just wanted you to know that there will be no military honors today. Lonnie is certainly eligible. That is not the issue. It is just that we did not receive the paperwork we needed for this, but the family can come back and do this later on if they so choose.”

    By then, folks were getting out of their cars. Groups of people were standing on the street. I got out of my truck and greeted some of the family members. I have officiated and/or attended all the funerals in this family. We have quite a track record together.

    They have experienced more than their fair share of tragedy, I think, but the Lord knows. All I wanted to do was hug on people in the family I knew yesterday.

    For once, I realized that words were not needed. Lonnie’s passing needed no explanation. And no one was seeking it.

    When the time came, everyone got back in his/her car and we made the slow caravan over to the graveside. The sun was out. It was a little chilly, but overall, it was a beautiful January day.

    We pulled up to a pavilion. Four of Lonnie’s brothers and a couple of other gentlemen carried the casket into the pavilion. We gathered everyone together and I started to read scripture and said, “We are sad today for us because we miss Lonnie, but let’s not be sad for him. The second he breathed his last the other day he went to that room that Jesus had been preparing for him and he took on a new resurrection body. Lonnie is right now partying with the angels in glory!”

    As I was speaking, all of a sudden, one of Lonnie’s brothers stood up and came forward. He was emotional, so much so that his legs started to buckle. Some of the women who were seated in the few chairs at the front jumped up to stand by him.

    This was about the point where I started to lose it. As I composed myself, I prayed for the family and the service was over.

    In retrospect, I have had some time to think about why I got emotional. Yes, I miss Lonnie. That was part of it. But let me see if I can explain the other part.

    We were standing in that military cemetery. I tell you—that place is moving just to be there. Just to be standing among all those men and women who gave their lives in service for their country, and I am a benefactor of that sacrifice. I get to be a pastor and I get to serve a congregation who can worship in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    As I was speaking, we heard “Taps” being played at another pavilion near ours. I love that song. Don’t get me wrong. But it is very sobering, almost depressing.

    As it played, I thought of the fact that every day, more and more World War II vets pass away. I can’t remember the exact statistics, but it is a staggering number. Soon, they will all be gone.

    On a broader and more significant scale, all the Christian members of the “Greatest Generation” are going home to glory as well.

    I am witnessing this first hand. I am serving a congregation where the seniors are going home—each of these folks with whom I have a twenty plus year history—one by one.

    Lonnie is another.

    And here is a weep-worthy fact: we are not replacing them! Where is this headed?

    Most of us think we want to know the future. I’m not so sure we do. God gave Daniel another dream in chapter eight, but I want to cite two verses that explain Daniel’s reaction to the interpretation of the dream: "While he was speaking, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground. But Gabriel roused me with a touch and helped me to my feet… Then I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days. Afterward I got up and performed my duties for the king, but I was greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it" (Daniel 8:18, 27 NLT).

    Lord, thank you for Lonnie and that brief service yesterday. I pray for comfort for the family. Help them through another death.

    I pray for the church as well. Slowly but surely, we are seeing all the Kingdom Vets of this senior generation pass.

    You know the future, Lord, and right now, sitting here today, I’m glad I don’t. I just chose to live for you today.

    “Sister … Brother, let me be your servant,
    Let me be as Christ to you;
    Pray that I may have the grace to
    Let you be my servant too”

    (“The Servant Song,” BH 2008, 384). Amen.
    Comments

    Have Revival, Will Travel

    Every week, I am literally inundated with letters and requests from ministries to invite them, have them, host them, and/or support them. I try at least to look at every piece of mail I receive, but honestly, some weeks, I just throw these requests away.

    The other day, however, I received one that caused me to stop.

    Before I go further, please understand: I am not making fun or belittling any church or ministry. The Lord works in different ways at different times. Who am I to judge what the Lord is doing in other churches?

    However, I do believe that the Lord gives us discernment, and as a pastor, I believe one of my main responsibilities is to protect God’s sheep. This demands some level of “fruit” evaluation.

    Anyway, this letter captured my attention. (Again, I’m not going to name names here). The title of the letter is “Revival … Revival … Revival Coming to Your Church & City.”

    Let me stop right there. The word “revival” is one that I am using and praying quite frequently these days. I’m not sure I would know one if it hit me over the head, but I am asking the Lord to send a great revival in my soul and in our church. Whatever it is, I certainly believe that it is our only hope.

    How do I define it? There is no technical definition (at least none that I know of), but I would say that it is a movement of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of a collective group of believers. I think I will stop there. And I will come back to this in a moment.

    Well, back to the letter. Below the title, there is a message to the city of Denver:

    “All you who cry out for revival,
    All you who are waiting for the move of God;
    I have prepared my servant,
    I have prepared my holy warriors,
    I have released them to bring revival to this city,
    Open the doors of your church to my chosen ones,
    So that I may bless you through them, and grant you the revival you have been crying for.”

    Underneath this message, there are these words: “Your Lord Jesus, Dictated to ________ (the pastor’s name), January 8, 2013.”

    Okay, let me stop right there. The claim here is that these are the very words of Jesus Himself (the red print in the KJV Bible). Wow. What an awesome claim!

    Below this message purportedly from the Lord Jesus Himself, this pastor requests that I invite her along with some folks in her congregation to the church I serve on some Sunday evening for a revival service.

    Then, she says, “What will happen in this revival: open heavens; deliverances; healings; opening of spiritual eyes—this gift will be poured out during the revival. Some will have their spiritual eyes open to see Jesus face to face and the spiritual realm, as the Lord allows; baptism of Holy Spirit and fire; and Outpouring of Spiritual gifts and much more.”

    Her letter concludes with a plea to send an invitation to her at the address listed on the letter. She will pray about it and let me know what Sunday evening they could come.

    Wow.

    If only it were that easy.

    Here are some comments that I want to make about this “portable” revival. First, the canon of scripture is closed. Jesus is still speaking to believers, but He does that through the written Word of God.

    Second, the only message that has authority for my life is God’s Word. The Lord can and does speak to others. But God’s Word is the only source of authority for the believer and the church.

    Third, revival is a sovereign work of Almighty God. He, and He alone chooses when and where to pour out His Spirit.

    In short, a revival that is occurring in one congregation cannot be bottled and packaged and carried somewhere else. There are no Spiritual Rock Band Tours in God’s Kingdom.

    Let me see if I can explain. If the Beach Boys decide to go on a concert tour, they sell tickets in each city they plan to visit. When they come, everyone who goes to the concert knows exactly what he or she is going to get. Everyone will hear the same songs that this band has played for decades. There is no innovation here. There is nothing new here. It is the same old, same old.

    As a matter of fact, the folks that buy tickets don’t want new songs; they want to hear the familiar songs they have played for years.

    This letter reminds me of all of that. It makes revival into some kind of Spiritual Rock Band Tour. Have Revival, Will Travel.

    Fourth, and here is the clincher for me—to list what any church can expect when the Spiritual Revival Band Tour comes is highly offensive to me. This puts God in a box. It limits God to what this church views as the criterion for God at work. When God moves, He will move in this way and that.

    Now, of course, it is always too easy to criticize someone else, but even as I am writing this blog today, the Holy Spirit is convicting me that I have the same erroneous idea of revival. Whether I like to admit this or not, I have my own list of what God will do in revival.

    One of the main ingredients on my list (or my box that I try to put God in) is church growth. Right? Of course, when revival occurs, the church adds a lot of new members and rescues our budget.

    Man, I tell you—how selfish, how narrow, and how egotistical. This is much more evil than the letter I received. God, I am so wrong.

    I need to go back to my definition: revival is a movement of God’s Spirit in the collective life of a group of believers. Period. Stop right there.

    When I add anything to that such as healing or more members to the church—whatever it is—aren’t I putting God in a box?

    Okay, so here is the question of the hour: could a movement of God involve no healings and less and less people in the church?

    Of course, this doesn’t garner any attention and let’s be honest--any interest. Why would I want a revival that leads me straight into decline and difficulty and suffering? That can’t be revival, can it?

    "Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:27 NLT). Amen.
    Comments

    John of India

    Doesn’t that sound like the title of some famous crusader of the tenth century with a Bible in one hand and a spear in the other? I can just see the picture on the front of the book—a man preaching to people as he stands in a jungle.

    The real man I am talking about this morning does not have that dramatic of a story—there are no jungles in northern India--but it is just as significant. My respect for him grows every time I meet him.

    Let me back up a bit. John belonged to First Southern in the mid-1980’s while Benny was pastor. He lived up the street from the church in an apartment and rode his bike to the church. Betty told me he was there just about every time the door was open, especially at outreach events and activities.

    Back then, he had just finished up a computer degree at Colorado State University and was sensing the Lord’s call to missions.

    Yesterday, he shared all this with Betty and me as he stopped by the church office. He actually came by to visit with Betty primarily since she was leaving town the next day, but I got to visit with him as well. Actually, I have invited him to come and share with our Wednesday night adult Bible study group and I just wanted to touch base with him on several things.

    We had him come to share with us several years ago. That is when I first met him.

    But back to his call, yesterday he shared Romans 15:20 with us: “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard.” Therefore, he felt led to go to a particular province and area in north India that some have dubbed, “The Graveyard of Missions.” How about that moniker?

    He chose a town and a people group in which one out of a thousand is a believer in Jesus. He teaches in a school in this town (I am being intentionally vague about specifics at this point) that has no congregation. But a Christian pastor comes twice a year—on Easter and Christmas—to hold services.

    When John goes to worship, he travels a few miles to get to a church in a nearby town. This is no easy task since the roads and modes of transportation are quite difficult to deal with.

    John is single. He lives in a twelve by twelve room with a family in town.

    He told us yesterday that one of his goals is to live very simply. He obviously does not possess much in terms of worldly possessions, but he seems quite content, and I think he would refuse many of the “complications” of American life even if someone offered them to him.

    Life is not easy in this particular part of India. Floods occur quite often. The mosquitoes are ravenous. The utilities are undependable at best. For about eight hours a day (and the schedule is different every day), there is no electricity. In the summer, this makes life particularly difficult because the temperatures can get above one hundred degrees—no air conditioners.

    As John was telling Betty and me about all of this, there was not one hint of complaint in anything he said. He simply stated the facts in a very straightforward way—just the way it is.

    Just before he left, he showed us some pictures of the folks he ministers to in this village—the children and a young couple getting married in a Hindu ceremony.

    Some of the folks he is sharing with are perfectly open to hearing about Jesus. They are quite ready to adding Him to their collection of gods, but few are ready to embrace the Lord as the One and Only God.

    I don’t know … Just hanging around John convicts me greatly. He just loves the Lord and lives to serve Him in a difficult place and he is content with that.

    I whine and complain about so many things …

    As he left yesterday, we prayed together. He prayed for me to be healed. He lifted up some of the folks he is burdened for. We prayed that they would come to the One who claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life.

    There is no way any god (small g) can compete with God (capital G). This story in Daniel six bears this out. Darius decreed that everyone should worship him. When Daniel refused, the other wise men in the King’s court tattled on him. Reluctantly, the king tossed Daniel in the den and sealed the top of the cave.

    The Bible tells us that the king tossed and turned through a long and sleepless night. He knew Daniel was innocent.

    Early the next morning, he raced to the den and called out, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:20, NLT) When Daniel responded, the king was overjoyed and pulled him out of the den.

    He then turned and tossed Daniel’s detractors along with their wives and children into the den. Immediately, before these folks hit the ground, the lions devoured them.

    Following all of this, "Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: ‘Peace and prosperity to you! I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions’” (Daniel 6:25-27 NLT).

    Here is a pagan king praising God! This is what I am praying occurs on a multiple scale among the Hindus in John’s village in northern India and among the pagans in Northglenn.

    Oh, Lord, again, today, I acknowledge you as the One and Only God. Thank you for your miraculous rescues—not only in Daniel’s life, but also in mine.

    Thank you so much for John and his ministry. Bless this brother, Lord. Bless his life and ministry. Thank you for his willingness to come and share with us on Wednesday night next week.

    Oh, Lord, I cannot hold a candle to this brother. I’m not worthy to bend down and tie his shoes. I’m honored just to be with him.

    “To her my cares and toils be giv’n
    Till toils and cares shall end”

    (“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” BH 2008, 383). Amen.
    Comments

    As Usual

    Not all habits are bad. Some are good. Others are absolutely essential.

    In chapter six of Daniel, God’s man faces another challenge. Darius, King of the Medes, and the new boss, gets a request from all the sorcerers in his court. They tell him that he is such a great guy that he needs to make a decree in the land that everyone should worship him or be thrown into the lion’s den.

    Their motivation is to find something on Daniel to get him out of favor with the king because clearly, he is head and shoulders above all of them.

    Once again, in scripture, jealousy—the same kind that crucified Jesus—rears its ugly head. These so-called wise men knew that the only way they were going to get Daniel was through his faith.

    Therefore, the decree went out—worship the king or die.

    What did Daniel do at that point? This is where habit comes in. This is the crucial time that determines what one’s true character is all about. And this character is forged through decisions and actions and convictions that one has when life is NOT in crisis.

    As the Broncos were preparing for their playoff game against the Ravens (I’m just now at the point of even talking about the Broncos again—that loss still hurts, but at least the Ravens beat New England. Somehow, that makes me feel a little better—a little), someone asked Peyton Manning if he prepares differently for playoff games. His answer was categorical, “Absolutely not. I had a coach tell us once, ‘If you prepare in a different way for a playoff game than a game in the regular season, then you should prepare THAT WAY all the time.”

    What he was saying is that his routine stays the same, no matter how important the game ahead is.

    This is what all great athletes do as they prepare. It is the same in golf. All the great players have a practice routine and a pre-shot routine. They approach the game the same way so that, when the pressure is on, they don’t wonder. They don’t vacillate. They don’t waver.

    This is exactly what Daniel did. The law changed, but Daniel didn’t.

    "But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God" (Daniel 6:10 NLT).

    The phrase “as usual” jumped off the page to me this morning. Here was a man that was in the habit of worshiping God—not just on Sundays, not just once a day, but three times a day.

    He opened the windows of his house—they faced Jerusalem—where the temple had been, the center of Jewish worship—and he knelt down (a posture of submission) and prayed, THREE TIMES A DAY. This was his “pre-shot” routine. This was his “practice regimen.” Why stop?

