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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Haunted?

It is back to the Old Testament today after finishing Colossians.

I love the Minor Prophets. I think this is the most neglected section of the Bible in the contemporary American church. Perhaps, one of the reasons for this is passages like I read this morning. I will go ahead and cite it here. It is rather long, but I hope you can see the pattern:

"Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.’
Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Gaza and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they deported an entire population To deliver it up to Edom.’
Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Tyre and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they delivered up an entire population to Edom And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.’
Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Edom and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, While he stifled his compassion; His anger also tore continually, And he maintained his fury forever.’
Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead In order to enlarge their borders’" (Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13 NASB).

There are five pronouncements of judgment against enemy nations and the crimes they perpetrated against the people of Israel. The Lord is very specific and detailed in his listing of crimes, but the way he talks about these sins captured my attention.

The format is the same: “for three and for four.” Interesting. I have not done any study on this, but here is my conjecture. Numbers are significant for the Jews. They always have been. Three is the number of completeness. So many significant things in scripture come in threes, the most important of which is God Himself—the Trinity, but think about all the other threes. Three temptations of Jesus. Three denials from Peter. Three disciples—Peter, James, and John—in the inner circle. The list could go on and on.

Three is the number of completeness and thus, four is one beyond it.

I think this construct in Amos one is an affirmation of the mercy and patience of God. He is punishing these enemy nations after REPEATED times where they sinned against Him. They didn’t just sin once; they sinned multiple times.

Isn’t that the way sin works? This reminds me of the Lays Potato chip ad: “you can’t eat just one.” Oh, man. I am the poster boy for that ad. I honestly think that one of the hardest things I have ever done is almost totally giving up potato chips. I say “almost” because I still struggle when I go to eat at one place—Arby’s. They have these “homemade” chips that are to die for. And if I could order them and just eat a couple, that would be one thing, but I never do.

Sin is like that. Give Satan an inch and he will take a mile. Give him a mile and he will take over.

This leads me to start a discussion of something that Tom talked with me about one day last week. Tom is one of our youth. I picked him up each day and took him to the backyard Bible clubs with me. We had plenty of opportunity for conversation.

One day, he started to tell me stories about the clubhouse at the mobile home park where he lives. For example, one day, he and a friend were in there. They started talking about the reputation of the place. It is well known that it is “haunted.” His friend snapped a picture at random on his phone. When they looked at the picture, there were several “figures” dressed in black in the corner.

Okay, now, I didn’t see the picture, and I don’t think Tom was lying. So what is that all about?

Well, first, I believe that Satan is real. He is active in our world. He is in charge of a hierarchy of evil spirits. This is the “principalities and powers” that Paul talks about in Ephesians and other places in the New Testament.

I want to affirm this first.

Second, on occasion, I read stories about demonic activity in other parts of the world. Jim, one of our deacons who leads our prayer ministry at church, sent out an email from the IMB yesterday. One of the stories is about a woman beside a river who had a vision of a demon beating up her deceased mother and a man in white coming to the rescue. This may not be exactly accurate, but you get the idea. What about that?

Well, again, I certainly believe that Satan is real and sometimes, the Lord gives dreams and visions to folks so that they will come to the Savior or be drawn back to Him, especially in parts of the world where there is a limited Christian witness. The Lord can do anything.

But third—and here is my point: I tend to discount stories of haunted houses. I can’t really give any solid reasons except to say that in scripture, I don’t see stories about demons inhabiting PLACES. They work on people.

The man in Mark five did not live in a place with a legion of demons. They inhabited HIM.

So, what is going on with Tom’s story? More on that later.

But I want to come back to the main issue we have to deal with. It is not Satan! It is God. And the God we believe in takes SIN seriously and we had better turn back to him. Satan is NOT a major player. He is a tool in God’s hands that works only to the extent that God lets him work and WE allow him to work.

Father, I pray for Tom and for all of us that we would not get our eyes off the ball—YOU. Help us to be alert and aware of satanic activity so that we can stand against the enemy as your Word counsels in Ephesians 6.

But Lord, our main problem as humans is SIN. Help me to continue to preach the gospel and live the gospel. “Keep us through temptation and from evil.”

“My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine” (BH 2008, 509). Amen.
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A Message to One Guy

I’ve learned an important lesson over the years: be very careful not to use the pulpit for any personal advantage.

Sometimes, people will come up to me after the service and say, “Wow, I felt as if you were preaching directly to me!” I’m always glad to hear this because I do believe that the message the Lord has for us, whether it is in the corporate context or the Quiet Time, is very personal. But I always deflect that off. My stock response is something like: “Well, I’m glad the Spirit spoke to you today.”

In other words, if someone gets a personal message, all well and good, but I don’t preach sermons TO SPECIFIC people. Nope.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I think about certain people as I prepare, and I think about what they are dealing with and what they are going through, but I don’t preach to them.

If I have something to say to an individual, then I would hope I would say it directly to them.

Now, of course, things were different in Paul’s day in a couple of significant ways. First, his imprisonment prevented him from making contact with individuals in the church at Colossae. Second, I’m sure his communiqués from prison were limited to some degree.

I don’t know …

He does appear to have a lot of freedom as the final verses of the book of Acts indicate. I guess he could have written a personal note to Archippus. We have one of those in the New Testament—the “book” of Philemon.

But Paul chose not to do it that way. As I am sitting here, it is dawning on me that he decided to communicate a personal message in his letter to the church with the purpose that everyone else can “overhear” this message, everyone including me.

Before I go into more explanation here, let me cite this verse, the second to last in Colossians: "Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Colossians 4:17 NASB).

Paul’s personal note here has two purposes. First, it lends some accountability to what Paul is instructing this brother to do. Everyone knows he better get cracking and do his job, whatever it is.

Second, I’m sure people responded as I did this morning to this message. They might of said something like this to themselves, “Oh, yeah. That reminds me to fulfill MY ministry.”

I think the wording is interesting. Paul does not counsel Archippus to “finish” the ministry but to FULFILL it.

How does one fulfill the ministry?

I think finishing is a part of it, but I believe it is a word that describes the way the Lord wants us to do it NOW. My humble but accurate opinion (ha): we do that when we let the Lord do our ministry through us. We do that when we get out of the way and let Him work.

This sounds very pious. It is a cliché. But it is so true.

What does that mean today? Well, after last week’s outreach effort, I honestly don’t feel led to push folks in our church and introduce another program. I just feel led, more than ever, to do the hard work, the dog work of prayer.

Again, after our efforts to reach folks, I am still affirmed in the belief that the best way to reach people is through existing relationships.

I got a chance last night to visit with a lady who has been coming the past few Sundays with her husband. She likes our church a lot, and she told me that she thinks they will make First Southern their church home.

How did this come about? Well, again, through relationships.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t do the type of outreach we did last week—ministering to strangers, essentially. This is vital as well.

But the main thing is that I need to lead our church by example and encourage others to have a heart and an urgency to share with folks they already know. How does this happen? Not another flesh program to guilt-trip people.

It has to be the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of each believer. Only the Lord can “motivate” people to do this.

Lord, today, thank you for this personal message to Archippus that I get to “overhear” this morning. Help me, Lord. I am crying out to you. Help me to fulfill the ministry you have given me, whatever “fulfill” means.

I pray for revival and ask that it would begin with me.

“He provides for his own
He cannot fail though all kingdoms should perish;
He rules, He reigns upon His throne” (“Have Faith in God,” BH 2008, 508). Amen.
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Dog Work

Reading between the lines of this blog the past couple of days, I’m sure you could sense that I was a little apprehensive about the Blackwood Legacy. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and as I said yesterday, our history with Sunday morning concerts has not been all that stellar.

But yesterday went well. The guys are excellent musicians. Are you kidding me? And there was a good balance of entertainment, proclamation, and reverence. I thought it went great, and so did my mom and sister. This really surprised me.

Rick, the leader of the group, shared with us that shortly after he started the Blackwood Legacy, that he felt the Lord leading them to focus on smaller churches in the West—places that normally would not be able to have a group come in and sing. I thought this was very impressive. I know these guys could make a lot more money if they focused on bigger churches in the South.

I thought the response of the people was very good. People seemed to enjoy it. One man, who has been visiting for a few weeks, ran up to me, “Wow, this was great! How did you find out about this group? I think they would be great in our former church.” He went on to say, “I thought this was a great change of pace.” I liked that statement.

I do believe that it is very easy for us in churches and for me in particular to get “stuck” in a rut. I know “ruts” tend to short-circuit the communication process. People get so used to a routine that they just tend to shut their brains off and go into autopilot.

Anyway, I am thankful for a good morning, and I appreciated the break from preaching and am excited to have another one this coming weekend. More about that in a subsequent post.

On to the passage for today—the verses I read this morning confirm a very important fact about prayer. Let me quote them first: "Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis" (Colossians 4:12, 13 NASB).

Here is my firm belief: prayer is DOG WORK. This is why most people don’t do it, quite frankly. For some reason (and I certainly have my theories), when you announce a special group prayer time, most people won’t show up. Most Christians are just pre-conditioned to turn up their noses when it comes to prayer.

I believe that the devil likes this. He works very fervently to prevent folks from praying but if they do—he works hard to distract them, and he uses anything he can.

Yesterday morning, I was very distracted. As I was leaving home Sunday morning, I realized that I had lost track of something that I needed for the day, and I looked everywhere, not finding it. And the devil used that all morning. I couldn’t get it off my mind. But it was especially distracting in my morning prayer time with the guys.

Yesterday, only Jim and Bernard were there. As they were calling out to the Lord, I found my mind drifting and thinking about what I had lost and other details of the day. It was a battle.

I remember when we had prayer times at church where we just invited people to come into the church auditorium, pray on their own in silence, and leave whenever they wanted (this approach to prayer meeting certainly didn’t break any attendance records, for sure, but it was my favorite method), it was amazing how often I fought, battling tooth and nail, with drowsiness. I had to struggle just to stay awake at times. Weird.

But Epaphras (his name is spelled in different ways in Paul’s letters; this is the shortened, “nickname” version, I believe) did not let any of this deter him. And, in point of fact, none of us would have known about Epaphras’ prayer life if Paul hadn’t mentioned it here.

The language in the NASB is significant, I believe. Epaphras is always “laboring earnestly” in his prayers. This sounds like DOG WORK to me.

And it was NOT a crisis that precipitated this urgent, hard work. He was praying for the growth and maturity of these believers! Think about that.

We might get worked up enough to work at prayer if we are REALLY concerned about someone in crisis, but just something “mundane” like maturity and assurance in all the will of God? No way.

But I think that Paul gives us a clue about why someone would engage in the hard work of prayer. Epaphras had a “deep concern” for the folks in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” That was his motivation.

I wonder, as pastor, if that is mine? This is something to take some time to talk to Jesus about today.

Father, I thank you for the privilege of prayer. This is one of the main jobs of the church—to be, as you quoted to the moneychangers, “a house of prayer for all nations.” Can I realistically call others to prayer if I am not committed to it myself?

I think I have lagged a bit over the past few months. I confess the sin of prayerlessness.

I call out to you for help, Holy Spirit. Energize, re-energize my prayer life, and as I say that, I know that my responsibility is to be ready to WORK.

The guys sang this song yesterday …

“Let us labor for the Master from the dawn to setting sun” (BH 2008, 600). Amen.
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Strategic … By Accident

I guess if something is an “accident,” then it is the very opposite of strategy! Oh, well, I will try to explain.

A few months ago, George called to urge me to consider having the Blackwood Legacy come and sing on a Sunday. I’m always a little hesitant to do this with anyone. We have had a few concerts over the years on Sunday mornings (various groups and individuals), and to be honest, I’ve always been a little disappointed.

I believe that worship is (or should be) very participative. It isn’t about one person or a group “performing for entertainment.” It is about everyone actively worshiping God TOGETHER.

Please don’t hear me downing “performing for entertainment.” There is nothing wrong with this in the right time and place, even Sunday mornings on rare occasions, I guess, but I think worship should be different, and I tend to guard that time zealously.

But George assured me that they would lead worship and do a good job of sharing the message.

Plus, at the time we scheduled them to come, I had plans to be out of town. So, I thought it would help me in that regard.

Well, anyway, shortly after scheduling this group to come, we hooked up with Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Good News Across America Outreach, and it just so “happened” that the week of the outreach was immediately prior to this special Sunday for us AND my plans changed. I was going to be in town.

I wondered about this AT FIRST. We made contact with several families last week, and a couple of them indicated that they were looking for a church home. I really hope to see them today, but coming to a concert on their first Sunday to visit? I don’t know.

It was interesting and significant, however, that two of the families who came to the rally on Friday night asked me about the concert. Steve and Rhonda said, “We would be here if it were not for stuff going on in our own church.” Debbie, the grandmother in another family, asked if this group were somehow related to the Blackwood Brothers. I said, “Yes, they are, but I am not sure how.”

Now, I realize that one of these families is already “churched,” but I thought it was significant that both asked about this Sunday. Humm.

“Maybe” the Lord put something together here??? You think?

Every now and again, as someone walks past me after a service, someone will say, “Pastor, wow, the message really hit home with me today. Are you hiding in my house?”

Nope. And, thanks for the compliment, but I am not that smart. The Holy Spirit is amazing in the way He puts things together.

I honestly never connected the Blackwood Legacy and Good News Across America, but the Spirit of God did!

So, I am anxious to see what happens today. I don’t know if we will have a “crowd” or not. I won’t even speculate.

I miss preaching whenever I don’t get to do it, for whatever reason, but I’m glad that I am not preaching today. This past week was so busy and so taxing that I did not have time adequately to prepare, and I am still in recovery mode.

Yesterday, I was a limp noodle for most of the day!

I’m grateful for the impact and ministry of the broader family of God in His kingdom. Paul appreciated this as well. In the final verses of the book of Colossians, he alludes to Tychicus, Onesimus (the subject of the book of Philemon), Aristarchus, and Jesus called Justus. Then, he says this:

"Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co-workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been!" (Colossians 4:11 NLT)

How valuable were these brothers, these relatively anonymous helpers and supporters of Paul’s ministry? Only eternity will tell.

Father, thank for the Blackwood Legacy. Thank you for CEF and this past week—this wonderful group of folks you brought our way to help us share Jesus in the community. Use what You have put together today for your honor and glory.

“Who on earth could comfort and love me like You do?” (BH 2008, 507). Amen.
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Out of Practice or Something

Up front, I just need to say that I am so exhausted sitting here that I can barely hold my head up. Yesterday was wall to wall from early morning to late last night.

Overall, it was a good day.

I was pleased with the attendance at the rally last night. We had a lot more people there than I would have ever imagined. My expectation level was not high, I must admit, but it worked out well.

Darla saved the day. She took over the organization of the games and crafts the kids participated in as they arrived last night. She came up with a lot of simple but fun activities for the boys and girls. I will try to list some of them (she had good, short “formal” names for each of them; my list won’t reflect the exact names she used): throwing a ping pong ball into some cups; throwing a ball at some cups, face painting, writing on the sidewalk with chalk, blowing bubbles, gluing pasta pieces on paper, et cetera.

It went great and the kids seemed to have fun.

Then, we went into the building for a meal. Betty and Ann prepared hotdogs and we had chips and cookies. Very simple and good.

Afterwards, we had a little program. The kids sang the songs that they learned during the week complete with all the arm motions. Whoever it was that came up with the idea of arm motions with songs needs a gold star. It may have been the guy at Lifeway that puts together all the VBS songs each year. His name escapes me at the moment …

Anyway, during the week, we were singing the songs and at times the kids didn’t appear to pick up the motions or seem all that interested at times, but last night, I was amazed at how well they performed the motions.

