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A Stroll At Leisure With God

All the Ways to Blow It

Back to the Old Testament today after reading the short book of Philemon. Today, the new book is Zephaniah.

I actually decided to spend a few moments boning up on the background of this little prophecy.

I will share some of those details in a moment. But the reading of this little book reminds me that there really are parts of the Bible we NEVER talk about or preach from. There is something wrong with this.

I’m thinking … I don’t think I have ever preached a sermon from this book in almost twenty-five years of preaching. That will change.

I am preparing to introduce the church to a challenge that will begin in March. I will speak more about this in the next couple of days, but in working on this challenge, I was reminded of what Paul says about the Bible in 2 Timothy 3:16. “All scripture is God-breathed …” Peterson translates those initial words this way: “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed …” I like it.

I know I have said this before, but I believe the “part” of the Bible that is most neglected in the contemporary American church is the Old Testament prophets, and more specifically, the Minor Prophets.

And I know why. These books are in your face. This is the nature of prophecy. It is not, as many believe, PRIMARILY about predicting the future. Sure, there is some of that, but that is not lion’s share of what is in these books.

In the prophetic period of Israel’s history, God raised up prophets to confront sin and call His people back to relationship. And it is often not pretty. Talk about sin never is.

The first few verses of Zephaniah are a case in point. The verses I am going to cite are a primo example of what I am talking about:

"So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, And the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, And those who have turned back from following the Lord, And those who have not sought the Lord or inquired of Him. Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near, For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests" (Zephaniah 1:4-7 NASB).

The Lord lists four categories of folks who were not in a good place. He is speaking through His prophet, Zephy, to the people of Judah just prior to the Fall of Ninevah in 612 B. C. “Zephy” ministered somewhere around 630 to 620 B. C. All of this is very significant. I’ll talk more about this later.

Back to the categories. There are four of them. Four ways to get off track.

The first is just pure, unadulterated idolatry—those who bow down on the roofs of their houses to worship the stars and planets. The reference to Baal in the previous verse makes me think that this practice was a part of Baal worship, but I don’t know for sure.

The second category is the “cake and eat it too” folks—those who want to worship the Lord AND worship an idol. The Lord mentions Milcom. What is that? A quick search on Google showed me that Milcom or Molock or Molech (various forms of this name) is the national god of the Ammonites and the one to whom child sacrifices were made.

Think about that! That has to be the ultimate contradiction—worshipping the Giver of Life on one hand and the Taker of life on the other.

The third group of folks is people who “used to.” They used to follow God but do so no longer. I wish I had a dime for every time I have talked to people who somehow think they can earn brownie points with God because they used to go to church twenty years ago.

The fourth category includes people who do not seek the Lord. Interesting. Failure to be an active seeker puts one in the same boat with idolaters. This is the most subtle and I think the most dangerous category of all.

Anyway, these four categories are interesting and thought-provoking. They remind me that there are a lot of ways to turn against God and only one narrow way NOT to. It is incumbent on me today to stay, by the grace and mercy of God, on the narrow path.

Lord, today, I acknowledge you as the Great I AM. There are no other gods. There are no other gods beside You. I am responsible to follow and serve you TODAY. The past is gone. The future is in your hands—whatever that means. I have TODAY. And I choose to seek You and follow Your and serve You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

“God’s truth abideth still:
His kingdom is forever” (BH 2008, 656). Amen.
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Psycho

I have to tell all of you that I learned a word the other day as my mom and sis were in Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I asked one of the clerks to help me with the name of a long plastic “thing” I use in my Vita-Mix blender each day.

By the way, this is the best blender (or mixer—not sure what the technical name is; my brain isn’t working) ever made. I use it to grind up all kinds of fruit and vegetables for drinks every day. It is awesome.

The Vita-Mix blender is made with a rubbery top with a hole in it. This is where you insert the long plastic thing into the pitcher as it is grinding and blending stuff. It helps with that process.

Anyway, that rather long plastic thing is called “an accelerator.” I had to learn the name so that I could order another one. Great name, huh? I can’t get over it.

It is my new synonym for cancer. One of the reasons that I thank the Lord for cancer is that it is playing the role of an “accelerator” in my life. It is a tool that the Lord is using to facilitate what He is teaching me AND to knock off all (I mean every last one) of the rough edges.

Of course that work won’t be totally completely until I see Jesus face to face. He has a long way to go until then.

So, back to this recent challenge—let me see if I can explain it. I’m a little hesitant to go into too much detail because all of you will think I am more of a “psycho” than you do now, but oh, well …

One of the things that I have always struggled with is dealing with rather insignificant “unresolved issues.” I’ve been known to be totally immobilized when I lose a sock. I will just drop everything and tear up the house until I find it.

Here is another thing that has happened recently. Now that I live on the other end of town from the church, I really have to work at making sure I have everything I brought to church—especially my computer, my Ipad, and my phone. It was not unusual for me to leave these at church, and when I did in the past, I would just drive over to the church building—ten to fifteen minutes—and get whatever it was. No biggie. This happened a lot. I am a space cadet.

Well, early in the Fall, I found myself forgetting to pick up my Ipad after the service. For some reason, I was forgetting it, leaving, and driving all the way to southeast Denver before I realized that I didn’t have it. Different story.

Okay, how would a normal person respond to this? Well, they would probably reason like this: it is at church. Someone will pick it up and put it in your box outside your office or in the lost and found. No worries. Just retrieve it when you are at the church in a couple of days.

This type of advice was in fact what my mom and sis would tell me when I informed them that I forgot my Ipad. Makes sense, right?

What did I do? This happened more than once. I was worried about it, and I knew that I would not have peace or be able to function unless I “resolved” this issue, so I dropped everything and I got in my truck and drove all the way back up to the church to find it and retrieve it, and then got back in my truck to come ALLLLLL the way home. With traffic, even on Sundays, this would often take an hour to an hour and a half!

Psycho, right? My mom and sis are always patient with me, but I know they wonder at times.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why share this psycho behavior? Not sure I needed to know THAT MUCH about you, John.”

Well, this recent issue with the doctor on Monday, the lump on my neck, and the trip to India is a case in point.

I am struggling, just I do with a lost sock or a left Ipad, with wanting this issue with this lump RESOLVED. And I am battling my usual tendency of immobility with this unresolved issue.

In other words, until I know whether this lump is cancer or not, I can’t do anything, especially go to India.

Does this make sense?

You know, really, all the “what ifs” of life can be rather immobilizing, IF WE LET THEM.

I have heard this many times since my initial cancer diagnosis in 2010. “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies; for some, it just emerges and becomes problematic.” Now, I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but let’s say it is.

It would be ludicrous for someone who has never been diagnosed with cancer to crawl up in the fetal position with this thought, “I’m not going to work; I am not going to do anything today because I MIGHT get cancer.” We would perceive this as even more “psycho” than my lost sock or Ipad behavior.

But what about me and what about now? It is likely that I am going to be dealing with cancer for the rest of my life. Whether it has returned now or not, whether it will return or re-emerge now or not—all of this is up to God, right?

I can’t put my life on hold every time the threat of cancer reemerges.

As my friend Jon shared a couple of years ago (he himself a cancer survivor), “I’m not going to waste the precious time I have worrying about something that might happen or might not.”

Therefore, I need to learn to trust God, whether it is lost sock or Ipad (are you kidding me?) or cancer.

Let’s say my cancer has re-emerged. So what? Do I have any reason not to believe that the Lord will take care of it AGAIN, just as He did before? Ah, nope.

And let’s say that I get worse and worse and I am one of the five percent of folks who actually die from this type of low-grade cancer.

So what? That is not the worst thing to happen to a believer in Jesus. Then, I get to go home.

Now, all of this may sound very cavalier. I don’t mean it that way. To say that I am not concerned about this lump on my neck would be a lie. I am.

I am dreading the possibility of having to do chemo again. I’m fearful of having to pull away from my work and the church and …

Oops, there I go again. I just have to come back to trusting God all over again and walking with Him. Daily. Moment by moment.

Lord, I want to panic. I want to do with this recent challenge what I did with the Ipad. I want to drive ALLLLLL the way back up to Northglenn. I don’t know how to do something like THAT with this issue, but if I could, I would.

Give me the grace to turn this over to You AND LEAVE IT THERE.

The truth is that whether this had happened or not, I still have to trust You. I still have to leave all my plans at Your feet. If you indeed don’t want me to go to India, then I ask you to show me and stop me. If my health simply won’t permit it, then help me to be brave enough to admit it and take the flack.

But I don’t want to miss out on what You have planned because of some “psycho” reason. Not that. Please, Lord. Help me. Amen.

P. S. I love this very human statement in Philemon:

"One more thing—please prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon" (Philemon 1:22 NLT).
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Put it On My Bill

First of all this morning, I want to thank everyone who responded on Facebook or sent me an email or gave me a pep talk. I really appreciate it every expression.

The longer I am involved in ministering to people the more I am convinced that saying, “I will pray for you” is just about the best thing you can say.

This whole thing raises the specter again of why decisions like this are so difficult.

In one of the responses I received, a sister in the Lord made the point that Satan always tries to oppose the work of God, especially as it involves evangelism and missions. She is so on target. I’ve seen this over and over, not only in my personal life but also in the church. “All hell breaks lose” literally as we storm the gates of hell, to use Jesus’ expression. The enemy doesn’t like it when we try to take folks from his camp.

That is one very valid way of looking at this. But there is another.

Maybe this is the Lord’s way of getting me to stop a bit and think about things. As I mentioned yesterday, it has certainly forced me to look at my motives. Why do I want to go on this trip? Am I doing it for the right reason?

The other part of this is simply that I don’t want to go if I am struggling with the side effects of cancer. Again, I don’t know if it has returned or not. I guess I will have to wait on that, but I go back to those days in the summer of 2010 as I was working through what I had and dealing with it, I felt as if I was literally dragging myself around.

I could barely put one foot in front of the other during our outreach in Federal Heights that summer and in the 50th Anniversary celebration. I was fully “into” both of those events on a mental and emotional level, but my body just wasn’t.

This is tough to describe to folks who haven’t been there. My main side effect with cancer has always been FATIGUE. And this is a lot more than just being tired. Everyone who has had long-term health issues of any kind (not necessarily cancer) can understand.

Does all of this make sense? So, let me summarize: is this Satan trying to stop me from going or is it the Lord trying to tell me something? Either/or or both?

Here is where I am right now: I am in the “go” mode unless the Lord tells me different or I just know on a health level that I just can’t do it.
So, we will see. One thing I know: it will be an adventure. It always is.

In the meantime, I felt lousy yesterday. Part of the reason is a result of the immunizations I got on Monday afternoon. At the Tri County Health Center in Aurora, Cheryl, the nurse, who was very competent, was careful to tell me all the side effects of the shots and medicines she proscribed. It probably was not the best time for me to hear all of THAT after what happened that morning. I was just a little two overwhelmed to hear about more diseases and how I could contract them. But I feel better today.

Anyway, plugging along, and thanks again for your concern and prayers. And just the support, either way. It means a lot.

The passage today is interesting. This whole little book is an appeal from prison to Philemon to minister to a former slave Onesimus. Paul is asking Phil to take him in, not as a slave, but as a brother in Jesus. Even more than that—as he would receive the apostle himself:

"So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!" (Philemon 1:17-19 NLT)

Interesting. We don’t know all that transpired between Phil and Onesimus, but it probably wasn’t all that good since Onesimus ended up in prison. Maybe he stole money or something like that? Who knows? But Paul is appealing to this brother to forgive and if there are any debts outstanding, to put them on Paul’s bill. Of course, Paul interjects (this is a John paraphrase), “I’m vouching for this with my own handwriting. Oh, and by the way, if we are adding things up, you are the one who me more: you owe me your very life.”

This is the essence of forgiveness and reminds me of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is the final petition of the Model Prayer. And if you don’t forgive, then the Lord won’t forgive you. Stern words.

The book of Philemon is a practical example of how that plays out. It is not always easy. But it is the right thing to do.

Lord, again, somehow, I feel that what I have read today in Philemon and what I am going through with my health and this trip to India are all interrelated. Teach me. Show me.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you again SO MUCH for all the readers of this blog and for their concern and love and prayers. It is an awesome reflection of what the body of Christ should be. Bless and encourage each and every one of them.

Again, Lord, I trust you to show me what I am supposed to learn through this and what I am supposed to do, AND Satan NEVER has the last word. Never. I won’t allow it in this case, either.

“Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing” (BH 2008, 656).

I don’t know if I have ever noticed that before in this great hymn! Wow. Very powerful.

Amen.
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Visit with the Doc: A Mixed Bag

I am really glad my mom and sis were with me as we all went to the doctor to get the results of my latest CT scan. The main reason I am glad is that my perspective of what is said often gets distorted as I retell it and think about it.

Anyway, after all the preliminaries (weighing, blood pressure, port access, et cetera), the three of us went to a waiting room.

It wasn’t long before Lisa—one of Dr. Jotte’s assistants—came in. She was all smiles. “Your CT test and all your blood levels look great! Anything you want to talk with me about?”

We visited about my fatigue and how a nutritionist recommended that I get a thorough blood check. I asked her if they could just do this since they just took my blood. She said, “Ah, yep, John. I will see if Dr. Jotte can get that done for you. Anything else?”

I told her about the trip to India and that I was going to have some immunizations yesterday afternoon. Fine.

When we concluded, she started her exam. It is customary for these assistants just to feel in certain places where potential lymph node “issues” could surface. The first place they check is the neck, ALWAYS. As she placed her hands there, she paused for a moment, “Humm. A little swelling there. Got to have the doctor look at this.”

Huh, what? Huh??

She proceeded to check under my arms and then, asking me to take deep breaths, checked my stomach and abdomen and back, using her stethoscope and hands in concert. All of this is routine.

“Okay, well. I’m going to get the doctor. He will come in soon.” This is the usual procedure as well.

When Dr. Jotte entered the room, he was upbeat as usual. Cupping his hands, he placed them on my neck, just as Lisa had. “Yep, there is a little spot there.” He looked at her. “How much do you think that is?” I guess he was referring to the degree of the “swell.”

Then, he sat back down. I’m going to try to remember all he said at this point. I hope I can. To be honest, my brain was in a whirl at that point.

“Well, you all remember back at the beginning as we were talking about the nature of this cancer. What you have, John, is a low-grade type of cancer. With the lymphomas, the more serious the cancer, the more treatable it is. It is easier to cure, but at the same time, the death rate is 30%. With the low-grade type, the death rate is five percent. Which one would you rather have?”

I didn’t answer this out loud, but under my breath, I said, “Neither one.”

He went on, “So, if there is something there, and there could very well be, then we will just treat it. In fact, since you had chemo before, there is a brand new treatment option out there. Before, we used X and Y, but now along with rituxan, we are using Z (I think the actual name began with a B). It is much more localized and people seem to tolerate it better.”

Okay.

I’m not sure anyone asked anything at this point, but the doctor sensed what we would ask. “I’m not going to test this right now. We will just monitor it. Of course, if you start to have some problems, let us know. What I don’t want is for you to wake up in the middle of the night and worry or feel your neck or anything.”

What do you think I did last night???

At this point, Marilyn asked a question, “So, doctor, if there is cancer there, could it spread?”

“Yes,” he answered, “it could, but (and this is the part where all of us were a little fuzzy on what he said as we talked about it later) whether it is localized or it has spread, there is really no significant difference. And time passing doesn't matter.” Something like that.

So, I have a port flush in a few weeks. I made an appointment to have another check-up in three months, along with a scan in six months. At one point, the doctor did add, “On the next scan, we will make sure it goes a little higher.”

You might be wondering how the CT scan could show that I am good, but the “hand” exam found a potential problem. This is one of the limits of the CT scan, and I certainly don’t understand all the technology, but it just scans a certain area of the body, not the whole body, like a PET scan.

My CT scans, to this point, have focused on the chest and torso. That’s it.

From now on, I hope they go “up” a little more! Ha.

Oh, and one more thing, at one point, the doctor made another comment because again, he was sensing that we wanted to find out for sure what this swelling on my neck is, i.e. let’s have another scan tomorrow or yesterday. What six months? Are you kidding? He added, “We also have to be careful that we don’t over-scan because it exposes you to more radiation.” Oh.

So, as we were walking out, we were kind of quiet. Marilyn said, “So, I am finally realizing that with this type of cancer, the best they can do is just push it back for a while. It is still there. It just hasn’t been prominent for a while.” That may not be exactly what she said, but it is the gist.

My thoughts exactly. I recall the words of Donnie, my friend in Rick’s church in Louisiana. The doctors there said it this way, “Mr. Barmore, you are more likely to die with this disease than from it.” I am going to call him to catch up, especially now, but he has had three bouts with his type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And he keeps plugging.