    For Daniel, worship was his default mode. I just went to Google and entered that term, “default mode.” Interesting. The first two sites at the top of the list refer to that term in conjunction with brain function. And certainly, the discussion in that regard flies high over my head, but one word that I noticed was “baseline.”

    When everything in my world is topsy-turvy and is flying off in all different directions, how do I respond? Crises necessarily cause us to revert to the basics in attempt to find a quiet center in the midst of the storm. It is in those times that we find out what is really important, what is our default mode, our baseline, if you please.

    A baseline on the basketball court is a boundary that determines whether I am in play or not. It is the same with worship. It is a baseline of life. If I am doing it, the likelihood is that I am “in bounds” with God; if not, it is likely that I am going to get into trouble.

    This reminds me of what Paul says about the peace of Christ in Colossians 3:16—“Let the peace of Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts” (Amplified Bible). How about that? I think this statement mirrors what Daniel did when the pagan law passed in the land.

    He stayed in bounds and kept himself in the game through worship.

    Here is one thing I have learned about myself and have seen as pastor over the years: if someone is in the habit of worship, then, when a crisis happens, he or she does not get bitter, they get better. That’s a cliché, I know, but it is true.

    But if worship is a marginal activity in someone’s life, then, when he or she goes through difficulty, they drop out of church and get mad at God.

    I am determined that nothing is going to affect my worship of God.

    The response of Polycarp comes to mind today. He was a disciple of John who was tied up on a stake and threatened with death if he did not recant his faith. Polycarp refused, saying, “Eighty and six years have I served Him and not once has he ever let me down. How can I now deny my King?” (This is an approximate quote). When he said that, the officials lit the wood below him and the historians record that the flames went around him but did not touch him. How about that?

    O Lord, another day, another opportunity to worship you. And I am going to continue the rest of my days, no matter what happens to me.

    Thank you for a good night’s rest last night and the prayers of your people in that regard.

    Forty and five years have I served you and not once have you let me down, O my King.

    “Unto Him our Maker we would pledge anew
    Life’s supreme devotion to service true”

    (“Serve the Lord with Gladness,” BH 2008, 382). Amen.
    Comments

    "Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, and Divided"

    Before my last treatment yesterday, Dr. Jotte came into my waiting room. As he entered the door, he said, “Hi John, you know, I’ve always wanted to say this to a guy who is here for his last treatment: ‘John, as it turns out, we’ve discovered a new regimen for your cancer that requires three more years of treatment.’” He laughed. I did also—sort of. Ha.

    Well, things seemed to go a little bit better yesterday and I went to my primary care physician’s office yesterday afternoon. I was hoping to get some help to get me through the next couple of days a little better. We will see.

    So far, it has been about the same. I got more and more fatigued as the day wore on and didn’t really sleep all that much last night. My “motor” is revving up, but I am going nowhere. I am flushed and hot. Steroids are really weird. I can’t imagine anyone, especially a professional athlete, choosing to take them, but it shows how desperate people can be to succeed and make money.

    I wonder how much damage Lance Armstrong did to himself because of all the drugs he took as a recovering cancer patient.

    Last night, right before I went to bed, I kind of hit bottom emotionally. It was weird. Everything came crashing in on me with “stuff” going on at church. There is just so much to do (nothing new there) and today, I just don’t have the energy. So, rather than push myself, I’m going in for a while and then I’m leaving.

    I’m kind of coming to this point with all of it: I am only one person. I am going to do what I can do, but if this church is going to decline and die, then so be it. That sounds like a callous statement. It isn’t. It is just where I am right now, today.

    I wish other people would get it. And I think some do. I can tell by what they say. But for the vast majority—I don’t know. Somehow, I want to stand up on some Sunday and use words that would finally penetrate. Recently, I’ve felt led to preach some of the most urgent messages of my whole life. I believe in the power of God’s Word, but I wish I could do more. That desire puts the ball in my court again as if all of this depends on me. It doesn’t.

    This is one of the Lord’s churches. I have to keep coming back to that. He is in charge of it. He is the Head of this body. But still …

    Does this make any sense? I am just very tired, and I have to be careful when things seem to be crashing down all around me.

    Actually, this story in Daniel five encourages me greatly, the more I think and pray about it. Nebuchadnezzar’s successor as ruler of Babylon was Belshazzar. One night, he was having a drunken brawl with his nobles in the palace. He requested that the gold goblets from the Temple be brought to the party so that he could fill them with wine and drink out of them. This was a blatant act of defiance and idolatry.

    All of a sudden (you know the story), a hand appeared, writing a message on the wall beside him. The king’s knees buckled with fear. In terror, he called his magicians and sorcerers, asking them to interpret this message. They could not.

    But the king’s wife stepped up to help. She suggested Daniel, and reminded her husband of the Hebrew man’s ability to interpret dreams. Daniel had done it for Nebuchadnezzar. Maybe he could do it again.

    When the king summoned Daniel, he informed the king of his past history with his predecessor. Then, Daniel confronted Belshazzar: "You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! So God has sent this hand to write this message" (Daniel 5:22-24 NLT).

    The writing on the wall (pun intended) said, “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” Translation: King, your days are numbered. You have been weighed in God’s scale and found deficient and your kingdom will be divided up amongst the Medes and the Persians.

    In short, you are done.

    Now here is the clincher: that very night, two major events of worldwide significance happened: Belshazzar was murdered and Darius, King of the Medes, took over.

    This is one of the most awesome passages of judgment in the whole Bible. It makes my knees shake.

    But here is the encouragement I derive from it: when the Lord decides to move, He can make BIG CHANGES very fast. In one night, the balance of world power shifted from one kingdom to the next.

    Now, if God has that amount of sway over kings and nations, don’t you think He can take care of His church?

    I’ve seen it. I’ve seen God take people OUT. I know He can do the same with me if I don’t allow Him to keep my nose clean.

    No one, including and especially me, cares more about His church than Jesus does.

    Lord, you are indeed in charge of kings and nations. This is true with the United States of America and our leaders as well.

    You are also in charge of the church you created. And all of us—every last person—are under scrutiny. Nobody gets by with anything. No word, no action, no attitude goes un-noticed.

    Clean me up again today, so that, as I clean vessel, I can follow you today and serve you.

    “Make me a servant today” (BH 2008, 381). Amen.
    Comments

    The Last (?) Maintenance Treatment

    One of the things that happens to you in this cancer business is that you become increasingly hesitant to use the word “last” when it comes to anything.

    Some might say that this is a lack of faith. Others might respond that it is just wisdom and prudence.

    I mean, really, none of us knows what is going to happen in the next five minutes. So why would we presume to know the future as it pertains to anything?

    Part of the issue here is that Dr. Jotte keeps telling me that this cancer is going to come back, and I keep hearing stories of that occurring. The story of Stuart Scott, commentator at ESPN, is a primo example. I’m not going to delve into his whole story right here, and I don’t know what kind of cancer he had or has, but his cancer has returned. And to his credit, he has come right out and said, “I’m scared.” (“ESPN Anchor Stuart Scott on return of cancer ‘I’m Scared,’” www.cbsnews.com, accessed January 21, 2013).

    I will write more about Scott’s story later, but again, the point I am making is that all the time, everywhere you look, you hear stories of this disease rearing its head again—sometimes after multiple years have passed.

    The whole idea of remission (and I have said this multiple times before in this forum) does not mean CURE. “Cure” has an air of finality about it. Done. Finished. FOREVER. The doctors don’t use that term when it comes to cancer, and the more I think about it—there is nothing related to our human experience that can have the qualifier of FOREVER attached to it. The only person who is forever is the Lord and the only situation in which I am guaranteed to be cured forever is heaven.

    All of this having been said, however, I’m glad that FOR NOW (how about saying it that way?), today looks as if I am done with treatment. And I thank the Lord for where I am today.

    I honestly don’t think it will be that emotional for me--partly because I am not done with going to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. In about a month, I am going in for a PET scan. After that, I will have to go back for the results of the test, and then, if everything is okay, I will be going in every three months for a check-up. And actually, it will probably be more often than that, because I still have my port, and it needs to be flushed out every six weeks.

    Thus, there you have it. The beat goes on.

    Another thing that makes me less emotional is the fact that there is such a shift of personnel in the center. Alison has moved on. She is one of the ladies at the front desk who has been such an encourager. Last week, I noticed that one of the main nurses in the chemo room, Kayla (she administered my first chemo treatment and several others since) has left.

    I am certainly no expert, but I would think that there is probably a lot of turnover among people who work in all parts of the medical field for many reasons. I would think that oncology is at the top of that “transient” list. It is just such intense and emotional work. I’m not sure that anyone could do it for a long period of time.

    But back to my experience—these are all contributing factors for me being a little more detached from everything than I was at first. And I thank the Lord for this.

    Anyway, enough to that. Back to the story of the sanity (or lack thereof) of King Nebuchadnezzar. He lived out in the wilderness like an animal for an unspecified period of time, but something happened to turn things around for him again. It is interesting that the text shifts to Nebuchadnezzar telling his story in the first person:

    "After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’ When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud” (Daniel 4:34-37 NLT).

    The king’s sanity returned when he “looked up to heaven.” I think this was more than a physical posture. It is an indication of coming to the end of himself and turning to the Lord. AND, once again, it only takes a moment for the Lord to turn things around completely. Nebuchadnezzar praises the Lord. He refuses to question what the Lord is doing. And he gives credit where credit is due.

    In short, the most sane thing any of us can do is submit to God as the ultimate authority and trust Him that He always knows what He is doing in every situation.

    Oh, Lord, I thank you that you have brought me to this point in the cancer journey. Thank you for your grace and strength. Thank you for the prayers of God’s people. Thank you for Dr. Jotte and all the nurses at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

    I know from the bottom of my heart, Lord, that you know what you are doing. I thank you for today and choose to let tomorrow worry about itself.

    “Make me a blessing to someone today” (BH 2008, 380). Amen.
    Comments

    Every Idle Word

    How many times did someone get into trouble when he walked out on his balcony? Certainly, David did.

    So did King Nebuchadnezzar.

    Twelve months after Daniel interpreted the king’s “tree” dream, he stepped out on his balcony (well, it really wasn’t quite that—it was the flat roof of his palace in Babylon—essentially the same thing). He took a panoramic view of the city and started talking to himself.

    Of course, all of us do that all of the time, right? The modern term for it is “self talk.” Thoughts and words are going through our minds all the time. Some of them actually become oral—they get “out there” in the form of speech. I would venture to say that most do not.

    Nonetheless, if we really believe in the God of the Bible, we have to know that He hears absolutely every word and knows the thoughts and motivations behind them. ABSOLUTELY EVERY WORD.

    Back to Nebuchadnezzar—he was up on that roof alone and said something to himself. "The king reflected and said, 'Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?'”

    That was it. No one heard it. No one else was up there with him—except the Lord.

    What happened? While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you" (Daniel 4:30, 31 NASB).

    What an amazing phrase! “While the word was still in the king’s mouth …” Even before that arrogant, conceited, godless thought formed into words that the king uttered to himself, the King of kings was right there, and in a moment, everything changed.

    The Lord grants people the opportunity to rule and reign, whether they acknowledge Him or not. But just as Job declared, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”

    This happened to Nebuchadnezzar. His right to rule was gone. Poof!

    As I read this passage this morning, two things came to mind. First, I was reminded of the words of Jesus. "And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (Matthew 12:36, 37 NLT).

    Someday, absolutely everything we have ever said or thought will be brought out into the open. This will prove if we are genuinely saved or not.

    I was talking with a brother last night. He was asking me to pray for his brother who is very seriously ill. This brother in the church said, “More than his physical state, I am concerned for him spiritually. His words and actions really make me wonder if he is saved at all.”

    It all goes back to fruit. If I am a believer, then the fruit of my life will bear that out. That fruit consists of what comes out—whether words or actions.

    As in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, the fact that no one was there to hear what he said as he stood on his flat roof and surveyed the city is immaterial. God was there. And He heard. This is ultimately all that matters.

    The second thing that came to mind as I read this story was a significant moment in my relationship to the Lord. I really can’t remember what was going on or what I said, but I was all alone and I made a statement of unbelief. All of a sudden, it was as if everything stopped and I was standing before the Lord face to face. And it felt as if He replied, “Do you really mean what you just said?”

    I know this sounds rather bizarre and weird, and believe me—it caught me totally off-guard. The Lord of the Universe was asking me a question.

    “Ah, well, Lord. Ah, no. I don’t really mean THAT.”

    Well, then, John, SHUT UP.

    Every single word—He hears them all. Sermons, yes. Classes I teach—of course. But every single word uttered in silence sitting on this couch when no one is around to hear. He hears those as well.

    Oh, Lord, I acknowledge that you are the God who sees and HEARS in secret. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart—be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer.” Amen.
    Comments

    Learn That Heaven Runs Things

    As I read the story in Daniel 4 this morning, it strikes a cord with something I think about fairly frequently since I was diagnosed with cancer.

    I’m going to tell you and I know it will sound rather weird. But maybe not. Maybe it is common among folks with cancer. Who knows?

    Let me see if I can lay it out: sometimes, I think about something I was doing a few years ago—maybe it was a special event at church or a visit or just something that happened, and then the thought comes to mind, “Whoa, back then, I had no idea that I was going to get cancer, but I wonder what I would have done differently had I known that cancer was in my future?”

    Of course, most of us do not have the luxury of knowing what will happen five minutes from now, let alone years in the future.

    I do remember, however, “back then,” that if I did think about cancer, my immediate thought was always, “I will NEVER get chemotherapy, EVER. I’m not going through that.”

    I saw what happened with my dad, and vowed that I would never allow the doctors to administer chemo to me. No way!

    Well, of course, that was one of the very first things to change when I was diagnosed, and it took about five seconds as Dr. Jotte was explaining the treatment options and my mom and sister were sitting there in the examining room with me. Those vows crossed my mind for a millisecond because I had proclaimed them so often, but they just vanished in that moment. There was no way I was NOT going to get chemo and there was NO WAY my mom and sister would tolerate me telling the doctor, “Well, thanks, Doc, I think I will pass and just take my chances.” NO WAY.

    But back to the biblical story—Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, and this time, he did tell all of his sorcerers and magicians what it meant, but still, no one could discern the meaning. Therefore, he called on his trusty “revealer of secrets,” Belteshazzar or Daniel.