John from the CEF group gave a little gospel presentation; I offered the invitation. I’m glad we did this, just to get the gospel out again so that the parents could hear it.

At the conclusion of the evening, we had a drawing for prizes. The kids LOVED that. The CEF group had a couple of skateboards to give out!

When I finally got home and plopped into a chair, my mom asked me again, “So, overall, how do you think it went?” I said, “Great, but I think I need a couple of days of reflection before I can fully answer that question.”

One thing stood out to me yesterday.

I want to go back to the noon meeting at the Studio School. For one family that attended, a junior high girl named Dominee has been coming with the children. Yesterday, the parent did not come. It was just Dominee and her little brother Jeremy.

During the meeting, I noticed she would often break off from our group to talk on the phone.

At the conclusion of our meeting, some teenagers came around the corner of the school building. There were two boys. I am certainly no expert to comment on this, but I think they were dressed in gang paraphernalia. Two girls were with them. They stood near the building, watching our group. It was kind of weird.

At one point, Wesley from CEF asked me about it. I replied, “I think they are gang members.”

Not long after that, I noticed that Wes made his way over to them and was visiting with them. They soon migrated over where the rest of us were milling around, cleaning up and taking stuff to cars. I met them. One of the boys’ names was Nico and one of the girls’ names was Miracle. We talked with her about this for a moment and then, they left. Dominee grabbed her younger brother and tagged along after them.

Later that night, I noticed that Wes was making a genuine effort to visit with all the parents. He sat with one family and talked extensively to them.

In the meantime, it seemed that I was on the dead run all evening with details that needed to be attended to. I didn’t get a chance to visit with folks as much as I wanted.

But I think it was more than that …

I’ve mentioned this in the blog at times, but one of the things I have been praying about, not just for myself, but also for the church is this: why is it that we as Christians (and specifically THIS Christian) don’t share Jesus as we should? What is the deal?

Of course, there are a lot of answers to this question; many of them are “theological,” as pastors like me lob guilt salvos on folks in congregations.

But this week, I came face to face with my own “issues” in this regard. Two things hit me from yesterday.

One, I think I am much more guilty of pre-judging people and making decisions based on that judgment. When I saw those four teens leaning against the wall at the school, I just wrote them off. It never occurred to me to talk with them, honestly. Not until I saw Wes doing it.

I believe that this is something many of us struggle with the longer we know Jesus—deciding who is “worthy” of sharing the gospel with and who “isn’t.” That is blunt, but it is certainly true with me.

When you do outdoor meetings as we have done throughout the week, it is interesting to see how passersby respond. Some at the park slow down or stare. They are trying to figure out what is going on. Some speed up.

Every day at the school, three kids from the neighborhood always started to run when they approached the entrance to the school. They just didn’t want to deal with us or talk to us, even though we tried.

But, in each of those responses, I believe the Holy Spirit is working. I wrote those teenagers off, but Wes didn’t. And I KNOW God hasn’t.

I wonder, “Would those teens, with their tattoos and crooked baseball caps, feel welcome at First Southern?” I hope.

Second, last night confirmed something for me: busy-ness is a real issue for Christians. I was so preoccupied, so harried, so stressed with pulling last night off that I didn’t get to talk with folks, as I wanted.

All of this brings to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan. We like to throw rocks at the priest and Levite who passed the man who was bleeding at the side of the road on their way to “church,” but it is a very real picture of the church today.

What are we doing? Missing opportunity. That’s what it is. And somehow, you get buried in the stuff of church and miss more.

Here is something that occurs to me: if my church business causes me to be so pre-occupied or worse apathetic that I don’t care to stop to minister, it is a sin.

"Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone" (Colossians 4:6 NLT).

Lord, thank you for this past week and what you have taught me. Thank you for the boys and girls and parents who attended last night. Thank you for Leslie, John, Wes, and Kris. Bless them. Give them safe trips home over the next few days.

Teach me what I need to learn about you through all of this. And, Lord, help me be aware of folks on the “edges” who may be seeking the truth, and lead me, compel me to put aside my pre-judgments and busy-ness to share with them.

I’m out of practice with this mindset. Or maybe, it is just flat selfishness and pre-occupation. I guess I am going to use a theological term FOR ME—sin.

“In Christ alone my hope is found” (BH 2008, 506). Amen.
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Don't Miss a Trick

I love the way Peterson uses idioms in his translation, The Message. Here is one in the passage for today.

"Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out" (Colossians 4:5, 6 MSG).

Don’t miss a trick! That is a good better of biblical counsel as we approach the final day of Good News Across America.

I was talking with my mom about the week last night. She said, “How do you think it has gone?” I said, “Well, very well.”

She asked another question, “Do you think you will do this type of thing again?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “We will see, but I am glad we are doing something. It is easy to sit back in an easy chair while the world goes to hell, and figure out reasons why any possible outreach ministry won’t work. At some point, you just have to do something.”

I really believe this. I honestly believe that part of my responsibility, as the under-shepherd of First Southern is to continue to lead this church to reach out. This is what Jesus commissioned us to do, right?

So, we will see how things go today. The morning group will meet again today. I went to this group yesterday. One mom brought four kids who really seemed to enjoy it. Darla was there with her three kids. One girl, named Serenity, stopped and participated for a bit. Then, she jumped up and left. Oh, well, I just hope that one of the seeds the group was throwing out took root in her life.

The noonday meeting at the Studio School will also occur today.

But then, tonight, we are going to have a “rally” at the church. It will start at 6:00. We are going to have some games for the kids, followed by a real simple meal and a little program. I just pray that some of the boys and girls will come along with their folks.

In past years, when we did Vacation Bible School (lo many year ago), we found that a Friday night Parent’s Night did not work that well. We eventually moved it to Thursday night. That was a little better.

The human side of me worries that we won’t have that many people there tonight. Please pray that some will come and we will have an opportunity to develop some relationships and maybe give some people the idea that we love them and so does Jesus. We will see.

One last thing this morning: I just have to express appreciation to two women in the church—Darla and Gladys. Both have done extremely well this week. I’m going to write each of them a thank you note. First, both of them brought their kids (Darla) and grandkids (Gladys). That is one huge thing. Second, both of them are active helpers and supporters.

During the meeting in the Thornton Park yesterday, Darla said, “Ok, what is going on at the rally tomorrow and how can I help?” She is very detailed and practical—something I need. She is helping with the games at the rally and has put together some fun activities for the kids. Big time help.

I am thankful for her and for Gladys and their involvement this week. I’ve decided to focus on thanking God for the few folks who are helping, not the many who aren’t. But again—it is tough for folks to help during the day because most of them work. So, no biggie either way.

Lord, thank you for this “trick” you have led us into this week. I pray that we won’t “miss a trick” today or tonight. I pray that you would save more boys and girls today in the meetings and tonight at the rally.

Thank you for Darla, her three awesome children (including Rachel who is a little toddler—you should have seen her waving her arms and bouncing up and down during the songs yesterday—she was awesome), and her help tonight. Thank you also for Gladys and her four outstanding grandkids. I thank you for these two families from the bottom of my heart, Lord.

Help us to be gracious in our speech. Help us know how to respond to every person you bring our way today.

I love you, Jesus.

“Bow the knee; lift your eyes toward the heaven and believe the One who holds eternity” (BH 2008, 505). Amen.
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God, In Charge of Doors

Last night, the contrast could not have been more stark.

I met one of our deacons, Jim, at the church, and we headed over to E. B. Rains Park. I wanted to visit with the Good News Across America meeting over there. My goal this week, while focusing on the noonday study at the Studio School, is to visit each group. This morning, I am taking Tom with me to the group at Margaret Carpenter Rec Center Park.

Anyway, as Jim and I pulled into the parking lot at E. B. Rains, we noticed that every parking spot was taken. We left that parking lot and headed down the street to another. It was full as well!

What on earth was going on?

Well, the second we got out of my truck, we found out. We heard music. A concert was going on.

We found our group. Leslie, Wesley, John, and Kris were there. Gladys, a lady from our church was there also, along with her four grandkids. That was it.

I asked Leslie what was going on. “Apparently, the city of Northglenn has a concert at this park every Wednesday during the summer,” she said.

Humm. The fact that I had no idea about this is an indictment of my lack of knowledge about the community.

But here was our small group on one end of the park. People were walking by and looking at us, but no one stopped.

While on the other side of the park, crowds of people were gathered around a huge stage where this concert was going on.

Jim and I stayed for a little while and left to go visit a family in our church, but I couldn’t get all of this out of mind for the rest of the evening. I shared some of my thoughts with Jim. But I have had a lot more since then.

What are we doing? As any of you who reads this blog knows, I have really had a struggle with Wednesday nights at our church. We have a few kids, more youth now than ever (we praise God for this!), and a few adults—even less this summer since we decided to make visits on Wednesday nights.

I am determined to make this time more meaningful and valuable to the folks in the church. We plan to revamp some things and have a push in the Fall—all well and good, but we are like that small group that met last night.

There are a few of us over in the corner of the “park,” while the crowds of people are somewhere else.

What is wrong with this picture? First of all, I know that no matter what we do, we are not going to have “crowds.” Narrow is the way and few people find it, as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. I have no interest in even trying to compete with the world for the world’s attention. Even if it were remotely possible to do it one time, we could not sustain it.

I don’t even care to try. That is not my responsibility—to vie for the world’s attention.

Second, however, that having been said, shouldn’t the church be flexible enough to be where people are? If our community is doing something, shouldn’t we know about it, first of all? I think yes. But beyond that, shouldn’t we put ourselves in a position to minister to folks in our community at an event like that?

I don’t think it needs to be an “official” outreach program. Even if we just took some people, went to the concert, and met the people who sat around us?? I don’t know. At least, we would have some contact with folks in the community.

Sometimes, it just seems that the church is sequestered off in some corner doing our thing while the world is on its way to hell.

This whole week has shown me that we have to get OUT THERE. We can’t just sit in our building and wonder why we aren’t reaching folks. They aren’t going to come to us. Why should they?

Unless someone in our fellowship invites them... But that doesn’t seem to happen all that much. Why? Well, most of us frankly (I am at the top of this list), don’t take the necessary steps to either share Jesus with the lost folks we know or invite them to church. It just isn’t happening.

As I wrestle with all of this, it brings me back to something that I shared with Jim as we walked out of the park last night: “Jim, this makes me even more burdened to pray, first of all, and to pray for revival.”

This isn’t about some clever technique. This isn’t some new outreach idea. I’m so thankful for this group of folks from CEF. I think they are doing a great job, given all the challenges and obstacles we face. Last night is a case in point. They were there, available to the Lord, ready to share Jesus. Gladys was there. She brought her four grandkids. I deeply appreciate this. Everything and everyone was in place. No problems there.

What is missing? The power of God. How do we tap into that? Through prayer. Paul states it this way, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak" (Colossians 4:2-4 NASB).

It is interesting and significant that Paul’s prayer is very simple. He prays that the Lord would open up a door for the Word. I believe that “door” here is a metaphor for “opportunity.” We have to rely on the Lord, not our cleverness (and some of us—me at the top of the list—aren’t THAT clever) for opportunities. I don’t need to spend more brainpower trying to figure this out!

Paul didn’t.

He did not waste time trying to devise a strategy to reach folks in the Roman prison. His burden was not the challenges he faced in his setting (there were a lot, by the way; the main one was that he was chained to two Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day). Nope. His concern was himself! He asked the church to pray for boldness and for clarity.

Lord, help me learn from all of this. Thank you that You are in charge of open doors and closed doors. That’s your territory, not mine.

My responsibility is to be ready and to be bold WHEN you open a door.

I know You want to reach people in Northglenn much more than I do. The truth is that I don’t necessarily want to go hear a Country Western band in a hot park on a Wednesday night. I’m not motivated to do that. But again, that is me trying to create an opportunity.

I trust you today, Lord, to open a door. I pray for the group meetings today. I pray for boldness and clarity for all of us.

“Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
Your mighty Defender is always the same” (BH 2008, 504). Amen.
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A Turn Around

Thanks so much for praying.

At the Thornton park, yesterday morning, the group moved closer to the playground area, and as a result, had more boys and girls.

I was really getting nervous about the noontime gathering. I had called Adams 12 several times with no response. Finally, about 9:30, Barb returned my call. She explained that she had just returned from vacation and was sorry it had taken so long to call me back. She was very accommodating, allowing us to move from Stukey to the Studio School. And she didn’t charge us any fees!

Hooray!

So, Tom and I and the group headed over to the Studio School at about 11:30. We set up shop in a grassy area with a few trees on it—right near the front entrance. It was perfect. Parents and kids were coming in and out of the school because of the lunch program. There was a fair amount of traffic.

Two moms came out at noon. They had six kids with them. They came over to our area. The kids immediately started to participate in a game with a parachute.

After playing a couple of games, we moved the children to sit on a tarp in front of a table we had set up. We sang a couple of songs with movements. After that, Chris (one of the leaders from CEF; she is the college-age woman from Kansas) started sharing the gospel. At a key moment in her presentation, the two moms stood up and said, “Well, we have to go now.”

By then, more children had joined us. A lady pulled up about 12:30. She had actually gone to Stukey, called the church when she did not find anyone there, and had driven to the Studio School! Wow. It was awesome to see. All the adults who brought children promised to come back today.

Let me back up for a moment. Leslie told me that the group that meets at night at E. B. Rains had had a great meeting. Thirteen kids showed up and four of them professed faith in Jesus! Awesome. I hope the group had a good meeting last night. I will find out today.

Here is how I define a good meeting: I learned this from an associate pastor at Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Waco when I was in college. In fact, I remember this brother’s name—it was Harry Senn. (You have to know that we kidded him about his name constantly; our kidding never fazed him. He always replied, “I’ve heard that one before.”). His wise comment was, “Early on, as I was serving in little country churches, I had to learn to define “success.” I came to the conclusion that success in ministry is people getting to hear God’s Word.”

No numbers attached to that statement. No results added. If people get saved, God does that anyway, right?

No, just “people getting to hear God’s Word.”

That happened yesterday. I’m good. I like the fact that at the Studio School, as the gospel was being presented, the parents were right there, hearing every single word. Only one parent—the lady who went to Stukey and called the church—dropped off her grandkids. All the other parents were there and participating to some degree.

I like the “overhearing” the gospel approach. I see it when I do children’s sermons at church. The adults listen as well. Sometimes, this kind of communication is more effective. It gets a better hearing because it really isn’t “for them.” It is “for the kids.”

Anyway, I have to tell you that I appreciated so much. Thank you, Jesus.

Then, last night, I headed over to Federal Heights to meet some folks to do more follow-up on the boys and girls that got saved in Good News Club last year. I was with Lucinda again. Esther went with us as well as one of Jorge’s kids—Justin.

We spent about an hour and a half in this wonderful Hispanic home. Norma has three boys: Hector (the one who got saved; he is going into third grade this year), Gail, and Israel. Lucinda shared the gospel as all four listened. It was another huge encouragement.

Two things that hit me as a result of yesterday: first, instead of just sitting back and bemoaning the fact that less and less people seem to be coming to the church building, I wonder about more services in public places where people are. I need to think about where those places can be, but what do we have to lose? At least, we would be in a position for more people to hear the Word of God.

I need to pray about this.

Second, I love to hear the gospel presented. I’m just in a position to do that this week. I hope I will learn and get more opportunity to share myself.

If you think about it, it is so easy to insulated and isolated as a believer—to go weeks and months without sharing. I can’t let this happen.

Well, anyway, we have more work to do this week. Here’s what Paul says about work: "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ" (Colossians 3:23, 24 NLT).

That’s how I am going to encourage folks and myself to approach it. We are doing all of this FOR THE LORD.

Father, thank you for what you did these past couple of days. Thank you for allowing more people to hear the Word of God.

