PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

Jesus Holds Everything Together

I would have to say the Colossians 1 ranks up there along with John 1 and Hebrews 1 as major places in the New Testament for Christology.

As many of you know, I did my dissertation on the preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He advocated for preaching that focused on Jesus, no matter what the text was.

I remember I read somewhere that as Spurgeon was talking about this, someone asked him, “What if your congregation does not want to hear about Jesus?” Spurgeon replied (I’m paraphrasing here), “Keep on preaching Him until He is all they want to hear about.”

One of the things that bothers me about the contemporary pulpit here in the United States is that we seem to be dancing around the edges. We are addressing “felt” needs—how not to worry, how to have a successful marriage, how to be blessed in finances, et cetera. Somehow, this approach, while filling the pews in mega-churches, makes people feel better for a time, it does not get at the heart of the issue (pun intended).

Jesus—who He is and what He came to do—is at the heart of the gospel we preach and the core of what we believe.

Christianity is not a list of principles to help us live a happier life; it is a story, God’s story, His story. It is about God’s plan of salvation that began from the foundation of the world, culminated in the first coming of Jesus, and concluded in the Second Coming.

It is all about Jesus from the beginning to the end.

That is why I love the first chapter of Colossians. Paul goes all the way back to the start. Jesus was there with the Father working in concert with the Holy Spirit from the very beginning.

He didn’t begin in the manger in Bethlehem. He has always been around and will always be around. First and Last. Beginning and the End. Everything in between. That is our Savior!

Notice what Paul says in these verses: "We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels— everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body" (Colossians 1:15-18 MSG).

Everything got started in Jesus.

Jesus was there before it all got started.

These are two crucial affirmations about the pre-existent Son of God. He held a critical role in creation.

But what about now? What is His role? This is the part I like. Now, Jesus holds everything together.

What or who hold the universe together? What or who holds atoms and molecules together so that they don’t just separate and fly off into space? Who holds all my veins and joints and bones together? Who holds churches together?

The answer to all those questions is the same: JESUS.

Sometimes, I feel that the church is hanging by a thread and in one small local context—First Southern--I am the one holding it together. How egotistical! The church stays together IN SPITE of me! He is bigger than any one individual. Praise the Lord for that!

This passage continues to link the two great works of God—creation and redemption. Jesus was integral in both and continues to be.

Jesus, I thank you today that YOU are the One who holds absolutely everything in heaven and on earth together. Nothing escapes your grip, even for a Nano-second.

Thank you for holding the church together. You are the One who created the church through your death, burial, and resurrection. You sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, but you continue to hold it together.

Do so again today, Lord. Hold me together.

“Shadows around me, shadows above me,
Never conceal my Savior and Guide” (“Heavenly Sunlight,” BH 2008, 489). Amen.
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Dead-End Alleys

I wonder if one could describe the differences between a life without God and one with Him.

I know all the cliché statements that we tend to use. They include words like “fulfillment” and “purpose.” But those seem to be a little vague.

The passage for today in the Message Version gives a couple of concrete images. I love the graphic language that Peterson uses: "God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating" (Colossians 1:13, 14 MSG).

Dead-end alleys and dark dungeons—wow!

I think one of the chief characteristics of life without God is a lack of direction. It is all about taking roads and choosing courses of action that lead to nowhere, that end up going nowhere.

What is the cause of this? Well, it occurs when we try to put ourselves in the driver’s seat and don’t follow God’s leadership.

Darkness plays a role in this as well, doesn’t it? If I can’t see, then I stumble around and trip over the fan in the middle of the room. (This happened recently, by the way. I nearly broke my leg).

Anyway, I realize that it is easy for us as believers, especially if we have been saved for a long time, to forget how lost “lostness” is.

I am planning on spending some time with a guy today who is lost. I really like him. He is nice. I enjoy hanging out with him, but he is an avowed unbeliever. He wants nothing to do with God and has told me so in so many words.

This is not going to stop me. In fact, I think he might be closer to God than he realizes.

I mean, if God doesn’t matter, why make such a big deal about protesting that you are not interested in Him?

“Me thinks he is close to the kingdom of God.”

Anyway, all of this corresponds to something that the Lord is nagging me about these days. I am trying to encourage the congregation I serve to network relationships in order to share the gospel. It makes a lot of sense. It is very logical in my tiny brain. I have always been an advocate of this lifestyle. I have mentioned Oscar Thompson’s book Concentric Circles of Concern in this blog on a couple of occasions—the best book on evangelism ever written.

Blah, blah, blah.

But what about my PRACTICE of all of this? Again, it is easy to tell others to do it. Am I?

Another impetus of all of this is an email I received from my neighbor. I had written a couple of folks in the townhouse community I am moving out of to tell them I was moving. She wrote back. She alluded to something we had planned to do a couple of summers ago. I was going to get another couple in our church—James and Anne—to join us in a bike ride. The whole purpose of this was to encourage my neighbor. She has been dealing with some difficult situations as well and just needed the encouragement and the nudge toward God.

Somehow, in my stuff, I had forgotten that we had talked about this. SHE didn’t forget.

Lord, this morning, with all my knowledge and teaching and “expertise” on the subject of relational evangelism, I realize that I lack on MAJOR thing—ACTION.

As Nike says, “Just do it.” Help me today. Help me with my neighbor. Help me in some other settings you are bringing to mind.

It has been so long, too long. Give me an opportunity to tell about how wonderful You are. Use me in the process of delivering someone from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons.

You are the deliverer. I am the messenger.

“O Master let me walk with Thee
In lowly paths of service free” (BH 2008, 488). Amen.
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Gutting It Out

So much of what “looks” like genuine spirituality is actually the flesh. Living the “flesh” life is all about appearances and pleasing people. It involves great human effort at times, but I’ve learned the hard way that it is a cop out, a bail out to doing it God’s way.

I’ll give one example that comes to mind. Once again, I can’t really go into specifics NOW, but I will later.

Somehow, over the past few years, I’ve really been rather disillusioned with the whole concept of pastoral staff in the American church. Somehow, it seems that many have a “hired gun” viewpoint about the whole thing. They want to bring someone in who can grow the church in a particular area.

Well, of course, there is only One Person who can grow the church.

Plus, it is sort of a remote way of doing ministry. We feel we can hire someone to grow the church so we don’t have to bother with it.

That’s why, after all these years, I want to toss out all the gimmicks and tricks we typically use to “reach” people, and I want to put the onus squarely where it belongs—on every single member of the body of Christ. That’s why we are emphasizing relational evangelism more than ever. We talk about it every Sunday. We are encouraging Sunday school classes to mobilize to do it.

It is a slow go. But I think it will be worth it in the long haul.

The truth is: over the past few months, every single family that has joined (and there haven’t been many) has come as a result of a relationship.

Other places may see it occur, but we never do. Huge events or concerts or “ministries” in the community, while being worthwhile and effective in a kingdom sense (this is valuable) don’t ever result in people actually coming and being a part of the fellowship.

Somehow, I’m feeling more and more of an urgency to engage in ministry that actually sees people added to the fellowship. Is this selfish? Sometimes it feels that way. But the future of the church depends on it.

We lose families every year for various reasons—some good and some not so good, but if we don’t add families, well … You don’t have to be an engineer to figure out what is going to happen.

But back to staff—I’ve really had a struggle the past few years, but I decided that I do not buy into the “hired gun” concept, and I asked the Lord to bring folks our way that want to commit to the church FIRST and then the job is secondary.

It is certainly more difficult to do it this way. I love our church and the ministry, but it doesn’t appear as if a lot of other people do. This makes me love it all the more. We are in a tough place. We have no millionaires in the church. It is a blue-collar congregation of genuine people who love Jesus, but it is not glitzy or showy or glamorous. That’s for sure.

But I am so thankful that the Lord is helping us. I put Scott and Calla in a different category. It becomes more and more evident that both of them are there because the Lord led them our way. Both of them could be in other places. Are you kidding me?

This approach I am talking about is more difficult. It takes longer. It involves a lot of waiting, waiting on God, but ultimately and finally, it is much better.