    The king’s dream was rather weird. It was about a tree that flourished but somehow, it got chopped down, leaving only the stump. Then, there was part of the dream that pictured a madman, living out in the countryside, drenched with dew.

    What did this mean? At first, Daniel was hesitant to share the meaning of the dream because it was all about King Nebuchadnezzar. The tree was the king. The dream meant that the king would be driven from society to live among wild animals as an insane person. This “state” would go on for seven seasons. It would continue until the king learned a valuable lesson.

    Here it is: "The part about the tree stump and roots being left means that your kingdom will still be there for you after you learn that it is heaven that runs things. So, king, take my advice: Make a clean break with your sins and start living for others. Quit your wicked life and look after the needs of the down-and-out. Then you will continue to have a good life” (Daniel 4:26, 27 MSG).

    All of this would occur in the king’s life—school would be in session—until he learned who was Boss (and it wasn’t him!).

    Think about what the king must have thought. I will tell the rest of the story tomorrow, but I just want to stop at this point. “Me, insane, living out in the country as a madman? NO WAY. There is no way that is EVER going to happen to me. I’m a king, king of the greatest nation on earth!”

    Years ago, if someone had told me that I was going to get cancer, I probably would have said the same thing. But if I had believed it, I think it would have freaked me out, and I would have dwelled on it and thought about it constantly.

    But Daniel instructed the king what to do: make a clean break with your sins (this is a very good definition of repentance, by the way) and start thinking about others, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

    Interesting.

    As I sit here this morning, I realize that in fact, I do not have any idea of what is going to happen in the next five minutes AND I’m glad. I know I couldn’t handle it. Therefore, what I do have is right now, today—living in acknowledgement that heaven rules, and I need to make a break with sin, and turning to the Lord, love Him and love my neighbor. AND, I’m going to let him take care of the future.

    Lord, you are in charge of times and seasons and kings and commoners and sanity and insanity. All it would take is a decision on your part and I lose sanity or health or family or home or whatever. It is all in your hands to do with me, as you will.

    Today, you are the Boss. I make a break with sin. Let me love as you love and live for this day. That is it.

    “Trust Me, try Me, prove Me, saith the Lord of hosts, and see
    If a blessing, unmeasured blessing, I will not pour out on thee”

    (“Trust, Try, and Prove Me,” BH 2008, 379). Amen.
    Comments

    "Catfishing"

    I had never heard this term until this story about Manti Te’o and his “fake” girlfriend came out. Let me say first of all that I have no idea about what really happened in this situation. I’m sure the full story will come out.

    This young man is certainly becoming the object of jokes and comments and questions about his character from all sorts of people. Many are treating his version of the story as some kind of crazy, out-in-left-field type of thing that must indicate that his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

    But I just have to say (and a USA Today article that I read this morning bears this out) that internet scams are extremely common. Are you kidding me?

    Let me just say that I have personal and ministry experience to confirm this.

    Several years ago, a guy on staff in our church received an email ostensibly from a woman in Nigeria (this is the first clue that it is a scam if it come from Africa). She wanted to give us five million dollars. All we had to do was pay $50,000 to someone for some reason in order to have the funds sent and deposited in our account. It was something like that.

    Now, even as I write that, it sounds totally ludicrous and ridiculous, but ten to fifteen years ago, it didn’t!

    This staff member and I drove to a bank and sat down with a personal banker. We laid out the scenario to this young man who probably had to work very hard to hold back his laughter and incredulity. In a very straightforward and muffled tone, he replied, “Well, I am pretty much convinced that this is a hoax. Don’t ever send money to a stranger or give out your bank account information to anyone.”

    I shudder to think what would have happened had we done this in hopes of “scoring” five million dollars. Can you imagine the devastation of a church bank account getting cleaned out? My mind can’t even go there.

    Scammers play on greed and lust.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I sent some money to someone to buy a computer, and it turned out to be a hoax. I lost the money. Poof. Gone.

    But there are all kinds of scams out there related to love and romance. Most of them capture very vulnerable and lonely people who are looking for a spouse. Most of these sites advertise available women who live overseas. You notice pictures of these women and they all look like supermodels. (The pictures probably ARE of supermodels but a picture does not a person make). You begin correspondence with them, and at some point, money becomes part of the equation. “Oh, John, I want to come to the United States to meet you. Please wire me five hundred dollars for a plane ticket. I can hardly wait to meet you.”

    And you get what happens from there. Once you send the money, your supermodel girlfriend and the money are gone—poof. Now, I’m not totally sure, but I think this is what “catfishing” is.

    None of us have any idea how many people have been conned by this tactic. I’m sure if we heard, the number would be staggering. But I can tell you from personal ministry experience, those who have had this happen to them are humiliated and don’t want anyone to know.

    Again, it is a play on vulnerable people. It is despicable.

    Now, I don’t know if this is exactly what happened to Manti Te’o or not, but if it is, he is another victim.

    I think the bottom line in all of this is: when it comes to money and relationships, one should be very cautious and suspicious on the World Wide Web. There are so many scams out there and a new one every day.

    Manti Te’o (if the story he and Notre Dame are telling is true) fell in love with a picture and a voice on the other end of a phone line, and of course, the “disease” this young “woman” was suffering from gave her a perfect shield. Manti could have asked, “Hey, I love you. Can we meet in person?”

    “Oh, I would love to, Manti. You know I love you also. But I am in isolation in a hospital ward and the doctors won’t allow it.”

    Then, “she” dies, and I’m sure he got a note from the family asking for several thousand dollars to cover medical expenses and the cost of the funeral. I do know that he sent some white roses to the funeral.

    (This is crazy. I think I know exactly what could have happened. Am I now thinking like a scammer? But I think we need to. Most of us are way too trusting and naïve when it comes to this type of thing).

    Well, anyway, this type of thing just contributes to the cynicism and skepticism of our culture. It is becoming more and more difficult to discern what is real and what isn’t in our cyber culture.

    One person who is real and dependable and unseen (and we don’t have a picture either) is the Lord. Aren’t you glad?

    This well-known story in Daniel three bears it out. Sam, Mike, and Al base their lives on this God. Nebuchadnezzar throws them, tied and bound, into the furnace, and suddenly, he jumps up from his ringside seat at the edge of the furnace, “What is going on here? I threw three men bound into the fire, but I see four men and they are walking around. And one looks like a god.”

    He orders Sam, Mike, and Al to come out of the furnace and he looks them over. There is no hint of any burns on any of the three men, not even the smell of smoke. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar makes a declaration. Here are the final words of his statement: "Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this” (Daniel 3:29 MSG).

    There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this!

    Even though unseen with no picture—God is real, more real than anything or anyone we can actually see or touch. And His rescues are real—the way He does it shows us that He is unique, the One and Only God.

    God, I declare today that even though I can’t experience you with the five human senses, I affirm that you are real, and I know you are because of faith. I place my absolute confidence in you.

    I lift up everyone I know who has been the victim of “catfishing” or some kind of internet scam. Comfort them, today. Help all of us to be alert and aware. Protect us, protect the church, from these liars who are out to steal and destroy.

    “Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
    These have allured my sight”

    (“I am Resolved,” BH 2008, 378). Amen.
    Comments

    Even If He Doesn't ...

    Last night, in the adult study at church, we talked about the book of Daniel. I’m only three chapters into it in my daily reading, but the more I read, the more I’m convinced that this is a worship book.

    In chapter two, the only person who could tackle the king’s impossible request (“tell me WHAT my dream was AND what it means”) was the guy who knew the “God in heaven who reveals secrets”—the One and Only God (Daniel 2:28, NLT).

    Somehow, in the next chapter, we see that King Nebuchadnezzar had not learned his lesson, yet. Of course, we have no idea about the chronology here or how much time has passed between chapters two and three or even if this incident precedes that of chapter two. Who knows?

    Be that as it may, the king makes another demand: “At the sound of music (not the movie), bow down and worship the image I have set up or die.” This was a nation-wide decree, and he exhorted his henchmen to be on the lookout for anyone who did not obey.

    Sure enough, they found three—Daniel’s three friends. Why Daniel is not mentioned in this story is a bit of a mystery to me, always has been.

    But Sam, Mike, and Alan (my Americanized names for these three guys) refused to worship the image and as a result, found themselves before the king to give an explanation. The King gave them one more chance, along with a warning that he would throw them into the furnace, “And then, what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:15, NLT)

    Here is the classic answer that Sam, Mike, and Alan gave: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn't serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18 MSG).

    Whenever I read this story, I am reminded of one of the greatest sermons I ever heard. I think I still have it on cassette tape. Ron Dunn preached it. He was a well-known itinerant Bible teacher a decade or so ago who had some personal a lot of personal tragedy to deal with. For one thing, one of his sons killed himself.

    My family subscribed to his tape ministry when I was in college and seminary. We listened to just about every sermon he ever preached. The Lord used him mightily. He passed away a few years ago.

    Anyway, one of my favorite sermons he ever preached used the first couple of chapters of Job as his text. Ron Dunn said, “The devil believes that everyone serves God because of what they get out of it.” What a profound statement! I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’ve seen it over and over in my years as a pastor. When God is blessing someone with health and a good job, he or she is glad to show up at church and be involved in serving the Lord, but once tragedy of any kind hits, he or she gets mad at God, starts accusing Him of being unfair, and drops out of church altogether.

    Ron Dunn does a great job of explaining Satan’s sneering and skeptical remarks to the Father. “You think Job is a good guy? Well of course he is. Look at all the ways you have blessed him, but if you take away his family and everything he owns and finally his health, he will curse you to your face.”

    What happened? Well, Job did not curse God in spite of the fact that his beloved wife urged him to do so. Thanks a lot, honey. “Should we accept only good things from the and of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10, NLT)

    This story in Daniel three reminds me of that passage in Job as well as Ron Dunn’s sermon. Sam, Mike, and Alan stood their ground, “We refuse to worship the image. We believe God can rescue us from your hand.” But that is not all. They finish the statement.

    “We believe that God can rescue us from the fiery furnace, but even if He does not, we still aren’t going to worship your false god.” Wow.

    Back to Ron Dunn’s message—he asserted, “If God is worth worshiping, then we should do it, no matter what.”

    In other words, I don’t worship God because of what He gives me (the implication being that, if He doesn’t do anything for me or rescue me, then I am not going to worship Him). I worship Him simply because He is worth it.

    The word “worship” (if my memory serves me correctly) comes from an old English word “worth-ship.” I am ascribing worth to God when I sing to Him in church or pray to Him in private.

    One thing that I am convinced of is that, if I live a lifestyle of giving worth to God, then when I face a crisis, I will not turn away from him or accuse Him of being unfair or get mad at Him—I will run to Him and love Him even more.

    Why? Because He is worth it. That’s it.

    Oh, Lord, You are the most valuable person in the universe. Indeed, you are King of kings and Lord of lords and Revealer of secrets. There is nothing and there is no one like you. And I affirm today and for the rest of my life that no matter what you do or don’t do FOR ME, I am still going to worship you.

    “I will serve Thee because I love thee” (BH 2008, 377). Amen.
    Comments

    Promotion

    Promotion

    Tonight, in the adult study at church, we are going to be studying the Maccabean Period in Intertestamental history. I know that subject probably doesn’t elicit much excitement from the general Christian population, but it should.

    I am learning that our knowledge of the Old and New Testaments can only be enhanced as we study that rather dark and nebulous and silent 400 years between the testaments.

    Anyway, it is interesting to me that Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream talks about the history between the testaments! He chronicles for the king the emergence of the next three major world powers: the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Finally, he mentions a kingdom that “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44, NASB). Humm. I wonder what that kingdom will be??

    It is a very significant Old Testament prophecy. And it is significant that the vehicle for it was a pagan king who needed someone to tell what his dream was! This is incredible, really. But the Lord used Daniel to tell the king what the dream was and what it meant.

    And in so doing, he differentiated himself from all the other sorcerers and magicians and so-called wise men in the court of Babylon. As a result, the king promoted him.

    "The king answered Daniel and said, ‘Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.’ Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king's court" (Daniel 2:47-49 NASB).

    I’ve been thinking and praying about this promotion. The king promoted this young Jewish man and his buddies for an act of obedience, but did it last? Well, you know the answer if you remember anything about Daniel’s story.

    The truth is that most of time, the world does NOT promote or recognition or laud believers. The world demotes them!

    Tim Tebow comes to mind. This past season with the New York Jets was probably a nightmare for him. The team played poorly and Coach Ryan bypassed him in order to start the third string quarterback—Greg McElroy. When McElroy got injured, he bypassed Tebow again to start Sanchez. Therefore, Tebow got overlooked and passed over TWICE.

    This is just one example. I’m sure if I stood up in the service next Sunday morning and asked for testimonies, I would hear many other stories.

    But at least, King Nebuchadnezzar gave credit to the right Person—“the God of gods and Lord of lords and revealer of mysteries”! I love those three names for God, again coming from the mouth of a pagan king.

    So, what does this mean for me today? Well, I’m just going to keep serving Jesus, not expecting any accolades or promotions from the world. Don’t need them anyway! Who cares? But I know I am going to get a BIG PROMOTION someday. And I am looking forward to that BIG TIME.

    Just a word about the aftermath of my maintenance treatment—I was totally exhausted after Monday. The routine is fairly set. While I am getting the treatment, I can barely keep my eyes open because of the Benadryl. Then, the rest of the day—all I want to do is sleep.

    Right before bedtime, the shift occurs when the steroids start to kick in, and then I am wide-awake through the night even though I am dog-tired.

    I went into the office yesterday for a couple of hours, but I left mid-afternoon, dragging myself along.

    I will have to say that these treatments have been harder on me than the doctor said they would be. I’m glad and thankful that I have only one more to go, but I’m just going to have to pace myself. And that is hard to do with so much going on.

    But He is in charge of THAT too. No cliché. Truth.

    God of gods, Lord of lords, and Revealer of all mysteries—I praise you today. I thank you, that you are in charge of nations and kings and history. There is no need to fear what will happen in the world because your kingdom is stronger than all other kingdoms and when all of them are done—you will always, still be Lord.

    “Crown Him King of kings, crown of Lord of lords,
    Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God.
    Immanuel, God is with us,
    And He shall reign, He shall reign,
    He shall reign forevermore”

    (“Crown Him King of Kings,” BH 2008, 301). Amen.
    Comments

    Timely

    This is going in my second book, but pastors always feel that they have to preface any transparent statements that they make about how they feel. Why?