As we were driving away from the cancer center, things started to hit me and some words came out of my mouth as I was talking about the trip to India. At this point, I am not going to go into detail about THAT, but I’ve had to pray about those comments since then. More on all of that in a moment.

We grabbed some lunch and came home. I had planned to get some immunizations for the trip to India, so I headed out to Aurora to get that done.

In the course of the trip, my neck started to bother me. I’m going to trace my thoughts as this occurred, “Oh, come on, John. This is the epitome of psychosomatic illness. Come on, man?.... Humm, what is going on?... Wait a minute! What day is this? Monday. My neck always hurts on Monday after my workout, and it hurts other times of the week as well. Humm.” This has been going on for months, and I have just assumed that it has been a muscle pull from straining in the workout.

Now, I think it might be something else. It also might NOT.

But with this stinking disease, this is how your mind works and works and works, during the day and especially at night, when you reach over and feel that lump and you think, “Oh, no. Here we go again, but maybe not. I hope not. Lord!” Part of the gig.

This may also explain why I just haven’t been feeling well for a while. Who knows?

Anyway, back to the trip to India. Just the other day, as Jim and I were heading up to Boulder, I talked about the results of the CT scan and said something like, “Jim, I have no worries about this test. I think it will come back okay, but if it doesn’t, I just don’t think I can make this trip to India.” I’ve told Nancy and Pam this AND Jeff at Ken Caryl.

Now, I’m not sure about those statements. Why not go on and go? The doctor doesn’t seem to be that concerned. At least he isn’t rushing me to the emergency room at the hospital.

But on the other side of the coin … I don’t know. I’m glad that Pam, Nancy, and I bought some trip insurance. The particular policy we purchased allows us to cancel up to two days prior to the trip. So, I don’t have that worry.

And I am not worried. Sounds weird, I know, but I am not. Whatever.

Here is the bottom line: please pray for wisdom and direction as it relates to this trip. Again, I am not worried about the cancer. I’m just worried about not feeling well and pushing myself and I don’t want to be in India not feeling well and wondering … I think (emphasis on I—me, myself, and I) it would help me to know whether this lump is cancer or not, but maybe not …

Lord, I thank you for this next step and test of faith. I do confess that some of my motives are not where they need to be right now. Maybe this is your way of purging and cleaning out some “dirty closets.”

This awesome gift, the gift of cancer, keeps on giving! Sounds corny and cliché, but it is true.

I feel led to go to India, but whatever, Lord. Whatever. Amen.
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Generosity

Back to the New Testament today—the little book of Philemon.

But first, a couple of things.

Yesterday, I was amazed at all the people who asked me, “What was the result of your CT scan?” I deeply appreciate this. I can’t tell you how much. You can tell that people are praying when they ask. That is just the frank truth.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was preaching from 1 Timothy 3:1 and following in my series of sermons on the “faithful sayings” in the Pastoral Epistles. At the beginning of the message, I felt compelled to say something like this, “The message today is about pastors. It almost seems self-serving for me to preach about my role and job in the church, but I want to assure all of you that I have no axe to grind here. I deeply appreciate all the ways all of you minister to me. Thank you so much.” Something like that.

At the top of the list is prayer.

It reminds me of something that Charles Spurgeon said when someone asked him, “What is the secret to your success?”

His short answer was, “My people pray for me.”

In my case, I define success as “survival.” It is all about plugging along and just showing up. The fact that I have been fired or thrown in jail is a testament to God’s power. Plus, through prayer, the Lord has taken me to this point in my pilgrimage that includes cancer.

Another thing I need to say is that I am concerned about a couple of things health-wise. A few weeks ago, I had planned to spend an evening with a dear couple—Scott and Darla and their great kids. But I just felt as if I was heading toward being sick. Weird to say that I have felt that same way on and off since then. How many weeks has that been? I need to get checked out today and get to the bottom of what is going on with me.

Yesterday was another case in point. Right before the service, I felt very tired and exhausted. Weird.

The added challenge of today is that I am going to find out the results of my CT scan. I’m not really worried about this, to be honest, but I am anxious to find out because it may or may not affect my trip to India. We will see.

Plus, this afternoon, I’m scheduled to visit a Tri County Health Center in Aurora to get my immunizations for this trip.

So, anyway, none of this is particularly a big deal, but I just need to get some things done and/or checked out. Thanks for continuing to pray.

Back to dear old Philemon. This letter of Paul is unique in that, unlike all the rest of the Pauline corpus, it was written to one individual. It gives us such a peak into the behind-the-scenes life of Paul in prison.

It still baffles me to think the greatest missionary in the history of the Christian church spent most of the final years of his ministry—the best years—“rotting” in a prison cell in various places in Asia Minor and Italy. Why would God do this?

I have no idea. I have long given up trying to figure the Lord out, but one thing I would say is that the Lord had to do something to tie Paul down or we would never have had half the New Testament. While he was in prison, Paul wrote many of the letters we have in the Bible. I’m thankful for this.

But this letter starts off as many of his letters do. This was a customary letter-writing practice in his day—with a (formal name) salutation. This was a section that complimented the recipient (s) in some way.

In Philemon, Paul compliments Phil on his faith and love and then, he voices this prayer:

"And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ" (Philemon 1:6 NLT).

Of course, we know what is ahead. We will get to it, but at this point, the apostle is reminding Phil about this key concept of generosity.

As I sit here today, it occurs to me that this is a hallmark of Christianity. I think back to college and my early years of ministry at First Southern—from the Carlisle’s onward (Kaye, if you are reading this—HOWDY!)—going over the people’s houses to eat—people have been so generous to me. Oh, man. It is a wonder I don’t weigh 300 pounds.

Yesterday as I was leaving, Jessica (our youth pastor’s wife) knocked on my door. She said, “Can you give these recipes to Marilyn?”

I have eaten in her home and we have received food from Jeremy and Jessica—oh, man. It has all been good. Now, I’m hoping we (or more specifically, Marilyn) can learn to cook some of the good stuff we have eaten from this family. I certainly have enjoyed myself. Let me just leave it there.

But all of this is the essence of generosity. People don’t have to do this. Are you kidding me?

Lord, I have to stop in my tracks today and thank you that You are the essence of generosity. You gave the best You had—Your Son and You continue to give and give and give.

Two great examples of generosity from Jeremy and Jessica and the rest of my church family: prayer and food. Can’t beat either one of those!

Give me an opportunity to be generous today to someone, somewhere.

Love this hymn: “God, Give Us Christian Homes,” (BH 2008, 653). Amen.
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Turning Cartwheels

Had a great meeting with Craig yesterday. So great, as a matter of fact that I did not feel any extra compulsion to make the 50 mile round trip back to Ken Caryl Church last night for their missions banquet. Got all I needed in the morning.

Craig is a great guy. We had a few moments to visit prior to our little impromptu meeting. We sat in a circle of chairs in the church auditorium.

Just an aside for a moment, one of the first things one notices as he/she enters the worship center is the banners.

At First Southern, we have banners listing the seven “I Am” statements from Jesus in the Gospel of John. I like them.

At Ken Caryl, this congregation has large banners with faces of people from all over the world. This may be something special for their missions emphasis, but I doubt it. I bet they are up all the time. This is a very powerful visual.

Anyway, the meeting was very informal. Craig shared in generalities about the parts of the trip. Then, we went out to the foyer to look at his display and to have him talk about India. He told us about how he had shared with the boys and girls in Ken Caryl’s Wednesday night children’s ministry.

He had eight children sit in eight chairs in the middle of the room. He then asked six boys and girls to stand up and move out of the way, while he stated, “The United States is like this. Plenty of room, plenty of space, with extra chairs.”

Then, he removed six chairs and brought back the six kids who had been out of the picture. He said, “Now, I want you eight children to use these two seats. This is what India is like.” Craig laughed as he said the children tried to pile on two chairs. This is exactly like India. Wow. Very graphic.

He shared A LOT more. It was challenging and exciting, to be honest, plus a bit overwhelming for us all.

Nancy, Pam, and I got a chance to meet the folks from Ken Caryl who are planning to go on the trip as well. One man, Dan, has a health concern that may prevent him from going. Please pray for him. This struck a cord with me …

I’ll get to that later.

Anyway, when we finished, I told Craig that I hoped to see him at the banquet, but as it turned out, I didn’t go. I had a lot to get done for today.

On to the final verses of the prophecy of Habakkuk—these are some of my favorite in all of the Old Testament and they take on significance in light of the whole context of the book. Let me quote them from two versions:

"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)" (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT)

"Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God ’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain! (For congregational use, with a full orchestra.)" (Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG)

Now, let’s step back a minute. Remember Habakkuk’s initial question at the beginning of the book? He was observing what was going on—all the evil and suffering in the world and He was questioning God about it? Why do you let this go on? What are you doing?

I’m getting the sneaking notion that American Christians who visit India feel the same thing.

Anyway, the rest of the book gives the ensuing conversation, but mainly, it is God’s answer. I stated it yesterday. God said, “I am raising up the Babylonians to punish Israel. I am using this evil nation as a tool of discipline for my wayward people. Once I use Babylon, I will judge and destroy them.”

In the verses right before these final three, Habakkuk recounts a famous salvation story in the history of Israel—the Exodus. He uses graphic and vivid language as if to say, “If the Lord can save His people like THAT, then certainly, He can do it again. He can and will save us from the Babylonians.”

Now, let me stop right here. The burden on my heart today is: do I really believe THAT? Do I?

I’ll tell you, as I sat there yesterday, I did feel overwhelmed. The church I serve has its own struggles and challenges and yet, as Craig reminded us, Jesus gave the Great Commission to the CHURCH, not to a mission’s organization such as the IMB, but to the church. Here we are—a little gathering of a few people—headed to a country with “two chairs” and millions of folks trying to sit in them. What can we possibly do to make a difference?

I’m sure that Habakkuk wrestled with the same thing as he took a realistic look at his present circumstances. Again, this is what I love about genuine biblical faith. It is not some Pollyanna dream world. It faces facts. It is dead level honest, and yet, there is bounce and resiliency.

He ends up with a huge expression of joy—turning cartwheels—and confident faith. This is a congregation horse cry cheer for our triumphant God. It may not look like it now, but just hold on. It is coming!

Father, no matter how bleak things look right now. It feels that we are outnumbered when we look at Christianity on a worldwide scale. And it feels the same way as we just show up for church. Where are all the people? They aren’t in church. That is for sure. HOWEVER. I will jump up and down for glee (trying cartwheels would land me in traction). You will win. You have won. We will see it, and thus we can rejoice right now.

“Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.” A great reminder today and a heart song. (BH 2008, 652). Amen.
Comments

In the Midst of Years

Please pray for me and Nancy and Pam today.

Okay, I have not said much about this up to this point. And again, I want to wait a bit until I give a full explanation, but I think I have mentioned the fact that we are planning a Vision Trip to India in March.

Two sisters in Jesus, Nancy and Pam, from First Southern are going on this trip. The three of us are traveling with a group of folks from Ken Caryl Church, a fellow SBC congregation, in Littleton. Pastor Rick has made several trips to India. He is an old pro. His Minister of Missions, Jeff, is coordinating the trip.

The fact that the three of us are able to go with another church and one that has some experience in all of this is a HUGE plus. This gives the three of us a lot of comfort.

Here is another great aspect of this trip. The “cluster” leader for the IMB (this is the term the board uses for what I would call the head of a district or group of missionaries in a country) for the particular part of India to which we are traveling is in town THIS WEEKEND. His name is Craig.

The three of us are going to meet with Craig along with the other folks from Ken Caryl who are going on the trip today at 10:00. We will get to talk about what will be happening exactly, and we will get to ask him questions about all sorts of things. It should be a very informative and helpful conversation. I’m looking forward to it.

Later on this evening, Ken Caryl Church is having a Missions’ banquet. Craig will be speaking.

As most of you know, I usually “turn into a pumpkin” (what does that expression REALLY mean? Who knows? But when I use it, people seem to understand, so I keep saying it!?!) on Saturday night, but I feel led to go this evening, if only for a little while. Jim—one of our deacons who has a heart for prayer and missions--is going to meet me there. Even though he is not going with Nancy, Pam, and me on the trip, I would like him to meet Craig and get exposed to what is going on.

Anyway, there are so many more details about all of this that I will share. One of the reasons I am waiting is for this meeting today. I will get more details that I can pass on to you and to the church.

More later. Stay tuned.

The passage I read this morning struck a cord for me. The Spirit in me bears witness with this initial petition of Habakkuk’s prayer. So far, in the progress of this book, the news has not been all that good. The Lord has revealed that He is going to discipline His people through an idolatrous enemy—the Babylonians. He is going to use them and then judge them.

This is even more of a testament to the power of our God. He can and does use anyone—even Pharoah, even enemy armies, and yes, even evil—to accomplish His good purposes.

What is Habakkuk’s response to what God has told him so far? A good response, I must say. He prays:

"Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2 NASB).

He has heard about what God has done in the past, and it causes him to quake in His boots.

Then, he prays for a revival of the work of God, and here is the interesting expression—“in the midst of years.” What does that mean? I had to go to my Bible study software, Logos, to scout out an answer. One commentary answered my questions very succinctly.

Habakkuk is praying that the Lord would do a work in the present like He did in the past (Barker and Hanley, New American Commentary). I am sure we will get more elaboration on exactly what in the past the Lord is referring to. This is what “in the midst of years” means.

Peterson picks up on this in the Message Version:

"A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk, with orchestra: God, I’ve heard what our ancestors say about you, and I’m stopped in my tracks, down on my knees. Do among us what you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them. And as you bring judgment, as you surely must, remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:1-2, MSG).

“Judge our enemies,” prays the prophet, “but have mercy on us.” Amen.

As I have had the opportunity to share with Jim (the deacon I have mentioned above) and a few others in our church, this prayer reflects my main burden for First Southern.

I am praying for revival.

I know that sometimes, that term may be misunderstood in our contemporary church culture. To me, when I pray it, I’m just asking God to do a great and mighty work in the church and let it begin with me. Whatever. However.

There, Lord. I said it. I’m not sure I know what it means—this word “revival.” Not sure I would know it if it hit me over the head, but You do. I echo what Habakkuk prayed, “Revive Your work in the midst of years.” Do Your thing. The “thing” You have done in the past. Do it again now in me and in us.

“O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us” (BH 2008, 639). Amen.
Comments

Allison

One of the major differences between CT and PET scans is the location. All PET scans are administered through the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

When I have a PET scan scheduled, I go into the cancer center entrance and go back to the same area where I get my port flushed and accessed as well as wait for a patient room to meet with Dr. Jotte.

From there a nurse escorts me out a special side door to a big truck trailer where the PET scan equipment is located. This “trailer” moves around to the various locations where the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center is located in metro Denver.

When I get a CT scan, however, I have to go the Sky Ridge Medical Center. This is no big deal. Actually, the two buildings—the cancer center and the hospital—are actually connected and just around the corner from each other.

On CT scan days like yesterday, my family and I enter through the main entrance of the hospital and check in for the scan at a desk in the main lobby. We wait there—all three of us—until a nurse comes to get me. First, I have to settle up with all my insurance and payment information. This has to be settled, of course.

When all of that is completed and I have my hospital wristband on and I am “official,” the three of us head through a doorway and down a hall to another waiting room to get ready for the test.

Anyway, back to the first waiting room in the main lobby of the hospital (are you keeping up with all of this? It is rather complicated). We were just sitting there when we noticed that someone had stopped and was looking at us. It was Allison!

Let me back up a minute. Allison used to work at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. She worked at the front desk along with another young woman, Christy.

If you care to go back a couple of years ago to my earlier blog posts, you will find that I talked about both of them very often.

These two women did an extraordinary job of “patient relations.” That sounds rather antiseptic. I don’t mean it that way.

They were a big part of my positive treatment and recovery, especially Allison. Every time I went in she greeted me heartily with some sort of crack or comment like, “Oh, no, here comes trouble.”

We laughed a lot, kidded each other. A couple of times I almost felt bad because I gave her such a hard time. She is a rabid Oakland Raiders fan because she is from California. She, along with her husband and kids, would go out to California every now and again to see family and go to games.

Well, the Raiders are pathetically bad (I love saying THAT) and have been for years, so it is relatively easy to make fun of them as I continued to brag about the Broncos.

She always took it in stride. She has an awesome sense of humor but I know that it was not confined to how she related to my family and me. This is the way she treated everyone who came into the cancer center.