Therefore, let me summarize. In two significant “church” ways, I’m learning about the necessity of waiting on God—staff and outreach. There are many more areas where this is essential in our personal and daily walk with Jesus and in church life, but these two examples will suffice.

How does one wait on God? Is it a matter of “gutting it out,” as the expression goes? I honestly don’t think so. That kind of effort, though gallant, runs dry.

This is why so many folks seem to just drop away (this goes back to Jesus’ parable of the soils—the group of folk who, as a result of persecution because of the Word, drop away). This is also why a lot of pastors leave after three years when their bag of tricks is empty and reality starts to settle in and people in church begin to realize, “This guy isn’t the ‘savior’ we thought he was going to be. He has a lot of faults.” Duh. Ya think?

But back to HOW. How do we endure? There is only one way, and Paul prays for it in Colossians one: "We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy …" (Colossians 1:11 NLT).

I like the Message Version translation of this verse. I will quote the context and put this verse in bold print. Hopefully the bold print shows up on CaringBridge and Facebook: "Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us" (Colossians 1:9-12 MSG).

I love this! Glory Strength that God gives. It endures the unendurable and spills over into joy.

Lord, that is what I need today. My jaw is sore from gritting my teeth. That isn’t the Christian life! Come on. Give me YOUR strength—Glory Strength.

I think of a brother I heard about who is having his home foreclosed upon. Give him Glory Strength. I think of Don in his cancer process. Glory Strength. I think of some folks who are recovering from surgery. Glory Strength.

We say, “No guts, no glory.” The truth is, “No God, no glory.” Amen.
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Complete Knowledge of God's Will

I was visiting with a friend on the phone yesterday. He actually plays the role of a coach in my life. I met him in conjunction with another friend who helps me with fitness and exercise.

His methods are a little unorthodox. When we first started meeting, my initial reaction was, “This is kind of out in left field.” But the more we met, the more I realized what was happening. And now I am going to make a statement that reflects what he tells me all the time. I am learning “to get out of my own way.”

I’ve always been a very analytical and reflective person, and my twenty-plus years as a pastor have only made me more of that type of person.

I feel the heavy weight of responsibility as the sheep dog of this flock. It seems that I feel the need to take more and more time with decisions that affect the church.

But on the athletic field, this is not optimal. Can you imagine Ty Lawson standing on the court in a game looking at the basket, “Humm, let me see here. It is a little warm in the Pepsi Center tonight. That will affect the flight of the ball as I shoot it. I figure I am twenty-three feet and three fourths of an inch away from the basket. Let me make sure that my hand is on the ball correctly. Okay. Now, let me shoot it.”

Are you kidding? He takes the ball and in a split second, he shoots it! He has practiced most of his life. He has shot thousands and thousands of jump shots in the gym. There is something built into all of us where we just react with confidence and shoot the stinking ball! It is called instinct.

Back to the ministry, why is it that sometimes I take a long time in the decision-making process? Well, sometimes that is good, as I have already mentioned, but other times … I am not so sure. Sometimes, it is a lack of confidence and fear. It is (to use another expression) “the paralysis of analysis.”

And this is not good.

I wonder how many believers—not just pastor-types like me—live this way?

Well, anyway, the prayer that Paul prays in the initial verses of the book of Colossians addresses this issue. Here are a couple of verses from chapter one:

"So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better" (Colossians 1:9, 10 NLT).

The phrase that the Holy Spirit impressed on me today is “complete knowledge of his will.” How about that? Paul prays for these believers that they would have a grasp on the will of God.

I wonder what many of us would answer if someone asked, “Are you in the will of God totally right now?” Do I dare have the confidence and the intuition and the instinct to reply, “Absolutely. I’m right in center of God’s will right now.”

Could I say that?

I am reminded of a story that I heard when I was in seminary. Robert Naylor was a former president of Southwestern and pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church. This was the church where Marilyn and I served as members during the latter years of our seminary studies.

Here is the story: someone asked Naylor, “Dr. Naylor, if you knew that Jesus was coming back very soon, what would you do?”

His reply was, “Exactly what I am doing right now. I would go into my office and work.”

I love that! That is godly confidence. That is someone with complete knowledge of God’s will.

I would say that if I couldn’t say that very same thing, something is off. I need immediately to do what I would give as the answer to that question.

God’s will in scripture is not just something I know like what college I need to attend. It is something I DO. The will of God is obedience. God’s Word reveals God’s will.

Paul prays that we would have complete knowledge of God’s will and that this knowledge would translate into FRUIT.

Spirit of God, you are in charge of fruit-bearing. Today, I choose obedience. I choose to live with confidence and instinct in your will and “let it fly.”

Help me today not to get in my own way, and more importantly, not to get in YOUR way.

I believe that I am in the center of your will today. And I also believe that, if any point I am not, you will make it abundantly clear.

“Knowing you, Jesus, …
There’s no greater thing.
You’re my all,
You’re the best”

(“Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear),” BH 2008, 487). Amen.
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The Forgotten Part of the Trifecta

Back to the New Testament today … the book of Colossians—one of my favorites. Well, aren’t they all? The more I read God’s Word—the more favorites I accumulate.

It just seems that the more I read this “old” book, the more relevant it becomes.

I have said this about preaching, but I also feel this way about my daily devotional reading—when I finish a book like Joel. I feel that there is so much more, so much more that I could have gotten out of it. But I move on, and it feels as if I am leaving behind “someone” I really wish I could have gotten to know better.

I wonder how many more months until I get back around to my new “buddy” Joel?

As you can see, I take my time through these books. I “inch” along, a couple of verses here and there a day.

I have often thought about changing my tactic a bit and reading multiple chapters a day—the old “read the Bible in a year plan.” Humm. Food for thought. It would be different, but I think I would really feel that I was skimming over things just to say I read the Bible in a certain period of time. I don’t know …

On to Colossians—like most of the epistles of Paul, after a greeting, this book begins with a prayer.

"We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News" (Colossians 1:3-5 NLT).

As I read these verses today, I immediately recognized the famous “trifecta.” The best summary of it is in 1 Corinthians: "Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).

Off the top of my head, I would say that faith has priority because without faith in Jesus, we aren’t really saved and therefore we can not love (agape style) and we have no hope.

1 Corinthians 13 puts the emphasis on love. Paul places this quality at the top of the list.

It is interesting to me that the initial verses of Colossians seem to give the priority to HOPE.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem as if we talk about hope all that much. Perhaps, the reason why is that it has become so watered down in our contemporary parlance. “I hope I will be able to get to church Sunday.” “I hope the weather is better today.” “I hope I am not getting sick.”

Used in those three settings, the word almost carries the exact opposite meaning as the Greek word in the New Testament (especially if someone uses “hope” in conjunction with the possibility of coming to church on Sunday. I’ll tell you what it means—he or she ain’t coming!).

Hope in the New Testament is a rock solid concept. It is an absolute certain confidence even though one cannot see. I’m paraphrasing Paul’s statements about hope in Romans 8 at this point.

In many instances (including these verses for today in Colossians), hope is linked with another certainty—heaven. As believers, we have the hope that, when we die, we are going to heaven.

I would think that most Christians, if you ask them about heaven, would respond with confidence. We don’t talk about heaven as much as we should, for sure, but I think it is almost a “given” in Christian circles.

But hope, real hope, is a lot more pervasive (or it should be) than just limiting it to heaven. Faith in God is a NOW concept, isn’t it? Love is relevant to every day life here on this planet.

I believe that hope, this confidence in certainties that one cannot see, should be also.

As I thought about this and prayed about it, I think real, biblical hope is in short supply.

I was visiting with a sister in Jesus yesterday. She was sharing about her family situation. She is dealing with a lot of “issues.” The whole tenor of the conversation—the bottom line—is that she doesn’t really believe that anything is ever going to change. If anything, things will get worse. (Of course, things getting worse IS change, but somehow, when we are down, we don’t see it that way).

What is that? Isn’t it HOPELESSNESS? I know this lady has faith in God. She demonstrates a keen love for Jesus and others, but what about hope?