I lift up the group from CEF: Leslie, the adult leader, along with Wesley, Chris, and John. I pray for Darla, John, Tom, and Gladys—the folks from our church who are helping out.

I pray for Norma and her kids.

Jesus, thank you for the Good News we have to share. Thank you for the truth. We commit this ministry to you today.

“Jesus, my Lord, will love me forever,
From Him no power of evil can sever” (BH 2008, 503). Amen.
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Satanic Attack

Right at the start, I would like to ask you to pray. I have not found out yet about what happened last night at E. B. Rains Park, but the other two Good News Across America groups did not reach all that many kids.

Yesterday morning at the park in Thornton, Darla brought her kids to the group (she is our worship leader Scott’s wife) and they did manage to get another couple of kids, but that was it.

At noon, at the school, if it weren’t for the fact that Corey, the summer intern in Stapleton who is helping us out this week, brought the kids he was babysitting and Rich’s daughter, we would have had no one. And, we were counting on the fact that Stukey had a lunch program. Nope. I don’t know why the woman at Adams 12 didn’t tell us that when we asked her specifically.

Before things got started, Wes and I jumped in my truck and drove down the street to a school that is basically across the street and down a road a little from the church. It is called “The Studio School.” Formerly known as Holstrom Elementary School, Adams 12 changed it into a special school for students learning the performing arts (and maybe other kinds of art too; I’m not sure).

We went into the school and found Paul, the head custodian. He confirmed that they do indeed have a lunch program.

Now, if I can ever get a hold of anyone at Adams 12 (the woman who booked us at Stukey is on vacation), I hope we can just shift our permit to the Studio School and minister to the boys and girls as they come out of lunch. Please pray that we can do this.

To be honest, all these “issues” (and I don’t even know what happened at the park in Northglenn last night—hopefully better news) have kind of knocked me off my perch a bit.

It is just so difficult to reach people these days. I’m not talking about other “churched” folks. I’m talking about lost folks who do not know Jesus. So hard.

Satan sees to that.

I want to back up a bit to Sunday. I preached another sermon from the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6. At the conclusion of the message, I asserted, “I just feel that this message is going to be timely for someone or more that one person who is here today. Get ready for a satanic attack.”

Little did I know that one of those persons would be Marilyn. She experienced a satanic attack that afternoon.

I don’t want to give details except to say that it had nothing to do with anyone or anything at church. But it knocked her for a loop.

I won’t re-preach my sermon here (I know you are thankful for that), but there is one verse that has stood out to me: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13, NASB). The whole idea of the “evil day.” What is that all about?

Well, I think it involves a couple of things. First, I think there is an eschatological element to it. As we get closer to the Second Coming of Jesus, I believe that the enemy is intensifying his attacks on believers as the Lord allows this to test us. It will only get worse.

Second, I believe that Paul is talking about special times and seasons and situations of intense warfare—a satanic attack.

Now, of course, we all believe that Satan is at work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Got that. But I do believe that there are special times of temptation (the devil part) and testing (the God-allowed; God is sovereign part).

How do you know if you are facing a satanic attack?

I think this is a really good question. I want to give a shot at answering it. I’m certainly no expert, except that I seem to experience them more and more these days. Certainly, my answers here are not exhaustive, but I don’t remember reading about this topic EVER.

First, I do believe that these attacks come from out of the blue—unusual circumstances or situations that blindside us. I’m not sure there is any way to prepare for them. They are like a surprise attack from the enemy.

Second, they tend to work on us on a deep emotional level.

Third, (and this is key), they come before or after a significant spiritual event in your life.

For example, I experienced a satanic attack in an airport in Iowa. The enemy used a woman to let loose on me. I’m not sure I responded the right way, but it nailed me. It got under my skin, and still, to this day, I have not “recovered.” This occurred as I was heading home having led a preaching seminar in two associations in Iowa—one of the greatest weeks of my life.

Okay, so well and good—characteristics of such an attack. How do you handle it? Well, I think the reaction is key—what you do and say is crucial.

The verse for today in Colossians is applicable in this instance and every instance, "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17 NLT).

I also think having a support group is important. My mom and sis and I spent most of the rest of the day on Sunday just talking about it and talking through it.

Yesterday, Marilyn seemed to be better with it, but I know she will never get over it.

Back to these groups and what is going on with them—I think the potential here is a satanic attack. As Wes and I left the Studio School yesterday, I said, “Well, Wes, it is obvious that the enemy is doing everything he can to discourage us and to stop us from sharing Jesus. But we will not let him stop us.”

“No, we won’t,” Wes concurred.

Lord, I affirm that you are in charge and in control. Satan does nothing as an “independent agent.” He operates only at your behest and under your authority. So, Lord, you allow these special times of testing, these satanic attacks, in our lives.

It doesn’t seem as if we can do anything to be ready for them, except to put on the armor and be alert. We know it is going to happen. Probably, it will today for many who are reading these words.

As Jesus taught us to pray, “keep us through temptation and from evil.”

“And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end” (“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” BH 2008, 502). Amen.
Comments

My Meat

Yesterday, we were all standing in a circle at E. B. Rains Park in Northglenn. Rich said, “Well, we are here right now. Why don’t we pass out some fliers right now?” His question hung a bit in the hot afternoon air. I could sense that everyone was a bit hesitant. Of course.

Let me back up a bit before I go on with this story.

When I entered the auditorium for worship yesterday, I noticed them standing the aisle—the four “missionaries” who were here to do the Backyard Bible Clubs for us. Leslie, the adult leader, greeted me warmly. I asked her where she was from; “The right side of California” was her answer.

John, a fifteen year old from Oregon, was the second member of the group. Chris told me she was from central Kansas. When I pressed her a bit, she said, “Wichita.” Yes. I have been there a few times. It is just down the road from my mom’s hometown, Hutchinson. The third member of the group, Wesley, hailed from Jackson, Mississippi and attends Bellhaven College.

After the service, we met in the fellowship hall along with the few folks (and I emphasize few) from our fellowship who have volunteered to help out during the week.

To be honest, I have been disappointed in the response of the church to this outreach, but I have to keep in mind that most folks work and are busy during the day. Of course, the folks that have volunteers to help are busy as well. John, for example, works all night at FedEx. He is coming to help with the morning group at the park in Thornton before he goes home to get a few hours of sleep.

How about that?

We all had lunch. Leslie and her three helpers took some time to talk about the events of the week. It was a little bit helter-skelter with people coming in and out of the fellowship hall. The Koreans had finished their service and were gathering for their perfunctory meal. I’m not sure how effective the whole thing was.

About halfway through the meeting, Corey showed up. He is a summer intern from Louisiana who is here working with my church planter friend Rich in the Stapleton area of town. He is a big tall “drink of water” (an expression we use in our family—very appropriate for Corey—because he has a low-key, open, and friendly demeanor). He immediately jumped in the group, sitting at the back of the room.

Towards the end of the training session, Rich also entered the room. I was a bit surprised to see him. I didn’t expect him to come, but he said, “John, I am available to help—not every day—but most days this week, if you need me.” Is the Pope Catholic?

When we finished the meeting, I said to Leslie and her three helpers along with Corey and Rich, “Okay, guys, would you mind caravanning with me? I want to take you to the three locations for this week.” Oh, and one more person was with us—one of our youth, Tom. He rode with me.

We headed out to Thornton first, then to Stukey Elementary School. Our final stop was E. B. Rains. It was teaming with people. I don’t know if I have ever seen more folks at this park than I did yesterday.

Our “group” found the pavilion we are going to use for the week. And we were standing there. It was at this moment that Rich made his comment.

I could tell that many of the people in our group were less than enthusiastic. I put myself in that category initially. I was tired. It was hot. It was mid-afternoon. The British Open was on TV. I had to get Tom home. I could list fifty other things.

Finally, I just said, “Let’s go for it. We are here now.” Chris and John went back to their van to get the fliers. They handed each of us a stack. We paired up. Wesley went with me, and we headed out.

There is an initial hesitation, for sure. Approaching strangers is never easy. But here was my stock line (the Holy Spirit gave it to me on the spot): “Hi, excuse me. I’m not selling anything. I’m from the Baptist Church up the street. We are having a Bible club here in this park this week, and we wanted to invite any of your children and you to come. It will be held at the Dogwood Pavilion near the paddleboats.”

That’s it.

Wesley and I made a complete circle around the whole park. We must have approached fifty to seventy-five folks. Only one older lady refused to talk with us. Only one! The rest were cordial and took the flier.

Now, of course, whether they show up or not … that is the question, but that is up to the Lord, right?

I just have to tell you that the more Wesley and I walked and talked to people, the more energized I became. I absolutely loved it. This activity met a deep need in my life. I can’t explain it any other way.

When Wes and I arrived back at the starting point, we finally found the rest of the folks in the group. They had finished long before we did.

Paul’s words in Colossians three give some insight in what happened yesterday.

"Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way" (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG).

“Let the Word of Christ have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives.” That’s it.

You know what? I think we as pastors and most folks in the contemporary church have found some many excuses not to share that we have just boxed ourselves into a corner. I think about it a lot. All the “rules” we have come up with. I am the first guy in THAT line.

Well, we can’t knock on doors. We can’t preach out on the street. We can’t approach strangers. We have to work through relationships but none of us do it. I need to witness to my neighbors, but I don’t do it.

Doesn’t all of this seem to be a big tangled up mess? I honestly can argue myself out of every single possibility of sharing Jesus. It is easy to do, right?

This all plays right into Satan’s hands.

Lord, thank you for Jesus and His victory over the devil. Thanks for the message you have given us to share. I pray that this message would have the run of the house and the run of my life.

I confess the sin of making excuse out of my so-called erudite experience. Help me never to box you in, Holy Spirit. If you tell me to share, help me be ready to do it at any time and any place.

I give you these groups as they start today. Give us more opportunities to share Jesus with everyone, including and especially total strangers.

“I shall not fear the battle
If thou art near my side” (“O Jesus, I Have Promised,” BH 2008, 501). Amen.
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Church Umpire

This is a big day and week for us at First Southern—the week where we participate in Good News Across America. This is an outreach ministry sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). Today, we get to meet the young adults who will be leading the three Backyard Bible clubs we are doing in our community. I’ve had a few conversations with one of the adult leaders—Leslie.

As I have mentioned in this blog previously, we did some door-to-door work on Wednesday night. Thursday night, our group passed out some more fliers in the community.

After the service today, we will have lunch and a special training session for the week.

One added bonus for me: I was talking with one of my church planter friends, Rich. I told him what we were doing this week. Rich jumped in, “Do you need some help? Our summer intern is available. This is his last week. He needs something to do and would be glad to help out.” Well, if you insist! Ha.

Corey and I had a good conversation yesterday. After the service at Rich’s church, he is coming to Northglenn to attend the training session. It will be great to meet him.

Thus, all in all, as you can see, things seem to be falling into place. I am grateful for this ministry opportunity. I think the days of an EFFECTIVE come to our church for VBS are over. It ended up being a babysitting service for all the churched families in the community who wanted to pawn their kids off for a week in the summer and then go down the road to some other church’s VBS to do the same thing.

Does that sound cynical? Perhaps. But I have twenty years of experience to back up my claims. No one fought harder than me to try to find a way to do it every summer. I like Vacation Bible School! What a great idea! I enjoyed it as a kid.

But as far as reaching unchurched folks, it just didn’t happen. And because of that, we just could not justify the huge expenses that it took to put it on each year. Plus—we were having more and difficulty finding people who were available to serve with work schedules and such.

All of that to say—this “in the community where the people are” approach seems more intriguing to me—in three locations: the morning meeting is at Margaret Carpenter Park. This is a recreation center down the street from the church. The city of Thornton built an amazing new park around this recreation center. We had our church picnic there a few weeks ago. There is a skate park and a lake with paddleboats in addition to all the other “normal” stuff that goes in parks.

At noon, we will have a club at Stuckey. This is an elementary school up the road and west of Washington Street. This school is having a free lunch program during the summer and we hope to capture the attention of some of the boys and girls as they leave the school each day.

I have accepted the responsibility of being at this club each day, but my week is filling up with stuff. On a couple of days, I won’t be able to stay the whole time (each club will meet for an hour and a half, thereabouts). This is why I am so glad Corey is available. Even though he is not affiliated with our church, he can certainly be a help and attend the rally on Friday night.

The third group will meet in the evening at E. B. Rains Park. This is the main park for the city of Northglenn. We should see a lot of folks at this park.

As it stands now, we have folks from our church who have committed to be at the clubs in the morning and in the evening. It is the noon club that I hope we get a couple more people to attend.

Please pray for laborers for this harvest.

This whole thing seems like a no-brainer for me. The CEF folks will do just about everything in the clubs with the boys and girls. All we have to do is show up to network relationships. No biggie.

Well, on to the passage for today as I continue to move through Colossians three. Here is one of my favorite verses. I’m going to quote it from the Amplified Bible.

"And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always]" (Colossians 3:15 AMP).

The generic translation is: “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts …” I don’t know if “generic” is the right word. “Common” may be the better term. But the literal language in the Greek New Testament is “act as an umpire.”

For years, as I have read this verse, I have interpreted it in individualistic terms. I have taken it to mean that if I am considering a course of action, and “don’t have a peace about it,” I hesitate and/or refrain.

I think this is a viable principle and there are other parts of God’s Word that affirm it, but, this verse is not speaking to isolated individuals making personal decision. This, like all the verses before and after, is referring to the congregational context.

Peace should call the balls and strikes in the church. If the congregation is considering a course of action that promotes peace, go for it. If not, hesitate.

I think discernment is the key here. With our congregational polity and the fact that we vote on every major decision, I have learned that some people would vote against the incarnate Christ.

For example, with Jeremy’s vote last Sunday, we had one “no” vote (and two abstentions also, by the way—even more curious). Now, I certainly affirm and support people voting as the Lord leads them. But, for that one “no” vote, should the whole church pause and hesitate? Well, I won’t make a blanket statement, but as a general rule, I would say NO.

I have two clichés to cite at this point. There are common aphorisms, but they are true when it comes to this whole issue of church peace.

Statement number one: be careful that you do not choose to win a battle but lose the war.

Statement number two: (and this came from the pastor of a friend of mine in seminary) choose the hills you die on. Isn’t that great?

I’ve learned the hard way that some hills are just not worth dying on. Not worth it.

More to be said here, but I think I will leave it at that.

Lord, I pray that today, in everything we do, we would adhere to this corporate umpire principle of peace. May peace, YOUR PEACE, reign supreme, not only today, but through this whole week. Amen.
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Complaining

Who said, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one can do anything about it”? I bet it was Will Rogers. Who knows?

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit with a guy in our church—Al. At some point, the topic of complaining came up. I said, “Well, I guess I won’t complain but sometimes it makes me feel a little better.”

Al responded, “I’m not so sure it really does.”

Man, is he ever right!

I’ve learned that complaining very easily and quickly moves into unbelief.

Think about the Israelites fresh out of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea. It didn’t take them long to start complaining. It was almost as if those miraculous deliverances never happened.

As Ron Dunn used to say, “Unbelief has a short memory.”

I find that I really have to be careful. It is easy for me to complain, but this time of year is always and will forever be a season that I think about cancer.

My dad’s cancer took a turn for the worse about this time of the summer back forty years ago. He died only a few days later—August 1, 1973.

About this same time three years ago, I was wondering what was going on with me. I was diagnosed with cancer a few days later sometime in early August.

When I think about anything that I am going through right now, nothing stacks up to those two events AND the memory of what God did through them.

All of us still miss my dad. My mom mentions his death rather frequently these days. “Can anyone explain to me why the Lord would take Jerry in the prime of life?” is her question.

No.