    Well, there are several reasons. First, there are indeed a lot of whiners in my profession. There, I said it. They start out with unrealistic expectations and are always disappointed. And as a result, they blame the church.

    Second, everyone has challenges in their job. No one, no matter how much money they make, faces difficulties. Billionaire Pat Bowlen is one of them. He owns a football team that blew it, BIG TIME.

    Third, whenever anyone is transparent, he/she is vulnerable to someone blowing you out of the water or worse, tossing clichés in your direction like “Oh, John, just turn it over to the Lord” or “you worry too much” or “God is in control.” As I write those “clichés,” I know I have uttered them and written them myself. I am just as guilty, but I think the thing that makes these kinds of comments fit in the category of “cliché” is the attitude behind them when someone responds. Like anything we say in the Christian life, if it comes out of love, it makes all the difference. But if it comes out of, “I wish this guy would just shut up, and I am going to toss some pious statement in his direction to put him in his place” it is another.

    Well, again, have I prefaced things enough?

    I have just been struggling with discouragement over several things regarding the ministry of our church. I’ve said this before in recent days. In addition, my mom and sister have been struggling as well. In fact, last night, as we were eating dinner, Marilyn said, “You know, I just wish something encouraging would happen, even once in a while.” I really related to what she said.

    Okay, so there is the setting. Before I go on, I want to say that I always underestimate the degree to which God actually does hear every single word that comes out of our mouths—EVERY SINGLE WORD. We might discount it or even forget about what we have said, but God doesn’t forget. Not one word, not one syllable. I rediscovered this truth last night.

    As I was checking email rather late in the evening, I received four messages that I want to tell you about. The first came from a young man who has been visiting our church. He expressed how much he appreciated the services in our church. He told about how, on his first visit, he was greeting by Breeze—a young teen in our church (I’ve mentioned her before)—and how much that meant to him.

    By the by, please pray for Breeze. She is going through a tough time these days.

    But this young man shared about what the Lord is doing in his life. He said that he felt led to come to our church and to tithe. He concluded his message with some questions about what we were doing and some things I said. I tell you it ranks up there as one of the most amazing messages I have ever received.

    In fact, I read it out loud to my mom and sister. They were encouraged as well.

    The second email came from a dear sister in our church. She thanked me for two very specific and seemingly small things that meant a lot to her. I deeply appreciated this.

    The third email came from a brother who recently left our church because he moved out of state. He shared another one of his great stories with me. It caused me to laugh and to miss him.

    Fourth, I got a voicemail message in my email (our phones have this voicemail to email feature) from a lady at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Apparently, when she called the main church number, Betty had shared with her that I was getting a cancer treatment yesterday. In her message, this lady stated, “Pastor, please know that in our prayer time in the morning, we always pray for pastors. We will put you on that list and pray for you as well.” Wow.

    So, do you get where all of this is headed. My family and I have been discouraged, and the Lord sent four “Barnabas’” to give encouragement. And God’s encouragements are always very TIMELY. They always—I mean always—come at exactly the right time. But that is the way God works in every situation.

    He is never late, but of course, he is never early either.

    This is especially true in the story of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. I will say more about this tomorrow, but as Daniel tells the meaning of the dream, he concludes his explanation with these words: "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy” (Daniel 2:44, 45 NASB).

    This is the same God that intervened in my life yesterday, and I praise Him for it.

    Oh, Lord, I love you. Thank you so much for those timely encouragements you sent my way yesterday. Thank for helping my family and me. Thank you for helping me get through my treatment.

    I lift up those four Barnabas’. I pray that you would encourage them as they have encouraged me.

    I also pray, Lord, that I would be available to you to give a TIMELY encouragement when you ask me to do so—not a minute late.

    “We cannot be channels of blessing
    If our lives are not free from known sin;
    We will barriers be and a hindrance
    To those we are trying to win”—good warning.

    (“Make Me a Channel of Blessing,” BH 2008, 375). Amen.
    Comments

    Second to Last Maintenance Treatment

    Wow, it feels really good to write that, but honestly, it is a little scary. I know that sounds kind of weird.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful to God to be at this stage of the process, but I am getting ready to move into a new realm when it comes to this cancer process.

    One of the things that is reassuring about what I have been doing for the past two years (after I finished chemo) is just going to the cancer center and getting checked every six weeks. I am so thankful for this because, if my cancer comes back (and the doctor continues to tell me that it will), then I feel it gives me the best chance to catch it very quickly and deal with it. And the blood tests will reveal this.

    But after next Monday (my last maintenance treatment) and the PET scan that will follow it, I think my visits to the oncologist will be six months apart. I’m not totally sure about this. I’m going to ask the doctor today.

    One thing that will keep me going in every six weeks (of course I won’t get a blood test every time) is that I will need to get my port flushed out. I’m going to keep it at least another year.

    My friend Dee and Kelley (who is a nurse in our congregation) think I’m crazy for doing this, but somehow, I just want to keep it for the time being. I may change my mind. Who knows?

    Well, anyway—the bottom line in all of this is that I am deeply grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus for the grace that has brought me “thus far.”

    Every step of the way, prayer has been a hallmark.

    This is true in the life of Daniel. He and his three buddies were a part of the king’s “wisdom entourage.” Thus, when the king pronounced judgment on the whole lot because they could not tell him what he had dreamed, Daniel got into gear. He was highly motivated to save his life and the lives of his friends.

    He prayed and the Lord revealed the king’s dream to Daniel in a dream of his own. When this occurred, Daniel praised God:

    "Daniel said, ‘Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king's matter’” (Daniel 2:20-23 NASB).

    Deep in my heart, I identify with this prayer. More than ever before in my life, I need God’s wisdom as pastor of the church.

    These first two Sundays of January are always less well attended, for some reason, no matter what is going on. Yesterday was certainly no exception. There were vast empty spaces in our auditorium. The Broncos lost the day before and it was about four degrees outside—both of those factors played into it, I’m sure.

    But still (and again this is not about numbers), I am very concerned. I think other folks are starting to see it.

    Bill and I had a great talk yesterday morning. We were sharing some ideas, and he made a good statement. He said, “Well, I think that, for seniors, some might feel that they have already done their part in years past. Now it is time for others to step up.” I think there is a lot of truth to what he said.

    And, I can understand it, to some degree. It is more difficult to drive and get around, and health concerns play into it.

    But how does a church that seems to be getting older and older (its pastor is at the top of THAT list) with fewer and fewer people—reach younger folks? I would say that churches all over the country are facing this same challenge.

    At the conclusion of the sermon yesterday, I cited these statistics:

    --Every year, 3500 to 4000 churches close down in the United States (www.barna.org).

    --Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism (I’m not sure what those last two terms mean exactly, but again this is according to a Barna study)

    --Usual Sunday church attendance has dropped from 1.6 million in 1968 to 881,000 in 2005 (www.churchsociety.org)

    --Only 21% of Americans attend religious services every week (www.religioustolerence.org)

    --1,400 pastors in America leave the ministry monthly (this statistic come from a book by Andy McAdams)

    If those stats don’t truly scare us, then something is wrong.

    Oh, Lord, again, I pray for a spiritual awakening in our land and revival in the church.

    If you can reveal a king’s dream to Daniel, I ask this morning for wisdom. Show me how I can lead this church in a godly way. Show us how we can reach people, younger people, with your grace and power.

    I give you my visit to the Cancer Center today. Prepare me for another statement from the doctor that my cancer is going to come back. This seems to be more and more difficult to hear. But you, not him, have the final say.

    “My life possessing, my service blessing,
    Make me a channel of blessing today”

    (“Make Me a Channel of Blessing,” BH 2008, 375). Amen.
    Comments

    Cancel Church?

    Shortly after the Broncos crushing defeat yesterday evening, Phil, a buddy of mine in Texas, texted me. His tongue in cheek question was, “R u going to cancel church?”

    Yesterday reminded me of the last Bronco playoff game I attended. I believe it was in December of 1996. I know the playoffs now are in January. Maybe my recollection is off a bit, but the Broncos were facing the Jacksonville Jaguars as heavy favorites having come off a 13-3 season, and they got beat.

    I’ve never heard a stadium of people—especially Mile High Stadium (the former stadium)—so quiet as people filed out after that game. My friend Gary and I got on a bus to head back to where we parked, and it was totally silent. I could just feel the angst as I carried on a conversation with the bus driver. No one else, including Gary, said a word.

    Yesterday afternoon, my emotions were all over the place through that game. This is typical of me. It isn’t pretty.

    But when the Ravens kicked the winning field goal in double overtime, somehow, I just settled down, and I am glad the season is over. Football is over for me until next season. I don’t care what happens with the other teams. I probably won’t even watch any other playoff game.

    Football, especially here in Denver in the Fall and early winter is so all-consuming. It is a vacuum cleaner of time, especially on Sundays.

    I’m right in there with the most rabid Bronco fans, for sure, but it is time to move on.

    Please pray for guidance for us. Some have asked if we are going to have a Super Bowl party at church as we did last year. Somehow, I doubt we will now. I think most people in our town feel as I do. The Super Bowl is usually “an event” for people, regardless of who is in it. I realize this, but last year, we just did not have the response from the people in the church to invite lost people to come. This was the purpose of the event, and it really did not happen.

    I’m not totally sure yet. We will see.

    But back to Phil’s question. Here is my answer, “Ah, NO.” We AREN’T canceling church today.

    People will probably be a bit bummed out. I expect that, but I’m glad our worship of God is not contingent on what happens with the “gods” of our culture. One of them took a hit yesterday, but just wait—he will emerge next July once again.

    More often than not, however, he disappoints, as do all idols.

    The story in Daniel 2 confirms this. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He called all his “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and fortunetellers” into his court. And he said, “Not only do I want you to interpret my dream, but I want you to tell me what my dream was!”

    ‘Huh,” they answered. “We will interpret your dream, but first tell us what it is.”

    The king was adamant. “No, don’t stall. Tell me what my dream was AND what it means.”

    "The fortunetellers said, ‘Nobody anywhere can do what you ask. And no king, great or small, has ever demanded anything like this from any magician, enchanter, or fortuneteller. What you're asking is impossible unless some god or goddess should reveal it—and they don't hang around with people like us’” (Daniel 2:10, 11 MSG).

    Somehow, the last part of their answer to the king’s impossible request jumped off the page to me this morning. “Our gods don’t hang around with people like us.” The implication is: we cannot tell you what your dream means because our gods are too busy to be with us. They have more important people and more important things to attend to.”

    Really?

    I think a lot of people feel that way about the One True God. They don’t pray about certain things because they just don’t want to “bother God” with mundane stuff like that. This is idolatry, by the way. This is pride.

    But in Daniel 2, I think we have idolatry and pride on the other end of the spectrum: in the history of the world, no king has asked anyone to do what Neb (my nickname for him) asked his court. It is an absolutely impossible request. It is too difficult and too big for the gods to attend to.

    “Nothing is impossible with God.” And, He is right here, right now, hanging around with me.

    I praise you, God, that you are Immanuel, God with us, and not just at Christmas—all the time.

    In the petty things and the big things and the huge impossibilities (or they seem that way) and after the Broncos blow a game—you are still and always—God.

    For some reason, this hymn is on my mind and heart:

    “What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,
    And when I look upon His face—
    The One who saved me by his grace.
    When He takes me by the hand and leads me through the Promised Land;
    What a day, glorious day, that will be”

    (“What a Day That Will Be,” BH 2008, 607). Amen.
    Comments

    Imbroglios and Obedience to the Lord

    I’m sure you are wondering, “What does ‘imbroglio’ mean?” So did I. I will tell you in a moment.

    But first, I just have to ask all of you who are reading this to pray for me. I’m really struggling this morning with discouragement as a result of a certain situation. I know that sounds very vague. But I just don’t feel at liberty to go into detail right now.

    And, here is the thing, even as I am writing that I need you to pray for me, I feel a peace from God.

    Have you ever had that experience? I believe very firmly that the Lord starts to answer prayer before we even ask Him or ask others to pray for us. Of course. We worship a God who knows the end from the beginning. He was, is, and is to come the Almighty.

    But here is another thing I would like to say at this point. I also believe that prayer can be retroactive. Even when I find out about a prayer need too late—when the event or need is over—I can still pray about it and I believe the Lord can intervene as if I prayed at the right time. Does this make sense?

    Well, anyway, I could elaborate on that, but thanks for your prayers. I really need them today.

    A couple of days ago, Marilyn sent me a link to an article by Al Mohler. He is the president of Southern Seminary and one of the smartest guys in our denomination, I believe. Whenever I can, I read what he says about a variety of topics because I think that most of the time, he is right on target.

    The title of the article that Marilyn sent me is, “The Giglio Imbroglio—The Public Inauguration of a New Moral McCarthyism.” Do you see the play on words? I wondered what ‘imbroglio’ meant. Webster defines it as a confused mass or a complicated situation. Giglio is a pastor of a church in Atlanta. He is a very popular speaker who travels quite extensively, especially among SBC churches.

    Got it?

    So, what is the complicated situation revolving around Louie Giglio? The White House asked him to give the benediction at the second inauguration of President Obama, but over the past few days, some groups were attacking him. Why? Because in a sermon TWO YEARS ago, he made a statement about homosexuality as a sin!

    Therefore, rather than cause a lot of controversy, Giglio just backed out of the inauguration ceremony.

    Mohler rails on this whole scenario. In our politically correct culture, it is just not cool to say anything negative about gays.

    What does this mean for our nation? Mohler doesn’t say this, but I believe we are in the same place as Sodom and Gomorrah. And it can’t be too much longer before God just gets tired of our non-standards and passes judgment on us.

    But back to Giglio—I wonder how much longer before all preachers and their sermons are “monitored,” and if you preach something that isn’t politically correct, somehow you will get called on the carpet.

    It will be more and more tempting, for various reasons, to water down the message so that you don’t offend anyone. But this is not a new temptation. As Christians, we face it all the time.

    In Mohler’s article, he quotes Giglio as saying that his teachings on homosexuality were not a major focus of his ministry (those are not his exact words; they are mine), but still in one sermon, a reference he made two years ago … Unbelievable. Please go to www.albertmohler.com to find this article.

    Continuing with Daniel—he took a stand of obedience and when he did, he challenged his Babylonian boss: "’Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.’ He agreed with them about this and tested them for 10 days. At the end of 10 days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables" (Daniel 1:12-16 HCSB).