If you are hopeless, can you really have faith and love? I wonder. I doubt it. Paul would concur based on his statements in the verses above. In THESE verses (they almost seem contradictory to 1 Corinthians 13), hope is foundational. Our biblical hope in heaven is critically related to faith and love.

But I just wonder how many believers are struggling with hopelessness.

Can I be honest? I put myself in that category. I find myself in certain situations muttering this under my breath, “Well, that isn’t going to change, EVER.”

I think it would be staggering to calculate how many Christians are deeply depressed because they just have no hope. They have the hope of heaven, but as far as hope as it relates to daily life—they have very little or none.

Lord, there is no reason why I should struggle with hope. You have given me every reason and plenty of experience that would serve as vibrant impetus for hope. I am totally confident in my eternal destiny and look forward to heaven.

But hope seems in short supply at times. Help me with this.

I lift up the sister I was visiting with yesterday. She has been on my heart. I wonder how many other sheep in the flock at First Southern and in the broader Christian community, struggle in the same way over a myriad of issues.

This hymn comes to mind this morning as I think about hope. In the Baptist hymnal, the editors put Hebrews 6:19 right under the title, “We have this hope—like a sure and firm anchor of the soul.”

“This rock is Jesus,
Yes, He’s the one …
Your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock”

(“In Times like These,” BH 2008, 455). Amen.
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John and Darwin

My family and I are still thanking the Lord this morning (well, I know my mom and sis would be if they were awake right now—ha). Thank you all for praying. Several people at church have asked how the move is going. And I know that means they are praying.

I’ve got to meet a guy at my house this morning to move some stuff, so this post is going to be relatively short.

But I wanted to share what happened.

One of the biggest challenges we have at my mom’s house is finding a place for some of my furniture that I just don’t want to get rid of. It is a couple of couches, a coffee table, some end tables, and my dining room table—stuff that is now in my living room.

Marilyn had the good idea to put all of it in a “rec” room at my mom’s house.

Well, this room was a mess for several reasons. First, the carpet this is in there is forty years old and (how shall I say it) has been the bathroom for most of the dogs and cats we have had for that time. It was disgusting.

Since we were in this period of transition, we wanted to pull it out and put some vinyl down. We called a couple of flooring companies who came out to give us an estimate. Both were very high. One place wanted $3000.00 just for some basic flooring. Unbelievable!

Second, we had a pool table in this room that takes up a lot of space, and we don’t use it any longer. We contacted some places. They told us they would charge us an arm and a leg to get it out of there.

Third, we had a rather large and older piece of exercise equipment that needed to be out of there as well—again, more money.

Hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get this room cleared out and the deadline (my closing date) is approaching. What to do?

Well, at some point, I remembered John and Darwin. John is Myrtle’s grandson. He and his buddy Darwin do floors. A few years ago, they put a hardwood floor in our living room.

Long story shorter, I called them. They are busy remodeling a house, but Darwin called Sunday night, “John, we have an opening tomorrow.” Whoa. Okay. We had to scramble a bit, but they showed up early yesterday at my mom’s house.

Here is what happened: they disassembled the pool table (they are going to take it and sell it themselves); they dismantled the exercise equipment; they pulled up that disgusting old and dirty carpet along with the pads and tacks along the walls; I went with them to Home Depot where we pick out some vinyl; they came back and installed it; and they were done by 5:00 yesterday! They did all of this for way less than half what we thought it was going to cost!

Now, I can work on getting my stuff moved into this new room, and all of us can enjoy it and actually use it!

Somehow, all of this just gave us a boost yesterday and we are thanking the Lord.

If getting some things taken care of to make this more of a home for us has encouraged us to this level, think about what getting into our permanent home—heaven—will be all about.

Here are the last verses of Joel: "But Judah will be filled with people forever, and Jerusalem will endure through all generations. I will pardon my people’s crimes, which I have not yet pardoned; and I, the Lord, will make my home in Jerusalem with my people” (Joel 3:20, 21 NLT)

Here is the exciting thing about heaven—no need to worry about or move furniture. Jesus will have already taken care of all the arrangements as He is right now preparing our room.

He always takes care of the heavy lifting so we don’t have to.

Lord, I thank you for the ways, small and large, that you take care of things for us. I can’t believe how much work those two guys did yesterday, but thank you for all they did.

I am reminded to continue to lift up Jim and Judy and Michael and Danielle as their home and living situation is still in a state of disarray. Encourage them today. Amen.
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What's Up, Doc?

Yesterday, as I was reading Joel and commenting on the following verse, something bothered me. Here is that verse:

"Hammer your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Train even your weaklings to be warriors" (Joel 3:10 NLT).

Something seemed off, and this morning I figured out what it was. I’m going to cite two more verses and see if you catch it.

"The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4, NLT).

"The Lord will mediate between peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far away. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore" (Micah 4:3 NLT).

What’s up, doc? The Isaiah and Micah passages (very similar, by the way) indicate that the folks will “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” whereas the Joel passage reverses those references.

Humm. What’s you talkin’ about, Willis?

Well, if you read the context of each verse, the setting is completely different. The Joel passage, as I contended yesterday in this blog, is a call to war, and it is directed toward Israel.

The Isaiah and Micah passages are an invitation to the mountain of the Lord. They are directed to the nations. And they are a call to peace.

I’m certainly no expert (or anything close to it) but here is what I think. I believe that the Battle of Armageddon—the battle that turns out not to be one—is a precursor to the coming of the Lord in judgment and when all is said and done, everything—absolutely everything is reversed. All sorrow is done. All grief has ended. And above and beyond everything, all wars on the face of the planet end.

In short, I believe these seemingly contradictory statements refer to two distinct time periods in salvation history. The Joel passage is pre-Armageddon. The other two are post-judgment and a picture of what salvation in Christ is all about. “The nations” will not fight one another. We will all live together in peace forever.

Of course, we see hints of that right now as the gospel spreads and God saves people from all races and creeds and ethnicities.

Interesting and intriguing. But again, there are no contradictions in scripture. I may not be totally right about what I have just written. It won’t be the first time or the last. But whatever … these three passages go together somehow.

Just a couple of comments about yesterday. I preached my sermon from Ephesians 6:1-4 and hammered (no pun intended) the whole idea that dads are responsible for the spiritual tenor of the family. I also felt led to open things up after the sermon for folks to share testimonies.

Before Sunday, I thought that maybe one or two folks might share a thing or two. Oh, man. Was I wrong? I had no idea.

I’m still thinking about some of what was shared. Patty mentioned the whole concept of forgiveness as a crucial issue in family relations. Carol said her mom was not very supportive of her on an emotional level when she was a child. It forced her to go the Bible for answers—a bad thing that the Lord turned around for good.

Jeremy stood up and challenged us. He said, “I am really bothered by the fact that a lot of people think it is the church’s job to raise kids. It is not. It is the family’s job. And Deuteronomy 6 gives the blueprint. From the moment you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed at night—it is a teaching opportunity.” He went on to challenge grandparents to take an active role as well. It was off the charts.

We had some other great testimonies and statement as well, but then John raised his hand. He quoted a verse out of Joel. I need to find it, but then he said, “I’m glad that the Lord forgives us when we don’t do it right.” Amen.

This launched us into a time of worship. We had set things up so that the sermon and testimonies would be first, and then the musical worship would follow. Our service was a little long. I apologized to Scott afterwards. It always seems that what we planned toward the end gets pinched. But the Lord used it in my life.

The Lord ministered to me. I felt so convicted by my own words and the testimonies. I needed to be reminded that the Lord would have to do it through me.

This is the case with everything all the time, right? Why can’t I get it through my thick head?

Lord, I’m glad you have the future in your hands. Whatever happens, in whatever order, I am not worried. I’m just going to stick with you, and I know it will all work out.

In the meantime, give me the grace to serve you in my own family. Help me practice what I preach at home.