Fast forward to these days—she no longer works at the cancer center. A few months ago, I asked one of the nurses, “What is Allison doing these days?” She replied, “Oh, she wanted to move to part-time? She got a job at Sky Ridge Hospital.” Oh. I thought I would never see her again.

The truth is that my family and I miss her. Christy is no longer there either. It is just not the same.

Back to yesterday, we were ALL so glad to see her. She gave each one of us a hug. She sat down next to us. We visited a while. She pulled out her phone to show us a picture of her new St. Bernard puppy. We all hugged again and she dashed off.

It was awesome to see her.

Before she left, I looked her in the eye and said, “I thank God for you. The Lord really used you to help me in my treatment and recovery.” She blushed a bit and looked down. I think my comments made her a bit uncomfortable. Anyway, I said it and meant it.

The test went okay, I guess. When we finally got home after stopping to get lunch, I slept and just sat in a lump for most of the rest of the afternoon. It was a little frustrated because I had a lot of work to do. I’m hoping to get a lot done today to make up for lost time yesterday.

We will see.

On to the passage for today—as the Lord gives Habakkuk answers as the prophet sits in the watchtower waiting, it is interesting and significant to see what the Lord says. The initial verses talk about the ultimate dangers of relying on wealth. Money has an immediate appeal. We like it. We need it. We like more and more of it. Not necessarily wrong unless all of THAT morphs into the “God place.” This is very easy to do. I’m reminded about Paul’s statement in the Pastoral Epistles, “The love of money is a root of evil.” For the proud, for the enemies of God’s people, for those that Habakkuk looked at as he wondered, “Why are THEY prospering?”—God told the prophet that it is all short-lived.

Then, the Lord moves to the bottom line problem: idolatry.

"What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you? How foolish to trust in your own creation— a god that can’t even talk! What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’ To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’ Can an idol tell you what to do? They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside. But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him’” (Habakkuk 2:18-20 NLT).

Idolatry is noisy.

I am reminded of the fervor of the 450 prophets of Baal who danced around their god as Elijah watched.

I am reminded of fans at Bronco games. Oh, oops. Maybe I shouldn’t say this. This is a Denver idol. We all have to be careful. This hits a little too close to home. Nothing wrong with cheering for our team here, but we need to be careful.

The Lord’s answer to all this noise: “The Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.”

Every service at First Southern, I feel a burden from the Lord to lead the church to be silent before God, if only for a couple of minutes. It is hard. But He deserves it—TOTAL SILENCE.

Lord, thank you for letting us see Allison yesterday. This was a huge reminder for me personally about everything You have done for me over these past almost FOUR years now. You are REAL. You are the ONE, TRUE God. I worship You. From the bottom of my heart, I thank You. Amen.
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Computed Tomography and Martin Luther

Huh?

I love the way the Lord pulls things together for me as I sit here in the early morning stillness each day. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Wouldn’t miss HIM.

First, today, I am going in for a routine CAT (or CT) scan. The other day, I was searching on Google for the CT scan because I wanted to make sure I did the right things today as I prepare for it. You would think I would remember after all of them that I have had, but I didn’t.

As I was searching, I came across the FULL name of this test. Never knew it before. Here it is: computed tomography. It is really just a special kind of X-ray machine that allows doctors to see certain structures within the body. My CT scan today will focus on my chest. Dr. Jotte wants to make sure that my cancer has not returned.

Okay, but let me say something. I have hardly given this test any thought. Well, very little thought. I will explain in a moment.

This “cancer thing” is weird as time goes on. I remember my first PET and CT scans—very nervous propositions. There is the unknown of exactly what is involved with each plus the modification in lifestyle. The PET scan requires a much longer period of fasting than this test today. I “like” CT scans a lot more than PET scans for this reason.

But still … going in for this scan today just feels so routine, almost an afterthought. I really don’t know how to describe my feelings. It just feels weird.

On the one hand, I’m glad. I feel that my experiences have just shown me that the Lord is going to take care of things today as He has done up to this point. No reason to think otherwise. No biggie.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be arrogant and flippant and get blindsided somehow. I still have to trust God for every day of life.

Here is one more element of this test today. I shared this with Jim as we were making some visits yesterday. I have no reason to think that this test will show anything at all. I'm feeling great, better than ever.

However, if something shows up on this test, I don’t think I will go on the Vision Trip to India in March. I just don’t think I will feel comfortable in doing so.

Now again, no reason to think anything will show, but that is one concern. Of course, (and I am not spouting some cliché here), I believe that the Lord is totally in charge of all of this. I trust Him today. Whatever. Those of us who are going bought trip insurance. We can cancel up to two days prior to the trip (for any reason) so that is taken care of as well.

Up to this point, I have not said much about this trip. I will at some point. Part of the reason is that I wanted to get through this test and see where we are from there.

Again (sorry to repeat myself), I don’t have any reason to be concerned about this scan today.

I have an overwhelming sense of peace as I trust Him today. I am encouraged to do so with the passage I read in Habakkuk. What a gem!

"This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed. “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God" (Habakkuk 2:3, 4 NLT).

As Habakkuk sits in the watchtower, waiting on God, this is the answer the Lord gives him. There are two parts. Just sit there and wait. You will see what I am going to do. It WILL happen. That is the first part.

Second, the Lord gives the prophet a contrast between the proud person (whose pride leads to a crooked life) and the person of faith.

Somehow, as I read verse four, I thought, “I’ve seen this verse somewhere.” Hello, McFly! It is actually quoted THREE TIMES in the New Testament. Did you know that? It is cited in Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38, and Galatians 3:11. This verse, tucked away in the minor prophecy of Habakkuk, is arguably one of the most famous in the whole Bible! Wow.

But it has even more importance. God has used it in history as well. Again, as I was searching in Google this morning, I came across a story from the life of Martin Luther, the famous reformer.

I will try to summarize here. Luther was an Augustinian monk. As a member of the Catholic church, it was his duty to take a yearly pilgrimage to Rome. One day, he came to the church of Saint John’s Lateran. This building contained a staircase that supposedly was from Pontius Pilate’s judgment hall.

Devoted Catholics were asked to climb this staircase on their knees, kissing each step as they did, to earn an indulgence from the church. This was typical of what monks and devoted Catholics were required to do in the fifteenth century.

Luther, however, had been studying the Bible, specifically, the book of Habakkuk and this verse, “The just will live by his faith,” was on his mind and heart.

As he was preparing to climb these stairs on his knees, the Lord brought this verse to his mind, and the story goes. Luther stood up, left the church, and went back to Germany, saved by the grace of God. And the Reformation began.

I’ve never heard that particular story before—the story of Martin Luther’s conversion. And the Lord used Habakkuk 2:4. Awesome!

Lord, I do thank you today for this new day. Thank you for these tests and the pilgrimage so far. I’m glad I don’t have to crawl up some rock staircase in order to earn or merit your favor.

Thank you for Your grace. The same grace that saved Martin Luther saved me and keeps me saved and sustains me saved.

“Thy name be forever praised” (BH 2008, 637). Amen.
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Fellowship with a Brother

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a brother. His name is John. I mentioned him a few days ago. He’s the guy that introduced me to guns. But our relationship in the Lord goes far deeper than that.

As I walked into Blackeyed Pea to meet him, I noticed Al was there also. The actual truth of the matter is that Al was the first guy that got me thinking about guns. Over ten years ago (I reminded him of this yesterday), I had visited with him in his apartment on 80th Avenue. He showed me his gun collection. It is very impressive. As he was telling me about some of his guns, I remember thinking, “No way. There is no way I would ever buy a gun or shot one.”

Well, …

We laughed about all that. Part of our conversation was about guns. Both of these guys know a whole lot more than I do. I was glad to pick their brain a bit.

But our conversation flowed in and out of other subjects as well. Both of these guys were members of First Southern. The Lord has moved them on to other churches. I asked them both about that.

Al was with John and me. He had already finished his meal as we started to eat ours.

After Al took off, John and I were able to spend some more time together.

I actually do miss the fellowship with him a lot. When he was a part of the church, we spent a lot of time together. We visited together and our time in transit was a great opportunity for fellowship.

One of the many things I like about John is that he is very honest about his life and testimony. He shares the good, the bad, and ugly very easily. It is disarming for me.

The older I get and the longer I am in ministry, the more guarded I have become. I just don’t share as easily as I used to. I’ve been burned too often.

But not around John. I’ve learned to be open and vulnerable with this brother and trust him fully. How valuable is that?

On the other side of the coin, I think John misses fellowship with men. He teaches a co-ed home Bible study in his new church, but as we visited yesterday, he said, “Teaching couples is not the same as teaching just men.” He did that when he was in our fellowship, and developed close relationships with the guys in the class. He still maintains those friendships. Many of those guys have moved on or moved away, but as John and I talk, I realize he keeps up with most of them.

That’s just the way he is.

This fellowship opportunity was very timely yesterday as I ponder how to minister to the men at First Southern.

So much of the time—the way we end up doing it actually kills it. The attitude seems to be, “Let’s make this hard.”

We devise early morning Bible studies or prayer times that get guys up at the crack of dawn. That doesn’t last.

We have “Men’s Breakfasts” on Saturday morning. We had a guy who was a great cook that volunteered to make breakfast for all of us. We meet a few times. We had some good fellowship, but the whole thing seemed to lose momentum.

When it becomes a routine or “obligation,” none of us needs more of those.

I don’t know … it is tough.

After yesterday, I’m more and more convinced that to get guys, it has to revolve around DOING something together. The spiritual content fits in around the edges and is less direct.

If you are trying to get guys together, they won’t come unless it focuses on something they are deeply interested in like guns, or hunting, or NASCAR, or football or … the list goes on.

I feel bad because through the years, some of the guys in our fellowship have said, “Let’s have a camping trip. I know a great place up in the mountains.” My response has typically been, “Great. Go for it.” Usually, the guy then looks at me, “Would you like to do that, John?” Ah, no. Not my cup of tea. I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I would never stand in the way of any group of guys that would want to do it. Go for it!

I’m not sure this works. I sometimes feel the pressure of having to do any and everything guys want because if I am not there, it won’t happen.

As often as I have heard this “camping out” idea floated, we have actually NEVER had one. The main reason is my lack of enthusiasm for it. Maybe I could learn to like it … maybe.

But the point of all of this is that men need fellowship (women do too but it seems easier for them in some respects; harder in others, but that is a different topic of discussion). I need fellowship.

Food for thought and prayer.

Back to Brother Habakkuk. We left him yesterday with his follow-up question to the Lord. He asks it. Chapter one concludes. Here is the first verse of chapter two (in two versions):

"I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint" (Habakkuk 2:1 NLT).

"What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst. I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint" (Habakkuk 2:1 MSG).

This is interesting to me. I’m not sure what job the prophet had—how he had access to the guard’s post in a watchtower in the city. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just found a place that gave him the opportunity to see the farthest in all directions.

It is as if he climbs up in the watchtower. Sits in the seat with his binoculars hanging around his neck. When he is not looking through them, his arms are folded across his chest, “Ok, God, I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Either I am going to get in trouble for what I said and/or this nation is in big trouble.”

This is one of the most vivid examples in scripture of a man waiting on God.

This is very hard to do, and it is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our “microwave culture.” Usually, I tend to pray about things a few times and then give up when it doesn’t happen in a day or two.

My fellowship with John yesterday reminded me of something he and I used to pray for A LOT, but somehow I’ve neglected it in recent years.

By the way, this is another huge benefit of long-term relationships and genuine, open, honest, transparent, fellowship.

Lord, thank you for my time yesterday with John and Al. I lift up these two brothers. I miss them. Strengthen them in their walk and relationship with You. Encourage them as they encouraged me.

“God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied” (BH 2008, 636). Amen.
Comments

Habakkuk's Follow-up Question

We all THINK we want to know what God is up to. Do we really?

I’m not sure …

Well, more to say on that, but first, I just have to ask all of you to pray for me. My head is thick. It usually takes a while for things to dawn on me. Here’s the deal: I am dealing with fatigue again.

It seems as if there is a point in every day where I feel a sense of weariness.

Of course, there are millions of reasons why this could be occurring, not the least of which is some poor eating habits emerging again. I’ve got to stop dabbling in sugar as much.

One thing that I am glad about is that I have an appointment with the oncologist next week as a follow-up to the routine CAT scan I am having on Thursday. I’ll tell the doctor and see what he says. No big deal, just a nagging concern.

Anyway, I just felt impressed to share this. Thanks.

Back to Habakkuk—this prophecy begins with an urgent question from the heart of the prophet: Lord, what are you going to do about all this evil and suffering we are experiencing?

He is asking for some type of rational explanation from the Lord, a reason or set of reasons that the Lord will give him. Like many of us, he somehow believes this will help.

Why is it that we believe this? I am convinced that it is part of being human. And most of the time, “humanness” is not pretty. It involves the emotions. It entails anger at times. Life and all its unanswered questions are often deeply frustrating and perplexing.

Let me stop right here and say something: I get increasingly frustrated and angry with folks (especially sanctimonious believers) who never make allowances for this in others. I’m not talking about tolerating sin. And, some people complain about everything, and it does get tiresome.

That is NOT what I am talking about.

I am referring to genuine questions and struggles we might have with the Lord AND the type of thing one might share with a close friend or confidant. I’m less and less tolerant with flip, easy, “fixes” for these types of things. “Oh, you just need to stop worrying about it.” “Praise the Lord anyhow.” “God is in control.”

Right, right, and right. But sometimes, these pet phrases are dismissive. They are demeaning. They oftentimes reflect a “if I just cover my eyes and ears and speak loudly, this issue will just go away” type approach.

Honestly, when I get that kind of response when I am sharing earnest and genuine struggles, I make a little mental note about that person. As my friend Phil said years ago, “I’ve learned how to gauge people. I give $5.00 responses to $5.00 questions, $5,000 answers to $5,000 questions.” This approach works in reverse as well.

The bottom line is that some Christians are just uncomfortable with real raw human emotions. It is paramount to a denial of the incarnation. The Incarnate Son of God was (and still is) fully God, but at the same time, He was fully human as He walked this earth. He felt all the same things we feel—“tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.”

Well, I have waxed long and probably not eloquently on this subject long enough.

Habakkuk was REAL with God. He took his heart-felt struggle with what he observed to the Lord. AND, as always, the Lord can handle it.

But here is the follow-up with all of this: not only can the Lord handle it, but also it raises the specter—CAN WE HANDLE IT WHEN HE RESPONDS?

God said to Habakkuk, “Okay, you want to know what is going on in this evil world? Are you ready? Here goes: I’m raising up more evil in the form of the nation of Babylon.”

Huh?

Not quite the answer the prophet wanted to hear, I am sure. Very unsatisfying. If I were Habakkuk, I wouldn’t like it. I would want a do-over from God. “Lord, that makes no sense. Your answer to evil is more evil?? Give me another answer.”

So, as all of this rolls around in Habakkuk’s brain, he asks a follow-up question. It seems to me that God’s answer (as it always seems to) leads to more questions, more uncertainty:

"O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal— surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins…. Are we only fish to be caught and killed? Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?... Then they will worship their nets and burn incense in front of them. ‘These nets are the gods who have made us rich!’ they will claim. Will you let them get away with this forever? Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquests?" (Habakkuk 1:12, 14, 16, 17 NLT)

Let’s see, I count five more questions just in those verses above.

Habakkuk is struggling with the apparent triumph of an idolatrous enemy of God’s people. The key word there is “apparent.” More about this later, but for now—more questions.

Lord, I THINK I want to know what is going on in this crazy, topsy-turvy world. I THINK. That may be my greatest problem. Now, I’m not sure … I still have questions. I’m struggling. At least I have company.

Humm, I found a hymn this morning in the “New Year” category—“Another Year is Dawning,” January 1st seems years ago, but we are still in the early days of a new year, aren’t we?

“Another year is dawning,
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee” (BH 2008, 635). Amen.
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The Yellow and Green Sponge Award

If you had to pick some type of emblem for biblical servanthood, what would it be? I asked Marilyn this question Saturday as I was preparing for the sermon yesterday.

As you know, I have been preaching through selected passages in the Pastoral Epistles—the “faithful sayings.” An interesting study, for sure (at least for me—ha). The text for yesterday—the second faithful saying in that corpus—was 1 Timothy 3:1 and following. The more I studied that chapter, the more I realized that it is NOT just about pastors and deacons. It is Paul’s way of raising the bar for everyone—he is establishing a standard for leadership and calling the church to uphold that standard—character.

Anyway, one of the things that the Lord impressed on me was that I needed to take some time to recognize our deacons and staff. I feel that both of these entities exemplified what Paul is talking about. And, I wanted to give them something—not a big deal or fancy award, but something.