    You remember the story.

    Here’s the bottom line in all of this: sometimes, our obedience to the Lord puts us in the middle of an imbroglio, but I would rather be in an imbroglio and be on God’s side than have smooth sailing on Satan’s side. And, in the long run, and sometimes even the short run (as in Daniel’s case), there are always rewards for obeying the Lord.

    I guess this story is also an incentive to keep eating vegetables—ha!

    Lord, I thank you today that you are in charge and in control. I say that with my mind, hoping my heart will catch up.

    I do choose to obey you and preach the truth like Louie Giglio does and let the chips and imbroglios fall where they may. Amen.
    Comments

    Make Up Your Mind

    The verse I want to quote and talk about today is a very significant one in my spiritual journey.

    But first, I want to tell all of you that I finally got a chance to speak with Rick and Jonann last night. I found myself getting very emotional. I got to speak with both of them, and they told me it was okay for me to call them any time I want. I was so glad to hear this.

    I have not tried to call up to this point, except at the very beginning.

    “Why?” you might be asking.

    Well, with all they are going through, the last thing they needed was another person trying to call them and talk with them. Rick has a lot of friends across the country and hundreds of folks in the church. If everyone decided that they wanted to call and have a conversation, it would be overwhelming.

    My circle of friends and people in the church—the total number (I’m talking quantity, not quality)—is smaller than that of Rick. But from the beginning when I was first diagnosed, I knew I didn’t have the emotional energy to talk to a lot of people, and my mom and sis were not able as well.

    This was the impetus for writing the blog, and this writing has ended up becoming a vital part of every day of my life.

    Well, anyway, that was my rationale, but I’m glad we got to talk.

    I don’t want to divulge all we talked about, but one thing: Rick asked prayer for the current challenge he is facing. He is asking that we pray that his kidneys would be strengthened so that he can continue chemotherapy. Please join me in continuing to pray for him. Thanks.

    Now, to the passage for today—one morning, in my quiet time (and I even remember where I was in my mom’s house when I was reading the first chapter of Daniel), the Lord arrested my attention on this verse in the first chapter:

    "But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself" (Daniel 1:8 NASB).

    Of all the versions, I like the language of the NASB the best—“Daniel made up his mind.” Amen.

    A little background: Daniel and his three buddies (why do we always use Daniel’s Hebrew name but the three friends’ Babylonian names—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and these are just LAST NAMES??) were picked as special students to be schooled and educated in Babylon. It was quite an honor, but the fact is that they were still prisoners of the dominant world power at the time.

    “Prisoners of war” (maybe this is not quite the right term but it is the only analogy I can think of) tend not to have a lot of privileges or a lot of discretion in how they are going to live.

    These four young men were brought to Babylon and set up in a pretty descent life with a lot of benefits, including eating the best food that their captors could provide. The Bible calls it “the king’s choice food or the wine he drank.” Undoubtedly, most young men in this position would gladly comply with this request.

    But Daniel didn’t. He made up his mind from the start. He resolved that he was not going to change his diet no matter what.

    I’m not exactly sure of the reasons behind this decision. I’m sure health was a major one, but I think there were moral reasons as well. Eating the king’s food was a signal that he worshiped the king’s gods. This is what I suspect given the rest of Daniel’s story in this book. I have no concrete proof of this, but I think I am on fairly solid ground.

    But here is my point: Daniel made up his mind.

    I’ll tell you: this very action seems to be rare in Christian circles these days. We live in a psychotherapeutic culture where, when people struggle with sin or compromise of some sort, we have built up a series of lies that starts with, “Well, it is going to take a long time for you to shift out of this issue in your life, and it will involve a lot of counseling.”

    Now, I am speaking generally here, OF COURSE. I am not knocking counseling. I believe it. I have gone to counselors, and I recommend this ministry to others, but I think we lack in teaching young people about the power of just making a decision.

    The old-fashioned and seldom used word that encapsulates this is CONVICTION. Here is my homespun definition of that term: a conviction is a decision I make that I stick with no matter what happens or what changes.

    I am learning as I continue on my trek to lose weight (by the way, I am down to 171—praise God!) that I need to develop some convictions about food, just like Daniel. This is a lot tougher than I had at first realized. Man, is it hard!

    But convictions can and should other center around important matters. How about this one? I will not have a sexual relationship with any woman except my spouse.

    I could cite other “convictions.” The list goes on, but I think “making up one’s mind” and convictions are extremely important.

    One more thing occurs to me as I write this. I don’t want anyone to construe that I am talking about human effort in the flesh. But, if something is right and healthy and morally God’s best—it is a matter of Christian obedience. And obedience always requires faith and grace is absolutely essential for any of us to carry out God’s will. We can’t do this on our own.

    But my argument here is that all of this begins with a decision. Daniel “made up his mind.”

    Lord, today, I thank you that you have given us as humans the capacity for choice. I believe this is part of what “image of God” is all about. Today, I choose to follow you and worship you and serve you, no matter what.

    I choose to be devoted to prayer as the main and best way I can truly help people you bring across my path, whether it is Craig at the bowling alley or my dear friend Rick. Lord, I lift up Rick and I pray that you would get his kidneys functioning well so that he can continue to take chemotherapy.

    I pray for the Nancy’s family today and for Ruth’s funeral service. Help me as I preach another funeral and minister to the family today.

    I love this hymn. I can’t get it out of my mind: “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.” Amen.
    Comments

    The Essenes

    Last night, in the Wednesday evening study, we finished up the video on the Dead Sea Scrolls that I purchased when I attended the exhibit at Southwestern Seminary last November.

    My interest in and fascination with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the broader issue of the history between the Old and New Testaments has only increased. I sincerely believe that, as believers, we miss out on so much that can benefit us in the study of God’s Word.

    Scripture is silent about those four hundred years, but it was a tremendously tumultuous time in which Israel was a national “football” (to coin a term that R. C. Sproul uses) for all the superpowers of that time.

    Alexander the Great and Greece assumed world domination in 331 B.C. His military conquest and his desire to “Hellenize” the world significantly impacted Israel. Some Jews went with the flow. Others, however, resisted violently. One of the most significant revolt movements began with Judas Maccabeus. He and his sons were revolutionaries and fiercely nationalistic.

    I’m not going to go into detail here because I told the Wednesday night group that we will be studying the Maccabeans next week, and I don’t want to pre-empt that study here.

    Suffice it to say that the Maccabean revolt and other resistance movement from the Hasidim and others spurred the creation of the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Essenes. The first two groups are very prominent in the New Testament as constant thorns in the side of Jesus. I just did a search on my IPad to confirm this, and what I presumed was correct: there is no mention of the Essenes in the New Testament.

    But this was a very important and prominent community of several thousand folks who lived in and among the caves and rocks in the Judean wilderness. Qumran, the community responsible for storing the Dead Sea scroll, was more likely than not, an Essene community.

    By the time Qumran developed, the world power on the horizon was Rome. Loyal and nationalistic Jews feared destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, they were very apocalyptic and focused on the imminent judgment of God. As a result, they took rather dramatic steps to preserve the Word of God, but also, they stored other crucial documents in many of the caves around the Dead Sea. These documents were important to the life and worship of the community.

    In addition, they give insight into what was going on in the days of Jesus.

    Certainly, there were theological differences between many of these zealots and the teachings of Jesus. This is a crucial issue, of course.

    But what I perceive is that there were also political issues that raised their head during this time.

    I think I have mentioned this before, but one scholar who teaches on the video said that the Jews actually crucified people. It was not just a Roman punishment. He contends that Jesus was crucified because the Sanhedrin accused him of sedition from the nation of Israel.

    Beyond that, I think many folks discounted Jesus as just another rabble-rouser, another political leader with an agenda.

    This leads me to the famous statement of Gamaliel in Acts 5. He cautions the Sanhedrin to be careful how they handle Peter and John. He mentions a couple of well-known revolutionaries and goes on to assert that their “movements” were short-lived. Then he makes this famous statement: “So, in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, NASB).

    Okay, was he ever right!

    All of this gives urgency to our task of sharing the gospel. Jesus is not just another famous figure in Jewish history. He is unique. He is God’s One and Only. And we dare not miss Him or dare not share Him in a world that is once again crowded with revolutionaries and political figures we tend to discount.

    How about this verse I read in Proverbs today? It struck me and pulled me back to that time in the summer of 2010, when an oncologist did a bone marrow biopsy on me to determine of my cancer had spread to my bones. I hope I never have to have that test again. It was a nightmare, but I am glad that my cancer did not spread to my bones.

    I’ll tell you what: no matter what the political climate is, I can be at peace through the One and Only—Jesus. My walk with the Lord still needs to be my primary focus, to make sure that my heart is right with him.

    "A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones" (Proverbs 14:30 NLT).

    Lord, I acknowledge that you are not just another human in a long line of revolutionaries. You are indeed the ONE TRUE GOD who tabernacled Himself in human flesh for me.

    Give me the urgency to tell the world about your Son and my Savior Jesus so that no one will discount Him, no one will cast Him aside as ordinary.

    Jesus and the Movement He started is of God. Right on Gamaliel!

    “Every need He is supplying;
    Plenteous grace He bestows”

    (“The Longer I Serve Him,” BH 2008, 374). Amen.
    Comments

    Brand-marks

    I’m not quite ready to be done with the book of Galatians quite yet. It seems as if after all the biographical and theological and practical arguments in favor of the gospel of Jesus Christ—when all is said and done—Paul appeals to his scars.

    The actual word in the Greek New Testament is “stigmata.” It is the plural of the word “stigma.” Of course, in English, Webster defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace.” It is not usually regarded as a positive term in our language.

    But in the Greek language, it is a mark of ownership.

    We get this but not usually in relation to people. Ranchers brand livestock to indicate ownership, and I’m certainly no expert in this realm, but if you are a steer, it cannot be too pleasant to have a brand-mark burned into your backside. Ouch!

    Be that as it may, in the final analysis, as a way to shut the mouths of his detractors, Paul appeals to his “brand-marks.”

    When I really stop and think about this, my heart breaks. There is no way any of us can imagine the marks on Paul’s body. 2 Corinthians 11 gives us some insight into all of this—the multiple whippings and beatings Paul received must have left deep gashes all over his back and stomach and chest.

    What I have been able to read about the infamous “forty lashes save one” of the Jews makes me cringe even to think about it and Paul endured it FIVE TIMES. Some people never lived through ONE TIME. Plus, he received the Roman punishment of being beaten with rods. Again, not very pleasant. He was stoned and spent and entire night floating in the ocean. Who knows how that hurt him?

    I imagine that it was difficult for Paul to lean back in a chair or to sleep on his back or sides. Every single time he sat down and laid down, he was no doubt reminded of what happened to him in his service for Jesus.

    I often wonder what Paul looked like—just his demeanor, the way he carried himself and moved around. I don’t think it would have taken long for you to see his brand-marks.

    In our culture, marks on the body are in style. We call them tattoos. Many athletes have extensive tattoos over much of their bodies. The first athlete I remember who really did that was the basketball player Dennis Rodman. When I first saw his tattoos all over, I thought they were hideous. I still do, to be honest. But it is now so commonplace that most of us don’t even think about it.

    But all of this in our culture is elective. People actually choose these tattoos!

    Paul didn’t choose the marks on His body, but his comment at the end of Galatians indicates to me that he glories in them. These deep cuts and gashes in his skin are a mark of ownership. They show everyone that Paul is the genuine article. They demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs to God.

    I wonder about us in this day and time. Certainly, many of us have not experienced the level of physical persecution that Paul faced.

    But, are there brand-marks?

    I would argue that there are. Wounds and hurts in the ministry and in service for Jesus leave marks on us that no one can see.

    And here is what I have discovered as I talk to guys in the ministry and share fellowship (and of course, this applies to all believers anywhere. Come on! Who hasn’t been hurt or wounded in church or in service?): these wounds and hurts can either make you “bitter or better.”

    To be honest, I hate little quips like that. It isn’t quite that simple, but I think it sums up how you respond. We all have the choice. We can let these wounds develop into a “root of bitterness” or learn from them, turn them over to God, and move on.

    And what I see from Paul is not a “grin and bear it”--type response. It is more than that. He glories in the hurts and the wounds they leave. He calls it a brand-mark.

    He views them as solid evidence that he belongs to Jesus.

    How did Thomas get convinced ultimately that the man who suddenly appeared in the upper room was actually, truly the same Jesus he had followed for the past three years? Do you remember? He touched Jesus’ hands and His side! Brand-marks!

    Oh, and here is a thought that occurs to me: the resurrected body of Jesus—the one that suddenly appeared in that upper room—still contained the scars of the body that was crucified on the cross!

    Have you ever thought about that?

    I’m not exactly sure about all the details of what our new, resurrected bodies will be like in heaven, but how about this? How about the realization that our “brand-marks” will still be on our eternal bodies? We will take them to heaven with us.

    "From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17 NASB).

    Lord, whatever has happened to me—the hurts and the wounds—I choose right now from the bottom of my heart to thank you for each and every one. I list them before your throne of grace. They still hurt, even to this day.

    But I know they don’t compare to what you went through for me on Calvary. And they don’t compare to what Paul and other servants of Jesus are still going through right now.

    Hey, Jim sent me an email that Pastor Youcef was released from prison! For the second time! Thank you, Jesus. I wonder what this brother’s brand-marks look like? We will all see in heaven.

    I’m so glad to be a part of the “Jesus Ranch.”

    “Each day is like heaven, my heart overflows,
    The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows”

    (“The Longer I Serve Him,” BH 2008, 374). Amen.
    Comments

    Rick's Sermon Last Sunday

    Late yesterday afternoon, Marilyn summoned me. I was at my mom’s house so it was only a walk from the room where I work when I am there upstairs to her office. “We are listening to Rick’s sermon.”

    Oh, wow! I had no idea that Rick preached last Sunday at Temple Baptist Church in Ruston. But he did.

    I am going to go back to the church’s website and listen to the whole thing. I caught it about halfway.

    Rick is an excellent preacher. I invited him to preach in the church at Northglenn several years ago. I’ve heard him preach on other occasions. He always does an excellent job, but the message I heard yesterday was unlike any other.

    To be honest, it is a little difficult even to write about it. My mom and sis and I sat there in her office in silence. It just hit a little too close to home.