We sang this song. A newer version of “Amazing Grace.” And the refrain, “It (God’s grace) covers me. It covers me. And covers me.” Amen.
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The Valley of Jehoshaphat

There are some intriguing statements in the third chapter of Joel. I have read through the Bible over and over for years, but I don’t remember noticing them before. I’m sure I have, but this is the great thing about God’s Word. It comes alive in various ways and at various times to make its impact.

I love how the Lord works in that regard.

First of all, though, I have to ask you to pray for my family. We are going through a particularly difficult time. I won’t go into detail at this point. Part of it has to do with this move I am making. We are trying to coordinate some fix-up stuff on my mom’s house in conjunction with it and to get all of this done in the next couple of weeks or so.

Every time I move, I tell myself that I am never going to do it again, but somehow, after ten years or so, I seem to forget. Oh, well.

Back to the passage, like most prophetic literature and the way it works, Joel’s prophecy shifts from the immediacy of his situation to that of the future. Yesterday, I mentioned the whole concept of a future gathering.

As chapter three progresses, the Lord elaborates on that. Let me quote some verses at this point: "Say to the nations far and wide: ‘Get ready for war! Call out your best warriors. Let all your fighting men advance for the attack. Hammer your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Train even your weaklings to be warriors. Come quickly, all you nations everywhere. Gather together in the valley.’ And now, O Lord, call out your warriors! ‘Let the nations be called to arms. Let them march to the valley of Jehoshaphat. There I, the Lord, will sit to pronounce judgment on them all’” (Joel 3:9-12, NLT).

At first, this seems to be a rather strange call. It is a call to battle, but it is unlike any war any of us has ever seen. It is a war fought with transformed farming equipment! “Plowshares into swords, pruning hooks into spears.” Humm. That is one thing.

This is a call to battle and everyone is invited to participate.

The second thing is that all the armies of the planet are called to march to the same place, not to fight, but to hear a pronouncement of judgment.

You know, I can’t help but think here of the Battle of Armageddon. I’m not going to quote specific references from Revelation here, but it is a huge battle that is over in a flash so that it ends up NOT being a battle.

Maybe this is what Joel is talking about here.

The third thing that is most intriguing is the name of the place where all of this will occur. It is called “The Valley of Jehoshaphat.” I was intrigued to read that name.

I found out that the name “Jehoshaphat” means “God shall judge,” and this valley is a narrow furrow of land between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

This is where Jesus will judge the nations.

I certainly don’t know how large this area is, but the place of judgment for every single person who has ever lived. Can everyone fit there?

That question misses the point.

Once again, we have to realize that all of this is metaphorical language that the Lord uses to describe ultimate and final realities. Here is the main one: the judgment seat of Christ.

This is a doctrine that we don’t talk about all that much, or at least as much as we used to.

I met a guy yesterday. When he asked what I did and I told him, he replied, “What kind of Baptist—Conservative, American, Southern?” I said, “Southern.” He answered, “My granddad was a Southern Baptist pastor in California for many years.” He paused before he went on. “He was known as a hell-fire and damnation preacher.”

If I have heard that phrase once, I have heard it a thousand times. It is almost always used negatively. I’ve commented on my perceptions and feelings about this moniker before.

But one additional thing I want to say is that we just don’t see it all that much any more and I don’t think that is a good thing.

Where are the messages these days about the judgment of God? I think we would rather quibble over millennial views rather than face the fact that every single person who has ever lived will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Now, I hasten to say that I am not afraid of this event. However, I need to be a little more urgent that many folks I know who will be there, converted plowshares in hand, will quake and quiver in horror as decisions are made, final and ultimate decisions, about their eternal destiny in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

Oh, Lord, as we worship and as I preach today, bring the urgency of judgment into focus:

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

Point well taken, Lord. Amen.
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The BIG Gathering

One of our neighboring SBC churches on the north side has changed their name. Now, they call themselves “The Gathering.” I like it. Like it a lot.

If you think about it, so much about human life and modern life involves polarization. People pass away. People move. Nothing is stable and stationary.

It used to be that people stayed in the place where they were born their whole lives and thus, churches were “stable.” But in this day and time, everything is different, as much as we would want it to stay the same.

I think about my days at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth and the large singles’ group Marilyn and I were a part of. We did a lot with folks who were in our same “state” of life. It was a blast.

Now, I rarely if ever meet any singles. We have a few in our church, and I don’t think they have much fellowship either. There are times I miss it.

Someone might say, “Find a singles’ group here and get in it.” Yeah, right, in all my spare time? The truth is that it is hard to be a part of a group in one church and go to another.

Well, enough of that. Back to church life in the congregation I serve …

The other day, I was talking to a guy who left the church and moved away over ten years ago. He was expressing concern over the folks that left when he was coming to the church and how it seemed to decline back then. I said, “Well, over the past twenty plus years, the church has changed a lot. People keep coming and going. I feel I have served four different congregations without leaving the building!”

It is true. There are “eras” in churches. This is a topic for a blog post in the future.

The truth is that there are only three or four families who regularly attend who were doing the same when I started back in 1989.

Here is another thing that I am learning. When people leave, we always say to each other, “Let’s keep in touch.” And with some of the folks, it does happen. But with most people, it doesn’t.

Once a family leaves, our relationship is never the same, and this isn’t bad, necessarily. It is just the facts. Things change and people move on, and that is a growth opportunity.

The history of Israel reflects this as well. Think about all the movement and separation. With the fall of Samaria in 722 B. C., the northern kingdom of Israel came to an end. Where did those Israelites go? Many of them scattered.

With the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B. C., the Jewish people were deported to Babylon and many of them never returned.

This type of thing has occurred often in Jewish history. James writes his entire book to those who are scattered. The “official” name for it is the diaspora.

But Joel talks about a certain future event that will signal a huge reversal. "But I will bring them back from all the places to which you sold them, and I will pay you back for everything you have done. I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the people of Arabia, a nation far away. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Joel 3:7, 8 NLT)

Someday, God will bring His people together again. Can you imagine the reunion that heaven will be? I’ve often thought how great it would be for the folks at First Southern to meet my dad and some of the other “characters” I went to church with all through the years.

Well, heaven will make that possible! AND, get this: no more separation. Somehow, we will all be together forever and time and space will not be an issue.

Lord, this morning, I am homesick. This life often makes us feel lonely and alienated. Even with all our technology and gadgetry—more isolated and separated than ever.

May the church indeed be a Gathering. Bring us together.

Teach us to value true and genuine fellowship here on this planet. It is all so fleeting and temporary.

But someday …

“You may have all this world, Give me Jesus.” I know I quoted that yesterday, but it bears re-singing it today. Amen.
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Miracle of Miracles

Just to let you know upfront—the title of today’s blog is tongue in cheek.

If I can say it this way today, I’m proud of myself! Ha.

Moving in my mom’s house and weeding through a ton of stuff has been quite a chore. I’m trying to do most of it myself. I may get Tom—one of our youth—to help me at some point move the “light” stuff, but then, I am going to hire a local mover to do the rest.

After helping tons of people move—from my days at seminary as a teacher of a Singles’ class until very recently—I have made the decision that I am not going to enlist a lot of folks to take their precious time to move my junk. There are a lot of risks involved, and I am not talking about damage to “stuff.”

Several years ago, I was helping a staff person move. I was carrying a bunch of stuff down some stairs at an apartment and somehow, I stepped wrong and did a number on my ankle. It was the middle of the summer. I was laid up for several weeks. I was not a happy camper.

I’m not worried about me in this instance. I’m concerned that someone else might injury himself/herself lugging my heavy stuff.

Well, anyway, back to my miracle. I’m trying to put all the stuff I want to keep in this house. It is already rather full. I was looking online the other day and discovered that Home Depot has this line of shelving products called “ClosetMaid.” Humm. It looked rather interesting.

So, I went to a store a couple of days ago and bought some of these shelves. They require installation.

I dusted off my drill. It rarely gets used. I actually drilled some holes in a wall and attached a bracket in a stud. The first time I did this, I made a mistake about the way I positioned it. Thus, I had to undo my work.

I reattached it, hung some brackets on it, and stuck some shelf supports in the slots on the bracket—so far so good. Then, I snapped four shelves into place! Done!