With Marilyn’s help, I came up with a run-of-the-mill sponge. Yeah, I know. It is kind of hokey, but I was thinking of Jesus’ act of servanthood with his disciples prior to the crucifixion. In John 13, he knelt down and washed the disciples’ feet. Okay, he probably didn’t have anything as fancy as a sponge, let alone the good kind with the harder, rougher green side for extra dirty places. But still …

I was going to explain my symbol more, but I ended up not doing this. One person I handed a sponge to, said after the service, “Were you just in a pinch and grabbed something off the shelf?” Ha. They know me too well, but NO, I did not do this.

As I handed out the sponges, I said a word about what each couple does and how they serve. One of our deacons and his wife weren’t there. We only have four deacons and five staff people, so it didn’t take that long.

But after being in this church almost twenty-five years now, I think we have one of the best combinations of deacons and staff we have ever had. They epitomize what bending down and scrubbing dirty feet service is all about.

But my whole point in the message was a challenge to the whole church to serve the Lord with integrity. If God’s standard is high when it comes to pastors and deacons, then it should be for the rest of us.

One more thing and I will conclude talking about the sermon yesterday (normally, I try not to do this in the blog since some who actually read this were there—they don’t need an ESPN recap). I urge all of you who are Broncos’ fans to get the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated with an artist’s picture of Knowshon Moreno on the cover.

There is an excellent article about him in the magazine. At one point this past season, when rookie running back Montee Ball was having troubles holding on to the football, he went to Knowshon for tips in handling the “rock.” Knowshon told him (I’m paraphrasing the quote), “Just remember that you are holding the entire organization in your hands when you are carrying the ball—the coaches, the team, the fans—everybody.”

I can’t get over how awesome that statement is. Can’t get over it.

This is what it means to serve a church as a pastor, deacon, or responsible believer—you carry the organization in your hands, remembering all along that the Rock carries you.

This awesome God who uses weak human vessels can actually use vile sinners to accomplish His purpose as well.

Back to Habakkuk. Remember the prophet’s question, “What is going on? It just seems as if sin and evil are on the increase, Lord, and you don’t really care. What is going on?”

God’s answer, the full answer, is a rather odd one. I am doing something. I’m using sinners:

"I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like…. They sweep past like the wind and are gone. But they are deeply guilty, for their own strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:6, 7, 11 NLT).

This section of Habakkuk is a quote from the Lord as he answers the prophet. There are not very good things said about the Babylonians.

The list of their sins and evil stands in sharp contrast the character lists of the Pastoral Epistles. An interesting contrast, wouldn’t you say?

Here is my comment about that contrast: the Lord can use anyone or anything to accomplish His purposes. I’d rather be on the winning side when everything is said and done. History bears this out. The Babylonians captured the city of Jerusalem and deported God’s people to Babylon. They had their day in the sun for a while, but it didn’t last long.

The better team, God’s team won.

Just like yesterday … you knew I had to say something. I won’t go so far as to say that the Broncos were God’s team. Not quite that far, but they were, in spite of losing to the Patsies earlier in the year, the BETTER TEAM.

Lord, You are sovereign in Your choices. You can use anyone—even idolaters—to accomplish your plans and purposes.

I choose to thank You that I am the righteousness of God in Your Son Jesus. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing in your sight today, oh Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer.

I’m not up to the challenge of carrying the rock, but You are. You ARE the Rock.

“Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story,
Of the Christ who died for me” (BH 2008, 633). Amen.
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Why Don't You Do Something, Lord?

Do you remember what I said about the atmosphere in Denver prior to that game with the San Diego Chargers last weekend? Well, triple it and you have the aura of this city (that sounds rather new age-y, doesn’t it?) this weekend. Unbelievable. The conversation EVERYWHERE, even with total strangers is about this game and the Super Bowl.

Shane at the sandwich shop said, “I’m nervous about this game. I hope the Broncos win, but it doesn’t really matter. No one can beat the Seahawks anyway.”

“You think Seattle is going to be San Francisco?” I asked.

Another lady standing in line answered my question, “No way that is going to happen again. Seattle is too good.”

Well, you get the idea … it is crazy.

The hype surrounding this game leads fans to do things they wouldn’t normally do, LIKE buy a bobble head doll of Peyton Manning. I wonder who would be out of his mind enough to do THAT? Especially, if you take it out of the package, and the face on this doll looks like Tom Brady! Marilyn noticed it right off the bat. I stared at it a while. Are you kidding?

Please see a photo of this doll on my Facebook page and weigh in on this very spiritually weighty issue.

Yes, I did buy a doll. Kind of crazy. I come across in this blog (or I TRY to come across) as this mature pastor who is somehow rather detached from all this insanity over a football game … Yeah, right!

But back to the doll. I guess I need to “fess up” at this point. When I was a kid, I loved G. I. Joe. I actually thought I was pretty much of a he-man. G. I. Joe was a soldier. I got him in all of his different uniforms. I even remember that I got his jeep and put him in it with his helmet on.

Do you just feel the testosterone flowing at this point?

I felt pretty good about myself. In fact, there is a famous family picture that was taken over at Grandma and Leo’s (I called my grandfather Leo because he didn’t want to be called “grandpa”). My dad is sitting between my sister and me. I am proudly holding G. I. Joe, and Marilyn is holding Barbie’s lame-o boyfriend Ken.

Ken could not hold a candle to Joe. No way.

The expressions on all the faces in this photo are classic. Marilyn may kill me, but I am going to try to find that photo (I think Marilyn has it in the vault) and post it on Facebook. Well, maybe not …

Back to G. I. Joe, I don’t know who said this or when, but the air went out of my balloon when someone actually called G. I. Joe a “doll.” Boys don’t play with dolls! That is a sissy girl thing. As the thought dawned on me, G. I. Joe receded into the background with all his uniforms and Jeeps and helmets.

I thought I was done with dolls until I stood in the Denver Bronco Locker Room store the other night, and I saw that Peyton Manning bobble head. Got to have it.

Oh, well. Peyton the doll may recede into the background later this afternoon as well. We will see.

Have you had enough of this weighty, theological discussion? Ha.

On to the passage for today: I am back in the Old Testament—the little book of Habakkuk—one of my favorites in the Minor Prophets. This book starts out with the prophet jumping in the deep end of the pool. I am going to quote the second verse and the fifth verse, separated by … :

"How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save…. The Lord replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it" (Habakkuk 1:2, 5 NLT).

Habakkuk starts off with a very common theological/philosophical conundrum. The formal name is “the problem of evil and suffering in the world.” The prophet observes what is going on and then cries out to God, “Why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

How many times have I heard that question? How many times have I uttered that question?

As far as I can tell, there are no answers in the Bible except this passage and maybe John 9. Remember that one? The disciples asked Jesus why a man was born blind. Jesus gave sort of a non, very unsatisfying answer there also.

But here—the Lord replies and answers Habakkuk. Well, sort of. “I am doing something but you wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” I will get to the specifics tomorrow, but that reply floors me.

We are so limited and narrow in our human perspective, and we are so proud of our intellect and the ways we have of “figuring things out” with empirical evidence.

I am not scientist. Didn’t like science. Didn’t do well in it at school, but when it comes to God, I turn into Albert Einstein.

The Lord has ways of answering or NOT, ways that are mind blowers and lead us, not to answers for our questions (not really what we need anyway; Job, when he finally shut up, didn’t get the answers; he got more questions) but to Him.

I worship You, this morning, God. You are awesome in Your work on this planet as you address sin and work your plan of redemption.

As all of us in this city are focused on a game and players (manly dolls) and footballs—You are steadily and relentlessly at work. I am deeply grateful. Deeply. Amen.
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How to be Unproductive

A rather strange title, I know …

The first translation I read used that word, “unproductive.” The next two used different words. This verse is just tucked in there. If one were not careful, he/she would miss it. Here it is:

"Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14 NASB).

"Our people have to learn to be diligent in their work so that all necessities are met (especially among the needy) and they don’t end up with nothing to show for their lives" (Titus 3:14 MSG).

In the context, Paul mentions some people by name with instructions to Titus that seems rather simple. Sometimes, ministry is. The hard part is actually doing it.

This is the final major commandment of the book of Titus. The apostle is instructing his young protégé to teach his congregation to do good work, and he defines it as “meeting pressing needs.” Folks who are involved in meeting the urgent needs of others are delineated as being “fruitful” or “productive.” Those that don’t, aren’t. Simple as that.

The longer I sit here this morning trying to digest this, the more convicted I get. Am I, is the church I serve, in a position to meet pressing needs?

For example, I just received an email from Debbie this morning. She was talking about Lettie—the woman I mentioned in this blog a few days ago. For the past week of so, Lettie has been staying with some friends so that she can recover from her latest health incident. She has been rather isolated.

Well, Debbie gives contact information in the email and urges us to minister to Lettie. This is a good word.

Okay, so here am I. Here are folks in the congregation. What do we do? Well, of course, the answer is obvious! CONTACT HER!

Now, this is a rather simple illustration, but sometimes, like the instructions Paul gives, it is something simple and like the Nike motto, you JUST DO IT.

But it does take some discipline and “room” in one’s schedule. The discipline is to carve out a time in the day to say, “This is when I am going to call Lettie or write her a note or send an email.” And do it.

And this type of thing requires room and time and space to accomplish it.

I’m sure those of you who are reading this are thinking, “Duh. Of course. Isn’t that self-evident?” It may be on an individual level, but it isn’t when you are talking about a whole church of people.

This is, what I believe, Paul is talking to Titus about.

Mobilizing a church for action is often a very cumbersome, complicated, and difficult thing to do, especially a smaller church that operates with congregational polity.

I am convicted this morning that First Southern has not been as responsive as we have needed to be in some urgent situations in the past. I take a lot of the responsibility for this.

With the best of intentions, we just get busy with other things or we are preoccupied to the point that urgent needs don’t get the priority they deserve.

I don’t want to get too specific here this morning. I think I will leave it at that.

Churches do things. They have events and activities and ministries on the calendar. There is nothing wrong with this. It is important.

HOWEVER, there must be a balance: we can’t be so scheduled and so planned that there is not “room” to shift and act if we need to.

Isn’t this the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan? It isn’t that the priest and Levite were bad people necessarily. It is just that they missed an opportunity to love, to meet an urgent need.

The Samaritan did not miss it. What he ended up doing took time away from his day. It took effort. I’m sure it was very messy—moving a bleeding and wounded man to a “care facility”—whatever that was in that day and time. AND, it took money.

The Samaritan met the urgent need. This was good and fruitful work—a work of love. (The first word in Paul’s list of the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is LOVE.)

The priest and Levite did not.

But why? Here is the clincher: I think they were too busy with temple stuff. This is purely conjecture of course. We don’t really know, but I think that was what Jesus was implying.

Sometimes, the greatest obstacle to ministry is church stuff.

If, on the way to church some Sunday, I saw an urgent need, and the Holy Spirit told me to address it, would I? Or, would I say, I can’t stop. I’ve got to get to church to preach.

Food for thought and prayer this morning.

Lord, I am the most scheduled person in the world. I love my little routines. I plan out activities and the time it takes to get to places by the mille-second. I am always on the run and in a hurry.

Something wrong with this—need more ROOM.

I lift up Lettie. Please help us to love on her as she has loved on all of us. A phone to her goes in the schedule today.

But I pray for an opportunity to meet an urgent need today. I’m ready, Lord.

“I’m a child of the King, …
With Jesus my Savior,
I’m a child of the King” (BH 2008, 632). Amen.
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Another Church Guilt Trip Addressed

Yesterday, after a very productive morning of study, I headed to the library at Denver seminary. I was hoping to get some work done on a future sermon series, but before doing that, I had another priority.

I got to spend some time with a dear brother, Kenny. We have been friends for years, ever since the Lord brought him and his wife Ann to Denver over ten years ago to serve in the Mile High Association. Kenny and I “talk shop” a lot, but more than that, he is one of those guys with whom I can commiserate about anything. And I have.

Pastors need friends like Kenny. He is a great brother, and he would be a friend even if I weren’t a pastor.

The topics of our conversations vary widely, but yesterday, we had a couple of theological bones to chew on.

After the first “bone,” I brought out the second.

Let’s see if I can summarize what it is: I have really been struggling with personal evangelism and church evangelism. How exactly does a church reach lost folks in this day and time? This question has urgency for me for a very practical reason: if the church I serve does not do it, we won’t be around very much longer.

How long does it take for a church to die? Often the death is slow and agonizing. I pray that is not what is going on where I am. But I fear it is. (I know this is a topic I come back to every now and again in this blog; forgive me. It is a subject that is heavy on my heart).

What does a pastor do in this type of situation? Well, I know what I DID prior to my cancer diagnosis: amp up programs and activities and events and just work HARDER. This approach was accompanied by a lot of pushing and prodding.

Several years ago, this guy that was in the church said, “John, you are always pushing us.”

I think he was right. Is that the job of a pastor? Really?

Well, now, what do I do? My pre-cancer plan of attack is off the table. I’m not going to live that way any longer. I just can’t. I can’t function in this ministry as if everything that happens in that church depends on me. Somehow, that doesn’t sound right. If I remember my biblical ecclesiology correctly, the church is a BODY, right? This presumes a collective approach to ministry under one head, Jesus. There isn’t just one gift or one person.

The biggest adjustment I have had to post-cancer diagnosis John is that it feels a LOT less active. I’m so used to being a whirling dervish of activity that this “feels” weird, but honestly, I think I am in a much better place with the Lord and with the church than I have ever been.

But still—what do I do? What does the church do? I am deeply convicted about my own lack of personal evangelism. I simply do not share with others, as I should. There, I said it.

Here I am “pushing” (to use the brother’s word) the church when I don’t do it myself—not good. The guilt of this hangs over my head. Kenny and I talked about this.

We came to the conclusion that a lot of Christians have this generalized guilt all the time. Is this right?

I don’t think so. This is the devil’s work—generalized guilt. I believe that the Holy Spirit, when we are talking about conviction, deals with specifics. If I sin, He lets me know in no uncertain terms, but this whole “I should be like Billy Graham and the pastor wants me to do it but I just don’t” pall is not from God.

So, again, what to do? Maybe that is the wrong question. We always want to do, do, do. Maybe the better question is who am I? If I understand that I am the righteousness of God in Christ—that I am fully accepted in the beloved. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus, the old has passed away and everything is new—all of that. This removes the stigma of “not doing enough.”

When I remove the guilt trip I am under myself and the one I lay on the church, maybe then—we can get somewhere.

I think my sister Marilyn is a case in point. She has often said that she feels like a failure when it comes to evangelism. And yet, wherever we go, she strikes up conversations with total strangers at restaurants or fast food places, and here is her tactic: she asks people how they are doing and genuinely cares about what they say. How radical is that?

Soon, people realize: hey, she cares. The other day, a lady who works at Chick Fil-A, opened up to Marilyn about her marriage and family, and Marilyn said, “I will pray for you.”

Marilyn shared that with my mom and me. I laughed when she told us, “So you don’t think you are good at evangelism?” I think she may be one of the best I have ever met. One of my books is going to be titled, The Marilyn Method.

But if I wrote it, pastors and churches would turn it into a program and a guilt trip and kill it.

This may be another case of our paradigms choking us to death. How dare we put sharing in a box and guilt trip people about it! God is the One who saves. He uses each of us in different ways.

And, this is not a magic button. I think it takes time and diligence and prayer.

Kenny told me about his snow blower and how he uses it to clear snow off the sidewalks and some of the driveways in his neighborhood. This has opened some doors. How about that? But I guess this isn’t “evangelism” either. NOT!

Maybe that is the problem: to do evangelism, we shouldn’t do “evangelism.”

Food for thought.

Lord, thank you for the fellowship I was able to share with Kenny. Thank you so much for this brother.

Help me, Lord. I thank you today for who I am in Jesus. Let this Jesus who is in me come out today, and I will trust You from there.

Show me how to lead in such a way that I am not in the way. I eschew “evangelism” in favor of evangelism. Deliver me from Satan’s generalized guilt. Deliver the people I serve from the same thing.

Oh, and thanks for this command today: "Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and sins, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10, 11 HCSB). A word to the wise. Amen.
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Governed by the Glands

The language that Peterson uses in his translation of the verses for today is as “saucy” as ever, but sometimes, we need graphic language to jolt us in the right direction.

Before I get to this, I want to share a word about yesterday. In the middle of the afternoon, Jim and I made the rather long trip (a 25 mile drive) to the other side of town to visit Becky in the rehab hospital.

I think I mentioned this a few days ago: Sam is a dear brother, fellow pastor, and catalytic missionary. His wife Becky had a stroke a couple of weeks ago. Praise the Lord—it turned out not to be as severe as it could have been. She experienced some numbness on her left side, but even that has abated a bit. She is doing great.