No, we can’t. However, so many blessings of the legacy of his life still continue. For example, my dad designed this house that we have lived in for fifty-one years. He worked with his favorite contractor who built this house according to my dad’s specifications.

Then, a few years later, when my grandparents needed to move in, he built on a special “wing” to our house. This is where I live. It is like a little apartment. No kitchen, but I’m not far from one!

But the blessing is that this house is able now to accommodate three adults with a lot of stuff. More now than before with all my junk now.

And, I’m grateful to be able to be here for several reasons, one of which is financial. This will help me out greatly as I try to dig myself out of financial challenges I face.

This is another “Red Sea”-type blessing that, when I am thinking right, curtails my complaining a bit.

The other is where I am in my cancer process. Honestly, I think I am in better physical condition than I have been in years, maybe ever. I’m just so grateful for “all the way my Savior has led me.” In some ways, the summer of 2010 seems lifetimes ago. I speak of cancer less and less frequently. And I am grateful for that.

I will never forget about it, though. The doctors won’t let me! And I couldn’t even if I tried. It is there. And it always will be until the day I die, but it just isn’t as ominous and scary TODAY. I’m grateful for today.

But all of this lends perspective to the whole issue of complaining. I still do it, mind you. But it seems that the Holy Spirit checks me more quickly when the words come out of my mouth, and I remember “all the way” He has led us.

The passage for today speaks a word about complaining, not in a general sense, but in the instance of complains ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON. "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Colossians 3:12, 13 NASB).

As I read these words, it hits me that complaints are always directed at someone, whether it is another person that has somehow wronged me OR ultimately and finally, I am complaining to God.

I honestly think that a primary remedy to this is cultivating the habit and discipline of thanking God. When I stop and think about everything the Lord has done, my complaints tend to truncate.

Lord, I do thank you today first of all for who you are. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for my dad, my mom, and Marilyn. Thank you for all the provisions you have made for us all these years. Thank you for this home you have allowed us to live in for fifty-one years. Thank you for taking us through all our cancer experiences.

Lord, my heart goes out to Don today as he continues to struggle with all of his cancer stuff. Encourage him. Give him grace today.

Back to me, Lord. In spite of everything I have written, I confess the sin of complaining. You have forgiven me of all my sins. I choose by faith to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness today.

That song, “All the way my Savior leads me. What have I to ask beside” is prominently on my mind and heart today. Amen.
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Past Tense

I’m going to brag a little bit right here. Sorry, but I can’t resist. How about this for a growth rate? 300 percent!

Last Sunday, we called a new youth pastor. I’m excited. His name is Jeremy. He had served at North Metro for a while, but the Lord led him and his family our way.

Let me back up for a moment. We have been looking for a youth pastor for more than three years! I know that sounds weird, but it is true.

We interviewed an excellent candidate the summer I was diagnosed with cancer—2010. A couple of summers later, we were on track with another great guy who was considering the position.

What happened? Well, in both situations, I asked them to visit the church on a Sunday morning. After those visits, they both pulled themselves out of consideration for the job. Yep. That’s right.

I would be less than honest if I did not say that, in both situations, I was devastated. It knocked the feet out from underneath our search team and me in both situations.

As a result of both of those stories, plus another similar situation with another staff position a few months ago, I asked the Lord to teach me what he wanted me to learn through this situation. Was I really in a place no one wanted to come to? What was going on?

My reaction in all these situations was that it endeared me to the church more than ever. Kind of weird to say, but true. I believe it was the Lord’s grace. He showed me His esteem for the church I serve. This is all that matters.

The Lord esteems and values First Southern not because we are “special,” but simply because we are one of His churches. This is the way He feels about every one of His church. He died for the church. No one can love her any more than Pastor Jesus.

That is one thing, but I want to share two other things. First, as I prayed, I felt a rebuke from the Lord. It was almost as if the Lord said, “John, do you believe that I can take care of MY church? By the way, it does belong to me.” Oh, (gulp), yeah.

We trust Him (or at least say we do) to provide finances and people to meet the needs of service. Why is staff any different? Somehow, we make it that way.

Second, it finally dawned on me that I have put the cart before the horse. Doesn’t a commitment to the church PRECEDE a job in the church? This is our philosophy of ministry when it comes to lay leadership? Why is paid staff any different?

Now, before I proceed with this, I am certainly not advocating this for every situation. Of course, there might be times to call a staff person who lives in another town and we would have to offer a job before he or she actually joins the fellowship. This isn’t a hard and fast rule.

This is where the Lord has me at this particular time.

Back to the story. The Lord led Jeremy and his family to join our fellowship. At that point in time a couple of months ago, he was not anywhere on the radar screen as a prospect for this position. We were in fact considering someone who lived out of town.

But several factors came together (I won’t go into detail here) and the Lord diverted us to consider Jeremy, and last Sunday, we voted to call him for a part-time position.

When he joined our fellowship, we averaged one student on Wednesday night. Last Wednesday, when I looked in the room at the beginning of our Wednesday night program, there were four students! 300 percent growth! The “one” student—Tom- invited a friend named Joe. Jeremy invited a relative who invited her friend. We had four youth!

Yesterday, I talked to one of our deacons, James. James had served our youth faithfully for years. He stepped down recently to pursue other ministries in our congregation, but he attended last Wednesday night. He said that Joe was asking questions about baptism. James said that he explained to him, “Joe, it doesn’t save you. It is a picture of our death to the old life and our introduction to the new.” I am paraphrasing him here. He said it better than that.

This is what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3. "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth" (Colossians 3:5-8 NASB).

I like the fact that James told Joe about this. I think we do a disservice when we don’t emphasis what happens to us the moment we get saved. Our old lifestyle of immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry) is PAST TENSE.

I think we need to be reminded of this on a continual basis and throw this truth back in Satan’s face. Both ordinances, not just the Lord’s Supper, should be reminders to us.

Father, thank you for bringing Jeremy and his family our way. Thank you for the students who attended last Wednesday night. Thank you for the good teaching.

I affirm it again today: dead to sin, but alive to You in Christ.

In your face—Satan!

“He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey” (BH 2008, 500). Amen.
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Christ, Our Life

Through the process of selling my house, my realtor, Kevin, has made a statement on several occasions, as I have commented about how fast and easy it has been. He has stated, “Well, Someone is looking over your shoulder.” I presume he is talking about God.

Kevin did a great job. I told him that at the closing yesterday. There are so many things about it that he did well. At first, I thought the asking price he recommended was a little low, but what happened was that the folks who bought my house (again, they were the very first people who saw it) I THINK felt that they were getting a good deal. So, after the inspection, they did not ask me to fix anything. I had no extra expenses except some Carbon Monoxide sensors, a “move out” clean, and the move.

I’m so grateful the Lord for this, and I thanked Kevin for his part. I found him several months ago as I was just investigating whether or not to sell. Again, he did a great job.

Through our conversations, I am not totally sure where Kevin stands with the Lord, but I doubt he is a believer.

His statement about “Someone looking over your shoulder” is a rather typical way of referring to what many consider to be God’s proximity to Christians.

If you stop and think about it, people have various views on this subject; some of them are biblical. Most are not.

Some people have the concept of God as “the man upstairs.” Have you ever heard that comment? I have. They consider God to be way off somewhere in the sky, rather remote and distant, a rather senile old man with a long white beard.

Others, perhaps like Kevin, see God as intervening in certain serendipitous situations, guiding circumstances so that they “work out.”

I am also thinking of the “footprints poem.” Have you read it? I’m not going to quote it here, but it teaches that, normally, the Lord walks with us when things are going well, but when we face difficulty, there is only one set of footprints because the Lord carries us.

I like it. Don’t get me wrong.

Now, I don’t want to appear to be too critical at this point. There is a modicum of truth to all of these assertions, but as far as our spatial relationship with the Lord, they just don’t go far enough.

The passage I read today encapsulates it nicely. Here is what Paul says: "And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory" (Colossians 3:2-4 AMP).

Jesus is not only beside me or below me (carrying me) or above me in heaven (indeed He is there at the right hand of God), but also, Christ IS MY LIFE.

I believe this is Paul’s way of summing up a crucial teaching in his letters—two sides of the same coin. When anyone gets saved, two things happen. Christ comes into our lives making our bodies His residence through the Holy Spirit, but also, we go into Christ. We are IN CHRIST.

Right now, He is seated in the heavenlies and if we are in Him, guess what? We are seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2 reiterates this point). Thus, we should focus our attention there since this is where we are.

In short, Christ is our life. We are in Him; He is in us—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Take a quick sale of my house or cancer—Jesus is there, much closer than someone looking over my shoulder.

It is my desire today that I would be so identified with Jesus that people would see Him when they meet me.

I was praying that would occur last night.

We are preparing for some backyard Bible clubs that will be going in our community through a Child Evangelism Fellowship outreach called Good News Across America. I’ve mentioned this before.

CEF gave us a ton of fliers. Some of the young adults who are coming to lead these groups in our area will be passing them, but they have asked us to do it as well.

Last night, I grabbed John and Jim. The three of us went to pass out some fliers. We had some conversations with a few people. It was okay as far as they contacts were concerned, but I just have to say that I love doing this. It gave me a chance to pray for families on streets in our community. I was praying that people would encounter Jesus, the real Jesus and that First Southern would lift Him up.

But how do people see Jesus these days? Well, hopefully, as I let Him live out the truth that He is actually my life, they will see Jesus when they meet me.

Lord, thank you that you are actually my life. I don’t totally understand this concept as Paul teaches it, but I’m glad I don’t have to. Make it (or better, make Jesus) a reality today. Jesus, live your life through me so that my life fades into the background and You are extremely prominent.

“He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.” Amen.
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Aim High

As I was walking through my house last night for the last time, memories of what I did in each room flooded my mind. It was weird seeing it totally empty, and I recalled what I thought before I moved in ten years ago.

The passage of time is strange. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem that long ago, really. On the other hand, I lived in that townhouse longer than any house I have lived in since I started as pastor in 1989.

Let me see. Humm. In the past almost twenty-four years, I have lived in two apartments and two residences.

I still cringe when I think about my first move-in. Actually, it was a little presumptuous since the church had not officially called me as pastor. It was just my mom and I. (Yes, you read that right.) She helped me move furniture into my apartment. We did have to call on a couple of maintenance men to help move a couch.

I did have some help moving in and out of apartment number two.

The church gave me a shower when I moved into my first house. That was very nice.

Jim, a member of the church and a realtor, helped me with this townhouse. I had every intention of making that place the last I ever lived in up there, but of course, I didn’t plan on cancer and the re-ordering of priority that would occur through that disease.

Yesterday, in the course of conversation with a brother, the whole topic of “the pastor living on the church field” came up, not in reference to me at all. And my immediate thought was, “Yes, I certainly do affirm the necessity of that. I believe it is very important.”

But MORE IMPORTANT than that is the priority of family.

Plus, as I have indicated before, finances are an important part of this decision.

Well, anyway, back to last night. As I was walking through a place I thought I would live in a lot longer than ten years, I was again reminded that nothing is permanent in this life.

At some point, all of us are going to make one final move. In THAT move, we will be able to NOTHING with us.

Here I have been for the past several weeks since my house sold weeding through mountains of stuff, deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Then, for the stuff I have decided to keep (still a lot), trying to figure out where to put it.

As I was eating breakfast this morning, the thought hit me, “Oh, man, what are Marilyn and I going to do, if Jesus tarries, and we are faced some day with the prospect of moving out of THIS house?” Oh, man. I can’t even think about that right now.

We both have joked that someday, we will share twin beds in the same room in a nursing home.

I can just hear the comments of folks walking by our room, “Oh, and in this room, there is the cutest little couple. Well, they aren’t really a couple. They are brother and sister. He was actually a pastor. His sister still takes care of him to some degree …” Something like that …

Well, sorry. I diverted again, didn’t I?

My point in all of this is two-fold. First, heaven is our final destination as believers. One of the great things about it is that, once we are there, no more moves. It will be our permanent dwelling place, the perfect home forever. No resident of heaven will say, “Yeah, it is okay here, but the second I get a chance, I’m moving out of this dump.” Ah, no.

Second, right now, I have a spiritual home in Christ. I talked about this last Sunday. Right now, I am seated with Christ in the “heavenly realms.” I don’t believe that this is a reference to heaven. Wherever it is, it is where Jesus is right now, seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Ephesians 2 echoes this truth. Colossians 3 restates it.

"IF THEN you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1 AMP). I like this translation from the Amplified Bible. Paul is urging us to “aim high.”

I actually thought I was going to be emotional last night. Don’t get me wrong. I will miss my house and my neighbors. It was a very nice place to live, but somehow, last night, the Lord helped me to lock the door for the last time, get in my truck, and drive off without looking back.

Lord, today, I choose to set my focus on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God and where I am IN HIM.

Jesus, thank you for the blessing of that home. Thank you for providing it. Thank you for the neighbors and relationships I am still going to continue even though I don’t live there any longer.

Thank you for my new “old” home. Thank you for allowing me to move here and to help my mom and sister out. Thank you, Jesus. I already look forward to the final move someday.

“I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory,
And I heard about the streets of gold beyond the crystal sea.” Yep. I can hardly wait. If you come before Marilyn and I are in a nursing home together (if you let both of us live that long), that is okay. Amen.
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Everything But the Big Couch

Well, I made it through yesterday. As the movers were hoisting stuff into my mom’s house, it started to rain and the pleasant summer rain turned into a downpour. I don’t think I’ve seen it rain THAT HARD all summer.

They got everything in place except one item—my big couch. I had two couches in my living room in Thornton. Our original plan was to put both of them in the basement. The movers barely got the small one down the stairs and around the corner. When they finished, Eddie said, “John, that big couch is not going go down here.”

Marilyn and I asked them if they would put it in the garage where we examined it. Marilyn even pulled back part of the mesh that covers the bottom. She noticed some screws where the armrest is attached to the leg. We felt that someone maybe could dismantle it and put it together in the basement.

We called around. The only one who responded—The Furniture Doctor (great name, huh?)—said he could do it, but he would charge us $450.00! Huh? I guess he does consider himself a doctor!

The writing is on the wall so to speak, but it is just the last bit of furniture and it is hard for me to get rid of it. We are still trying to figure out how we can keep it somehow, but the space in the basement looks good with just the small couch … I probably will try to sell it. Oh, well, again, just a piece of wood and fabric.

Is that the lesson of this move? Maybe. I am convicted that I am so easily attached to things. I have been that way my whole life. It takes an experience like this to break us of these kinds of allegiances.

Again, I feel that the Lord is using this as a transition time in my life.

I know I wrote that yesterday. I thought about it most of the day. What do I mean? Well, I don’t know. What I was basically talking about is that I feel lighter in my step having unloaded all this stuff. This move is going to free up some money that will help me better keep up with all my medical bills and help me in some other areas as well.

“Freed up”—that’s how I feel.

One more day in the house. A cleaning service is coming today to do a “move out” clean to have everything ready for the buyers to move in tomorrow. I actually have a lot of work to do to clean things up like my garage. All the junk is out, but man, is it ever dirty! My basement fits in that same category.

I’m going to finish cleaning this evening and then leave my keys and drive away. I wonder how that will feel? I guess I am going to find out.

I am sad to be leaving my house. I really liked it. It was a great place to live, but I don’t have any regrets. This is the right time.

I just wish I could figure out what to do with the couch …

On to the passage for today. Paul’s message to the folks in Colossae lines up with what he has preached and taught elsewhere. What is it about us as Christians is that we are sitting ducks for rules and formulas?

I guess we tend to gravitate that way because initially, it just seems easier. This is why legalists and cults emerge. In both, it is a list of do’s and don’ts or some type of charismatic leader who just tells the group to “drink the Kool-Aid.”