    Rick’s text was the story of the men who lowered the paralytic through the roof to Jesus. He did an excellent job to tying in his recent experiences with this incident in God’s Word.

    When we finished listening, Marilyn mentioned something that stood out about what Rick said at the beginning of this sermon. He struggled with the fact that he didn’t think it was fair that he got cancer. I need to listen for myself. Of course, this recent situation is a return of a cancer diagnosis he had several years ago—a melanoma. I’m still not exactly sure what type of cancer he has now.

    Anyway, that is the first thing.

    When I jumped into the message, Rick was talking about all the people (including nurses at the hospital) who had helped him. He got emotional in this part of his sermon. This is very unusual for Rick. He also mentioned Jonann and said, “I had no idea how much my wife loved me until these recent days.”

    He went on to say something like, “This text before us is all about community. These friends of the paralytic cared enough about their friend to go to extremes to get him before Jesus. We live in a culture where the tendency is to become isolated for various reasons, but you need to cultivate friends for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that you will need your friends someday.”

    Wow, this is very powerful. This has to be at or near the top of the list as the reason why every believer needs a church family. Every single person without exception needs a community.

    My mind goes right now to think about a young woman who had been attending our church for months. She received a cancer diagnosis, and she dropped out. When a friend of hers in our congregation shared about her situation, she sent me an angry email. The gist of it was, “I did not authorize her to talk about what is going on with me and I don’t want anything said.”

    Now, I of all people understand that each person responds to a cancer diagnosis in different ways, and we need to allow latitude in that regard. Part of ministering to someone you love is to give him/her space at times.

    However, as I said Sunday, I think we are playing right into the devil’s hand when we decide in a moment of crisis (whatever that crisis is) to go it alone and to pull away from the body of Christ. This is wrong, deeply wrong.

    Rick, on the other hand, has experienced an out-pouring of love from his church, his former students, and his friends all over the world. This has been my experience through cancer as well.

    There is no way anyone can describe it. It is awesome beyond words.

    But Rick went on to make another significant comment. He said, “I have struggled with the fairness of this situation, but I’m not mad at God. We live in a fallen world. Because of sin and its consequences, people get sick, and it isn’t God’s fault and I want you to hear me say this as your pastor. I’m not mad at God. And if anyone here is facing a difficult situation, don’t run from God. Run to Him. He loves you.”

    Again, very powerful. And very well said.

    When we finished listening, my mom said, “I just don’t get it. I just don’t know what God is up to, but I’m confident that the Lord is going to pull Rick through this.”

    I pray for Rick as well, and I believe the same thing, but ultimately, with him and with all of us—it is in the Lord’s hands.

    Rick said, “Whatever happens to me, whether I live eleven more months or ten more years, I’m going to live each day to its fullest.” Amen.

    As I have said, I am going to download this message from the Temple Baptist Church website. I urge all of you to listen to this sermon. It is a keeper.

    One more thing--there is an unmistakable tone about it. I can really relate to it. And this is something that folks who have not had cancer cannot understand. Now, before I go further, I need to say this: I cannot compare my experience to that of Rick. I think the road the Lord is leading him on right now is much more difficult than the path for me up to this point, but cancer is cancer is cancer. It is tough—no matter what the diagnosis and experience.

    Back to the tone—something changes when you encounter death. It gives a perspective and urgency to life, but beyond that, impatience with pettiness.

    I’ll tell you, and I am being brutally honest right here: a few months ago, when some anonymous people questioned my work ethic—I wanted to know who they were and wanted to walk up to them and just pull my shirt back and show them my port.

    In a much more profound and significant way, this is how Paul ends the book of Galatians. I’m quoting from two versions here:

    "From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus" (Galatians 6:17 NLT). I like the Message Version of this verse even more. "Quite frankly, I don't want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith. I bear in my body scars from my service to Jesus" (Galatians 6:17 MSG).

    God, I thank you so much for that sermon that Rick preached last Sunday. Thank you for enabling him to do it. Thank you for what you do in our lives through crisis and through the love of a community of faith.

    God, I continue to pray for Rick and Jonann and Will. I love them dearly. I pray for grace and strength and healing for Rick. Give him a good day today.

    I confess that all of this stirs me up a bit. I can relate to Paul’s statements at the end of Galatians. I know my experience pales in significance to what the apostle went through. But I can so identify with him—I’m don’t want to be bothered by disputes. I have much more important fish to fry—the serious living of this faith.

    And, as Rick mentioned—this famous reference to Richard Baxter, the Puritan pastor, who preached as “a dying man to dying men.” THAT is all of us, Lord, whether we have cancer or not.

    “Rise up, O men of God!
    The church for you doth wait,
    Her strength unequal to her task;
    Rise up and make her great”

    (“Rise Up, O Men of God,” BH 2008, 373). Amen.
    Comments

    Timely Support

    Yesterday was one of those sneaky tough days.

    It all started late Saturday afternoon. During the reception at the church after Fran’s funeral service, my energy dropped off the map. I had to leave. As I was driving home, I could barely keep my head up.

    It was striking to me since I haven’t had anything like this happen to me in a couple of months.

    When I got home, I ate something, but my energy did not return.

    I had a relatively good night’s sleep, but when I woke up, I realized that I was still not totally back. I had planned to attend the early morning worship service for pastors and staff at Crossroads, but again, I just sensed the need to rest a little bit longer.

    I wish I could prepare myself better, but it always blindsides me. It happens every year, but when I entered our auditorium before the service started, it seemed as if no one was there. Many of the folks in our church still have not returned from the holidays.

    This happens every year on the first Sunday of the New Year, but every year—I mean absolutely every one—I expect things to be back in full throttle at the start of the year, and this never happens. It usually takes three or four Sundays for folks to be back in the saddle.

    Well, anyway, I was tired but when the low attendance reality hit me, it was another blow. Why?

    The Lord had laid a message on my heart for the whole church.

    Don’t worry. I won’t re-preach it here, but I will summarize it. Jesus’ goal for His church is unity—whether we are talking about one congregation or multiple churches in the body of Christ as a whole. Satan’s tactic is always: divide and conquer. Of course. This makes sense—if he can get Christians fighting with one another, he has won.

    What do we do? Well, here was the focal passage of the sermon yesterday: Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus lays out how believers are to handle relationships in the body of Christ.

    Our church struggles with this. I don’t think we are Lone Rangers in that regard. But I felt led to explain and apply that text as clearly and simply as I possibly could.

    The title of the sermon was, “Our Key Play for 2013.” At the conclusion of the message, I showed a clip from one of my favorite movies, “Remember the Titans.” As coach Boone met with his players in the locker room before their first game, he looked at his team, composed of both whites and blacks, and said, “Nothing pulls us apart. Nothing.” I love that!

    Football teams have to be that way or they lose. It is as simple as that.

    Why don’t churches get it?

    Anyway, after showing that clip, I said something like, “From here on out, Matthew 18 is our key play for handling relationship issues in this church. We are instituting a Zero Toleration policy for anyone who does not run this play. If any leader does not handle conflict in this biblical way, he or she is OUT. If that statement seems extreme to any of you, we have to remember that what we are fighting for is absolutely crucial and essential—the unity of the body of Christ.”

    It was some of the strongest language I have ever used.

    And here is the deal: as I was preaching this, I honestly saw some frowns and reactions on the part of people in the congregation. And I have learned this about people’s facial expressions during sermons: there are a lot of reasons why people respond the way they do. Thus, I’ve learned not to get as “terminal” about those reactions as I used to.

    But here is my point: even as I was preaching those words, Satan attacked me. He said, “What are you doing? Back off of these harsh statements. This is too harsh, too severe. Oh, look. Some folks aren’t happy. You’ve really blown it now.”

    It felt as if I were suddenly in some dense underbrush and I was fighting myself through all of that. It was thick and heavy.

    But I will tell you whom the Lord used at that moment. Pastor James from North Metro was there! It was surprising to see him with his three children in our service! This is the first time he has ever attended a service at our church, and I will have to tell you: his timing could not have been more perfect.

    Just his presence—a fellow brother and pastor and friend in the ministry—was what the Lord used at that moment.

    I hope to get with him this week and express this to him.

    I deeply appreciate you, brother. Thanks.

    I am convicted as well. One thing I want to do is to attend a worship service at North Metro and the other congregations of friends on the north side of town. I want to go and worship in all those churches just to encourage fellow pastors as James did me.

    As he left yesterday, I thanked him.

    How about this statement from Galatians 6? I’m glad about this straightforward statement about priority. What really matters? When all is said and done—does it really matter how many people are there or how I feel or my perceptions of what is going on? Nope. These are “outward” issues, like circumcision.

    "It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God" (Galatians 6:15, 16 NLT).

    This statement demands more reflection and meditation this morning.

    Oh, Lord, I pray that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 would be fulfilled. May believers be One just as you are One with the Son and the Spirit. Bring us together in unity so that the world may know that you have sent us.

    Thank you for my brother James. Thank you that he came yesterday. Thank for our partnership and relationship with North Metro. Bless the socks off of that church and all the other churches on the north side—all the guys who are preaching the Word and battling the enemy.

    I stand against Satan’s desire to divide and conquer. “Nothing pulls us apart. Nothing.”

    “Rise up, O men of God!
    Have done with lesser things;
    Give heart and mind and soul and strength
    To serve the King of kings”

    (“Rise Up, O Men of God,” BH 2008, 373). Amen.
    Comments

    Chuck and Joaquin

    Fran’s service went very well yesterday. Mary, her adopted daughter, chose some very good songs. She had downloaded them to her iPod and Steve with Johnathon and Chris’ help, linked it to our sound system.

    One of the statements that Fran made over and over in her final hours of life on this earth was, “It is in the Lord’s hands.” As I thought about this, it occurred to me that the scriptures have a lot to say about God’s hands. I felt that it was appropriate to read the following verses, but I made a lot more comments about the John 10 passage:

    "My future is in your hands. Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly" (Psalms 31:15 NLT).
    "You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted" (Psalms 89:13 NASB).
    "The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly" (Psalms 118:16 NASB).
    "Stretch forth Your hand from on high; Rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, Out of the hand of aliens" (Psalms 144:7 NASB).
    "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30 NASB).

    How about that? The more I read these verses, the more confidence I have in The Hand that holds me. “I’m in good hands with the Lord.” I just have to stop right here and now and that you, Almighty God.

    Back to the service—some friends of Fran and family got up to speak about her. We listened to a couple more hymns, the final one being “Amazing Grace.” Then, we closed the service.

    There were a lot of people there and the “vibe” was very good. I use that terminology because, in some funerals, you can just tell that many people aren’t really comfortable in a church and don’t appreciate the Christian message. But yesterday, a surprising number of folks responded positively after the service.

    After a brief graveside service, (it was a little warmer yesterday but still very cold), we returned to the church for a reception.

    I want to take a step back for a moment and tell about two people I met yesterday. The first one was Chuck.

    As people were filing out of the service, a rather large older man stopped in front of me. I introduced myself and thanked him for coming. He replied, “I am Fran’s friend Chuck. You know, I’m the one you guys prayed for. I was near death, but because of this church’s prayers, here I am today.”

    Okay. Wow.

    Before I could make a comment, he continued, “You know, Pastor, before I got sick, I didn’t have time for religion, but now, I can’t see how anyone could not believe in miracles.”

    “The Lord is powerful, and He does answer prayer. That is for sure,” I answered.

    At the graveside, Chuck was standing there by himself. “You made my day, Chuck,” I stated.

    “Good to hear it,” he replied. “I own that bowling alley over there.” From our vantage point in Highland Cemetery at the southeast corner of 104th and I-25, we could actually see his business across the highway.

    “Really?” I exclaimed. “Well, then, there is a good chance we will see you again and soon.” We have bowling outings at that alley on occasion.

    I don’t know exactly where Chuck stands with his relationship with Jesus Christ, but I am determined to find out. I am going to that bowling alley in the next few days to make further contact with him.

    Good job, Fran. Praise God!

    Later that evening, as I was with my mom and sis, we were eating at a restaurant. Our waiter’s name was Joaquin. Somehow, we got into a conversation with him. He and his daughter have recently moved to Denver from Carmel, California.

    As he was serving us, my mom encouraged me, “Give him one of your business cards and invite him to church.” Right on.

    When I did, he took my card and thanked me. “I am in the worship band at my church and my daughter sings all the time at the Lutheran church. I work here on Sundays, but I am hoping to start my own business. When I am able to do that, I will come and visit your church.”

    Peachy.

    As we were leaving the restaurant, I could not help but thank God. I’ve been praying for opportunities to share Jesus and to minister to folks. And here is what I have learned about the Lord when I dare to pray that prayer: buckle up! Or, open up! Or, better, speak up! Ha!

    One of the keys to all of this is to be ready and to be sensitive to opportunities the Lord gives. I have a lot to learn about this.

    Paul describes our relationship with Jesus in this way, "As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died" (Galatians 6:14 NLT).

    Lord, thank you for Fran—her life, her ministry, her legacy. I’m glad she is with you right now. Thank for healing Chuck as he was on the brink of death. Thank you for Joaquin.

    I confess my worldliness, Lord. I am too often so preoccupied with the things of the world and myself that I miss opportunities to minister.

    I affirm my co-crucifixion with Jesus to an interest in the world and the world’s interest in me. I’m glad, so glad, for both sides of that coin.

    I love this hymn, as you can tell. I’ve quoted from it the last few days.

    One Wednesday night while I was in seminary, a pastor stood up and just started singing this hymn a cappella. It has made a huge impact on my life—all the questions, all the searching questions, but here is the main one: “Am I a Soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb?”

    Make it so, Lord. Amen.
    Comments

    Church Mission Trips

    I tell you: in my reading Toxic Charity, much of what Lupton is saying strikes a cord with me.

    I’ve always had an issue with the way many churches have done mission trips. Notice how I said that. I am not against mission trips! I have a struggle with the way many churches AND, may I add, the church I serve, do them.

    Let me see if I can explain it. There is a rather large SBC church here in the Denver metro area that prides itself on all the mission trips its members take. They go to all sorts of places all over the world.

    Of course, there is no way that I can make a blanket statement here. The Lord can use anything we do for His honor and glory. Often, He does this in spite of our bumbling effort. I realize this.