Sam actually arrived at the hospital about the same time Jim and I did. We were glad because there was no one at the front reception desk to tell us where Becky’s room was. Sam escorted us down a long hallway. We made a slight “jog” at one point, but we entered Becky’s room. She was sitting in a chair and smiled as we came in.

We had a great visit with this wonderful couple. What a testimony to the grace and power of God! It hasn’t been that long since Sam has had his own health issues. As a matter of fact, he was preaching for the Brazilians in our church as he collapsed and had to go the ER.

In the course of our visit, Sam shared about his spiritual pilgrimage as it relates to the work in Colorado. It took several proddings from the Holy Spirit finally to get his family in our state. Sam was a pastor of a growing and thriving church in Texas, but he and Becky and the family started in a little town (actually a wide place in the road) up north called Sterling. The Lord moved them around a few times before they ended up in Denver and eventually doing catalytic work for our Association and State Convention.

The truth of the matter is that Sam is the human instrument the Lord used to get the three additional congregations in contact with us and eventually in the building with us at First Southern. Other churches—many others in our state—could give the same testimony.

Not too many days ago, on Sam’s Facebook page, he posted a picture of an evergreen tree just outside the window of Becky’s room at this rehab hospital. Jim and I saw that tree. It is a graphic reminder of how the Lord works in the lives of believers, no matter how tough things are. Sam and Becky are confirmation of that.

That evergreen tree reminds me of the rainbow the Lord gave me before a chemo treatment a few years ago.

Anyway … I need to stop to thank the Lord again for taking care of me. Jesus, You are awesome. Thanks for another day to live. I’ll never forget what you have done for me.

In the passage for today, the whole concept of NOT forgetting salvation is a key to Paul’s appeal to Titus. Notice what he says (this is a rather long quote):

"Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous. It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this" (Titus 3:1-8 MSG).

The Apostle gives a command regarding believers and the proper attitude toward government and authority in general. And, to buttress his comments, (and this is something Paul does rather frequently in his writings), he dials things BACK to remind folks of what they WERE before they got saved.

I said this in a sermon long ago, “We need to discipline ourselves now and again to remember what we used to be and how much it took for the Lord to save us.” Sitting here this morning, if I had to modify that statement a bit, I might change it to the present tense: how much it TAKES for the Lord to save us.

Salvation is a past point of time—conversion. Can’t be saved without it, but it is also a present experience. I am right now as I sit here on this couch BEING saved. I need salvation just as much as ever today, right now, even though I am already saved. That seems rather convoluted, I know. But it is true. PLUS, salvation is future. I will be saved in the future.

Even though I affirm that I am a new creation in Christ—the old has passed and the new has come—I think there is some benefit now and again to reflect on conversion and remember what Jesus did and what Jesus is doing.

The truth is that He saved me out of a life governed by my glands—“ordered every which way by our glands.” Kind of graphic. But very true.

Just the other day, a brother sat in my office sharing his testimony. He essentially said the same thing, describing his life apart from Jesus. He called himself a “dog in heat.” Another graphic term, but now he rejoices in the Lord giving him a new nature and delivering him from sin.

Paul reminds Titus and us that salvation is a big bath that washes and cleanses us from the old and gave us a new life.

All these references to salvation are in effect Paul’s way of saying to people, “Look obey God. Act the right way. You aren’t the old sinner you used to be. You are a new person. You’ve been delivered from the Governor Gland, and now have a new Master and direction. Let the Spirit live that new life through you.”

Lord, thanks for the reminder today. I’m not under the jurisdiction of Governor Gland. You moved me out of that state through a good washing and through Your grace and mercy. Now, like Sam and Becky, I can live a life of rejoicing, no matter what You lead me through. No matter what.

Certainly this is true for rainbows. But today, whenever I see an evergreen tree—I see one out my window this morning right now—I will think of You.

“Fill my cup, Lord—I lift it up, Lord” (BH 2008, 631). Amen.
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Let No One Disregard You

I had some really good conversations with brothers yesterday, culminated by a great visit with a family last night. I won’t be able to go into detail about all these talks and visits, but I want to mention a couple.

Last yesterday afternoon, John called. It was great to talk with him. The Lord brought him our way a few years ago and we hit it off instantly. He and his wife moved up to Colorado from Texas, but he is originally from Louisiana.

Actually, truth be told—he is an answer to prayer. I remember calling out to God several years ago, “Lord, I pray that you would bring at least one person to our church that actively shares his faith and has a burden for lost people.” It wasn’t long before John showed up and joined our fellowship.

He and I went visiting and spent a lot of time together. In fact, John was around when the Lord gave me a burden for a suburb adjacent to Northglenn. I’ve spoken of it often in this blog—Federal Heights. It is a community comprised primarily of mobile home parks with only two churches. Now, there are three. There are a lot of Hispanics in this community, plus the fact that it is highly transient, as you could probably gather.

John and I spent a lot of time in his pick-up, driving up and down the streets of this community, praying for lost folks and asking the Lord to do a work there. John was instrumental in that.

Here is another thing I have been thinking about since our conversation yesterday—he got me interested in guns. One day, after visiting, we stopped at a local Gander Mountain and went into the gun store. As we were looking in the glass cases full of handguns, he pointed at one, “There you go. Get that one.” Oh, okay. I didn’t know anything about them, and in fact, to be honest, I was a little afraid of guns.

John had grown up with them and used them all his life. He took me to a range shortly thereafter and taught me how to shoot, even allowing me to shoot one of his guns. I had a blast and I was hooked.

How cool is it to meet a brother that introduces you to a new hobby or activity. I put John on a list that includes some other brothers who have opened up new vistas for me:

Lou and Eric introduced me to collecting baseball cards. Andy and I did this together and had a lot of fun with it.
John and another John (Evelyn’s son) helped me learn about guns and get interested in them. I’d put Al on this list as well—another brother who was in the church a while and is a gun fanatic.
Dave, Debbie, and Dave Jr. revived my long-time fascination with bowling. This is a very recent happening. Got my new bowling ball in the closet. Got to give her a spin.

I believe that all of this is very valuable and one of the ways that the ministry comes back around as a blessing. If I had not been a pastor and had not met these dear brothers and sisters at the church, I would have never been interested in any of these things.

Back to John: if you are reading this far today, I thank God for you, brother. (He told me yesterday that he often reads the blog; sometimes only a couple of paragraphs, but he does read it. Ha. I don’t blame. There are often a LOT of words here, as most of you know!).

Anyway, it was great to visit with him. We are planning a get together next week and what do you think we are going to do … Humm, I wonder. I’m looking forward to it.

Earlier in the day, I got to visit on the phone with a pastor friend. I love talking with this brother. He and I are dealing with a lot of similar issues. When we talk (which is not often enough for me—I need to correct that), I always leave our conversations encouraged. We commiserate. We share things. We probably don’t solve a lot, but I always leave our talks feeling less alone in the ministry than I did before.

Again, how valuable is that?

One of the things that came out of our conversation is a similar view that often times, when it comes to crucial decisions in the life of the church, there are a lot of people who, for various selfish reasons, disregard the viewpoint of the pastor. I think this is very common in smaller congregations, especially if you try to establish (as this brother and I do) a collegial model of leadership.

This brother and I stay away from business models of the pastor or dictatorial modes of leadership. Both of us do not believe they are biblical.

Now, I believe that pastors who serve mega-churches have to operate on a little different level. I understand this, but I still do not hold to a CEO model. I still believe we are called to be under-shepherds of God’s flock.

All of that having been said … I still believe there are times and places when it comes to crucial decisions and issues that the church faces—that pastors need to stand up on their own two feet and LEAD.

This is what Paul is encouraging Titus to do in the final verse of chapter two. I’m going to quote this from the NASB first, then the Amplified Bible:

"These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:15 NASB).

"Tell [them all] these things. Urge (advise, encourage, warn) and rebuke with full authority. Let no one despise or disregard or think little of you [conduct yourself and your teaching so as to command respect]." (Titus 2:15 AMP).

Paul exhorts this young preacher, “Don’t let anyone disregard you.” What does this mean? How does one do this? Jumping up and down and pounding a fist? Nope, I don’t think so. I think respect in the ministry is earned. That’s one thing, but beyond that, I think there are times when people need to be taught to be followers. This is hard for some people.

Unfortunately, (and this fellow pastor and I discussed this yesterday) sometimes leading in this way leads some folks just to pack up and leave the church. None of us EVER wants to see this, but sometimes …

What I am trying to say is that there is a mutual responsibility. Leaders need to lead. Followers need to follow. All of this occurs in a context of mutual respect and yes, even friendship.

I think spending time with folks at the baseball card store or gun shop or bowling alley is a critical part of this.

Lord, thank you for all the folks you have brought across my path through the years and right now. Thank you for John. Thank you for this pastor brother. Thank you for Jim who visits with me now—another brother with a burden for lost folks. Thank you for other pastor friends all over the country. Thank you for folks in the church who serve You with distinction and support the pastor, not as robots, but as he follows Jesus.

Help me to follow You, Lord, and earn respect even I give it out.

Thank you for allowing all of us to serve You in the local church and thank You Jesus for the blessings of meeting brothers and sisters in Your family.

I certainly have received much more in those relationships than I have ever given out.

Love this song: “Through it all,
Through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God” (BH 2008, 629). Amen.
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Conversation with Elvin

As I was doing some sermon work yesterday morning, my cell phone rang. It was Elvin. He was in town and wanted to get together. It was very spur-of-the-moment. I had a lot to do yesterday, but I jumped at the chance.

Elvin serves in a unique role with the International Mission Board (IMB). This is not his “official” title, but he works with pastors and churches in an advisory and supportive role in relation to the Embrace challenge.

Okay, so let me back up a moment. Jim and I attended an Embrace Conference a couple of years ago here in Denver at Applewood Baptist Church. “Embrace” is an initiative, sponsored by the IMB. It encourages churches to “embrace” an unengaged, unreached, people group (UUPG, all these abbreviations; you have to use them in SBC life—ha!) somewhere in the world.

The Lord got a hold of Jim and me in this conference. Both of us felt strongly that this was something our church needed to do.

It has been a rather long process with our church since that conference. I am not going to give details here, but the Lord led us to focus on India and we are making plans to take a trip soon, as in March.

I have so much more to say about this, but I will leave it to another day.

Anyway, Elvin and I got together to catch up. It has been about a year since we have seen each other. 2013 was a very difficult year for Elvin. He had a blood clot and almost died, but the Lord healed him, and he is back in the saddle, better than ever.

Our conversation moved to the subject of India. Elvin explained, “It is hard to describe it sitting here, but there are so many people in India—so many. And I’m telling you right now, you will learn a lot but one thing—the LOSTNESS of mankind will impact you.”

When he said that, the Spirit of God in me bore witness. Yes! Amen.

I preached last Sunday from the first chapter of 1 Timothy as I am starting a series of messages on the “faithful sayings” of the Pastoral Epistles. The first “faithful saying” is “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am exhibit A” (this is my paraphrase of 1 Timothy 1:15).

Do I, do we—really believe this?

As Elvin and I discussed, we as Christians tend to lose sight of this simple “faithful” truth. Why?

Well, I think there are several reasons. First, the farther away we get from our conversion, we tend to forget what it took for Jesus to save us. Somehow, even as a nine year old, I realized that something had to give in my life. The summer prior to my conversion was not a good one for me. I had actually vandalized some mailboxes in the neighborhood (is there a statute of limitations on a forty-six year old felony?) and had cussed out my mom. These sins weighed on me as I started to hear Brother Herb preach the Word. I know I needed Jesus.

I still do, more than ever. Sin is so insidious. It is a moving target. If you dare to have the pride to think you have it whipped, like the little Dutch boy trying to plug holes in the dyke, another leak will occur. 55 year-old, preacher sins replace nine year-old sins.

Second, for some reason, my sin doesn’t seem as bad as that of others or even as bad as they used to “feel.” Why is that? I don’t think it is good. I think we tend to inoculate ourselves in our sin just because we don’t want conviction. We don’t want to feel bad. And maybe, more to the point, we really don’t want to DEAL with our sin.

Third, I think our idols in the good ole’ US of A tend to be obscured, just because we get used to them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Denver Broncos are an idol in this town or in my life.

I wonder: let’s say that Sunday, last Sunday, the day of the divisional playoff game between the Broncos and Chargers, starting at 2:40 in the afternoon. Let’s say that the Holy Spirit started to move in revival at First Southern.

I’m praying for this. Do I want it?

Let’s say that the Spirit is moving and people are doing business with God, and the service starts extending longer and longer and longer.

I’ve actually heard of this happening in the history of revival—services lasting several hours and continuing for days.

Let’s say we start to look at our watches. It is 2:30 in the afternoon. The Bronco game is ready to start and we are still in church and the Spirit of God is moving. What do we do? What do I do?

“Okay, everyone, I’m closing this service so we can all get home to see the game. We will just ask the Spirit of God to suspend His work for a few hours; we will catch Him later.” Really?

See what I am saying? I really have to examine myself and pray about THAT one! Does that IDOL bother me as much as a Buddha in India?

One more thing: I was talking with our adult teachers after the service last Sunday. I asked them about how they felt our outreach went last year. For the first time in over twenty years of ministry, we had no “organized” outreach program, per se. Instead, we tried to encourage each Sunday school class to reach one family in 2013. Some did. Most did not. Why?

I can’t identify other’s motives. I can only speak to my own. I’m not sure that the LOSTNESS of the world is as much a burden on my heart as it needs to be.

Honestly, I don’t think that I or anyone else needs to travel to India to have that burden revitalized. And I know Elvin wasn’t saying that. I’m just praying that the Lord will do that work in my heart even today.

I know that part of this will occur as I continue to allow the Lord to work on me. I’m saved. I know it, but as long as I walk around in this flesh sack, I will deal with sin. Or, better said, the Lord will deal with it. I just need to let Him:
"He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds" (Titus 2:14 NLT). “Every kind of sin”—there it is.

Lord, I thank you for saving me when I was nine, but I acknowledge that I need you to save me every day of my life from every kind of sin. I confess my apathy and indifference toward my own sin and spiritual things and the lostness of mankind. I get a whole lot more “into” the Broncos than I do getting “into” you. I confess this. I acknowledge it today.

Give me a burden for lost folks. Give me an opportunity to share You with someone today. I think of lost people I already know. I’m going to name them to you right now….

“He touched me, oh,
He touched me.
And oh, the joy that floods my soul” (BH 2008, 628). Amen.
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Adorning the Doctrine of God

Interesting phrase in the passage for today, but I will get to that in a moment.

With about three minutes to go in the game last night, the Broncos faced third and seventeen from deep in their territory. All the momentum rested with the San Diego Chargers. Everyone, absolutely everyone in this town, was thinking the same thing. “Here we go again.”

A friend actually invited me to go to the game with him yesterday, and I just couldn’t do it. Too much going on after the service, and actually one more thing was added …

I had a meeting with all the adult Sunday school teachers to discuss our new curriculum. More on all that in a future post. We also spent a few minutes talking about outreach as well.

After the meeting, Jim (one of our deacons) and I had to wait around for Ray (another deacon) to finish up with ANOTHER meeting so that the three of us could make a visit.

A lady in our fellowship—Rose—has been experiencing severe pain in her leg. She has been to the emergency room. She has had tests. She will have more this week, but still, the excruciating pain persists. In a phone conversation on Saturday night, she asked if some folks could come and lay hands on her to pray.

I replied, “Rose, first of all, glad to do it, but please don’t trust the method of prayer. Trust God. I will send out an email tonight to our Prayer Team, and I will ask the church to pray for you tomorrow. Trust God.”

“I know, Pastor John,” she answered. “I’m just in so much pain.”

Please pray for her. Jim, Ray, and I drove south to her home off of 88th Ave. and Welby to anoint her head with oil and pray with her.

Anyway, all of that to say, I didn’t go to the game, but just trying to have church yesterday was a challenge in and of itself.

Now, before I go on, all of you know that I am a HUGE Bronco fan. I live and die with them. And I certainly see nothing wrong with cheering for them, but it is hard to realize, unless you live in this town, how all consuming it is when the Broncos reach the playoffs. And, I do think there is a line there …

I’m sure it is similar in other NFL towns, but the thing about Denver and Colorado is that none of the other sports—whether pro or especially college—hold a candle to Broncomania. It is as if there are no other teams here.

On a Sunday like yesterday, with the enormity of the game, I think some people just stay home because they can only handle ONE BIG thing for the day. I guess … I’m just trying to figure it out. The game started at 2:40 PM. I have no idea why THAT would keep someone from going to church that started at 10:15 AM. I do get long-winded at times, but we concluded well before noon!