Don’t faint. But I actually did something that was rather handy, if I say so myself.

For anyone of you who knows me, you know that I am the most “unhandy” person on the face of the earth. I have convinced myself that I don’t care about this type of “do-it-yourself” projects, but the truth is that I envy folks who can pull them off with ease. There are a lot of folks in the church that fit in this category. They make it look easy.

Not me.

When I finished, I ran into the den to call my mom and sister in to look at the shelves. They both actually stood there for a moment. Their mouths were slightly open, “You did THIS?” Yep, I did.

It was almost as if I had re-wire the whole house! Ha. Nope. I just installed four shelves in a closet.

What is the world coming to? Has the universe shifted? Now, I am seeing other things I might actually be able to do myself. Get back, Jack. Call me J. T. T. John the Toolman Talbert.

Okay, it is getting a little thick even for me.

Today’s passage is a familiar one. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up to preach the very first sermon of the Christian church. His immediate challenge was to explain to a curious crowd what they were witnessing. It was not collective drunkenness. It was the Holy Spirit of God.

And, in fact and indeed, it was something that the scriptures had predicted long ago. "Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike" (Joel 2:28, 29 NLT).

Up until this point in the Old Testament and the New, the Spirit had come upon certain people for certain special tasks, but Pentecost changed all of that. Now, God was making Himself available to dwell in believers on a permanent basis.

About what I just said—there is dispute about it. Frank Stagg—the New Testament scholar who wrote the best commentary on the book of Acts EVER—would vehemently disagree with me. He contends that the Spirit indwelled people before Pentecost as well.

Certainly so. Whatever. But the day of Pentecost changed everything. The church was born. And Joel predicted it hundreds of years before it actually happened.

As Baptists, we do not focus much on the Christian calendar. We celebrate Christmas and Easter, but I think we also need to celebrate Pentecost. I’m going to lead the church I serve to do so.

Lord, thank you for the little victories and the big ones in the Christian life. Somehow, putting those shelves in a closet has encouraged me. So much of my work involves doing things where I never see any tangible, visible results. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any …

Thank you for coming, Spirit of God, as the prophet Joel predicted. Fill me, Jesus, fill me now. Fill me, Jesus, with thy precious holy power. I am thine, O Lord, to do with as you will. So, fill me Jesus, right now. Oh, that is a song. Amen.
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The Great Give Back

Here is a question on my mind and heart this morning: do we ever really lose anything in our relationship with the Lord?

Let me give some context to this question in light of the passage I read this morning.

I can think of a bunch of instances in which believers lost and lost BIG TIME. The explosion next door to Jim and Judy and Michael is a case in point. Jim told me the other day that over the next days and weeks, engineers are going to assess the damage. There is a possibility that the structure can be saved. That little bit of good news encouraged them. But still, they have lost a lot.

The story of Job comes to mind also. Those first couple of chapters of that book are hard to read. Here was a man who literally and actually lost just about everything. It doesn’t take him long to end up on a trash heap, scratching his leprous sores with a piece of broken pottery. This is a glaring example of loss in scripture.

Therefore, there is loss that occurs with tragedy. But there is the loss of death. My mom mentioned my dad the other day. She said, “It still does not make sense why the Lord took Jerry.” In about a month, on August 1, it will have been forty years since my dad died.

Wow, has it really been that long? It is hard to believe. I’ve lived much longer without my dad than I lived having known him.

Let’s expand that a bit. I have heard this fact: there have been more martyrs for the cause of Christ in the twentieth century than all the other centuries combined.

Go back to the Old Testament. What about the various losses that the prophets endured? Some died. From Stephen onward, the history of Christianity is marked with the deaths of prominent believers and leaders.

It all seems like such a waste, such a loss—a pointless, needless loss.

What about the loss that occurs in Christian service?

As I am moving molecules around with this move, one of the glaring things that I face is: what am I going to do with all the cassettes I still own of my sermons through the years at First Southern? CASSETTES. One would be hard pressed even to find a cassette tape player. That is one thing.

But somehow, it seems very difficult to get rid of all those sermons. I have another huge box full of cassette tapes from well-known preachers.

But back to my sermons, it is hard to get rid of those tapes because it feels as if those messages really will be lost forever. I preached those sermons. They went out, but it all seems so fleeting. Did they really impact anyone? People heard them, but did they make even a hint of difference?

Well, I have to believe they did in some way or I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning, but all that study, all that life preparation (I don’t think the average person in the pew has any idea of what it takes really to prepare a sermon or cares, really). And you get up there and you speak, and those words go out into space and they are gone forever.

This is what makes it hard to throw away those cassette tapes, but I know the truth about what I have just said. I remember the statement in Isaiah, “My word will not return to me void without accomplishing the purpose for which I sent it.”

I know that. But still …

Anyway, I think I have beaten this horse enough. So much loss.

But back to my question: do you ever really lose as a believer? Mark these words in Joel: "The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced’" (Joel 2:25-27 NLT).

After all the loss and all the pain and all the agony caused by this locust plague, God says, “I’m going to give it all back to you and more.” Wow.

What an amazing concept! Think about it. The Lord often does this in this life. A lady in our fellowship was talking to me about the kind of loss that Jim and Judy and Michael have experienced. It is significant. She did not minimize it, but she said, “There will be a certain point in which they realize: ‘hey, we are going to get a brand new house.’” A give back.

What about Job? Jump to the end of the book. The Lord blessed him and gave everything back and more.

Others of us won’t experience this IN THIS LIFE.

But talk about the big GIVE BACK—HEAVEN! We are all going to get “new houses” then! I’m going to get my dad back THEN. All the martyrs from Stephen onward will be there. We will get them back.

All the sermons (and let me expand this) and all the smallest acts of kindness or sacrifice that seem to be tossed away and don’t matter—we will see with eternal perspective what really happened.

The truth is that these “seeds” outlast the plastic on any cassette. They are eternal and someday we will see all the consequences of everything we ever did for the Lord. It will take eternity to absorb it.

Lord, you give and you take away, as Job says, blessed be your name! But I want to add this morning: ultimately, you give it all back and more, much more, eternally more than we can ever imagine. You are awesome.

“You may have all this world,
Give me Jesus” (BH 2008, 486). Amen.
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He Has Done Great Things

"’I will drive away these armies from the north. I will send them into the parched wastelands. Those in the front will be driven into the Dead Sea, and those at the rear into the Mediterranean. The stench of their rotting bodies will rise over the land.’ Surely the Lord has done great things! Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things" (Joel 2:20, 21 NLT).

Did you notice the phrase that was repeated twice in these two verses?

As it turns out, verse eighteen in chapter of two of Joel makes a huge transition. It shifts from an appeal to the people to declarations of what the Lord is going to do.

He makes promises about what He is going to do with the enemy armies who are invading the land.

On the heels of those promises, the prophet says (past tense), “Surely the Lord has done great things.”

If the Lord promises, mark it down it IS going to happen, and in the plan of God, it has already happened. Done deal!

This brings to mind the refrain of a song. I have been searching for it on Google the past several minutes. There are a lot of songs that use this refrain. Thus, I am just going to quote it from memory. You will know it.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name …
He has done great things
He has done great things
He has done great things
Bless His holy name!”

Probably the reason I could not find this exact chorus was that it has been around for a while, but it still resonates, and I know it will be my “heart song” for the day.

This is going to be a short post today because I feel the urgency to spend some time communing with Jesus, thanking Him for all the “great things” He has and is doing in my life.

Where do I begin on this “great things” list, Lord? I thank you for your plan from the foundation of the earth. I thank you for my family. I thank you for saving me. It goes on from there. Where would I be without you? Amen.
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Even the Babies

I wonder what it would take for us to get desperate enough to turn to the Lord.

My mom often tells the story of how the churches were full and were open all hours of the day during World War II. People came in regularly to pray.

Since I started as pastor of First Southern in 1989, we have seen a steady decline in folks who are willing to participate in corporate prayer meetings. I know I have talked a lot about this. There are a lot of factors involved. It isn’t all about the fact that folks aren’t spiritual because they don’t flock to Wednesday night prayer meetings.