Trusting God doesn’t work that way. Even though the Word gives us commands to obey, even obeying God’s commands requires faith. Stepping out in obedience is never easy. You never know what is going to happen. But that is the adventure that is our faith in God, right?

I seem to be able to write that fairly easily, but again, it is NOT easy. This move has confirmed that. If several weeks ago, someone would have told me about all the stuff I gave away/sold, honestly, I’m not sure I would have decided to make the move. But as you take one step of obedience and trust the Lord for it, He enables you to take the next step and so on.

This is not about rules. It is about relationship. This is what Paul affirms in the final verses of Colossians 2: "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23 NASB).

Rules have the appearance of being “religious” but they are of no value in our battle with the flesh. In fact, they only intensify the struggle; only serve to find the flesh.

This passage teaches that in identification with Christ, I have died, not only to sin (Paul teaches this in Ephesians 2 and Romans 6), but also I have died to “the elementary principles of the world.” What is this talking about? The debate continues among scholars. Again, I think it is the Judaizer’s rules as they tried to make application of the laws of God (a good thing—God’s law—twisted; isn’t that how Satan and the flesh work?)—the old Pharisees raising their heads again—Jesus’ number one enemy.

Religion is an enemy to Christianity. Christianity is NOT a religion. Whenever I hear someone refer to it as such, I cringe. NO!

Father, I thank you for Jesus. I thank you that He is all I need. With him, unlike this move, there are no extraneous “couches” that don’t fit. Jesus, you bring everything and everyone together in a cohesive whole. You are great at pulling the pieces of our lives together.

“I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came in glory….” That old, old story never gets old. Amen.
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The Victory Parade Continues on Moving Day

Today is moving day for me. Actually, I have been loading stuff in my truck and moving it into my mom’s house for the past few weeks, but today, a mover is actually coming to move the “big stuff.”

I decided years ago in all my moves that if I couldn’t afford to pay a mover to move heavy furniture then I just wasn’t going to leave my current residence.

All the way through the later years of seminary when I taught a single’s Sunday school class at Travis Avenue Baptist Church—there were sixty folks in the class (someone was moving just about every weekend)—and in my early years in the pastorate, I was very willing to help people move.

However, on one occasion, I was carrying some stuff down some stairs at an apartment complex and slipped. I nearly killed myself. I sprained my ankle badly, and I was hobbled up for weeks.

That was the kicker. I very rarely help people move now. And I decided never to ask people to help me move big stuff. Just too potentially dangerous—for me first (this is selfish) and then for others.

The other part of it is that I’ve had stuff damaged permanently when people lug them and move them and they don’t know what they are doing. Furniture is just too expensive. I don’t want to have to fix or replace it.

Well, I think I have beaten this horse enough, right? I’m just going to be glad to watch some guys move it today and I will pay them and glad to do it.

The other aspect of this is that I am looking forward to getting some clutter organized and cleaned up and put in place today.

Anyway, I can’t help but think that this week signals some sort of transition in my life. Of course, selling my house is part of it, but I think there is more to it somehow??? I don’t even know what I am talking about (nothing unusual there). I just have that sense.

This brings me to the passage for today. The other dominant image in Colossians 2 was a familiar site in the Roman Empire in the days of Paul—victory parades. Victorious Roman generals would ride into town on their chariots with soldiers and horses all around them. It was the celebration of another Roman victory. At the back, dragging along in chains, would be the soldiers of the enemy army, now slaves. This was quite a sight, I am sure. The Romans would also burn incense in these parades. So, the smell of victory was pervasive.

No doubt, Paul looked at this and said, “That is what Jesus did for us as our victorious General.” He was so enamored with this metaphor that he used it twice in his writings. I will cite both instances below.

"In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross" (Colossians 2:15 NLT).

"But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume" (2 Corinthians 2:14 NLT).

Jesus won a very public victory on the cross where He defeated Satan. He stripped the weapons from the rulers and authorities (this is a reference I believe to Satan’s evil hierarchy). They are toothless tigers now. Jesus exposed them to open and public defeat on the cross and now, through the resurrection—His life in us—He spreads the aroma of this victory to any and every place.

Awesome.

I appreciate the timeliness of this reminder for me today. Again, it is kind of sad to sell my home. I don’t regret it, but I will miss it. As I have said, this signals some sort of transition for me beyond the sale of my house. Whatever it is, and wherever it goes, I’m in the victory parade!

Jesus, manifest through me the aroma of the knowledge of you to these movers today and to everyone I meet. Thank you for your plan. Let me live it out to the fullest. Amen.
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Paid in Full

Forgive me this morning. I am having a little bit of a struggle. As I read the words in Colossians 2 I am going to talk about today, I thought of Rick. This is the passage I preached from on my first trip to Temple Baptist Church the summer before I got cancer.

I miss him today. I wonder how Jonann is doing. I actually tried to call her this past week, but the home phone number has been changed. I have no way to contact her. I’m going to try to call Donnie (my friend in the church who had the same kind of cancer I had) and get some contact information.

I had a great time both times I visited them to preach on “Marvelous Monday.” We played a lot of golf and had some great meals—both things that Rick really enjoyed. It was kind of crazy that he became such a fanatic about golf. But since I am, we had even more to share together.

As we “talked shop” one day out on the driveway, I was demonstrating some drills I had just learned. Rick was learning to do them. Jonann started laughing, “You guys look as if you have lost it. I’m going inside.”

I don’t know … funny what you remember. Grief is weird.

Well, anyway, this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible—very graphic, very picturesque. I love it. A capsule of the gospel. Let me quote it: "He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross" (Colossians 2:14, 15 NLT).

Jesus canceled our sin debt! He took it away, nailing it to the cross. My heart is deeply grateful, and I realize this morning that this week, I’m going to be reminded again about how this actually feels.

On Wednesday, July 17th, I am closing on my house.

I have often wondered how I would ever pay my house off. I looked at that mountain of debt, and wondered, “Will I be 80? 90? How on earth will I pay it off?” And, this Wednesday, in one fell swoop, gone. Poof.

Talk about grief, I am still grieving a bit. Yesterday, my mom asked me, “Do you have any seller’s remorse?” I replied, “I will miss my house. I really liked it, but I do not have seller’s remorse.” If that makes sense …

I am honestly glad to be out from under the obligation and responsibility of owning a home. And, I’m so grateful that I have a place to go. I haven’t ruled out buying something else down the road, but it will have to be a special place. Very special. I just don’t have much enthusiasm for ownership any more. Maybe this is just the way that the Lord is helping me do this.

Who knows?

But the thing that I am excited about is that one huge debt in my life is gone.

A much larger debt was canceled years ago—my sin debt. I was only nine years old at the time. One might think, “How on earth could a nine-year old have such a big debt?” I did. I was more buried in debt then I am now, as a matter of fact.

But when Jesus saved me, He transferred my debt over to the Jesus Bank and handed me His righteousness, a note with the title, “Paid in Full.”

There is more to say about this passage, but I think I will leave it there for now.

My heart is full. I am so grateful, Jesus, for all you did on the cross. You were totally innocent. You did not commit one sin, and yet you “became sin on my behalf in order that I might become the righteousness of God” in you (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Thank you, Lord, from the bottom of my heart for forgiveness.

“You paid a debt you did not owe
I owed a debt I could not pay.
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, ‘Amazing Grace.’
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!” Thanks for bringing that song to mind. Amen.
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Complete

I will really be glad when this move is completed and all the junk that is piled up around me is in some other place—whether it is a drawer or a closet or a trash can or a receptacle at Good Will.

Yesterday, I had to do another difficult thing. I weeded through the boxes (plural) of stuff that I have kept from what people at church have given me over the years. I paused to enjoy the cards and letters and kid drawings that I have received and kept. But I had to throw away much of it. Just no room for more boxes, multiple boxes. Think about over twenty years of letters and notes. Overwhelming really.

And very difficult, but I am learning through all of this. I have the memories of those people and my experiences with them. I will take those to the grave with me, and I will see those folks again. Beyond having a piece of paper with a note on it, I will be able to “keep” those people forever in heaven.

That is the way I am thinking about it, at least.

I’ve had to come up with a lot of different thought processes in order to unload the various kinds of stuff I have accumulated over the years.

It is good. It is time. This move has taught me a lot.

Back to Colossians 2. Remember that Paul is addressing a heresy facing the church. Again, I think it had to do with the Judaizers.

Here is the thing about false doctrine. It has an appeal if someone who is sharing it can say, “Hey, you don’t have to abandon your Christian beliefs. What I am teaching you is just an add-on. Keep Jesus. He is fine, but just add this to him.”

This is where it gets dangerous.

Recently, I had a conversation with a brother who has had some exposure to Mormonism. He has actually visited with some folks who came to his door and has explored things a bit.

Not long ago, he came to talk with me about it. I think he was expecting me to freak out when he told me about his experiences. I didn’t. Actually, this is how I responded to him, “I’m glad you are investigating. I think it will strengthen your faith in Jesus.”

If you are in a good place with the Lord, I think it can be good, although I don’t recommend it.

After years of thinking that I can persuade folks who come to knock on my door, I have decided that it isn’t worth. They are not coming to be open to the truth. And I am not going to be convinced that what they are saying is right. So, conversation is a waste of time.

Plus, I think that repeated exposure to false doctrine does make one vulnerable, no matter how strong you are in your faith.

Another friend of mine tried the tactic of having repeated conversations with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I think they met in his home for weeks. He eventually ended the meetings because the folks were not open to the truth. They were “humoring” him, but they had no intention of buying anything he was sharing with them from the Word.

Back to the point—if one is vulnerable in any way, he or she is in danger of falling into the trap of false doctrine.

Let me define spiritual vulnerability. I think this needs to be taught much more often than we do.

I am vulnerable to enemy attack when, in any arena of my life, I have the slightest doubt about the all-sufficiency of Christ.

This is why Paul makes these comments in the following verses: "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority" (Colossians 2:9, 10 NASB).

Paul’s line of reasoning is clear. In Jesus, all the fullness of God dwells (and I will finish the line of reasoning) AND Jesus is GOD! Therefore, when I have Jesus, I have everything I need.

I am indeed and in fact complete in Christ!

Knowing this deep in my heart is a shield against any enemy attack in my areas of vulnerability.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this played out. I’m thinking of one young man who attended our church (he never joined the fellowship—should have been my first clue). He was looking for a wife. I think he was interested in a woman in our church. When that didn’t work out, he found someone else. The only problem was that she was not walking with the Lord and was a part of some “off-beat” church. I can’t remember the name. It is not important. The upshot is that he dropped away and now, I wonder if he is going anywhere. I doubt.

His area of spiritual vulnerability was the dating and marriage. He gave up waiting on God and just took matters in his own hands. And his “fix” ended up “fixing” him.

Lord, I affirm from the bottom of my heart that in your Son Jesus dwells all the fullness, and since I have that Son in my life, I am full. I am complete in You. I don’t need anything or anyone else.

I am NOT saying that I don’t need people. But no teaching and no person can fill the God-part of my life. Only you can do that.

And, Lord, when I affirm that I am complete in Jesus, then and only then can I love my neighbor as you have commanded me. I don’t try to use people to help me. I just love them.

Make this so today and give me the strength to get all this stuff FINALLY moved.

“I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.
So shall I be saved from my enemies, I will call upon the Lord” (BH 2008, 498). Amen.
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The Violent Death of a Piano

It is funny how things hit you. It happened to me in the middle of the night.

Let me back up a bit. Yesterday, all of us decided that it was time for the piano to go. We have been trying to sell it for months. No takers.

I remember trying to do this at the church a few years ago. We had several old pianos in the basement of the church. We didn’t use them. They took up a lot of space. We eventually just had to get rid of them.

We arrived at that same conclusion here. We checked into some possible ways of doing it. Hiring an “official piano mover” is an expensive proposition, but we looked into that because it was in really good shape. It just hadn’t been used for a lot—I mean a LOT of years.

So, what do you think we did? We called our new favorite company—Junk King. We waited most of the afternoon for them to arrive. I had to leave to get my haircut.

When I came back, the Junk King truck was there with two guys standing beside it—sweat was pouring off of them. Marilyn was standing with them.

“Well, they did it, John. It was an unbelievably difficult job.” We paid the two guys and watched as they drove off.

Marilyn added, “Oh, John, that was very hard.”

Why?

“Well, at first they tried to move it intact—three guys (I didn’t see the third guy when I arrived; I later learned that he was in the truck—probably exhausted). But they couldn’t get it up the stairs so they had to tear it apart. It was very hard.”

When I got in the house, I looked at the walls surrounding the stairway to our basement. There is one big gash and some other scrape marks. Marilyn was worried. I stated, “We can fix these. I know a drywall guy we use at church. He fixed the ceiling a fell through last year after the Grand Prix race.”

Marilyn said, “John, I just wasn’t prepared for them to have to destroy it. I’m having a hard time with it.” So was my mom.

This piano has been in our home for fifty years. I took my first piano lessons on it. I ended up choosing to play outside with the other neighbor kids, and the piano just sat there in our den. Eventually, we moved it to the basement. Professional piano movers must have done it. But it stayed there for forty plus years.

It was kind of a fixture, and the more I thought about what happened, the more emotional I became—just because I am the reason we had to get rid of it.

Eventually, my mom said, “It is just a piece of furniture. We shouldn’t grieve over it. It is gone. That is what we wanted.” Yeah, but …

So, all of this brings me to last night. I didn’t sleep all that well. But somewhere in the middle of the night, this message came to me: “Well, now you know how they feel.” And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Not too many years after I started at First Southern, we made the decision to get rid of the huge pulpit the church had. I’m not sure what we did right after that decision. If my memory serves me correctly, we bought a Plexiglas pulpit. Now, I don’t use any pulpit. I love standing there with no barriers between myself and the congregation—open, wide open.

But back to the initial decision, shortly after we made it, one of our deacons stormed into my office. He was livid. “Why did you get rid of the pulpit? What is next? False doctrine?”

Huh? I was flabbergasted. What on earth is all the fuss? We are talking a huge piece of furniture here. To him, however, it was much more than that.

Then, fast forward to a couple of years ago, we decided to make another decision—get rid of our organ. I was a tiny bit smarter this time. I asked the church to vote on it. They voted to move it, but it was certainly nowhere near a unanimous decision.

Since then, I heard that one family left because of the decision.

Huh? Again, over a piece of furniture?

But now, I understand it better. We didn’t use the piano. No one played it. We hadn’t played it for years, but it was a fixture in our house, kind of like an overweight old friend, a piece of my childhood, but now it is gone, having died a violent death.

At least, we had hoped that someone else could use it.

It is funny, though, how these types of experiences give you insight. There is a lot of emotional baggage attached to stuff.

I’m not saying it is right. But that is reality. And I am learning it right now for myself, with not just the piano—other things as well.

I’m glad for the reminder today that we are valuable to God. Rob sent me a message this past week after I had alluded to Junk King. He said, “God is the ultimate Junk King. He saves us from all our junk.” Something like that.

Amen, Rob. We deserved to be tossed on the garbage heap, but through what Jesus did, we are reclaimed, and He makes us useful in His kingdom. Baptism pictures this.

"When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead" (Colossians 2:11, 12 NLT).

Lord, thank you for the learning experiences of this move. I am very materialistic. That is all I can say.

Help us as we all grieve the loss of this piano. It seems as if a part of my childhood died with it.

But that isn’t true. I’m glad that you saved us, and in your kingdom, as we yield to you, we are perennially useful.