Anyway, all of this is why I felt compelled when I stood up to give some announcements yesterday, “Good morning. I want to commend all of you for making a good decision to worship God. We all know what is happening later today, but thank you for making the Lord a priority.”

Back to my comment about “the line” above. I think it is perfectly fine to cheer a team on as long as it doesn’t take the “God place” in life.

I am not trying to put myself forward as someone who doesn’t struggle with this. I do. I did just a little while ago. When the Broncos win, I want to read absolutely every article that is written about them on all my apps on my Ipad. This affects my time with Jesus in the morning. Again, the line …

All of this is background for the passage today. Interestingly enough, after discussing the character of the pastor, Paul moves to talking about slaves. And I think the point is: no matter what job any of us has, however lofty or menial, we are still responsible to have the right attitude in it. Here is a part of what he says:

"Not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect" (Titus 2:10 NASB).

“Adorning the doctrine of God in every respect.” What does this mean? The New Living Translation puts it this way:

"Or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way" (Titus 2:10 NLT).

Adorning doctrine means making the teaching about God attractive in every way. Humm.

In other words, my comportment on the job has the potential of putting Christmas ornaments on what the Word of God teaches. How about that?

“Adorn” is what we do on holidays to our houses on the outside and the inside. Adornments don’t change our houses, but they make them more appropriate and relevant to what is going on.

I sure saw a lot of Bronco adornments yesterday—on businesses, on houses, on people—Bronco jerseys and hats and ties and shirts.

The ultimate contradiction occurs when I “talk” a good game, but my lifestyle doesn’t back it up. I wonder how many employers are impressed with the Christianity of anyone who “steals” from them.

Lord, as a pastor/preacher, I am in the talking business. By your grace and strength and the power of the Holy Spirit in me, I pray that as I study and work today—everything I do would adorn the doctrine in every respect.

Give Rose relief from pain today.

Love this one: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name:
I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name;
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to” (BH 2008, 627). Amen.
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Gravity

I love the fact that now, with technology, I can have access to multiple translations on the spot. It is now becoming a daily ritual to look at multiple translations of the verses the Holy Spirit illuminates.

Here is a list of the versions that I have at the top of the list in “YouVersion:”

New Living Translation
NIV84
New American Standard Bible
The Message Version
The Amplified Version
Holman Christian Standard Bible
Good News

I also use the Williams and the Phillips’ versions as well, but I only have them in book form and they are only New Testament translations.

I think there should be a distinction made in three different areas. Of course, none of this is hard and fast. I think it is important for a believer to have a version that he or she uses for devotional reading. I don't think this has to be a static choice. As far as I am concerned (and I am not putting myself forward as a standard here; just an example), I have used several different versions over the years. Good News was college. Can’t remember seminary. As I started at the church, I have moved from NIV84 to the Message Version now to NLT. They are all good.

In addition to a devotional Bible, I think it is important to have a good study Bible. I have always favored the NASB simply because the Lochman Foundation utilized a “word for word equivalency” approach to translation. I find this helpful for study, but honestly, the NASB does not make a good “reading” Bible.

Thus, for several reasons, we now use the HCSB as the pew Bible at church and I use it for my preaching Bible.

I have taught the “three Bible” approach at church many times. Again, there are no hard and fast “rules,” of course.

As I sit here this morning, two other uses of scripture come to mind, if I can put it that way. I think it is important to have a good “hand-out” version as well. A few years ago, we secured a lot of paperback copies of God’s Word. I can’t remember how we got them, but rather than put them to waste, we just decided to encourage people to have them on hand to give them out when the right opportunity presented itself. Those Bibles happened to be Good News Bibles. I love this translation and think it is probably the easiest to read for someone that has never read the Bible EVER.

The other type of Bible that is necessary is a memorizing Bible. Out of what Bible should we memorize? Here is my two cents worth (not worth that much): I still think the King James Version (I did not list it above) is hard to beat. I know we don’t use “thee and thou” any longer, but somehow, the way the KJV phrases things is just so memorable.

I will never be able to cite John 3:16 in any other version!

Well, anyway, have I chased that rabbit far enough? Ha.

Back to today, I finally arrived at the Amplified Bible as the version of choice this morning.

Once again, in his instructions to Titus, he moves back to the subject of the character of the overseer. Is there anything more crucial? NO.

"And show your own self in all respects to be a pattern and a model of good deeds and works, teaching what is unadulterated, showing gravity [having the strictest regard for truth and purity of motive], with dignity and seriousness. And let your instruction be sound and fit and wise and wholesome, vigorous and irrefutable and above censure, so that the opponent may be put to shame, finding nothing discrediting or evil to say about us" (Titus 2:7, 8 AMP).

Now, again, as always, the Amplified Bible is a little verbose, but it is helpful in this verse. Paul urges Titus to “show gravity” and defines it as “having the strictest regard for truth and purity of motive.” Interesting.

The issue for me today is: WHY do I preach what I preach?

I’ve learned over the years that my best preaching comes out of a choice of a book rather than my desire to address a problem or issue in the church. Does this make sense?

I pray about everything I preach very thoroughly all the way back to the planning stages. And I like it when the Lord lays a particular book of the Bible or theme within a book on my heart.

For example, today, I am starting a new series of messages on the “faithful sayings” of the Pastoral Epistles—a fascinating study.

This always seems better than me choosing a topic. My perceptions of what the church needs in that regard are way too limited. I’d rather let the Lord take care of what He thinks folks need to hear, and for me, this seems to work better in the area of GRAVITY.

Isn’t that an interesting word? Of course, we know it more often as it is used in reference to Isaac Newton and the so-called Law of Gravity. But that is not how the Amplified translators are using it. Webster defines gravity in this sense as “a serious quality or condition.”

Is there anything more serious than the preaching/teaching of God’s Word (along with the LIVING of that same Word) AND making sure that one’s motives are pure in that regard? I need to make sure that I NEVER teach to blast anyone (even though sometimes I might feel like it or want to), but I live for those days, when after a service in which the Lord has spoken, someone comes up to me and says, “That message hit me between the eyes.”

It is the difference between me doing this in the flesh (never productive) and the Holy Spirit doing it (bringing real, lasting conviction).

This should be an interesting Sunday, to say the least. This whole town is focused, obsessed, and crazy about the game. I would be lying if I said that I were not as well. Everyone, the fans for sure and especially the Bronco players, is approaching this game with gravity. I hope the Broncos do because I want them to win.
However, the most important thing going on in this town today is NOT some game. It is the teaching/preaching and LIVING of God’s Word. It demands therefore the utmost gravity.

Lord, thank you for Your Word. Thank you for the fact that today, unique in all of human history, we have multiple copies and versions of the Bible readily at hand. To me, Lord, it raises the bar of responsibility.

Peyton Manning is known for his meticulous preparation for football games.

I pray that You would know me as someone who is more meticulous than ever in my preparation to live to for you and to preach Your Word. GRAVITY is the word of the day, but I pray that people who come to worship today would not be distracted, that we all can laugh and have joy as we worship together.

It is so easy to lose sight of what is really important …

“I love to tell the story
Of unseen things above” (BH 2008, 626). Amen.
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Richard Nye

The passage for today has sparked a lot of very good memories for me. It has also reinforced something that I have been talking with our staff about for the last couple of months.

I’ll try to summarize it before I share some of those good memories.

I am more convinced than ever that the fundamental teaching unit in the kingdom of God is the family. All biblical instruction must start there, as Deuteronomy 6 reminds us (I preached from this passage last Sunday).

I know I have said this now and again through the years I have written this blog, but as I look back on over twenty-four years of ministry in this church, one of my greatest heart-breaks is to see how many very strong teenagers have just dropped out of church and turned away from God once they graduated from High School.

This often occurs in spite of good parenting. I’m not a parent, of course. But I have seen this frequently: young adults make their choices—good and often bad—in spite of the best advice from parents.

Having said this, I will go on to say that there is a common characteristic of young adults who DO hang with the Lord and DO stay in church even after graduation—strong biblical instruction and example in the home.

I could say a lot more about all of this, but I won’t at this juncture.

IF what I have said is true (and I firmly believe it is), then what is the role of the church in all of this. If the church is the ONLY place where biblical instruction occurs, this is certainly NOT ideal. I believe that the church must supplement, affirm, undergird (a good SBC word), and support what is taught at home.

THIS is what I am going to lead our church to do this year and beyond. How does that supportive work occur? In a variety of ways. The passage today gives us some indication. Here it is:

"Your job is to speak out on the things that make for solid doctrine. Guide older men into lives of temperance, dignity, and wisdom, into healthy faith, love, and endurance. Guide older women into lives of reverence so they end up as neither gossips nor drunks, but models of goodness. By looking at them, the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure, keep a good house, be good wives. We don’t want anyone looking down on God’s Message because of their behavior. Also, guide the young men to live disciplined lives" (Titus 2:1-6 MSG).

I love this, and it reminds me of my early days of the Christian faith at University Hills Baptist Church here in Denver. My family and I had a lot of good mentors “back in the day.” Some of them are dear friends we still keep in contact with.

One of my first mentors was a man named Richard Nye. As you can probably tell, I don’t usually use last names in this blog and most of the time, I change names (to protect the innocent and guilty—ha). But I want to get Richard’s name full name out there because the Lord used him in a great way in my life.

Thank you Jesus for Richard Nye.

He was my seventh grade Sunday school teacher. His son Bobby was part of the class. We met in a room at church that had a cement floor. I remember this because, one day, as Richard taught us about the grace of God, he pointed to a bug walking across the floor and asserted, “God’s grace is like me not stepping on that bug right now.”

One Saturday, we had an “outing” as a class. Richard took us to his business and showed us around, giving each of us a plastic hard hat. Afterwards, we went over to his house to take a ride on his motorcycle. Somehow, my parents were okay with this since Richard was the driver and I was the passenger.

One of the purposes of this outing was that we invited a boy to come along with us. His name was Tom. He and his family had been visiting the church. Of course, Richard was hoping that all of us would have a good time (and we did), but the ultimate goal of this outing was to reach Tom and his family.

And, as I recall, Tom and his family DID join the fellowship of the church, and we celebrated that in class the next Sunday. Richard made us feel as if we as seventh grade boys had a part in that. I know we did.

But Richard was there for me even when I moved on from seventh grade Sunday school. It was only two years or so after that year that my dad died. He came to visit me.

Then, I remember he invited me out to his country club for a nine-hole round of golf and celebrated my score—38. He made a big deal out of this and told people at church. He bragged on me!

We played golf together a couple of times after that over the years.

He also came to my ordination service at First Southern along with a rather sizable group of our friends from University Hills.

How about that?

Richard is a real life example of what these verses in Titus 2 are all about. He was an example of an older man who loved Jesus and served him faithfully.

He taught me a lot, some of his teaching involved words, most did not—they fit the category of EXAMPLE—the most powerful teaching tool out there.

I have to tell you that his example has been an impetus of what I think older adults and seniors ought to be in the church. Instead of being selfish “pushers” of their own agenda (this is natural for us all; the older we get, the more opinionated about what we like and don’t like, especially in church; it has the opportunity to be a very selfish time in one’s life)—I think they ought to relish the chance to mentor younger people in the church through words and example.

When I get too old to preach, I’m going to support a pastor and I am still going to encourage a church to reach younger folks and to be a cheerleader for them in the church like Richard was for me.

“Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words” (Francis of Assisi).

Father, I thank you for Richard Nye. I hope he is doing okay, wherever he is (I think Texas now, but I am not sure). I so appreciate You, Lord, for His godly example. Bless him today.

Lord, as long as I have breath, whether I ever have my own children or not (a highly unlikely prospect but only You know), I want to be an example to younger people as long as you allow me to live.

I want to be more godly and love more deeply and fully the older I get, if you allow me to get older. Finish strong. Use words, if necessary.

“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for-ever” (BH 2008, 625). Amen.
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The Charlie-the-Dog Story, Part 3

Back in the saddle today … Thanks for your prayers.

Let me back up for a minute to the day before yesterday. Even though I started to feel crummy late in the day (not sure whether I was getting the virus that is going around or not—still not sure), it was a very encouraging day.

Jim and I were able to make some visits. We went in the middle of the day. We visited with Al and Vera. Al recently had a part of the bone in his left foot amputated. Ugh. But he seemed to be doing better. He now has to go to a rehab clinic every day for six weeks for injections.

Next, we tried to visit with a pastor friend, Sam, and his wife Becky. Becky had a stroke the other day, but she is doing better. She was in North Suburban Hospital for a few days, but the doctors moved her to a rehab hospital in Littleton. When we didn’t find Becky at North Suburban, I just called Brother Sam on the phone to talk.

I tell you: Sam is an awesome brother in Christ. He has been such an encouragement to me and to the three congregations that use God’s building along with us. I have a world of respect for him. He has been through an awful lot of suffering but still has a vibrant faith and joy in Jesus. I hope to go see Sam and Becky this weekend.

After this attempted visit, Jim and I went over to Don’s house. Don is the brother in our fellowship who just finished up a round of chemo. He has a tough challenge with his cancer. My heart goes out to him. Please pray for Don and his wife Susan.

When we get a chance to talk, we share “war” stories, but Don’s road is a lot tougher than mine ever was. He has a lot of side effects that he has to deal with, and yet, he still continues to work. AND, he is a huge Bronco fan—another BIG point in his favor. Ha.

Before we headed back to the church, Jim asked, “Hey, I wanted to ask about that family that visited because of the dog …”

I replied, “Jim, funny you should ask. I have that very family on my heart. I think we need to go try to see if we can catch someone home. When they filled out a guest card the other Sunday, they did not give us a phone number. I don’t like to just ‘show up’ at people’s houses any longer, but let’s just give it a try.”

We headed east on 104th Avenue and turned left on Washington Street to drive by the front entrance of the church. We headed up Washington to 112th Avenue and several blocks east to Larson Drive. We turned to head south on Larson, making a left turn on Elmer Street. (That’s right. The name of the street is “Elmer.” The streets in Northglenn have some crazy names. I will have to list some of them one day. I know from experience. We have set out to pray for every street in our city.)

You might be asking, “Why the detail on the streets?” Well, again, I am just floored as I think about the distance Charlie the dog came to end up on Christmas Eve on the front porch of the church building. I hope I am not exaggerating (hey, it is a perennial challenge for preachers!). But that dog probably covered a mile in his escape from the home.

If you remember my story, I saw Charlie on Irma Street earlier that day. Irma (another interesting street name) is even further east than Elmer.

So, Charlie went east at first then circled back around (I guess) to the church. He had to have traveled a mile or more! I am still amazed by this.

Anyway, you remember the story. Calla and her two kids—Dayton and Sydney—took care of the dog until Robb came to pick him up.

Then, the next Sunday, Robb, his wife Tina, and their son Caleb visited our fellowship.

We didn’t see them the first Sunday of January.

This brings me back to the visit day before yesterday. We found the house, rang the doorbell, and Tina came to the door. She actually seemed glad to see us! We visited for a while. She said, “We really like the church. We will be back. We just couldn’t make it last Sunday.” Awesome.

As we were concluding the conversation, I heard a dog bark in the background.

“Say hello to Charlie, the wonder dog, for me!”

“Oh, Charlie is not here any longer. Actually, he was not even our dog. My boss owned him, but could not keep him. So, we took him in for a couple of days until we could find a good home for him. We did. He is doing well, but he is not here any longer. We already have two other dogs. We couldn’t keep him here!”

Can you believe it? I just can’t get over this story. So, Charlie, the wonder dog, who escaped and ran at least a mile, to end up on the front porch of the church building on Christmas Eve (a night no one is usually there—a Tuesday night) was BORROWED!

Ha, can you believe it? I’m not sure I would if I didn’t witness it firsthand. I’m not Einstein, but I think God must have some sort of plan or purpose, don’t you? Duh. At least. At least. I thank the Lord for showing me that He is still at work, oh me of little faith.

This leads me to the passage for today as Paul addresses the false teachers Titus faces as a pastor in Crete. Timothy faced them in Ephesus. Titus faced them in Crete. Pastors still face them today, maybe not in the way Tim and Titus did, but heresy nonetheless. There are always people who are trying to sidetrack us and derail the church from pursuing her mission.

"For there are a lot of rebels out there, full of loose, confusing, and deceiving talk. Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst. They’ve got to be shut up. They’re disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck. One of their own prophets said it best: The Cretans are liars from the womb, barking dogs, lazy bellies. He certainly spoke the truth. Get on them right away. Stop that diseased talk of Jewish make-believe and made-up rules so they can recover a robust faith. Everything is clean to the clean-minded; nothing is clean to dirty-minded unbelievers. They leave their dirty fingerprints on every thought and act. They say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words. They’re real creeps, disobedient good-for-nothings" (Titus 1:10-16 MSG).