    But I have always questioned how much REAL GOOD these trips accomplish. And think about it. It costs a boatload of money to buy a plane ticket to fly overseas. Once you get there that is only the beginning of the expense. AND, you spend a week or two there. There is the issue of jetlag and making adjustments to a new culture. Come on! How much can be accomplished in a short period of time?

    As we began the process of embracing an Unreached, Unengaged People Group, Jim and I attended an Embrace Conference at Applewood Baptist Church. Many of the seminars I attended talked about this—traditional church “mission trips.” Many of the missionaries tried to be diplomatic, but the bottom line in what they said agreed with my comments above.

    In fact, one couple went so far as to say that many church mission trips hurt the work because the missionary had to take time away from his/her ministry to play the role of tour guide.

    I have certainly witnessed this in our church. First, I have resisted “mission trips” in our church. This sounds almost blasphemous, I know. But here is one of my bedrock convictions: if we are not doing missions in our own backyard, we will never do them if we get on a bus or an airplane.

    I’ve heard the argument that the very fact of going on a mission trip is an incentive to missions. This sounds very “spiritual” and certainly, pastors and churches can point to folks who confirm this theory, but I haven’t seen it.

    Over the course of my time at First Southern, we have done three or four mission trips—one has been out of the country. We sent a youth group to Clifton, Colorado to help a church out with VBS. In the summer of 2010, we sent a youth group to St. Louis, Missouri to work with a North American Mission Board program called Power Plant. Our group helped out an inner city pastor who was helping a family with massive home repairs. Our students and adults worked their heads off for a week in mid-July in St. Louis.

    A few years ago, about ten to fifteen people took a trip to Mexico to build a house for a family.

    All of these “trips” performed some good, I am sure, but as far as lasting impact in the kingdom of God, only God knows. I, frankly, am not convinced.

    Lupton makes the excellent point that “each year religious mission trips consume billions of dollars, junkets that put some tourist dollars into local economies but seldom yield appreciable improvement in the lives of those being served. What appears to be extravagant, selfless, even sacrificial investments from caring benefactors may well be exposed as large-scale misappropriation of funds” (Lupton, Toxic Charity, 5-6). These words sting a bit.

    His point is that all the money we spend taking a trip could be gathered together and sent to the right folks in the right places, used a lot more effectively than we use it in our trips.

    Here is the other thing that bothers me about all the trips we have taken. Once we returned home, we have had no relationship or even contact with the folks with whom we ministered—no one in Clifton, no one in St. Louis, and no one in Mexico.

    What happened as a result of our efforts and money and expense? Who knows?

    Was it totally wasted? Of course not. But is this the best expenditure of God’s money and the limited resource of time? I am wondering.

    This is why I am so cautious as we work on embracing an Unreached, Unengaged People Group in India. What will this involve? Jim and I have talked about this a lot. This is NOT going to be a “one and done” trip over there. That having been said, however, I think it is unrealistic to think that it would be possible to go over there FREQUENTLY.

    But, our goal is a continuing relationship and commitment that sustains itself over decades to see that a group of people gets reached for the gospel. This will mean that folks who live there will be doing the work.

    Please pray for us as we work on this. In the meantime, we have the challenge of reaching people in Northglenn. This is our main responsibility. This is our Jerusalem.

    I want to be clear here: it is a both/and, not either/or challenge, but I think we are wise to listen to Lupton’s point. I don’t think he is a believer, but his contentions challenge us to be effective in the ways we fulfill the Great Commission.

    One more thing needs to be said at this point: I know there are folks out there that are always making excuses why we can’t do this or that. Moody’s comment is apropos at this juncture: “I like the way I am doing evangelism better than the way you aren’t doing it.” Yes, I agree.

    But what I have seen is that we are a lot more likely to find ways of not doing evangelism on a LOCAL level than we are for out-of-state or overseas mission trips. I think there must be a balance between urgency and prudence. All of us are responsible to God for the way we use the resources He gives us. He is not limited. We are.

    Paul’s comments in Galatians 6 give further insight. We should never do anything for a feather in our caps—only for God’s glory. This is a huge element of legalism. The world may be impressed, but God isn’t. If we are truly following the Lord, the world ISN’T IMPRESSED.

    "Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting. Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save" (Galatians 6:11-12 NLT).

    Lord, you have commissioned us to make disciples of every ethnic group. Thank you for this Grand Plan.

    I confess that I am not where I need to be in this plan and our church is not there yet.

    Move us forward, Lord. Give us urgency and prudence. Show us how we can truly make a kingdom impact.

    I pray for Fran’s family and friends today as we have her funeral service.

    “Sure I must fight if I would reign;
    Increase my courage, Lord”

    (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” BH 2008, 372). Amen.
    Comments

    Toxic Ministry

    A few weeks ago, Jim (the director of COFU) and I had an intriguing conversation. He told me about a church whose pastor was encouraging a group of leaders in his congregation to read a book entitled, Toxic Charity.

    Jim got the book as well and read it. Our discussion of the book sparked an interest on my part. I found it at a bookstore and purchased a copy for myself.

    The author is Robert D. Lupton. He cites his own experience of working in the inner city in Atlanta for many years and his deep desire to alleviate poverty in all its forms and all over the world. I’m glad he shares his background. It takes him only a couple of paragraphs in the first pages of his book to establish his credibility to speak on this subject.

    Then, he makes this statement: “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them” (Lupton, Toxic Charity, page 3).

    What an incredible statement! Lupton’s point is that a lot of our charitable work here in the United States and across the world may make the “givers” feel better about themselves, but in actuality, what they (we) are doing is not only NOT helping, but also we are HURTING or to use Lupton’s term, DISEMPOWERING those we are trying to help.

    This type of thing is readily visible in Jim’s work with COFU. He observes that folks just go from one charitable organization to the next for food or clothing or money or temporary housing. And they receive “help,” but this “help” only enables them to stay in the lifestyle they are currently mired in. Therefore, are these “handouts” really helping?

    The underlying vision and philosophy of ministry of COFU has been different from the start. Their goal is helping people become “self-sufficient.” In other words, their goal in giving is to help folks move out of a lifestyle into a different way of living. Amen.

    As I have been pondering my discussion with Jim and my reading of the first few pages of Toxic Charity, I have had a challenging thought: I wonder if the church of Jesus Christ is doing “toxic ministry”? In short, is the way we are ministering to folks actually disempowering them?

    This question is coming to my mind and heart as I am praying for the congregation I serve and thinking about where we are. Are we truly empowering folks? Or are we just enabling them to continue in total dependency on a routine or a lifestyle in which they come to church for “handouts” and leave only to sustain the lifestyle they have always lived?

    Whoa.

    Let me pick one area of ministry and delve into this further. First, let me give a little historical background.

    On my first trip to England in the summer of 1985, one of the things I wanted to do was to see the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I was just starting the PhD program at Southwestern Seminary and I was intrigued by the life and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I met a student at the Spurgeon’s College at a train station. We walked the few blocks from there to the college. It was a rainy day, as I remember.

    At one point in our walk, this student stopped and pointed back over our shoulders. “There it is,” he said. I turned and through the rain, I saw it—The Metropolitan Tabernacle. I recognized it immediately because I had seen so many photos of it in Spurgeon’s books and in articles about him. Yep, there it was. It was a rather imposing structure.

    I asked this student, “How is the church doing these days? How many folks attend on an average Sunday morning?” He paused a second, and answered, “Well, I think there are about twenty folks now.” He stopped. It was an awkward moment.

    “What?” I exclaimed. “Twenty folks? Are you kidding?”

    He wasn’t.

    Now, you must understand that a hundred years earlier—in the mid 1880’s—this was akin to a modern-day mega church. Hundreds if not thousands of folks attended, and a hundred years later, it was almost gone.

    This was a congregation that enjoyed the preaching of one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity, but somehow, this ministry could not sustain itself.

    Why? I know that the answer to this question is fairly complicated, but I studied Spurgeon’s preaching and in fact, my dissertation is on that topic. I think I know.

    Somehow, and this is hard to say, preaching can tend to become toxic, if we are not careful.

    Here’s the analogy that comes to mind: we can spoon feed the Word to folks, but if it stops there, we disempower them. It would be like feeding a baby, sitting in a high chair. If I keep doing that and never teach the baby to feed to himself, then what happens is we have a forty year-old man sitting in that high chair still being fed Gerbers. What a comical picture! But it isn’t funny. It is deeply sad and tragic.

    And honestly, I believe this is going on in the church today on a widespread scale. People come to church and get a “spiritual” spoon-fed handout, and everyone feels better because both preachers and people in congregations think they have performed their religious duty, and both sides leave with no lifestyle change.

    But here is the other side of the coin from a preacher’s/pastor’s standpoint: let’s say I try to change that somehow. I am just talking here. Let’s say I tell people as I start a new series in Ezekiel in a couple of weeks, “Hey folks, I want you to read chapter one of Ezekiel, and for the sermon next week, it won’t be me standing up in front of all of you telling you what it means. I want you to study the passage on your own and come ready to answer questions and discuss it in a small group of folks. In fact, we aren’t going to meet in this auditorium next Sunday. We are going to meet around tables in the fellowship hall because that setting will facilitate better discussion and learning of this chapter in God’s Word. Okay? See you all next week!”

    I wonder how many people would show up. I know the answer and so do you.

    Do you see how pervasive all of this is? Even church architecture promotes toxic ministry! People sitting in pews! They might as well be in high chairs!

    All of this is overwhelming, but here is the injunction of God’s Word. How do we do this in practical terms?

    "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10 NASB).

    Father, I thank you first of all that you are GOOD. This is your essential nature and character. And I thank you that you have called us as your children to do GOOD as well. You define what GOOD truly is and you know how to help, really help all people.

    God, what will the ministry of First Southern look like in a hundred years? The church isn’t a building. I know that, but will this congregation even be in existence in a hundred years? Are we perpetuating babies on Gerbers or genuine disciples of Jesus who lead the next generation and the next to follow you?

    God, I lift up folks who have gone to the church I serve, and when they left, they don’t even go to church any longer.

    What are we doing?

    Help, Lord. HELP!

    “Are there no foes for me to face?
    Must I not stem the flood?
    Is this vile world a friend to grace
    To help me on to God?

    (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” BH 2008, 372). Amen.
    Comments

    COFU Moving On

    It is kind of strange writing these words, but they are true.

    Late yesterday afternoon, Jim (the director of Community of Faith United—COFU—this organization that uses space in God’s building) confirmed it. Over the course of the next few weeks, they are going to start moving their equipment out.

    How long has it been that they have been in the building? I need to check, but I think it has been at least five years or more, probably more.

    What a pilgrimage!

    Just a little background to give you some context—COFU is a quasi-government and church organization with the goal of self-sufficiency. They have a food bank and clothing closet but their main goal is to get people to the point where they can support themselves.

    They work with local governments as well as about twenty-five churches in the North Denver area to minister to folks.

    Over five years ago, they were renting space in an old shopping center just north of our church building, and the organization was languishing. It was a no brainer in my opinion and just the right thing to do. (So, as I share this, this is the way I look at it. Do we really deserve a lot of fanfare and accolades for obeying God?) We helped move them down the street to use space in God’s building.

    I felt that this is what the Lord wanted us to do. Sure it took a lot of space. Sure it was very controversial. I’m ashamed to say that we had some people openly question, “What about ‘those people’ coming into OUR building? We have to make sure that we have locks on doors and good control over where ‘they’ go!”

    We dealt with all of the wrong that is in the above question.

    “Those people” were never a problem! On any given day, when I walk by the intake area down in the lower level of the building, people are sitting there quietly, almost ashamedly. They are hungry or looking for work. The absolute last thing they are thinking about is stealing something.

    “OUR building” is a phrase that has chapped me from the beginning of serving as pastor. That building is not “OURS!” It is the Lord’s. And I can’t but help think that if Jesus had charge of any building, it would be full twenty-four hours a day of needy and poor people.

    And here is another thing: if a poor person wants to “steal” something, let him or her have it. Isn’t that what Jesus says? I’m not going to take the time to quote it verbatim—if someone wants ________, give him ________.

    Going back to when we started—we actually had people leave the church over our decision to bring this organization in the building! Others were cold or didn’t even speak to the volunteers in COFU as they came into the building.

    Now, most, if not all of that has changed.

    Over the years they have been housed in the building, COFU has bounced back and is thriving. They recently merged with another organization—WINN Ministries. And they are stronger than ever. So strong that they need more space and room to grow.

    Consequently, about two years ago, they began a search for a new place. I won’t go into all the details of that long story here, but finally, not long ago, they did find a new location. They will be using the top floor of what used to be a library here in Northglenn.

    Another congregation, Crossroads, (Pastor Kim’s congregation—I’ve mentioned him before) has rented space in this building and has been running their benevolence ministry from there. COFU and the benevolence ministry at Crossroads are joining forces. It promises to be bigger and better than ever!

    I praise the Lord for this!

    Therefore, all of this has come together and COFU is going to move. At some point, on a Sunday morning, Jim and all the volunteers (from First Southern and all the other churches) are going to come to a morning service at First Southern and we are going to celebrate their time in God’s building and their move. It should be a great service.

    I’m happy about all of it. I think the timing is perfect. We want to fill these rooms with folks we are reaching.

    AND something else—not just Sunday school space FOR US.

    I haven’t really discussed this with the church yet; I want to continue some type of weekday or evening ministry to continue to use God’s space to minister to people. If I have anything to say about it, never again will we go back to the “era” where the building sat empty most of the week and was just used “for us.”

    Here is my definition of capacity: God’s building is in use twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Until that is the case FOR US—then I don’t believe we can rightly make a case for new buildings and we don’t “need” more space.

    I’m hoping that we can provide space for homeless people to sleep at night. That is what I think.

    And again, I can just hear what people are going to say. But maybe not. I hope not. Maybe we have learned something from our experience with COFU.

    But whatever—something, anything. The church is NOT Sports Authority Field at Mile High! Every time I drive by the stadium, (and I love the Broncos—don’t get me wrong) I think, “What a billion dollar waste! It only gets used a few hours A YEAR, and taxpayers paid billions of dollars and were glad to do so. All of this for a huge building that sits empty and unused a vast majority of the time!”

    How many churches are like that stadium? All these seats and pews and no one sits in them except for a few hours a year. It is criminal.

    Well, I’ll get off my soapbox. I have a lot more to say about my conversation with Jim, but I’ve learned so much from him and from COFU.