In fact, I would say that we actually have more folks praying in groups than ever before, but these “prayer meetings” occur at different times and different places.

Have I prefaced this enough?

Still, after years of declining numbers of folks on Wednesday night, we DID have a larger crowd after September 11th. But it lasted only one week.

I don’t know …

I still firmly believe that without revival in the church, we are in trouble.

Again, it is a subtle thing—a person here, a person there. They get out of the habit of going to church and soon you can’t get them to come with a crow bar.

I believe the Lord led us to be involved in a ministry this summer to reach boys and girls. Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) sponsors it. It is called “Good News Across America.” This summer, CEF is targeting Denver. They are bringing almost two hundred college students to town to conduct Backyard Bible-type ministries in the community of participating churches.

We have selected three strategic spots in our community.

This may sound blasphemous, but I have long since given up on Vacation Bible School to reach lost folks. No one can accuse us of not giving this ministry “the old college try.” We did it for years and years and years.

The other day, I was driving down the street with my mom and sister and I said, “There is a certain look to the sky this time of year. It reminds me of Vacation Bible School.” It is so ingrained. Every year, the week after school ended, like clockwork, we did VBS.

Don’t get me wrong. Some good things happened. But it is very expensive and basically turned into a glorified baby-sitting service for churched children in our community. Their parents would make the “rounds” of churches, but they had no intention of coming to our church.

In my mind, the ultimate goal was always reaching lost folks. We would plan meticulous follow-up efforts, but they never produced anything.

After years and years of trying (we did a night school one year; another year we had VBS for the entire summer—once a week on Wednesday night), finally, it dawned on even the die-hards that this was not worth it.

However, I did not want to give up trying to reach boys and girls in the summer. As a result, God brought “God News Across America” across our path. So, I committed our church to it. Calla and Patty have since become involved. They are great helpers and advocates.

But here is the role for our church—show up! They only ask that we have a person or two at each of these locations during the week in late July that this ministry will occur. That’s it. That’s all they ask.

Here’s my point: I think we will struggle even to find anyone who will do this. Calla will be out of town that week on vacation. Patty may not be available either because of work. These are very legitimate and understandable reasons. Others may not be available either for these same reasons. No problem AT ALL.

But others are available, and they won’t be there just because they don’t have the heart for it. Let’s be honest.

I don’t know how one acquires “the heart and the burden to reach lost folks.” It can’t be trumped up. It can’t be a program, even a good idea like this. It must be a work of God in the heart.

Only He can do it.

And maybe, when things get bad enough and desperate enough, people might possibly be open to this urgency for a few brief and fleeting moments.

This is the appeal of the prophet Joel in the wake of the locust plague. He cries out to the people: "Gather all the people— the elders, the children, and even the babies. Call the bridegroom from his quarters and the bride from her private room. Let the priests, who minister in the Lord ’s presence, stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar. Let them pray, ‘Spare your people, Lord! Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery. Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say, “Has the God of Israel left them?”’” (Joel 2:16, 17 NLT)

There is a phrase that captured my attention this morning in verse sixteen. This appeal is to involve absolutely everyone in the community, INCLUDING BABIES. A baby is innocent. He or she does not have the capacity for moral decisions, but still, God wants every single person to join this convocation of repentance.

This is an all or nothing deal. Everyone must participate or it won’t happen.

And it is urgent enough to stop a wedding ceremony.

It is urgent enough for the “religious” folk like the priests (and shall I add pastors?) actually to weep.

It is based on zeal for God’s character and reputation. This is totally devoid of selfish and greed and “worrying about the church.”

Lord, my heart is cold.

I am at the top of the list of the folks who need revival—not some trumped up, short-lived emotional high, but a genuine work of heart that gives me the urgency and passion for your glory that compels me (whether anyone else in the church ever cares about it or not—that’s between them and You) to have urgency and to have a burden to reach this world.

Oh, Lord, I am crying out to you right now.

“My soul does thirst for the living God” (BH 2008, 485). Amen.
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Perhaps

I was rather shocked to see Jim sitting there at the back of the auditorium as the choir gathered to practice early yesterday morning.

This past week, a natural gas explosion next door to his home rendered his home “un-occupy-able.” Betty said she actually heard it on Thursday from her desk at church. The force of the blast was such that it blew his neighbor’s roof of her house and down the street a ways. Can you imagine?

Jim was explaining that his neighbor’s garage actually spared his house from being totally destroyed. The blast went up actually lifting his roof up a bit and it came back down, buckling the whole house. But the explosion also went straight across and had it not been dissipated a bit by the garage, it would have obliterated the lower part of Jim’s house and having lifted the roof up, it would have collapsed the whole thing.

Again, Jim and I marveled at the intensity, power, and magnitude of the blast, but we praise God that no one was killed in his neighborhood (the other homes in his cul-de-sac were also damaged) or even injured seriously.

However, Jim and his wife Judy and their college-age son Michael will not be able to move back to their home until October, at least.

Over the next few weeks, engineers will be assessing the damage and evaluating what needs to happen. In the meantime, they can go into their home for brief periods of time to get certain items. This is another thing to be thankful for.

Another amazing part of this is that a manager of one of the local hotels—a Comfort Inn—is allowing families to stay in his facility for free for the rest of the month.

As a church, we are ready to help and minister to this family and to any others as the need might arise. We will see how it all plays out.

But I was so glad to see Jim, Judy, and Michael at church yesterday. A lot of folks in their situation would not have been there. Please pray for them.

Again, another disaster that the Lord allows in our lives—this is one for the books—a natural gas explosion from the next-door neighbor’s house. I’m going to try to attach as least one photo to my Facebook blog so that you can see the damage.

Jim was saying that stuff from his neighbor’s home is scattered all over the immediate area.

What else can happen?

At the conclusion of the service yesterday (we had prayed for the family in the service along with other folks), Jim asked to speak. This is the gist of what he said, “You know, it is in times like these that the differences between believers and unbelievers comes into focus. Some get angry. Some try to attach blame. We are just thankful to be alive and that no one was hurt and those of us in the neighborhood who are believers are just trying to help and support each other.”

Wow, I thought his statements were right on.

In the book of Joel, God allows the locust plague and all the devastation that goes with it as a way to get Israel’s attention.

"That is why the Lord says, ‘Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord your God as before” (Joel 2:12-14 NLT).

What is the purpose of tragedy? The Lord allowed it so that His people would repent and return to Him. He is always ready to receive His people because He is “merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” Amen. Always.

But here is the part of the Lord’s appeal from the mouth of the prophet that strikes me today. Verse 14. There is a word that appears twice. It is “perhaps.” If His people repent and return, they will meet a compassionate and merciful God. That is a given and a constant. But PERHAPS He will give them a reprieve; perhaps He will allow them the benefits of what they enjoyed before.

PERHAPS.

This is a very helpful corrective to all the forms of “Name It, Claim It” theology that is out there these days. It all makes things automatic. It puts God in a box. And it sounds so logical. “If I do this, then God does this.” Tit for tat.

But this is not what the Bible teaches AND it is not my experience. God is sovereign, first and foremost. He does not owe me anything. My obedience makes no demand on God.

I ought to obey Him and serve Him just because it is the right thing to do. Period.

If the Lord chooses to bless me, it is a bonus. But I don’t deserve it—EVER. The best that anyone can say is that if I repent, PERHAPS the Lord will bless me.

There are plenty of examples of folks in this world who are totally obedient to God and yet end up in prison. Saeed Abedini comes to mind. How about that? Things got worse for him. This kind of blows people’s little logical box for God, I would think, but it doesn’t diminish the Lord in any way.

He does what He wants, when He wants.

However, I would rather be obedient to the Lord than not, and take my chances from there. Wouldn’t you?

Lord, I choose to obey you and follow you today just because it is the right thing to do. I leave the results up to You from there.

I pray for Jim, Judy, Michael, and all the other folks in the neighborhood, victims of this tragedy. Comfort those who know. Turn the others to you through this.