“Broken hearts are being mended;
Jesus’ stripes can heal them all” (BH 2008, 497). Amen.
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Telescope, Microscope, Horoscope

Once again, Peterson’s language is very striking and vivid. I appreciate the way he translates this crucial Christological passage in Colossians. Let me go ahead and cite it:

"Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything" (Colossians 2:8-10 MSG).

As always, Paul is countering insidious heresy in the church at Colossae. Scholarship is divided as to exactly what this false teaching was. I don’t want to get into all the speculation. I happen to believe that the heretics were Judaizers who were sprinkling in some Greek philosophy. Whatever.

The upshot of all of it was complication and confusion.

I’m convinced that this is one of the devil’s greatest tools.

I was speaking with a friend yesterday who was speaking about a particular church and ministry. He said something like, “Oh, yeah, he is heavily into prophecy and rapture and all that stuff.” “All that stuff.” Good way to put it.

I don’t know this pastor my friend was talking about, but I want to speculate a moment. I’m just guessing here from past experience. This approach is all about attaching contemporary events to some type of eschatological scheme.

And I will tell you: if you announce that you are doing a series on “prophecy,” you will get a lot of interest and enthusiasm because people automatically think, “Oh, great. This preacher is to talk about what is going on now and organize things to tell me when the rapture/Second Coming is going to occur.”

I got this same kind of enthusiastic response a few years ago (right before I was diagnosed with cancer) when I told the church that I was going to preach through the book of Revelation.

It didn’t take long to dampen all that enthusiasm, however, when I stated in the first message of the series, “If you are looking at these series of messages to provide you with some kind of secret decoder ring for the future, you will be disappointed. This book is all about the Lamb of God. It is about Jesus, first and foremost.”

Ah, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this. Apocalypse is the English translation of the Greek word. It means “revelation.” So, here are the first words of the book, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1, NASB).

There you go, but if one announces, “I am preaching a series of messages on Jesus,” people tend to yawn.

But that is exactly the attitude and response that Paul is addressing in Colossians. The essence of our faith is the Person and Work of Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Simple. Straightforward, but Christians tend not to be as interested. Why?

Heresy is more attractive as it dances around the edges with high tech and mysterious “tools” and “teachings” and “formulas.” Telescopes and microscopes and horoscopes are all mediums through which we see and learn (well, in the case of horoscopes, supposedly). That has an element of appeal, just like my first pair of binoculars had. I was more enamored with the equipment than I was with what I was seeing.

Paul is urging that the believers in Colossae push all the intermediary “helps” aside and just focus on Jesus.

To me, it is the difference between eating junk food and eating what is right.

I have not commented for a while on this diet thing, but my greatest temptation these days is to divert off the path of eating that helped me lose weight in the first place. I’m struggling lately. I know this temptation is not unusual. It is the reason why it is so difficult for many of us to keep weight off once we lose it.

Junk food is initially satisfying (I guess I am talking about sugar, primarily). It gives you a “buzz.” But then, after the buzz, there is a huge drop-off. I am noticing this more than ever since I’ve stopped consuming large amounts of processed sugar as I did in the past. I really notice it.

But I still consume it AT TIMES. I just find that I want to do it MORE. THAT is the problem.

Anyway, eating right is rather pedestrian and plain and not too glamorous. I may not get the initial buzz, but I feel that my energy is sustained longer and I feel better in the long haul.

By the way, I am doing a lot better on Sundays when I just avoid eating about five donuts on Sunday morning. I used to make the rounds to every Sunday school class, ostensibly to greet folks. I was really scouting out food. A little here, a little there—all sugar—and I ended up juiced for a while, but just about the time I was supposed to preach—crash! I felt as if I were slogging through a mud hole.

It took me about twenty years to figure this out—duh.

Now, it is weird to say this, but I tend to rest a bit on Sunday afternoon, but I feel energy throughout the day.

I used to crash and burn in the afternoon. No longer.

All of this is an illustration of the point that Paul is making. Focusing on Jesus may not be as “flashy” or “glamorous” as intricate teachings on “prophecy” or some other trumped up heresy, but if we focus on Jesus, we will be nourished, deeply nourished, and we will grow in our faith.

I’m convinced of this.

Jesus, it is all about you. I pray that today, I can get to know you better and be more in love with you at the end of this day than I am right now.

KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Hello, John. JESUS.

“Jesus is the sweetest name I know, and He’s just the same, as His precious name. And that’s the reason why I love Him so because Jesus is the sweetest name I know.” Amen.
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Congregation on the "Street"

Stephen Olford, one of my favorite preachers of all time, made an assertion in a sermon that I have on cassette tape that I have never forgotten. This will not be an exact quote, but it approximates what he said.

“Preaching in a church is easy, but I will you what true preaching is all about. Preaching on the street. Preach a congregation into existence and then preach them into the kingdom of God.” Something like that.

His comments reminded me of my experiences with “speaker’s corner” in London. There is a spot there on a prominent corner where “speakers” touting all kinds of things throw a box on the ground, stand on it, and start preaching. There are gays, environmentalists, and communists among the speakers. I noticed that not many were around these folks and those that were gathered to hear them were very polite and quiet.

Not so with the Christian preachers. I will never forget one African woman in particular. She was preaching the gospel with passion and fervor. Some of the men gathered around her were making lewd comments. But she kept on, undaunted.

Well, anyway, back to the whole idea of street preaching and preaching a congregation into existence.

I was a witness to that last night.

I drove over to Federal Heights last night. Let me say a word about this community for those of you who do not live in the Denver metro area. It is a community comprised mainly of “manufactured housing.” This is the sophisticated name. They are mobile homes. A majority of the folks who live there are Hispanic.

This past year, some folks from our partner church, North Metro, and one guy from our church, conducted a Good News Club (GNC) at the elementary school in the area. GNC is a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship and it provides an after-school program for kids. Of course, it is all about sharing the gospel with children.

I am very impressed with Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF, are you keeping up with all these abbreviations? Ha). We are working with them this summer in another outreach called Good News Across America. I will say more about that later.

At GNC last year, over fifty children received Christ as their personal Lord and Savior! Isn’t that fantastic?

Therefore, this summer, we have set aside some Tuesday evenings for us to do some follow-up with the kids and their families in the community. One of the great things about this is that some folks from the Hispanic congregation that uses our building are going along with us. I deeply appreciate this. We need Spanish-speakers in order to communicate with the parents of these kids. Jorge and Vida and their three kids were there last night.

I joined Lucinda and Ruth as we went to visit a family. Lucinda had her rather large size “Wordless book” and some Bibles and CEF tracks. We knocked on the door. Javier answered. His face lit up. He recognized Lucinda and Ruth because they had actually been involved in GNC.

No one was home except Javier (or so we thought). Lucinda asked if Javier could call his mom and received permission to visit with him on the front steps of this mobile home. She talked with Millie who gave permission.

So, the three of us sat down on those front steps and all of a sudden children started pouring in from all over. Christopher rode his bike up as Bradley walked along beside. Erica and Angela came out of the house with towels on their heads. They had been in the shower, but they were eager to join us.

Other children sidled up as well. Michelle had a big lollypop in her mouth. I noticed that the wrapper was still on it.

Lucinda just started to share the gospel and read verses out of her Bible using the “wordless book.” There were a ton of distractions. A ton. One of the girls brought her puppy. Javier kept getting up and going into the house.

It wasn’t long before Millie arrived with her brother-in-law. His name was Javier also. She stood at the side at first and then took a seat on the steps.

As the evening progressed, Lucinda kept sharing the gospel and at one point, even helped the kids sing a song they had learned at GNC. While that was going on, Ruth and I visited with Millie.

She told us her story. She grew up in Central America. When she moved to the United States at the age of fourteen, she was already pregnant with her first child. She now has five children and she is twenty-six years old.

As we were talking with Millie, Lucinda announced that one of the girls wanted to accept Christ then and there on the spot. We all prayed with her. She was so excited.

Anyway, this was an awesome experience of “street preaching.” All of this was deeply encouraging to me. I’m looking forward to next Tuesday.

I was glad to be a part of what the Lord did on the front steps of that mobile home.

Watching that girl get saved reminded me of my own salvation and how wonderful it knowing Jesus and sharing Him. Somehow, this basic element of our faith gets lost in the shuffle with all the “stuff” of church life. Paul never lost track of it, though. Notice this command in Colossians:

"Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude" (Colossians 2:6, 7 NASB).

Father, give me an opportunity to share Jesus today and more often. In sensitivity to the Spirit of God, help me to take opportunity and make opportunity (another Stephen Olford euphemism).

I pray for Angela to grow in her relationship with Jesus. I pray for Millie and her family to find a church home. I pray for all the other boys and girls who heard the gospel last night. I pray for laborers for this harvest. I pray for GNC at Federal Heights Elementary School. Bless this outreach and everyone who is involved in it.

Praise God!

“Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power …
That sinner be converted and Thy name glorified” (BH 2008, 496). Amen.
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A Response to an Article

I found myself growing angrier by the moment yesterday as I was driving along with my mom and sister.

One of Marilyn’s classmates from High School sent out an online article to which her classmate responded with adulation. She was so excited about it. This was all on Facebook.

Marilyn was outraged. I asked her to read this article out loud.

I am hoping to excerpt some of this article in the blog today. I debated this. On one side, I don’t want the individual who wrote it to get any more press, and I am providing his sneering and cynical views that forum. I realize this, but on the other hand, I think it is vital for Christians to be in the public forums, speaking out, not intimidated by bullies like this.

We know Jesus. We have the truth! We should take a back seat to no one. I’m not advocating for meanness or insults, but increasingly, folks who do not know God and do not esteem God’s Word are speaking out. Why shouldn’t we?

One more thing: I am not making any political comments here! This is not about politics (at least from my perspective). It is about morals.

I’ve said this before in this blog and from the pulpit. Christians should not vote for anyone who advocates for a different view of marriage or abortion. This is clear and solid biblical ground.

All right. Here is the website: www.forwardprogressives.com. The title of the article is “What Every American Should Know about the Biblical ‘Definitions’ of Marriage.” The author is Arik Bjorn.

“Thoughts Concerning a ‘Biblical Definition of Marriage,’ and in Response to Umpteen Biblically-Ignorant Memes that have Sloshed Back & Forth across the Social Media High Seas e’er since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, and with Hellfire Spit Aimed at any Idiot who Buys the Rights to a Stock Photo of Two Aryans on a Beach and has the Holy-Ghostly Gall to Suggest this Represents God’s Eternal Vision of Connubial Bliss (& with Apologies to those who heretofore did not know what a Fleshlight is)


For the love of God—literally—please share this article with anyone you know who maintains there is such a thing as a ‘Biblical Definition of Marriage’ in any manner approaching what chicken fast food executives, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the deluded Christian Right spouts.

If there is one thing I simply cannot stomach—other than cardboard chicken sandwiches and the miscreants who hawk them—it is the egregious misrepresentation of the Bible. The Bible is not
Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. If you call yourself a Christian, do not pretend that respectable theology consists of pulling out a few KJV verses from your lard-laden pantry and whipping up some peanut butter and chocolate balls to adorn your Tea Party potluck picnic table….

Before we begin our Two-Minute Drill Survey of “Biblical Definitions of Marriage”—yes, plural—let me suggest that if you are naïve enough to believe in a Biblical Definition of Marriage based solely on the misguided hermeneutical assumption that there was an historical Adam and Eve, then you also need to fess up that your personal theology includes a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for sibling incest—unless you have some other suggestion for how Adam and Eve’s children managed to propagate our species.

Probably never thought of that, have you? I’ll give you a 90-second time out to let the concept roll around in your head.

“Oh, but that was a one-time exception in the eyes of God,” you might offer. Or perhaps you’ll proffer this silly explanation: “Yes, but incest was okay before The Fall.”

My prepared response to whatever pops out of your mouth other than a realization that you haven’t previously exercised critical thinking in your interpretation of holy writ:
Really?!

Good. Now you know that either (a) Adam and Eve are metaphorical creations, or (b) the Board of Directors of the Creation Museum should start building a Pro-Incest Wing to complement its Biblical Monogamy Wing. (Yes, maybe the folks in charge of the Creation Museum have stopped evolving, but the biblical concept of marriage has not. And for what it’s worth, other than swans, the animal kingdom almost universally refutes the concept of monogamy—unless you include insect species where the female happens to digest the male following procreation.)

Next.

Okay, everyone. Get out your flannelgraphs and fleshlights and cover your children’s eyes. Thus begins the Two-Minute Biblical Survey Drill!

Adam & Eve and Other Polygamous Ponderings from Genesis

We already covered Adam and Eve. Enough said.
When is the last time your minister preached on the story of Onan? Never? What a surprise. Permit me to quote Genesis 38:8-10: “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his seed on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death as well.”

Ouch.

So, our
biblical definition of marriage now includes incest for the sake of species preservation along with summary execution by Jehovah if a man refuses to bed his brother’s wife once his brother dies. In case you’re following along at home with your Bibles, flip ahead to Deuteronomy 25:5-6, where this concept of Levirate marriage was ultimately etched into Judaic law.

Now, who’s ready for some Pentateuchal polygamy? I know who! Lamech, the first polygamist mentioned in the Bible. Flip back to Genesis 4:19. Lamech had two wives, Adah and Zillah. Would have made an amazing HBO drama in the day. And of course that crotchety Old Testament Yahweh made mincemeat of Lamech for daring to following marital cultural norms by striking him with theistic lightning.
What?! You mean God did not smite Lamech for polygamy? That simply cannot be!”

That’s it. That’s all I can quote. I think the thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the condescending attitude behind it. Arik obviously considers himself intellectually superior to anyone who happens to believe the Bible, and considers himself an expert interpreter who is going to set all us “ignoramous Christians” straight.

I would have to say that Arik is one of the most ignorant and bigoted authors I have ever read. First, he doesn’t know the Bible because he doesn’t know the one who wrote it. Second, he is way off in his so-called interpretations. Third, it is obvious that he is importing his evolutionist gay agenda to the table and imposing that on God and His Word. Fourth, he is labeling and branding and categorizing everyone who believes the Bible as ignorant and backward.

Not very progressive, Arik. Not very smart, either.

But who am I? Oh, let me take a second here. I think I have some hayseed caught in my mouth. There. It is gone.

Two quick responses to this nonsense. First, God created Adam and Eve as the first humans. It never intimates that he stopped creating with them!

It is amazing how someone can criticize a literal interpretation of scripture and then turn around and use it to bash the very story he or she is alluding to. This lacks intellectual honesty and integrity.

Second, Arik, you make a fundamental mistake when you interpret these passages. There is a difference between what the Bible REPORTS and what the TEACHES. There are all kinds of sins and perversions in scripture, especially polygamy, but this does not mean that God supports any of it.

In fact, I believe it is further confirmation of God’s mercy and grace. He is patient with sinners. I am the first person who can testify to that.

He loves you, too, Arik. Maybe you ought to consider that.

This whole thing reminds me of something that happened on a golf course a few years ago. I was getting ready to tee off. I was taking some putts on a practice green next to the first tee.

All of a sudden, one of the “starters” (these are individuals who call people to the first tee when it is their time to play; usually retired guys who are doing it to get some free golf) came up to me and said, “Hey, you aren’t holding the putter correctly and your putting stroke is off as a result.”

Okay, I am glad for advice when I call up a PGA professional and ask for and pay for a lesson, but who is this guy? I didn’t ask for his putting advice and didn’t appreciate it. I wrestled with a lot of things I could say to the gentleman. I guess he was just trying to help and my putting stroke needs a lot of work. But I chose to say, “Oh, thanks.” And I just moved to another side of the green.

As I ponder this article and Arik Bjorn, I think a similar response is in order. Who is Arik Bjorn? Thanks, Arik. I’m moving on.