This is strong language, but it is very appropriate. False teaching is make-believe and it is an enemy of ROBUST FAITH, just like Sam.

I choose to live in the real world—a world in which God is incredibly active on our behalf. He is marshaling absolutely every seemingly insignificant circumstance. He can use anything or anyone. He can use a borrowed German shepherd who escapes on Christmas Eve and ends up on the front porch of a church building right before the service—even that.

Even me.

“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could save me, a sinner condemned unclean.” Amen.
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I Have Done Damage

Before I write anything today, I have to begin by expressing my remorse over the fact that one of my recent blogs has hurt someone in the church. I am deeply grieved over this. It is hard even to write anything this morning.

Please pray for me as I try to seek forgiveness today.
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Get a Grip

In chapter one of Titus, Paul gives a cogent list of character qualities for a pastor. I’ll tell you: the timing of this chapter could not be more relevant for me.

I would really appreciate your prayers because it just seems more and more difficult just to keep my eye on the ball these days.

Last night, I was commiserating with my mom and sister. What’s new, huh? We were talking about someone in our fellowship that has basically dropped out. I don’t really know what is going on. I will try to find out today, if I can. I hope I am wrong.

But the point is: it just seems so difficult to make any progress as a church when we continue to deal with attrition. For some reason, it is more and more difficult for some folks just to show up at church.

More than ever, the church is facing a time when folks “want their ears tickled” and “want to accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3, NASB). Thus, the answer for some is just to go to another church or drop out altogether.

I heard about another family that left our church over a decade ago. It turns out that they NEVER found another church, actually stopped going altogether, and now are divorcing. It breaks my heart!

From a pastoral standpoint, to counter that, the temptation is always to try to “lower the bar” to keep people or get more people in. I talked about the ways churches do this yesterday. I won’t go over it again.

What does one do? WHO KNOWS? Only the Lord. I think it is difficult for everyone.

Honestly, the more I pray about things, the more I think the answer is to raise the bar.

That’s what Jesus did. He was never enamored with crowds. It seemed that He always did things or said things that caused the crowds to turn away or get downright angry. His focus was on the twelve, and even one of them dropped away. And, when it counted, the other eleven turned tail and ran.

This has been a perennial struggle, and it is why the focus must be on Someone else and something else. Or, I don’t see how anyone retains sanity these days.

Here again, is Paul’s counsel to Titus. I’m going to quote these verses first in the NLT and then second in the Message Version.

"Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong" (Titus 1:8, 9 NLT).

“He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it” (Titus 1:8,9, MSG).

Did you notice the phrase that Peterson uses a couple of times—“get a grip.”

I do know that in golf, the grip—the way one holds onto the golf club is an extremely important fundamental of the game. It is true for other sports as well.

Yesterday, I went by the bowling alley and picked up MY bowling ball. Glen had finished re-boring finger holes in the ball Dave gave me. Before I paid, he asked me to insert my fingers in the ball to see if it fit. Yep.

What is that? THE GRIP. I’m excited to see what I bowl now that I have, for the first time in my life a bowling ball that fits ME. Get back, Jack!

Getting a good grip is important but even more so for the Christian life, especially if you are a leader in a church. Oh, man.

Two “grips,” actually three, are important. I am reminded of Jesus’ comments in the gospel of John. Jesus has a grip on us! God has a grip on His Son and us. He has the best grip EVER. See John 10:28-29.

In that context, the next is one’s grip on himself.

More than ever, I just have to battle discouragement as I look at others in the church. (I’m sure they have the same battle as they look at me). It is just a poor focus.

Without becoming overly introspective, I think the proper focus is on the Lord FIRST and then on oneself to make sure that my character and my heart are right with the Lord. This is all I can “control” today. I don’t like that word “control,” but I hope you know what I mean.

The third grip that is important is “the message.” I want to make sure I am obedient to the Lord today. That is my number one concern. I want to be immediately responsive to the Word.

Speaking of THAT, this passage focuses on hospitality as a crucial issue for the overseer.

Humm. How am I going to invite folks into my home if I don’t have one, at least one that is on the north side of town?? There are other ways to do it. Asking people out to eat is one way. I need to pray about this.

Lord, I think it is going to be more and more difficult just to survive whatever this time period is that the church is facing. Holy Spirit, fill me. I can’t get a grip on myself. Only You can do it. Your grip is stronger than mine. But by your grace and strength, enable me to get a grip on myself and the Word so that I can continue to be the pastor this church needs.

I pray for other churches and pastors that come to mind … one that I want to visit today. His wife is in the hospital. I want to visit them and let them know that You love them and so do I.

“There’s a light in the valley of death now for me,
Since Jesus came into my heart” (BH 2008, 624). Amen.
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A Manager of God's Household

As I sit here this morning in conversation with Jesus, some things are starting to come together as we start the New Year.

Prior to the holidays, I took several Wednesday nights to meet with the staff to talk about changes in our ministry approach as we continue to seek to be on the same page with the Lord.

A couple of things about those changes—I hope they are more than lipstick on a pig, to use Scott’s friend’s terms and change for change sake never benefits anyone. It just makes people mad.

Now, the “mad” part doesn’t bother me. In fact, I expect it. People don’t like change—another word for growth. Growth is another word for pain.

The truth is: I don’t like change either. I love my little routines—another word for ruts. Rut is another word for grave with both ends open. Ha.

All of us certainly want to avoid graves, if at all possible …

I have used both of those expressions about change and routine before, and they are not original with me. They SOUND good, don’t they? I believe them both.

BUT, since the holidays, something else has increasingly dawned on me—without a movement of God’s Spirit all the tweaking and modifying of church programs and schedules and visions don’t matter a hill of beans.

Therefore, I have just felt more of a burden than ever to pray for revival for the church I serve.

And, here is the next step in that process of prayer—as I have been praying for revival, the spotlight has shifted to one person in the church who needs a fresh infusion of God’s power and strength more than ever—ME.

Here is the issue: how does a pastor who has been tending the same store for almost twenty-five years stay viable in ministry?

Let me unpack that question for a second. Sometimes, serving a church as pastor feels as if I am the owner of a retail store.

Have I ever ACTUALLY owned a store of any kind? Nope.

But my ministry FEELS like what I imagine that job would be. How is that? I feel that I am sitting behind a counter looking out a window as the world goes by, most of the folks not stopping and not interested in what I have to “sell.”

Now, in the retail business (again what I imagine it to be), if you are in that boat, the handwriting on the wall is fairly clear: something has to give OR you go out of business.

I either have to work on modifying or changing the product I sell OR trying to find new ways to market my product or business so that folks know I am there.

Churches do this, don’t they?

I was having a conversation with a brother and sister in Christ after the service last Sunday. Somehow, we got on the topic of what other churches are doing. This brother said, “One mega-church I know of starts out the service each week with a secular song. How does that promote the worship of God?” He went on to talk about another congregation in the area that promotes itself as having the gift of prophecy (predictive prophecy). Thus, folks come to look into the crystal ball each week.

You know what this is? Back to my analogy: it is in essence modifying the product—watering it down—and/or marketing—trying to carve out a niche in the church market on the north end of town.

Both tactics make me viscerally ill, to be honest. If either approach is the way to get folks in pews (and both churches have a lot more people in attendance than the one I serve), then so be it. I guess I am just going to go down with the ship and lock the door on the front of the shop. Done.

Here is the way I feel led to approach this challenge and my reading of the Pastoral Epistles for the past few weeks has helped me with this. I need to make sure that my character honors God!

That almost seems so oversimplified, doesn’t it? But the lists in the Pastorals confirm this.

I wonder if we were writing a list of qualifications for a pastor today—what would that list contain?

“The overseer or elder or pastor (all those terms are synonymous in the New Testament in my opinion) must be a good ole’ boy who can weave speeches that wow crowds (speeches that never mention sin and certainly don’t talk about HELL, ever), a good businessman who can handle the finances of a church (earning a good salary himself), a marketer who knows how to set up services so that people who come in the door like what they hear and see and leave feeling good about themselves to continue to live as they always have …” You get the idea.

Ah, NO!

Here is the biblical list, similar to the one Paul gave Timothy:

"For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain" (Titus 1:7 NASB). I like the New Living Translation as well.

"An elder is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money" (Titus 1:7, NLT).

A couple of phrases stand out.

First, the pastor is a manager of God’s household. The NASB uses the word steward. Both words imply that no one, especially the pastor, OWNS anything. No church belongs to a pastor. No pastor is responsible for “running” the church. All of that is up to God. He owns the church.

Second, all these terms in the list have to do with the heart—character. They aren’t “upfront, public” qualities. They are behind-the-scenes marks. The key term is “above reproach.” My main job today is to make sure I am walking in integrity, that my talk (the public part) matches my walk (the private and public part).

Third, there are five other character issues in this list—interesting. Why would Paul single out these issues? Not arrogant. Some of the most arrogant men I have ever met are pastors.

Quick-tempered—this is a tough one, more difficult the longer I go in ministry. I’m tired of people feeling as if they can say anything to a pastor, and I don’t feel good about responding in kind. Sometimes, I want to retaliate … It is hard, but all of us deal with this. Outbursts, however, are particularly damaging to the ministry, and again, the ministry belongs to God.

“He must not be a heavy drinker.” Oh, boy. I can tell you the surest way NOT to win friends and influence people—talk about the dangers of alcohol ABUSE and the issues surrounding the USE of alcohol for the believer.

I say this in the church I serve, “What if you went to Black-eyed Pea and saw me there drinking a beer? What would you think? If you would be offended in even the slightest way, then how is that different for you?”

Preachers like R. G. Lee used to preach against it all the time. Just listen to his famous sermon, “Pay Day Someday.” He didn’t care about catering to the crowd.

Now, we as pastors tip toe around it because we don’t want to offend the drinking crowd in the church or appear to be too old-fashioned. We certainly don’t want folks to feel bad who have wine with dinner or an occasional beer now and again and protest that the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking.

“Pugnacious” means a readiness to argue or fight (according to Webster) and dishonest with money—goes without saying.

These are the qualities that God cares about and are food for thought and prayer for me.

For all of you who might be reading this today who aren’t pastors—please pray for your pastor. Pray that the Holy Spirit would work these qualities into his life. Pray for his walk. Pray for his family.

Lord, of all people, I need you today. I NEED revival. Do a work in me today.

“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart” (BH 2008, 624). Amen.
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For the Chosen But Announced to Everyone

Sunday, the weather was certainly a challenge. It was extremely cold, and it continued to snow for most of the morning. Add to that the fact that it was the first Sunday of the New Year—a day that is never going to break any records for folks showing up for church.

We had a very thin and sparse crowd. I wanted to kick myself in the head because I had prepared what I considered to be a crucial message to set the tone for what I believe the Lord is leading us to do for the rest of the year and beyond, and less than half of the church was even there to hear it.

Sometimes, it feels as if all the work and effort and energy that goes into sermons is wasted. I preach them, and poof, they are gone!

And please understand—I’m not excluding myself from this. I am the preacher, and I know I don’t fully grasp or obey everything I preach, either.

Since yesterday afternoon, I have been wrestling with all of this, trying to reconcile it in my mind.

This is why the passage I read this morning hit me between the eyes. After finishing Nahum in the Old Testament, I am back to the New Testament book of Titus. Here are the opening verses of this Pastoral Epistle.

"This letter is from Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. And now at just the right time he has revealed this message, which we announce to everyone. It is by the command of God our Savior that I have been entrusted with this work for him" (Titus 1:1-3 NLT).

Did you catch what Paul says in the first verse? I’m not sure I have ever noticed this before. “I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen.”

Wait a minute. Let me just stop for a second. Paul is one of, if the greatest missionary the world has ever known. I would have thought that he should have said, “I have been sent to proclaim faith to everyone in the world.” Right? Doesn’t that seem logical?

But that is not what he says? He makes it clear that his primary mission is to the chosen people of God, and when he does that, it gives the chosen people of God “confidence that they have eternal life.”

Now, if one just stopped at verse two, this huge question would still be hanging out there, “Well, what about lost folks? What about people who need Jesus?”

Verse three gives an answer to that. He goes on to say that this revealed message is something that “we announce to everyone.”

Now, at face value, that seems to be rather contradictory, but it is not. It all goes back to the whole God’s sovereignty/man’s responsibility debate that has gone on for centuries with no one “figuring it out.” Certainly, I will not figure it out here. Ha.

But I deeply appreciate the corrective and help these verses are to me this morning.

God has sent me like Paul for the chosen. He knows who those folks are. I may not. Maybe in all that crowd of folks that seemed so apathetic and indifferent to the message I preached (James and his wife Ann are exceptions to this) someone there will get saved or was already saved. Or not …

And, in that small crowd of folks at church yesterday, some if not most of the folks there are part of God’s chosen.

The “chosen” heard the Word. That’s it. The others heard the announcement.

Again, all of this is a reminder for me to be available and faithful and preach what God tells me to preach to whomever is sitting there and leave the results up to God.

Father, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to all of this. This world is so apathetic to your truth. People want to use the church but they don’t want anything to do with you. Even God’s people at times cop out and bail out. As time goes on, it seems more and more difficult just to keep plugging on.

I can’t figure any of this out. I confess the sin of trying. It just pulls me down.

Today, I put my faith in you. Thank you for choosing me and allowing me to repent and trust you. Thank you for calling me to preach. I will continue to do it to whomever—lost or saved, many or few. Whatever, whenever.

Nothing is wasted. It seems like everything is in this work. But nothing is wasted.

“All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life” (BH 2008, 623). Amen.
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Graphic Images of Judgment

I had more impetus in my preaching yesterday because of the graphic images of judgment in Nahum 3. This has to be the winner of “The Ugliest Chapter in the Bible Award.” There are graphic images and metaphors of judgment that make one’s skin crawl. I cite an assortment of the final verses below:

"Yet Thebes fell, and her people were led away as captives. Her babies were dashed to death against the stones of the streets. Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants. All their leaders were bound in chains. And you, Nineveh, will also stagger like a drunkard. You will hide for fear of the attacking enemy. But the fire will devour you; the sword will cut you down. The enemy will consume you like locusts, devouring everything they see. There will be no escape, even if you multiply like swarming locusts. There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal. All who hear of your destruction will clap their hands for joy. Where can anyone be found who has not suffered from your continual cruelty?" (Nahum 3:10, 11, 15, 19 NLT)

Get the picture? I believe that the Lord’s “ugly” statements about judgment reflect His holiness and His attitude about the “ugliness” of sin in our lives.

We tend to gloss over sin—especially sin in our lives. And it is certainly not socially acceptable to tell a group of rather dignified people that they are sinners in need of the grace of God. But we all are. And our nation is.

I just wonder how long we have here in the good ole’ US of A before the Lord says, as he did with the ancient capitol of Assyria, “Okay, that’s it. I’ve had enough. This city (Denver, New York, LA, wherever or all) is done!”

All of this has given me more urgency as I prepare to preach today.

The first Sunday of the New Year is not usually a high attendance day, but again, I trust the Lord to do a great work.

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to minister and to share the gospel yesterday. Give me more urgency to do this in the New Year. Have mercy on me, Lord. Have mercy on this nation. I can’t get over how far away from you we are.

Give people safe trips as they travel to church today on the snow and ice. I pray that we have no one fall in our parking lot—always an ice rink.

Love this song: “I am satisfied with Jesus, … He has died to set me free” (BH 2008, 622). Amen.
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Lists

A few days ago, I opined about Quiet Time—I think I called it, “Demystifying Quiet Time.” Whatever. When I concluded, I realized that I had more to say on the topic.

A few days ago, I talked about the “reading the Word” aspect. This morning, I want to say a few words about prayer.

Let me back up again to set the stage for this discussion. When I started at First Southern, I felt the need to challenge the church each first Sunday of the New Year with a sermon on the Quiet Time. Included in this challenge was a detailed description of what I believed prayer was.

How can I say this? It is hard to articulate it.

I believed that it was a very stilted and organized and categorized agenda to bring to the Lord each day. I read all the books and relayed all the “aspects” of prayer such as praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession.

What is the old acronym? ACTS. I think the four words are adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Something like that.

In my own personal life, in trying to do this myself (and of course, this is a cardinal personal value of mine—I think it is hypocritical to tell others to do something I am not doing), I found that I needed multiple notebooks and lists to pull out each morning.