I pray for Saeed and all other believers who are in prison just because of their testimony today. I sit here free as a bird. They are in prison. Who can understand or explain THAT?

I can’t and I’m not going to try.

I’m still stuck on this hymn: “I worship You, I worship You. The reason I live is to worship You” (“When I Look into Your Holiness,” BH 2008, 484). Amen.
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The Day of the Lord and STUFF

Over the past couple of years, I have felt that the Holy Spirit has been preparing me for selling my house, but the message has come to me in a different way—“un-clutter your life.”

I don’t know when this message started to dawn on me. It was well before I was diagnosed with cancer.

As my family will tell you (and roll their eyes when they do), I am a pack rat AND a collector. This is not a good combination. Plus, I like to save things—especially cards—that people have given me over the years.

I am rather embarrassed to say this, but I have boxes and boxes of notes and cards and children’s drawings (kids at church have given them to me). I just can’t seem to throw them away.

But I have to tell you—as I weed through stuff to move, it is overwhelming. All of this is forcing me, compelling me, to sift through things and throw or give stuff away.

It is more than just a good idea as I move. I feel the Lord is leading me to do this.

“Clutter” is a metaphor for a distracted and burdened life. At least it is in my case.

Here is another factor in all of this and one of my pastor friends, Bart, and I were talking about this the other day. In his congregation in Aurora, he has several multi-generational small groups. The one he leads has this diversity as well. He has some young couple as well as “seasoned citizens.” On the one hand, these young couples want to buy houses and fill them with stuff; on the other hand, the seniors see how ultimately empty all of that is.

It isn’t that there is anything wrong with it, but as one gets older, priorities change.

My grandmother was an expert in all of this. She and Leo (my granddad wanted me to call him by his first name, so I did) moved from Kansas to Colorado shortly after I was born. Then, a few years later, they moved to a townhouse. Finally, when health issues became a real challenge, they moved into our house. My dad actually built a wing onto our house for them. This is the part of the house I live in now, as a matter of fact.

My point is: with each of these moves, my grandmother got rid of a LOT of stuff. She sold a lot of it or just gave it away. She was a master at it. This is a woman who never really had a lot but “stuff” didn’t matter to her.

I want to be like my grandmother.

Here is the deal: the older you get, you are forced to consolidate. Sometimes you have no choice. This happened recently to a lady in our church. Her name was Evelyn. She had a stroke, and all of a sudden, she was out of the home she had lived in for 50 years and loved. She had to move to a room at a nursing home where she lived with three other women! What a drastic change!

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not ready for a nursing quite yet, but the Lord is using all these memories and experiences to teach me.

There is something to being unencumbered and light on your feet.

It makes it easier to focus on the Lord and do what He wants.

I believe I am on fairly safe ground if I say that pure and simple devotion is what the Lord wants. He is jealous for this, as a matter of fact. His jealousy is a consuming fire. Isn’t this what judgment is?

The biblical name for it is: the day of the Lord.

"Sound the alarm in Jerusalem! Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the Lord is upon us. It is a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick clouds and deep blackness. Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains, a great and mighty army appears. Nothing like it has been seen before or will ever be seen again. The Lord is at the head of the column. He leads them with a shout. This is his mighty army, and they follow his orders. The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing. Who can possibly survive?" (Joel 2:1, 2, 11 NLT).

For the folks of Joel’s day, those bugs ate everything. It was gone, and what the locusts didn’t consume, burned. It was as if the Lord was saying, “Now, are you ready to pay attention to me?”

We are worse as twenty-first century Americans. We all have so much stuff that we can’t put our cars in the garage AND we actually have to pay for storage.

No other culture does this. None.

Lord, I thank you for the ways and means you use to clear out STUFF in our lives so that we are in a better position to serve you.

I pray for Barb this morning. Heal her from her injuries. I lift up the family who has experienced tragedy. Help them as they cope. I pray for Don and his cancer. I lift up Duane in his recovery. I pray for the Hispanic church today.

“The reason I live to worship you” (BH 2008, 484). Amen.
Comments

Selling My House

One of the things that has been keeping me busy these past few days is that I finally decided to sell my house.

There has been so much involved in this decision. I’m not sure my fingers have enough strength to type on this computer long enough to go into all the details.

But it started with cancer. Wow, it is hard to believe that I was diagnosed three years ago in July/August—sometime in those couple of months. I’m still realizing day by day the magnitude of this event in my life. I’ll probably never grasp all its significance.

One thing that has occurred, however, is that my living situation changed dramatically. First, it was because of my health. I just needed to have my family around me through chemo and beyond. Second, it was because of my mom’s health.

I don’t mention her as often as I used to. She is doing well in so many ways, but she has a lot of issues she has to deal with, and as I told Mary Ann the other day, I just feel that I need to be available to help my family right now. This is the bottom line.

With all of that having been said, the truth is that I have not really lived in my house near the church for these past couple of years. Of course, I was still there occasionally, but for the most part, I have been “commuting” back and forth from my mom’s house to work.

An indifferent outside observer would probably have wondered, “Well, why has it taken so long for you to sell it, if you don’t really live there any more?”

Good question.

Here are some of my reasons. First, it is absolutely the best house I have ever lived in. I love it.

I won’t take time to chronicle my “housing” pilgrimage over the past twenty years, but it has been an adventure to say the least. I lived in two apartments and my first house before I moved into this townhouse. Each place had its challenges, including a next door neighbor (I’m talking about my house here) who had a dog that barked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

That’s right. I wish I were exaggerating. There were other issues with the house. Mainly, I just wanted no yard work.

Anyway, I found this townhouse, and it is perfect.

Second, I still need a place near the church. There are so many times and situations in which I just need a place to crash between times of services or after work to eat a meal and go back to the church for a meeting.

I’ve mentioned all of this to folks over the past few months. A family even told me that I could use a room in their home. I appreciate that so much, but over the course of the past few years, I’ve realized I DON’T NEED THIS as much.



Plus, and I hope this doesn’t sound too bad. I don’t know of any other way to say it. When I have a break from work, I refuel by being totally alone and just vegetating. My work is so people intensive that the way I fill the gas tank.

When people say, “John, please come over and use our house,” I so appreciate that, but that is not what I need.

Anyway, all of these factors caused me to hesitate to sell my house.

There are others as well. Up until recently, the market has been way down and so have the prices of homes.

But somehow, all of this has shifted. The market—oh, man. House prices have gone up.

So, a few months ago, I started rethinking all of this. I just contacted a realtor on the north side to visit with about some of this. I have three very good friends who are also realtors. They have given very sound advice and counsel. I could have used any one of them to help me when I made the decision to sell. Any one of them, but I just decided to use this guy that I met.

I also started to realize some things. When I am up there, I usually use the church kitchen to heat my food up and I just find that I am so busy that I work right through all the transitional times. So, this is not as much an issue.

In addition, I figure that if I have to stay the night on the north end, I can get a hotel room. Hey, staying in the Brown Palace for a night (and I DON’T plan to do this) is cheaper than a mortgage, right?

One more thing—there are all the costs of medical expenses and insurance.

On a financial level, I’m not sure I can afford a home any longer any way.

A word of advice from a purely financial standpoint: don’t get cancer. It is off-the-charts expensive.

Well, I could share a lot more. But those are some of the factors.

So, here is the deal: a couple of days ago, I pulled the trigger and decided to sell and put a sign out in front of my house.

Bang. The first people who came to see my house made me an offer at my asking price! After one day—the house is under contract!

Are you kidding me? Now, I am scrambling to try to figure out what to do with all my stuff … That is another lengthy discussion.

Before I close, some might be asking, “What are your plans?” I don’t know. I may end up buying something a lot smaller or renting something near the church at some point, but for now, I’m going to just live at my mom’s and deal with those challenges.

The adventure continues …

Lord, you are awesome. After all the months and years I have struggled with this, for you to pull this off in ONE DAY is off the charts. Thank you.

I am still having a hard time with this. I will miss my house up there. I already do. I will miss owning a home of my own, but the story is not done. I might own something else at some point; I might not.

Somehow, it seems Lord that the re-ordering of my priorities is continuing.