Father, I thank you that you created the world in six days and you created Adam and Eve as well. I don’t understand all the details of how you did it and how things unfolded, but I don’t need to. I love you and trust you. You haven’t let me down yet.

I pray for Arik to get saved. If Christianity is a bunch of nonsense, why write about it? Why take such pains to quote it? Me thinks he is close the kingdom of God. Save him, Lord.

This has lit a fire under me. Who am I? I am just another person like Arik Bjorn. But if he can speak out, so can I. Give me boldness. Give all of us boldness. I pray that the voice of truth would prevail in our “sophisticated” culture!

Yeah, right, we are more backward than ever. Have mercy on us, Lord, in all our perversions, just as you were with all the folks that Arik Bjorn cited.


"I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong" (Colossians 2:4, 5 NLT). So be it, Lord. So be it. Amen.

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A Theology of Work

As a result of my study in Ephesians 6:5-9 for the sermon yesterday, the phrase “theology of work” kept coming to mind. I talked about it in the message, but the whole concept is heavily on my mind.

As I was preparing to preach, I received an email from one of our deacons, James. It contained a link that directed me to a website and a video. Here it is: http://www.theologyofwork.org/resources/john-solheim-trusting-in-the-lord-at-ping-golf-clubs/.

Over the years, I have purchased Ping golf clubs (of course) but I never knew about John Solheim’s relationship with the Lord. It comes out clearly in this six-minute video. It is well worth watching and it is very challenging.

I honestly think a lot of people are just going through the motions when it comes to their employment.

Admittedly, there are times in life where one just has to take a job, any job, just to pay bills. I understand this.

However, even in those situations, one’s job has worth and value and dignity. And somehow, I think this has gotten lost in our current culture. We definitely have a pecking order, especially when it comes to “ministry positions.” The worldly concept is that newer and bigger is better.

Well, anyway, I don’t want to go there again, but back to this website. I was interested to discover that Haddon Robinson, the former president of Denver Seminary, was involved in creating the Theology of Work Project. The website contains a lot of valuable information about how our faith in Jesus has the potential of impacting of view of work, whether we are a pastor or a “truck driver.”

What to do with this? Well, for one, I think I need to get a group of guys together in our fellowship and talk through some of this. I think it would be a huge encouragement.

Second, this whole concept is causing me to rethink my attitudes concerning my work at the church.

Yesterday, after the service, I had the opportunity to visit with two sisters in Christ. We were talking about the “state of the church.” One of them said, “If you really stop and think about it, we don’t have that many folks who are really active in service in this church.”

She is echoing a burden that has been growing in my heart for months.

I would be less than truthful if I didn’t say that it is an issue that weighs—heavily.

Does my work as pastor of a declining congregation (I actually HATE that phrase) still have worth and value? How does one do that without taking things very personally? This is a daily struggle.

But the Lord is still in charge, even of this, right? Of course. It is just hard to wrap my heart and mind around it.

The whole concept of a “theology of work” must include the idea that one’s job has inherent value in and of itself apart from the “trappings” of results and success and numbers and budgets. This is true of the pastorate. It is also true of a clerk in a grocery store. It is true for a nurse. Whatever.

Back to this whole idea of a group of guys (of course this could be a group of women as well, in the work world or at home. Stay-at-home moms, it would seem, also need affirmation—of course) is critical because this is a moving target. Almost daily—and this is true for everyone in any employment situation—there are issues that come up that make us feel as if our work doesn’t really matter, and we don’t really matter.

To affirm one’s worth and value and thus the value of the work they perform is a moving target. It is a perpetual need.

And where does one find this needed affirmation? Certainly not in the world. Are you kidding me? Most people are living paycheck to paycheck and just trying to get by while shoving all these feeling and discouragements under the rug.

I think such a group needs to have the understanding that we would affirm each person and their situation equally. The guy who makes $200,000 a year (I wish we had a few of them in the church) struggles with this as much as someone making $20,000. But what we don’t need in this setting is a comment like, “Well, I think I could get happy real quick if I made what you make. Quit complaining, you whiner!”

Well, anyway, all of this is food for thought and prayer and action.

This is another thing I love about preaching. Through the study, the Lord brings me to significant points of challenge for my personal walk with God and ministry opportunities. We will see what He wants to do with this.

It all goes back to Jesus.

"I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2, 3 NLT).

Jesus, knowing you, exposes me to a treasure chest of wisdom and knowledge.

First of all, thank you for my job. Many don’t have a job these days—some in our church. I pray for everyone who is reading this who does not have a job or knows a significant person in his/her life without work. Provide for them as you promised, Lord.

Thank you for John Solheim and the platform his company provides for the gospel.

Help me to develop a personal theology of work and lead others to do the same.

“Mercy drops ‘round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead” (BH 2008, 495). Amen.
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Junk King

Junk King

I’m not given to advertising in this blog, but I am going to do it today.

I hope I can lift my fingers to type. I’m running a little slow today. I could barely wrench myself out of bed.

Yesterday, Marilyn and I clearly had little enthusiasm for another day of the garage sale. Things were very slow at first.

We decided to start wrapping things up. It was about 9:30 when we made that decision, and all of a sudden crowds of folks started to show up. Well, by then, we were telling people just to take stuff for free.

About 10:00, our neighbor Holly and her three kids came over. They were a big help and Brent (the husband and dad) bought some of my junk, I mean stuff. I appreciated that.

Anyway, I told Holly we were done and just giving stuff away. I could tell she was a little surprised. I don’t blame her. We were probably premature on our “give away” decision, but again, at that point, we didn’t care.

One guy that came told us about an organization called Renew. It is a charity that fixes furniture and takes stuff to resell it. I don’t know much about it, but he called them on the spot for us.

When we were finished and at the mall eating lunch, Holly called to tell us they were at our house! They picked up more stuff for us! We were gleeful!

We got back from lunch and started moving some things around in the house. It didn’t take us long to realize that neither of us had the strength or the energy to do a lot of heavy lifting.

Let me stop the story right here and back up a couple of days. At my house in Thornton, I had two old couches in my basement. I hadn’t heard about Renew at that point (I would have called them). But I realized that there was no way to get rid of them plus an old honker (heavy duty) TV. You know what? I’m glad that the advancement in the technology of television has made them lighter in weight!

But there I was. So, I looked up some junk removal companies. I called a couple. One place sent me to a voice mail. Another company made me feel as if it was going to take an act of congress and congress-type money to pay for it to get those couches and TV removed.

Finally, I called Junk King. A live person answered the phone. He said, “Well, Mr. Talbert, we have an opening today. Do you want to get that stuff out today?”

Yes.

I was on the other end of town when we made the appointment. I drove up to my house. They were sitting in my driveway waiting on me, and about twenty minutes later, both couches and the TV were gone! Poof. It cost me a little over a hundred bucks.

Now to some, I know that sounds like an exorbitant price. I was glad to pay it. To get that stuff out on my own would have taken at least two other guys and a lot of pain and agony and a hole or two in my wall. Not worth it.

Back to yesterday—who do you think we called? You got it. Junk King. They came out and hauled off more stuff. Plus, they moved some heavy furniture for us in our house. No problem. Again, about $150.00. Done in about forty minutes. Two very friendly and competent guys.

I love Junk King. It has catapulted up near the top of my favorites. I may end up calling them again before this move is over, if I don’t call Renew.

Oh, one other thing, I bought a bookshelf at another garage sale down the street. It is rather sizable and very substantial. Twenty-five bucks. Saw it as we were coming home from lunch. I stopped the car. Marilyn asked, “What are you doing?”

“I see something.”

“Ah, John, we are trying to get rid of stuff!”

Oh, yeah, right. Well … if it is a good deal? I loaded in the back of my truck with the help of the guy who sold it to me. The two Junk King guys helped me move it in.

Again, Junk King rocks!

You never know. This whole thing may have created a monster. I may yet become a bargain shopper and go to garage sales. Well, maybe not. Ha.

Anyway, I think we are finally ready to move some of my stuff in.

Things are still in a state of disarray in a lot of parts of this house, but I’m encouraged that this move is coming together. I had my doubts.

Well, anyway, I am sore and tired but ready to go for today. The first verse of Colossians two challenges me.

This whole “garage sale” process has been hard work these past few days. It has involved stuff, material. In fact, I feel that my focus has shifted a bit. None of this junk matters in eternity.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, there are only two things that are eternal—the Word of God and people. Paul expended energy on those two things.

"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face" (Colossians 2:1 NASB).

Father, thanks for helping us these past few days. Thank you for the people we met. Thanks for Brent, Holly, Halle, Caleb, and Sundae. Thanks for taking care of Marilyn and me as we moved, sold, and/or got rid of junk. Thank you for allowing us to have the means to pay Junk King.

Lord, shift my focus out of all of this stuff to the only two things that will last forever.

“Lord, send a revival,
And let it begin in me” (BH 2008, 494). Amen.
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Garage Sale, Day 1.5

Garage Sale, Day 1.5

If you want to know how the garage sale went yesterday, let me paraphrase a quote from Marilyn: “If I ever even think about doing another one of these, please hit me in the head with a baseball bat.”

Does that sum things up? Ah, yes.

A ton of work—that is the first thing I would say. This has consumed two full days.

At first, Marilyn tried to be very meticulous about pricing stuff. Then, we both decided to lower the prices of things, rather dramatically. Why? Just to get rid of stuff.

Here is my erudite comment before it started yesterday morning: “Hey, it is all a bonus. We were going to get rid of this stuff—give it away—anyway, so any money we get is icing on the cake.” Doesn’t that SOUND wise?

Well, when we finished up yesterday and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion, I took time to count what we earned. I told Marilyn. We both agreed. Not worth it.

Time is worth a lot. Sweat costs something.

Therefore, we are going to go a couple of hours this morning and then close up. Hence, the “1.5” in the title. This will not be the “full” day that yesterday was, even though we closed up yesterday at about 1:00 to 1:30.

Today, when we shut down about 10:30, 10:00, or earlier … we have to haul a bunch of stuff to the nearby Goodwill drop-off point. After that, if I can still lift my head up long enough to drive, I’m going up to my house to get another load to give away. I will be glad when we are done.

All of this sounds as if the whole thing was a total waste of time. Nope.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet some neighbors and visit with some folks. We had a lot of good conversations. People stopped to talk, even if they didn’t buy much.

This is the part of it that Marilyn and I both enjoyed the most.

In fact, I’m convinced that if someone wants to meet people and visit with them in the neighborhood, a garage sale is a wonderful way to do it.

I’ll go a step farther. I think we ought to have a giant sale at the church.

If my very weary memory serves me correctly, I think we did it a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure we actually “sold” anything. It was more like a garage “giveaway.” That is basically what Marilyn and I ended up doing yesterday.

Well, anyway, the reason my memory is a little fuzzy at this point is that it was probably years ago, and I think all of us said the same thing when we finished, “Hit us in the head with a baseball bat if we ever do this again.” Cover your head. Duck.

One rather profound pearl of wisdom came out of the day. One of our neighbors down the street, Marian, and I were visiting. She asked if we were moving. I said, “No, in fact, I am moving back in this house where I grew up, so we are trying to get rid of stuff in order to move my stuff in here.”

“Oh,” she replied, “isn’t it curious that we spend the early years of our lives accumulating stuff and the latter years getting rid of it. Something clicks and it is radically different.” WOW!

I still can’t get over what she said. It is so true. So true. The Lord is helping me with this transition. I’m still struggling with a couple of pieces of furniture at my house in Thornton that I don’t want to get rid of, but it looks as if I will.

Going back to Marian’s statement, I’m not sure “click” is the right word for me. “Agonizingly slow turn” might better describe it. Ha. But the change is happening nonetheless.

After all, it is just “stuff.”

This is another aspect of the maturing process the Lord allows us to go through, isn’t it? I can’t take the desk I have owned (and lugged) since seminary with me in the grave.

This is part of what Paul is talking about in Colossians one. His goal in ministry was not numbers but maturity. "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Colossians 1:28, 29 NASB).

Paul asked for his emissaries to bring books and parchments to him in prison, but let’s see, I don’t think he had a desk there.

Lord, thank you for what you are teaching me through these past few days. Loosen my grip on stuff. Tighten my grip on you.

I pray for more opportunities to share today as we wrap this thing up at 9:30 or earlier!?!

“Dip your heart in the stream of life” (BH 2008, 492). What an awesome statement! Amen.
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Garage Sale, Day One

Yes, you read that right, “Garage Sale.” Marilyn and I decided to have one to get rid of some stuff since I am bringing some stuff into this house.

Oh, man. This is a lot of work. Marilyn has done most of it. I’m just trying to help.

We spent most of the day yesterday and into the night preparing for it. I made another run up to my house to grab more junk to sell.

This whole thing is really showing me a lot about myself, and it is not good. I am so attached to some much stuff, more than I imagined. Some of it—I know I just need to get rid of, but it is hard. Please pray for me.

As I write this note this morning, I am sitting in the middle of books and magazines and stuff heaped high all around me. I can barely see down the hall.

Again, I am amazed and mainly embarrassed about what I have accumulated over the years. You don’t really think about it at the time, but you buy one thing here, another thing there, and pretty soon … Well, you know the story.

Back to this sale—this is quite a culture in and of itself.

As we were preparing yesterday, with junk sitting out and the garage door open, the “vultures” were beginning to circle. I guess I should not call them that because I hope these “vultures” buy some of our junk! Ha.

A lady drove back and forth several times. Finally, she stopped and got out of her car. I was ready to tell her that the sale started tomorrow, but Marilyn jumped in. “Come on in. Take a look.” She looked around a bit, found something she liked, and made an offer. Then, she said, “Well, I don’t have the money right now (we aren’t talking a lot here--$10.00) but I will be back.” She didn’t come back.

Mid-afternoon, our neighbor Fred from across the street came over. He looked worried. He is from Scotland and still has a rather pronounced accent, “Yeue moving?” We replied, “Oh, no. Fred. Just getting rid of stuff. In fact, I am moving in!” Oh. We visited a while longer. His back is really bothering him. We said we would pray for him and Marilyn added, “Fred, if you need anything, please let us know.”

Last night, we were all collapsed in front of the TV when the doorbell rang. A very nice Hispanic family was standing on our porch. “How much do you want for this bed?” We made an offer. He countered and we sold the bed along with sheets and comforter and a fan and a George Foreman grill and something else, I think. We had a good visit with Jose and his son Sam and the mom (I forgot her name). They were believers. Jose noticed the stack of Bibles we had sitting on a table.

We are not selling those. We are giving those away. We hope we have a lot of takers.

Well, anyway, I’m certainly no pro at this, but it can’t be too shabby that we have sold some stuff before “the sale” officially begins, right?

I think it will be a great chance to visit with our neighbors. It should be interesting, but I will certainly be glad when it is over.

All this junk sitting around me now and all that we have in the garage, makes me think how complicated all this stuff makes our lives. We have to buy stuff in the first place (this is where I hope to have some self-control in the future, by the grace of God), maintain stuff, store stuff, deal with stuff, and move stuff.

While there is nothing wrong with having stuff (as long as it doesn’t have you—this is a point of prayer for me), I’m glad that the essence of the Christian life is very simple and here is the word for the day, UNCLUTTERED.

"This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of his or her background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me" (Colossians 1:26-29 MSG).

Lord, through this day and tomorrow, give me the proper perspective of you, of others (give us a chance to share today), and of stuff. Unclutter my life. Amen.
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My Share of Suffering in the World

A chapter one of Colossians progresses, it becomes more autobiographical from Paul’s standpoint. The verses I read this morning strike me as odd in some ways. Here they are:

"I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth" (Colossians 1:24, 25 MSG).

It is almost as if Paul welcomes and embraces suffering.