    I’ve learned about “Seed Power.” We often want to be involved in BIG things, BIG GOOD things, when the Lord calls us just to cast seed here and there. This is the metaphor Paul uses in Galatians 6.

    "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:7-9 NASB).

    I’m convinced that most of us will never see the “results” of the good we do, but that’s okay. God sees. God knows. That is good enough for me.

    Lord, I thank for our church’s pilgrimage with COFU. It has been a controversial and difficult road at times, but it has been well worth it. We are not done with them, either! They are just moving on to another location.

    Bless Jim and the volunteers in COFU and Crossroads as they join forces.

    Expand your kingdom and continue to use folks who don’t care who gets the credit.

    “Must I be carried to the skies
    On flowery beds of ease
    While others fought to win the prize
    And sailed thro’ bloody seas?

    (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” BH 2008, 372). Amen.
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    Conversation with Andy

    Yesterday, Andy Sr. called me. I use the “Sr.” designation to differentiate him from his son who is a good friend also.

    It was wonderful to talk with him, encouraging as always. He called to tell me that he got a copy of my book. He was reading it and really enjoying it.

    I thanked him for this.

    I know I sound like a broken record, but I continue to be amazed that anyone reads what I write. As we start a New Year, I am deeply grateful for this and pray that the Lord can use it somehow, not only with folks dealing with cancer, but beyond that.

    In the course of the conversation, I told Andy about the second book I am working on. This led into an exchange of some very good memories.

    I stated, “A lot of what I am talking about in this first book and will talk about in the second, I learned from you, Andy.”

    In early May of 1979—toward the end of my sophomore year at Baylor—the Lord called me into full-time vocational Christian service. The semester ended shortly after that call experience, and I went home for the summer.

    I remember that, shortly after I arrived home, Andy called me. He affirmed my call and encouraged me to pursue it. He gave me a summer staff position along with Andy Jr. and he gave each of us at least three opportunities to preach that summer.

    I preached my first sermon at Calvary Baptist Church of Englewood in the summer of 1979 after the church licensed me to ministry.

    Everyone was complimentary after those sermons, but I appreciate their patience with me.

    Andy and I laughed about one (among many) of my gaffes in sermons. On one occasion, I was trying to explain the difference between heaven and hell, and I got things all jumbled up. “Heaven is where hell is. I mean. Hell is where heaven is. I mean …” You get the idea. Even I can laugh about it NOW, but back then, it was not funny.

    But here is the point: how valuable was it that Andy gave me the opportunity to preach? I told him that had the roles been reversed, I’m not sure I could have done that. I would have been afraid that someone might say, “What is John doing? He is slacking off. We pay him to preach, not someone else.”

    But what Andy did was the heart and essence of his job as a pastor—he was equipping the saints or saint, as the case may be. He was patient. So was everyone else in that congregation. They allowed a total greenhorn like me to preach. And it was the same for Andy Jr.

    But that was only the beginning of the lessons I learned from Andy. Here is another one: he loved Jesus and his sermons had a “Jesus” focus. This has been determinative in my life and ministry in so many ways. It influenced the choice of my dissertation topic. It has been determinative in my approach to sermons and preaching. AND, last but not least, it has helped me maintain the right focus through my whole life, especially through cancer.

    “Focus on Jesus and the Bible.” I can’t begin to count how many times I heard Andy say that.

    Here is another thing I learned from Andy—we always laughed a lot—in our personal times together and in services. It was never inappropriate, but always out of personal or shared experiences.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than I did that summer working with Andy and Andy Jr.

    Yesterday, we recalled some of those experiences. One day, Andy and I went next door to the church to visit Mary. She lived in an apartment there. She was physically infirmed and was in a wheel chair. But she was a delight and a real character.

    Andy Jr. and I happened to visit with her as she was eating lunch. At one point in the conversation, a pea came out of her mouth and lodged on her cheek! Mary said something like, “Hey, get back in here,” as she raised her hand (it took quite a bit of effort) to push that pea back in her mouth. Well, by then, it was too late. Andy and I were laughing so hard we could barely function. Mary was laughing as well.

    That summer, we also visited a retired pastor named A. B. Harrison. This brother had suffered the effects of diabetes and was in bed most of the time. The doctors amputated part of one of his legs just below the knee.

    One day, as we were visiting with him, he said, “Hey, do you guys want to see my leg?” Before we could say, “No, A. B., that’s okay,” he had pulled back the sheets to show us. Believe me. It was not something that I care to think about very much. We thanked A. B., but when we all got in the car, Andy Jr. made some comment about nausea or something, and we all cracked up.

    I don’t want you to think we were making fun of A. B. He was a dear brother, but seeing that leg—whoa.

    As we were reminiscing about all of this, I told Andy a recent story. I don’t think I have told this in this blog.

    At our International Candle Lighting service, after we had lit the candles, I was trying to close things out. I wanted to say Merry Christmas in all the languages represented that night—Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean. Well, after my poor Spanish and Portuguese greetings, I looked toward our Korean pastor, Dong, who was sitting on the back row.

    “Hey Brother Dong, I don’t know how to say Merry Christmas in Korean. Can you say ‘Merry Christmas’?”

    Without hesitation and with a rather deadpan tone, he said, “Merry Christmas.”

    We all cracked up.

    "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him" (Galatians 6:6 NASB).

    Father, I am so grateful for the way you have used Andy in my life. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for his life and ministry.

    I pray that you would encourage him today. I pray for his health and for his wife JoAnn.

    Use me in the lives of others just as you have used Andy in my life.

    Thank you for this hymn. I will say more about it tomorrow—hopefully.

    “Am I a soldier of the cross,
    A follower of the Lamb?
    And shall I fear to own His cause,
    Or blush to speak His name?” (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” BH 2008, 372). Amen.
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    Happy New Year and the Hardest Work We Do

    First of all, I am overwhelmingly grateful that the Lord has allowed me to live another year. I’ve always looked at January 1st as I look at my birthday in terms of the passage of time—the calendar turns to another year.

    Second, I’m grateful for all of who continue to read this blog every day and even occasionally. I’m certainly never going to stop writing every day. Let me say that upfront, but I’m not sure if I am going to continue with Caring Bridge throughout the year. Somehow, I feel that I might transition away from it after I finish my final maintenance treatments and get another PET scan in late January. I love it. It has meant everything to me as the first place where I was able to post my daily thoughts. It will be hard NOT to use it any longer. I’ll just have to see.

    But I would appreciate your prayers for me. I really feel the burden and impetus to push the envelope concerning book #1. I just believe it is a message that needs to get out there, and I am realizing that I need to work on it a little bit each day.

    Plus, I want to write book #2 this year. My problem is finding the time to carve out to work on it. It seems as if the morning is the best time, but I just can’t see myself getting up any earlier than I am now. 3:00 AM? I don’t think so, but these early morning times are the best writing times for me.

    Well, anyway, back to yesterday. I just could not escape the fact that I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to spend some extended time with Him in prayer, and so I shared “a plan” with the church Sunday. I told them that I would be in our auditorium praying from 1:00 to 2:00 PM. Anyone who wanted to join me was welcome. No music. No Bible study. No organization. Just come and go.

    Plus, I put together a prayer guide. I had Betty attach two additional pieces of paper to this guide. I went to the White House website for a list of Cabinet Members. That was page two. The final page was our full church prayer list.

    Here is that prayer guide. I will just copy and paste it in this blog entry for today:

    PRAYER SHEET FOR ALL PRAYER TIMES, Beginning with the Special Prayer Time on Monday December 31, 2012 (see instructions below), and During the Week, and Sunday Morning, January 6th.

    Instructions: as I indicated yesterday, this is a “come and go” time. Please feel free to join with someone or just pray by yourself—either way. The following guide is only a suggestion. Use the time the way the Lord leads you. I (Pastor John) will be gone at 2:00 and I will lock the front door. If you would like to stay past 2:00, please go out the side door of the auditorium and be sure to turn out all the lights.

    --Please take time to reflect back on 2012 and praise God, thanking Him for who He is and what He has done for you this past year.

    --Take time to pray for everyone in your family, especially every person who does not know Jesus.

    --Move on to your friends and neighbors.

    --Pray for the needs of the church. SEE PRAYER SHEET.
    Please remember to pray particularly for Fran Nuse’s family. She went home to be with the Lord last night.

    --PRAY FOR REVIVAL FOR OUR CHURCH.

    --
    Pick a church or several in the north side of metro Denver or anywhere else in the city (for that matter) and pray for REVIVAL.

    --This message comes from the Colorado Baptist Convention website:
    Join other Southern Baptists in answering the call to prayer.  Make 2013 a year of intentional prayer for the spread of the gospel among your friends, community, across the nation, and around the world.  Make this a year of intentional prayer for the lost; expect God to hear your prayer as you engage the lost with the Good News. 

    --This message comes from the North American Mission Board website: In 2012 Southern Baptists brightened some bleak circumstances by bringing the light of Christ through Disaster Relief ministries. Through its Send North America strategy, the North American Mission Board also challenged Southern Baptists to return to our great cities and regions outside the South, to establish new churches in areas with little Gospel presence. As we look back, first we are grateful to God for the privilege of joining Him in His work. We are also thankful for the millions of Southern Baptists whose faithful giving to the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering allows our church planters and other missionaries to do their work.

    --Please pray for President Obama and Vice President Biden as well as other leaders in our government, national, state, and city. Let’s pray specifically for the President’s cabinet. See sheet from the White House website.

    --Please pray for the Lord’s guidance as we seek to embrace an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG) this year.

    --Please pray for the persecuted church. Lift up Pastor Youcef who was recently re-arrested and jailed again in Iran. Pray also for another pastor, an American citizen, who was visiting Iran and was arrested as well!

    --Thank God for the freedom we have to serve Him here and pray for BOLDNESS IN FAITH, IN GIVING, AND IN TESTIMONY FOR 2013.


    There you have it. It is just a guide to encourage folks to pray beyond their own narrow circle of needs. This guide is typical of what I have produced for prayer times at our church from the beginning. To me, it is an application of how Jesus teaches His disciples to pray in Matthew six when he says, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

    Before I go further, let me back up a second. From the day I started as Pastor at FSBCN, prayer times have always been a challenge for me that I have embraced. When I started, our Wednesday time consisted of a 55 minute Bible study and a five minute prayer time in which someone prayed, “Lord, you see this list (it mainly consisted of sick people in the church and Aunt Sally’s toe problems). Please take care of all these needs.”

    When I have occasion to visit other churches, I like to attend prayer times when possible. Most are like this. Prayer is shoved into a brief corner, a tip of the hat to God, and it has a very narrow focus.

    Well, it didn’t take me long to change our approach. I turned things on their head. We had about a five-minute Bible study and a fifty-five minute prayer time! It was difficult for folks. I could tell. But I spent time teaching folks about praise and thanksgiving and about interceding for lost folks and missionaries and our nation’s leaders—all of that.

    We started breaking up into groups and praying through all these topics.

    I hearkened back to my days in seminary and the Sunday school class I was a part of at Travis Avenue Baptist Church where my first teachers—Barry and Sherry—taught us conversational prayer. I had never learned this EVER until then. Barry gathered with the guys in this Single adult class. Sherry met with the women.

    It was not unusual for prayer times to last two hours. He spent time teaching us how to do this. And then he led us, and when we prayed conversationally (and Barry was a stickler for this approach—even to the point of stopping one of us when we started to pray “gospel of John” prayers. I’m sure you know what I mean!), time raced by! It was incredible, and we covered a wide range of topics and types of prayer. It was fantastic.

    So, this is the type of prayer meetings I led, and at first, they grew. It was not unusual to fifty or more on a Wednesday night.

    But somehow, over the years, our prayer times started to wane a bit. We tried different approaches and methods and times.

    Things migrated to the point where, several years ago, we produced a prayer sheet, put it in the foyer, had the building open, invited people to come and go, and just told folks to come in and pray on their own.

    At first, we had some good response to this approach, but it quickly fell off. It turned out that usually it was only Betty and I who came.

    We have since expanded our approach as I learned that it is possible for people to pray at various times and in various ways other than Wednesday night at the church building—ha! Now, we pray in groups on Sunday morning. I lead a men’s group. Betty leads a group of women. We have a time of prayer in the morning worship service that is more than just a perfunctory pause. We have people praying at various times during the week and a prayer chain for crisis requests and a twenty-four hour prayer group—people praying at various times each day.

    All of this to say—I still prefer the method of just opening up a room and inviting people to come and go.

    I like this, but I will have to say—it is extremely difficult. Try it sometime, and you will see. Any and everything that could possibly happen often does. What am I talking about? Let me see if I can list everything: sleepiness, distraction, mind drifting, random thoughts, have to go to the bathroom, unusual pains, et cetera. It is almost comical what happens when you just decide: I am going to sit here and spend an hour or more in prayer.

    I honestly think one of the most difficult things we do as believers is to pray by ourselves—whether it is sitting in a church auditorium (nothing magical about the place—that’s for sure) or in the privacy of our home in an early morning or late night or middle of the day—it doesn’t matter.

    It is hard work and that is why I am convinced so few people actually do it, including and especially pastors.

    I think I read somewhere that the average pastor spends five minutes or less per day in prayer. I don’t doubt it.

    It is hard work. Why? And here is the point: I think this is the battlefield of spiritual warfare that Paul is talking about in Ephesians six, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert (hard work) and be persistent (even more difficult) in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18, NLT, parentheses mine).

    Satan throws his whole arsenal at someone who prays.

    I was reminded of this yesterday as I battled my way through that hour in our auditorium. I heard a couple of others who joined me yesterday. I didn’t turn around to see who they were. I did that because yesterday was not about who else was going to come. It was about God and me.

    But let me just say: if you ever plan one of these come and go prayer times, don’t expect to break any attendance records. But I am sick and tired of everything we do—including prayer—having numbers as the chief criterion for “success.”

    Prayer will NEVER attract a crowd. EVER.

    But that is not going to stop me from struggling with it and continuing to lead our church to pray—whenever and however and wherever. In groups or individually. Morning or night. At the church or in a home or at work at noon. Good, good, and good. All good. “Just,” as Nike preaches, “do it.”

    This is one of the main aspects of my work as pastor, and so Paul’s injunction applies to me in particular but it is a good reminder for all believers: "Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct" (Galatians 6:4, 5 NLT).

    Lord, thanks for another year to live and serve you.

    Teach me to pray. Amen.

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