I had praise resources. One discipleship course I taught had printed multiple verses on the character of God. I tried to read those and pray them back to God.

Then, after an undetermined period of time, I tried to spend time thanking God. I would list everything I could think of for as long as I could do it.

Afterwards, I would spend time in confessing every sin I could think of. This was often the longest list.

Finally, I moved to intercession or petition or supplication—all those words basically mean the same thing. If you stop and think about it, there are so many things and people who need to be prayed for—family, friends, neighborhood, work associates, church, lost folks, missionaries, et cetera. The list goes on and on and on.

I decided to divide up the week to pray for certain things on certain days with meticulous organization so that I didn’t miss any categories.

Are you getting the picture?

This all became so cumbersome and tedious that I just quit. I found that every morning, I dreaded all the obligations I piled on myself so that I could pray in some so-called organized way.

Now, before I go further, I have to say that none of what I was doing was wrong, necessarily. These certainly are categories for prayer AND I believe that prayer needs some organization AT TIMES. Otherwise, it just degenerates very quickly into a grocery list of what I want and some immediate needs.

Have you noticed a word that has appeared over and over in my discussion? It is the word LIST.

Somehow, I think, FOR ME, lists tend to be deadly when it comes to Quiet Time.

Now again, I have to stop. Every week at church, we publish prayer lists with various requests for local and international missions needs plus prayer requests for folks in the church and other crucial needs. I believe these lists are very valuable. We have developed a great network for prayer in the church and letting people know what the prayer needs are is crucial part of it. LISTS help us with this.

In addition, Jim, one of our deacons, who has a heart for prayer and missions, sends out multiple missionary requests from various entities and individuals in SBC life. This is extremely valuable in my opinion. I love reading these requests and lifting up concerns from them. It gives all of us more of a global focus in prayer, and I believe this is crucial. He does an excellent job with this.

I am setting aside other times in the day when I look at these lists and lift up these very important concerns to the Lord. I should do it.

All of this is well and good, but I am talking about Quiet Time. This time, as I sit here in the stillness, is special.

Honestly, more and more, my daily prayer time just consists of communion with Jesus, talking to Him about what is on my mind and heart and just responding to what He talks to me about. It is now VERY unstructured and unorganized, but here is the other thing: I gravitate to my time with Him more than ever.

This is the analogy that comes to mind. How do you know what to talk about with a good friend? The conversation is easy and just takes care of itself. It would almost be an insult to say, “Ok, Fred, I want to talk about this. Now stop. Let’s move to another category. Stop. Let’s talk about this. Stop.” That’s not the way relationships—close relationships—or friendships work.

But this is the box I felt that I was forcing the Lord into.

In case you haven’t learned this yet, let me just tell you from personal experience, our Lord doesn’t do well with boxes we try to put Him into.

So, today, I read these verses in Nahum—very graphic pictures of sin and judgment.

"I’m your enemy, Whore Nineveh— I, God -of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ll strip you of your seductive silk robes and expose you on the world stage. I’ll let the nations get their fill of the ugly truth of who you really are and have been all along. I’ll pelt you with dog dung and place you on a pedestal: ‘Slut on Exhibit.’ Everyone who sees you will gag and say, ‘Nineveh’s a pigsty: What on earth did we ever see in her? Who would give her a second look? Ugh!’” (Nahum 3:5-7 MSG).

This is what Jesus wants to talk with me about today. The Holy Spirit has given me a burden to pray for the state of Colorado. I’m already sick and tired of all the ads and all the news reports about the pot shops that have opened up. Colorado and Washington State share the dubious distinction of having legalized marijuana.

I’m very weary only four days into the New Year of hearing about it, and how well everything is going as crowds line up outside these shops.

Are we all that different from the putrid, smelly sin that affected the ancient enemy city of Nineveh?

Ah, no.

Lord, I know that I really have no idea how ugly and repulsive sin is to you. My sin tops the list. Thank you for talking to me about the ways I got my eyes off you in 2013. I choose to shed those encumbrances and turn back to give you my full attention.

But I pray for the lostness of the state in which I live. Close down the pot industry that has just become legalized. Keep children away from this gateway drug and the damage it does to brains and families. Have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.
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Lettie

We had a really good experience yesterday evening.

Earlier in the day, I had received a message from Sharon about someone in the hospital. The phone connection was not good. Her words were rather garbled. But after listening to the voicemail several times, I finally figured out whom she was referring to. It was Lettie.

By then, it was late afternoon. We were getting ready for dinner. I told my mom and sister that Lettie was in the hospital and that I was going to see her. Their immediate response, “We would like to go with you.” Both of them think the world of Lettie.

Please don’t tell her, but so do I. Ha.

We got in the car and headed up the road to Northglenn. I didn’t think the traffic would be too bad since it was the day after the holiday. I presumed that there would not be that many folks working. Ah, wrong.

As usual, I-25 was packed out. Since I now commute, I have tried to figure out some ways to avoid the traffic. Sometimes, I am successful. Most of the time, I am not. Last night was one of those “not successful” times.

To be honest, I was a little exasperated. But we finally made it up there and stopped to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant. We then headed up Grant Street to North Suburban hospital.

After checking with the nurse on the second floor and finding Lettie’s room, I was the first one to enter. She was sitting up in the bed with the phone to her ear. She looked up and said, “Oh, the pastor just showed up. I guess I better let you go and humor him a bit.” Then, my mom and sis entered behind me. “Well, okay, now here are some people I really want to see.”

Lettie has some health challenges that flared up a bit over the past few days, but she was obviously doing a lot better, returning to her usual saucy self.

A couple of Sunday’s ago, as we prepared to start Sunday school, Lettie entered her class. I was already in there talking to some folks. When I saw her, I made some crack, and of course, she reciprocated and muttered something about getting me back.

Later on in the morning, as I was getting ready to head to the auditorium for the service, Marilyn knocked on my door with a concerned look on her face. “Did you say something to Lettie this morning? Do you know that you really hurt her feelings?”

Oh, man.

When I entered the auditorium and found Lettie, before the words, “Oh, Lettie, I’m sorry …” came out of my mouth, I noticed she was laughing, “Got ya!”

Oh, okay, so that is how it works.

Last night, we joked around some more. When an attendant brought Lettie’s dinner in, we prayed with her and said our good byes.

As we got in the car to leave the hospital, my mom said, “I enjoyed that. If you need us to go with you to visit the hospital in the future, we would be glad to do it.” My sister concurred.

Both of them really did a good job in that visit. Marilyn reminded me that my mom used to visit people in the hospital all the time when we were members at Calvary of Englewood years ago. I know she misses it.

Here is a prayer request that I have for all of you who are reading this: please pray for my mom and sister. They both have a heart to minister to folks and to serve the Lord in a church—both of them. But for various reasons, they can’t and don’t do it all that much.

We have even talked about both of them finding a church that is closer to our home—just so they could attend and serve and go more, if they so chose.

This will NEVER happen because they are committed to First Southern and like people in the church—people like Lettie. But it is a need, and I worry about them in that regard.

Thanks.

Back to Lettie—she is one of the few people in the church that I feel total freedom to joke around with. There is another brother in the fellowship named J. B. with whom I have a similar relationship. Both of them perform a unique ministry in my life, and probably, don’t know it, but they enjoy it. That’s for sure.

J. B. is the epitome of a fan and happens to LOVE the Dallas Cowboys. Oh, brother. It will be hard not to make some comment like, “Ah, let’s see. Is your team in the playoffs? Oh, I guess not.” That might be a little bit of a low blow, but it will be hard not to make some kind of crack. Ha. We will see how the Lord leads me in the regard. Ahem.

One more thing about Lettie—when all the jokes and cracks are over, she often repeats a statement like this, “John, I am praying for revival. In my minds eye, I see this church so packed out that we can’t fit everyone inside.”

Whenever she says that, my heart leaps. There is at least one person who still has hope that indeed, God can and will do something.

Maybe, I can believe that too, Lord. Just maybe. Amen.
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The Juggernaut and Charlie

I hope this doesn’t sound bad, but I am just going to say it: I’m always thrilled when January 2nd finally arrives and the “holidays” are over, especially January 1st.

Now, of course, they really aren’t OVER in another sense, and this is another frustration I have. Things don’t return to “normal” (whatever NORMAL is) until mid to late January. It takes that long for people to recover from the holidays!

I have talked about this in a previous post, but as far as church work is concerned, the “holidays” last about three months. They start in early November and end in late January.

What this means is that trying to accomplish anything or make significant changes in that time period is a total waste of time. It certainly does feel as if, each and every year, we are just on hold.

Now, all of this is human perception. The fact is that the Lord is at work, and I will give you an example.

Do you remember my story about “Charlie” the dog? He arrived on the front doorstep of the church prior to our Christmas Eve service. Calla noticed his collar, called the 1-800 number on it, and took care of the dog by bringing him inside. Dayton and Sydney, her two kids, helped her with this. She was doing all of this, as she was getting ready for the service.

At one point, the owner called her back and eventually came over to retrieve Charlie. He was very grateful. I thought, “End of story. Nice end, but an end nonetheless.”

The Lord had other ideas. He always does.

Last Sunday, a young couple visited our fellowship—a man named Rob, his wife Tina, and their son Caleb. When I asked them how they found us, the man said, “Don’t you remember me? We are here because of Charlie?”

Now, honestly, for the life of me, I could not figure out who they were talking about. All the rest of the day Sunday and all day Monday I tried to figure it out.

Charlie who?

Tuesday, Betty and I were talking about this, and she said something like, “Well, I don’t know either but someone mentioned the dog in conjunction with this couple. What dog?”

Duh, finally! It dawned on me! Because of the way we (really, again, it was Calla, Dayton, and Sydney) took care of this family’s dog, they came to visit our church! How about that? This has to be one of the strangest “connections” the Lord has ever made, but it is obvious that He did it!

This family lives several blocks east of the church off of Irma Street. That dog was a long way from home, relatively speaking. Why us? Why on a night where we were having a service? We usually don’t have services on Tuesday nights. All those questions. The truth is the Lord directed Charlie to “land” on our front porch.

Now, of course, this story blows all of my theories and statements about being “on hold” out of the water! He can and does work ALL THE TIME—even during the holidays!

This story sets the stage for a blatant contrast in the passage I read this morning from Nahum. I read it first in the New Living Translation. Here it is:

"Your enemy is coming to crush you, Nineveh. Man the ramparts! Watch the roads! Prepare your defenses! Call out your forces! Even though the destroyer has destroyed Judah, the Lord will restore its honor. Israel’s vine has been stripped of branches, but he will restore its splendor" (Nahum 2:1, 2 NLT).

The dominant world power in Nahum’s day was the Assyrians. Their capital city is Ninevah. They were enemies of Israel and under the judgment of God.

In Peterson’s translation—The Message Version—notice a word he uses:

"The juggernaut’s coming! Post guards, lay in supplies. Get yourselves together, get ready for the big battle. God has restored the Pride of Jacob, the Pride of Israel. Israel’s lived through hard times. He’s been to hell and back" (Nahum 2:1, 2 MSG).

What an interesting word—JUGGERNAUT. I remember this term. Ken Burns uses it in his history of baseball series in reference to the New York Yankees of the late 1920’s, specifically the 1928 team with Ruth, Gehrig, and others. Webster defines “juggernaut” as “something that is extremely large and powerful and cannot be stopped.”

Now, I am sure that the Assyrians viewed themselves as a “juggernaut.” God says, “I am the real Juggernaut. I am going to destroy you and restore my people.”

Here is the amazing thing about the Lord—He is this big and awesome and powerful God that cannot be stopped, and He often chooses to demonstrate His power through seemingly small and insignificant ways. He can even use a quirky German shepherd who happens to escape his backyard!

Lord, I praise you today for being a JUGGERNAUT. Neither the Assyrian Army of Nahum’s day nor the 1928 New York Yankees or anything or anyone can hold a candle to you. I want to thank you for allowing me to be on the good side, the right side. No matter how bleak it looks, JUGGERNAUT God to the rescue!

“Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me” (BH 2008, 621). Amen.
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127

2013 ended with a bang! A record-setting day in the annals of John Talbert’s sports history! I actually looked through the Denver Post online today to see if it made front-page news. Huh. Kind of surprised it didn’t.

Ha.

What on earth am I talking about? Well, yesterday, I got a chance to spend some time with a family that joined our fellowship this past year. They are a joy to be around.

Debbie’s job is a home care nurse. She used to visit Bill and Helen to take care of Bill. One thing led to another as Helen talked with her about the church. Debbie and her husband Dave started visiting, and the Lord led them to become members of our fellowship.

Soon thereafter, their son Dave Jr. started coming. He is in his twenties and a very nice guy. One conversation with him led to another and I found out that he is an excellent bowler. He often enters competitions and has won his share.

It finally dawned on me that there might be a possibility of something. A few weeks ago, as Dave and Debbie and Dave were leaving after a service, I said, “Hey Dave, I know you are a busy guy, but do you think that you might be able to give me some lessons? If I shot in golf the number I usually bowl, I would be on the PGA tour.” Translated: 60’s. That’s right. My usual bowling score is somewhere in that range—always has been.

And, one more thing: I’ve always liked bowling.

A quick history: when I was in Junior High at the private school, during the winter, we often went to Celebrity Sports Center on Colorado Blvd. I miss Celebrity. It is long gone. But it was a great place with a lot of different sports to play—swimming, bowling, and more.

For some reason, my school Graland figured out that this would occupy some antsy Junior high kids for a few hours. Whenever we went to Celebrity, I literally raced to the bowling alley. I loved bowling, but I was never very good at it.

My sophomore year at Baylor, for homecoming, Carter, Chuck, Ed, and I had a brainstorm: after the game and after dinner, we decided to go bowling! Each of us got a date. I asked Lindy. Carter asked my sister Marilyn. Chuck and Ed got dates.

Sure enough, after the game and dinner, we went to a bowling alley. Honestly, that has to rank up there with one of the funnest dates I have ever had. We all laughed and goofed off and fell on the floor. It was awesome.

Since then, over the years, I’ve gone bowling now and again, but still, I never seemed to improve and my love for the sport lost a little luster.

Until yesterday …

I met Dave and Debbie and Dave along with a friend of Dave Jr.’s—Darin—at AMC Sonesta Lanes off of 88th and Grant yesterday afternoon.

Dave Jr. gave me some quick pointers and coached me along the way. We bowled four games, had a blast. Under his tutelage, I seemed to improve with each successive game—no gutter balls. None. Zero. My final game set the all-time record. I bowled a 127!

As we were concluding, Dave and Dave Jr. said, “John, it really does make a difference if you have your own ball.” Dave Jr. paused for a minute. “Pastor, I have one out in my car that I don’t use. Would you like it?”

Is the Pope Catholic? 200, here I come, baby!

We took it into the shop adjacent to the alleys and Dave’s friend Glenn (Dave Jr. is well renowned at this bowling alley and for good reason; my 127 paled in comparison with one of his games—269—7 strikes in a row—wow) measured me to fit me with the ball Dave gave me. He explained that he is going to fill the existing holes in the ball fit for Dave and drill new ones for me—a lefty beginner.

My “new” ball will be ready Monday. I think I am going to get a good pair of shoes also … On our way. I love it.

Yesterday was another one of “those” days that make me love being a pastor. I got to spend time with a family in our fellowship. It was awesome.

All of this sets the table for a grand comparison. This is the kind of fellowship we get to experience now with the Lord and His people in a culture that celebrates this time of year in ways that usually don’t honor God. The truth is—this nation is under the judgment of God.

Nahum describes Him:

"He yells at the sea: It dries up. All the rivers run dry. The Bashan and Carmel mountains shrivel, the Lebanon orchards shrivel. Mountains quake in their roots, hills dissolve into mud flats. Earth shakes in fear of God. The whole world’s in a panic. Who can face such towering anger? Who can stand up to this fierce rage? His anger spills out like a river of lava, his fury shatters boulders" (Nahum 1:4-6 MSG).

But for God’s people—like Dave and Debbie and Dave Jr., we can affirm, with the prophet:

"The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him" (Nahum 1:7 NASB).

This is a good verse to memorize for 2014. A gem hidden away in a book of the Bible you hardly ever hear anything about—Brother Nahum.

Lord, I thank you for yesterday and getting a chance to hang out with this wonderful family. Bless Dave and Debbie and Dave in this New Year.

Lord, no matter what happens, I affirm that You are Good. You are a stronghold for your people against the storm of judgment that is certainly coming on this nation and ultimately on the final day. Let me run to the refuge and take refuge in You.

“My Savior is the Lord and King,
He has control of everything,
He loves me and He bids me sing,
He gives His song to me” (BH 2008, 620). Amen.
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