Not long ago, Manager Walt Weiss of the Colorado Rockies made a statement about Nolan Aronado, one of the newest stars on the team, a young guy who is making a splash as a rookie. Nolan had a game-winning hit and Weiss said, “He loves those moments with the game on the line and he has a bat in his hands.” Something like that.

Aronado isn’t the only athlete like that. Michael Jordon was the same way. I could add several more famous athletes to the list.

Paul was also that way when it came to suffering for the gospel.

While I tend to get very selfish and whiney and feel sorry for myself and try to avoid suffering, Paul was exactly the opposite.

He saw his prison experience as having value in the corporate sense. He wasn’t just going through suffering by his lonesome. He was actually there for the folks in Colossae.

But here is the thing that strikes me. Paul looks at suffering in the broad sense. It is as if there is a whole lot of it OUT THERE. It is available and someone needs to take it. Paul was like a front-row student in a classroom. “Oh, oh, oh, God, me, me, me. Choose me. Oh, let me do it.”

In other words, we are down in the bottom of the ninth, “Give me the bat and let me take a swing at it.” “Give me the ball.”

And so, the Lord allowed it to occur. He allowed the apostle to do something that seemed counter-intuitive to his “job” as a missionary—to sit in a prison cell unable to preach.

So much of what the Lord calls us to do in the way of suffering makes absolutely no sense at all. I’ve learned not even to try to figure it out. I can’t.

Recently, my mom has said on several occasions, “I just don’t understand why Jerry (my dad) had to die so young.”

I think I have mentioned this before, but we are nearing the FORTY-YEAR anniversary of his death. It is something that is on all our minds.

Forty years! I can’t believe me dad will have been dead for forty years! That is a long time ago, but in some ways, it doesn’t feel that long ago. But this is the way grief works. You never get over the death of someone you love. The grief morphs, of course, but you never get over it.

Paul embraces his suffering, not because he can parrot “reasons” for it in some pseudo-spiritual way as so many try to do.

While I am in this neighborhood, I’m tired of the neat little packages we try to construct for the ways of God. They all seem so hollow and empty.

No one will ever give me an adequate explanation of why my dad died in the prime of his life at the age of 47. He loved the Lord. He served Him as a leader in church and in the community. His business gave him a platform for the gospel that few ever have. I don’t get it. Never will.

Anyway, Paul goes on to say that he experienced this suffering as a “sheer gift.” He regarded it as part and parcel of what is involved in preaching the truth of God.

I believe that the Lord has allowed cancer to impact my life in two significant ways—my dad died from cancer and I have experienced it as well—so that I can take my at-bat in the arena of suffering. And I know it has to do with the church, not just the local church I serve, but the broader church as well.

This gives me an opportunity to ask you to pray for me in a significant way. I love writing these blogs every day. I still can’t believe anyone reads them. But the truth is, I will continue to write them each day as long as the Lord gives me breath, whether anyone reads them or not. Like my sermons, I am “preaching” them to God. They are an offering to Him.

However, my writing in other areas has lagged pretty dramatically. My work on book #2 has almost come to a dead stop. I am learning that this time of the day is ideal for writing. I’m just trying to figure out how to write this blog every day (to continue to do that) AND work on the book or books (I have a lot of ideas and leadings the Lord has given me) ALSO. There just isn’t enough time in these precious morning hours where it is relatively quiet, God and me and the keyboard of this computer. Click, click, click.

One of the legacies of cancer is the click of this keyboard. I have to do it.

By the way, the prison cell, chained down between two Roman soldiers, provided the platform for an older medium for the Apostle—pen and ink.

I know we wouldn’t have these “prison” epistles if Paul had not been chained down. Colossae benefitted from that suffering. So do we.

Lord, thank you for allowing us our piece of the suffering pie. It is more often than not a bitter piece. But you allow us to take our share.

I want to be like Paul. I choose to embrace whatever you want to bring my way for the sake of the gospel you allow me to preach.

Help me with the challenge of carving out more time to write. Show me. Help me.

And, I’m thankful that I live in a free country that allows me to have this dilemma. Thank you, Lord, for the United States of America. I’m so privileged to live in this great country.

“God bless America, land that I love” Amen.
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The God Side

“You won’t believe what happened! After I shared yesterday that I was content as a single, I turned the corner and there she was! My future wife! The Lord brought her to me!”

Now before anyone has a heart attack, I put the above statement in quotes for a couple of reasons. First, this did NOT happen to me. Rest assured. All is still “well.” Ha.

Second, I put the statement in quotes because I have heard it so many times I can’t count.

Yesterday, after I wrote the blog, I could not help escape the fact that I probably shouldn’t have shared what is going on in my life in the way of “singleness.” Somehow, I am uncomfortable to talk much about it for a myriad of reasons.

I guess that, as I have shared my struggles in that arena with others (and they are, for the most part, well-meaning and just trying to help), they tell me that I just need to be content as a single and “trust God.” Then, invariably, I get a story that goes like this, “I was in your boat for a week. I just gave up trying to ‘find someone,’ and when I got to THAT point, I met my spouse.” So, by implication, that is what I need to do.

Now, of course, everyone’s experience is different, and all we have is our own experience. And I’m glad (and I mean this) when I hear other people’s stories of how they met.

But mine is much different. And my story used to bother me because it isn’t like that of most everyone else, but somehow, over the years (and I have no point in time revelation here), the Lord has helped me with it. Now, the longer I go, the more I am glad that I am single. I can see all the ways that the Lord has used this gift to help me in my unique set of circumstances. There is a lot I can do right now that I just honestly would not be able to do if I were married.

Do I hate marriage? No. Have I written it off? No, no. Am I open to it? Absolutely.

But I am just thankful that right now, the Lord is helping me to be as content as possible with the whole thing.

I say it THAT WAY because I honestly believe that the Lord designed each of us to be married. This is His plan and purpose for most people, but for others (and Jesus said this), He has a different plan.

But back to the point here. I grate against a theology that puts God in some sort of logical box. If I just get content, if I tilt my head at a certain angle, then God is “obligated” to act in a certain way.

I don’t buy that. I ought to be content simply because it is the right thing to do, the right way to live and not for some ulterior motive.

Plus, none of us can make our experience the standard for others. Just because my roommate in college got married a few months after graduation and now has kids that are getting married, does not mean that my life is a total failure because that hasn’t happened to me.

Visa versa holds true as well. My singleness is no standard for anyone else. However, I do use it to say to children and youth in our church that it is okay to wait a bit in order to make a good decision in marriage. One can wait until he or she is 19! Ha.

Actually, I think it is better to wait until later to get married. I look back on when I was twenty … but there I go again doing what I am arguing against in this post. I was NOT mature enough for marriage (I wonder if I am now), but I know a lot of folks who got married in their late teens or early twenties that WERE very mature.

So, again, I hope you get my point.

One other thing that I need to say: making a declaration that one is content puts you in a very vulnerable position. If someone says this out of pride, then he or she is vulnerable to pride and you know what pride comes before!?! I don’t know. I just think you have to be careful, either way. Satan can get you on both sides of all of this. I know from experience.

I believe the point is: trust God for today and allow the Spirit to do a work of joy and contentment with where I am right now. I choose to thank the Lord for what I have and not get depressed about what I don’t have RIGHT NOW.

Ha. This reminds me of how my mom responded to someone years ago. Someone said with a sigh (as if they were intimating that somehow she had failed as a parent), “Well, I guess both of your kids have never married.”

She replied, “No, they aren’t married NOW, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t EVER happen.”

Again, I say, there will be mass heart attacks if and when it does for both Marilyn and me. Better get put all the ambulance companies on alert!

I just want to embrace the God side for today and live accordingly. That’s my goal.

"You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message" (Colossians 1:21-23 MSG).

Father, thank you for the institution of marriage. What a wonderful idea You had. Thank you for the couples I know. I am going to name them and thank you for them. They aren’t perfect. Marriage isn’t a Hollywood sunset. But thank you for each of them. What a blessing they are!

Thank you, Lord, for where I am today. I rejoice in You today. If you want me to get married, You will take care of it. If not, today, I can truly say THANKS for a great gift. Cancer is a gift. Singleness is another great gift.

Help me use this gift to honor You and serve You.

“Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire” (BH 2008, 491). Amen.
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Roomy

I want to go back to my quotes from the Message Version in Colossians 1. There is another reference that Peterson’s translation makes to Jesus that is very graphic and thought provoking.

“So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20, MSG).

Jesus is “roomy”! What is this all about?

I want to quote from the New American Standard Bible as well—a more familiar translation—in order to give you perspective.

"For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven" (Colossians 1:19, 20 NASB).

As a result of translations like the NASB, I have always regarded “fullness” to be Paul’s way of referring to the deity of Christ. Jesus is “fully” God. And I certainly do think this is part of what Paul is affirming, for sure.

But Peterson’s translation gives another perspective. He shows us that “fullness” has a human relationship component as well.

The foundation of reconciliation involves our relationship with the Lord on a vertical level. But once we are reconciled, this provides for the possibility that it can occur on a horizontal level as well.

And this reconciliation is large and spacious and “roomy.” It has the potential to include every single person on the planet, regardless of his or her background, sin, and ethnicity.

Salvation excludes no one and neither should we.

This reinforces the fact that one of God’s greatest problems is overcoming obstacles and barriers that WE AS CHRISTIANS erect. I am reminded of the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. I can really relate it. It took Peter forever finally to figure out—humm, hey, I think the Lord wants to reach even Gentiles.

He had a captive audience. A congregation sitting in this home. All of them were ready to get saved. And here is Peter. Slow on the uptake. And he finally allows the Lord to work through him.

I want to be ahead of the curve instead of behind it. Most of the time, however, I’m slower than Peter.

What does this mean? Well, the Lord has laid something on my heart. It keeps coming up, now and again, and I push it aside.

Part of the reason for it is the stage of life I am in right now.

I am more content as a single than I have ever been. I can’t tell you how thankful I am. I think it still relates to cancer. I’m just glad that the Lord has brought me to this point. I’m just about three years into dealing with it. I feel better than I have in a long time, except for one issue that is starting to bother me (I will talk about it in a moment).

I have so much going right now that I just don’t have time to think about dating and marriage. And honestly, I am so okay with this. If the Lord wants it, great. But if not, I’m really genuinely okay with being single the rest of my life.

More to all of that, but that is where I will leave it.

Anyway, the group that the Lord has laid on my heart is singles!

I don’t know if anyone is focused on them and is doing a good job of reaching them. I’m sure there are pockets of singles in larger churches, but no large groups.

And of course, this is not a homogeneous group. Are you kidding? The needs of twenty-something-never-marrieds differ radically from those of fifty-year-old divorcees. These groups are miles apart. They have very different needs, of course.

Anyways, singles are a tough lot. I know. I “are” one. And “we” aren’t very dependable. We tend not to give or serve as much as others, although the singles in our church are very active in serving. So, this stereotype isn’t always the case.

We will just see what the Lord wants to do.

I’m in a weird place—content as a Single, so one hand I personally don’t feel I need a Singles’ ministry (that doesn’t mean I don’t), but yet on the other—feeling that something needs to be there.

There is one part of this that is NOT the issue: the “roominess” of Jesus. He is large enough to save and minister to people in all sorts of situations, married or single.

Oh, back to my one issue, all this moving of molecules the past few days and weeks is really starting to aggravate my hernia. I seem to be able to feel it more often, and I guess this will be an impetus to get it taken care of—sooner than later. We will see about that.

Lord, thank you so much for Jesus and for the fullness of deity in Him and His roominess for any and everyone, no matter what the situation.

Thank you for helping me these days. I’m so grateful to you.

Father, if you want to use us to reach singles—whatever category or categories—we are open. Help us to be as roomy as you are!

I pray for help with this stinking hernia.

One of my favorites: “Shine Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory” (BH 2008, 491). Amen.
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Dima and Tanya

Yesterday, I didn’t preach. Instead, a young couple from the Ukraine—Dima and Tanya--shared about their work there with Campus Crusade for Christ.

My friend Sam called me a few weeks ago and asked me if they could come and share on June 30th. As a favor to him, I consented, but as with all “special speakers,” I was a little apprehensive. I don’t give up the pulpit very readily. I take the preaching responsibility very seriously.

Plus, it ranks up there as something that I have a passion for. Preparing to preach and actually getting to do it is still one of the most fulfilling things in my life.

I hope someday, I just drop dead right in the middle of a sermon! That would be my ideal way to go home to Jesus.

Anyway, back to yesterday, Fernando (Sam’s son and a good friend) and his wife Donna along with Dima and Tanya arrived at my office door about 9:15. They both had some “native garb” on—a very engaging and delightful couple. Tanya speaks English very well. She spent most the time we talked translating for her husband so that he could be involved in the conversation.

Tanya said, “Pastor John, would it be possible for you to print out my husband’s message. He has translated it into English. Would it be okay if he reads it?” Absolutely.

We had a special time of worship yesterday. Scott wove in some passages and music (he explained what the colors of the flag actually mean—I had never heard it before and the actual biblical background of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”—again, I had never heard it explained that way) along with some very appropriate worship songs. After the musical part of worship, Dima and Tanya stood up to share.

Dima shared his testimony first. Some folks from Campus Crusade for Christ shared the gospel with him while he was in college and he got saved about four years ago.

After Tanya told her story, the couple showed a video displaying some of the students they work with Donesk (this is the phonetic spelling of the town in Ukraine in which they serve). It was a very well done video.

Afterwards, they told the story of the one of the students on the video. From the time they started to share with her until the time she got saved, it took well over two years.

I’m going to come back to that in a moment.

This couple did not ask for money; instead, they extended an invitation for our church to come to Ukraine and help them teach an English class for two weeks. Apparently, there is a lot of interest among Ukrainians to learn English but the classes are very expensive. Dima and Tanya invite Americans to come help them as a way of sharing Christ. It makes a lot of sense.

The bottom line of yesterday is that I believe this young couple did a fantastic job. It was wonderful to meet them. We are going to keep in touch and pray for them. That is a given, but we are also going to pray about joining them in ministry. I personally am going to pray about it as well.

But back to their statement about the young woman with whom they are sharing the gospel and how long it takes—the Lord used this to encourage me.

Let me back up for a moment. I shared a couple of days ago that I was going to be spending some time on Saturday with a friend who does not know Jesus. In the course of our conversation, he stated, “If I was going to follow any religion, I think it would be Buddhism.”

I asked him why.

He replied, “Well, Buddhism is all about the middle way. It is not way over on one side or another (he gestured with his hands far apart) on either side as some Christians get. It is about finding the synthesis, the middle way between two extremes. That is the way Buddha lived and taught and I think Jesus is pretty close to that.”

Humm. As he was talking, I kept thinking about Jesus. NOBODY was ever remotely like him and nobody will be—EVER.

I ask you to pray for me that somehow, I can make this clear to him.

Paul makes it abundantly clear in Colossians 1. There is so much in these verses. I don’t have time to unpack it all today, but here they are:

“He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross" (Colossians 1:18-20 MSG).

I love Peterson’s language. The first phrase that stands out is “resurrection parade.” This is what makes Jesus absolutely unique.

It is not about how I live that matters—whether I live on the edges or in the middle (whatever that means). It is about responding to what Jesus did for me—through His death, burial, and resurrection.

Lord, I thank you for the resurrection parade and everything and everyone that it—He—impacts. Jesus is the only way. The great I AM. The One who was, is, and is to come.

Thank you for Dima and Tanya. Bless them in their ministry and the students they serve in Ukraine.

I lift up my friend. Give me wisdom and boldness to share the truth in love.

“Help me go to Thee, dear Lord today,
To some lonely soul that’s gone astray”

(“Send a Great Revival,” BH 2008, 490). Amen.
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