“I am a friend of God,
He calls me friend” (BH 2008, 483). Amen.
Comments

The Role of Tragedy in our Lives

Oh, man. I feel for those folks in Black Forest. I heard on the radio yesterday that, in terms of damage (lost homes), it is the worst fire in Colorado HISTORY.

It wasn’t that long ago that all of us were complaining about all the moisture we have received this Spring. Well, truth be known, it felt as if we had no Spring. It was snowing and cold through much of April and on into May, and then all of a sudden, things dried out, and it was in the high 90’s. All of this is a prescription for forest fires.

Another disturbing number I heard was that about 40,000 people are displaced/homeless as a result of all of this. I feel for them.

On television, the local stations are interviewing these folks. It just breaks your heart.

One more thing—late yesterday afternoon, crews discovered a couple of dead bodies in a badly burned area.

A lot of times, these types of fires just blow into an area and things are burning before people even realize it, and then it is too late.

As all of this is going on, a family in our congregation also had a tragedy. I’m not comfortable going into detail quite yet. As you are reading this, please pray for them. The Lord knows all the details at this point. I plan to send out a detailed message to the church later this afternoon. Hopefully, I will have had the opportunity to speak with them in more detail by then. For now, just pray. Thanks.

All of this comes into focus as I continue to read the first chapter of Joel. I would say that a locust plague had similar results to a forest fire. It is devastating.

"How the animals moan with hunger! The herds of cattle wander about confused, because they have no pasture. The flocks of sheep and goats bleat in misery. Lord, help us! The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures, and flames have burned up all the trees. Even the wild animals cry out to you because the streams have dried up, and fire has consumed the wilderness pastures" (Joel 1:18-20, NLT).

Did you notice the reference to fires? Of course! Not only would a locust plague affect food sources for animals, but also, a dry and barren landscape would be more vulnerable to fires! Kind of a double whammy, so to speak!

It is not enough that these flying and crawling bugs eat everything in sight. Things have to burn as well. By the time one would experience that, there would be nothing left.

I was talking with a lady in our church about this just the other day. Her family is going through a lot of health challenges at this point. Her husband, her mom, and her sister are facing “issues.” As we were talking, I said, “Why is it that it seems that tragedy happens in bunches?” I made a sound like a gun going off three times.

Sometimes, it just seems that when you are down, you get kicked as well. Insult to injury. The Job Syndrome, when it seems as if everything is caving in and there is no relief.

I was also discussing this with Pastor Ilamarques yesterday. His answer was basically, “Who knows?” I think this response has the most integrity of any that any of us could give.

It brings us back to the age-old dilemma of, “Why? Why do bad things happen to good people?” I am certainly not asserting here that everyone who lost a home in Black Forest is a believer, but still, one wonders what is going on.

Who knows?

Lord, you do.

And I have to trust you at this point, but this doesn’t lessen how hard it is to lose everything and to see loved ones hurting or ill or in pain or suffering from disease.

I lift up the folks in Black Forest. I pray that the fires would cease. Send a rainstorm, Lord—a Texas-like gulley washer.

I pray for the family in our church. Give them peace.

I lift up the other family experiencing multiple physical challenges. Encourage them as well.

“Draw me close to You, never let me go” (BH 2008, 482). Amen.
Comments

A Rather Sinister Army

The fires continue to burn here in Colorado. It has been very dry and very hot, and what I worry about is more fires.

One particularly large fire is burning in a community north and east of Colorado Springs. The area is called Black Forest, and it is about sixty miles from Denver.

As the day progressed yesterday, the sky took on more and more of an orange tint. And the smell of smoke was unmistakable. It blew all the way up to north Denver!

To be honest, it was kind of eerie and weird.

Jim and I made a couple of hospital visits, and we both remarked that it was just so dry that it was difficult to stay hydrated, but we were both determined to do it. I didn’t want to go back to that headache I had experienced the day before, and Jim wanted to make sure he stayed hydrated because of his eye surgery today.

Please pray for him. He has had various eye “issues” for the past several months. I am praying that this surgery today clears up things for him for good.

As I continue to progress in the book of Joel, the first chapter contains a lot of references to the locust plague that Israel experienced during Joel’s prophetic tenure. There is an interested reference to them in verse six: "A vast army of locusts has invaded my land, a terrible army too numerous to count. Its teeth are like lions’ teeth, its fangs like those of a lioness" (Joel 1:6, NLT).

The scriptures refer to these bugs as a vast army. Again, from descriptions that I have read about locusts, this is exactly what it looks like—a ground and air invasion in which they fill the sky so that it become pitch dark. Can you imagine that many bugs flying around? You couldn’t go outside because one might fly in your mouth.

Just an aside here, this actually happened to me when I was a kid. I was playing golf (I’m sure no one is surprised about this), and I was walking along a lake at Kennedy Golf Course here in Denver. And a rather sizable dragonfly flew into my mouth! I have no idea why I was walking along with my mouth wide open, but it was creepy. I spit and spewed and got the bug out of my mouth. Ugh.

But again, can you imagine swarms of grasshoppers flying around and being so thick that they obscure the sun and you have to wave your arms just to keep them from landing on you?

Add to this the ground “invasion”—a black carpet of bugs marching along as an army devouring everything in their path.

Well, I think you get the idea. Not a lot of fun.

As I was reading in Joel, the Lord brought to mind another reference to locusts. This one is found in the book of Revelation: "Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces. They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion. They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people. Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon —the Destroyer" (Revelation 9:3, 7-11 NLT).

This is the fifth trumpet judgment in the book of Revelation. Take what I described that happened in Joel’s day and super-size it. These demonic spirits look like horses with scorpion tails and human faces and gold crowns and long hair and fangs.

Okay—now I am officially “creeped out.” I can’t imagine how horrible this will be.

Last night, in the Bible study, we were talking about the Second Coming and the judgment of God. And I made this statement: “A lot of people associate judgment as a one-time event that will occur when Jesus comes back, but I believe that we see evidences of God’s judgment through human history so that the event in which the resurrected Christ separates the sheep from the goats is the CULMINATION of judgment.”

These references from Joel and Revelation are a case in point, and the way I look at it is: the Lord is trying to get the attention of rebels. It started with little bugs in Joel’s day, but the “bugs” keep getting bigger and bigger as, through the centuries, the Lord continues to reach out to sinful humans in order to get them to see their need for Jesus, and he uses drastic, horrible means. Satan is a tool of the Lord as well. The bugs in Revelation are in fact emissaries from Satan himself.

I don’t think we have any concept of how bad things are going to get before the End.

My eschatology does not include a Rapture (I can hear the gasps from here). I believe that the church will go through this terrible time of judgment along with folks who need Jesus. I believe that we will co-exist to continue to be witnesses to these folks under the judgment of God all the way to the time Jesus comes back.

I would love it if somehow we could be levitated out of all of this (hey, regardless of what I believe, I will take it, even if I am driving and my car crashes on the side of the road—have you seen pictures?), but I just don’t think the Bible teaches it.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. We will find out. Sooner than later, I believe.

Lord, I thank you for your judgment against sin and evil. Thank you for the locust plague in Joel’s day. Thank for what you allow as the Eschaton continues.

I am confident of where I will stand on the Day of Judgment. But give me, give all of us urgency to take as many folks with us as possible.

I lift up Jim today. Give the doctors skill and wisdom in his surgery today.

“This is the air I breathe, …
Your holy presence living in me” (BH 2008, 481). Amen.
Comments

Dehydration

Over the past couple of days, I have felt progressively worse. It has been weird. Yesterday, I developed a migraine headache. I could barely navigate, and I kept saying, “What is going on?”

It didn’t feel as if I had a virus or anything. I just had this headache and my energy level hit rock bottom.

Finally, it dawned on me.

Before I go further, let me back up a couple of days and elaborate on some things. Sunday’s picnic was off the charts. We had a great time of fellowship at the park. I so appreciate the good work that Kelley, Patty, Chuck, and others did. Our plan was to have people bring food, but the church was going to cook the hamburgers and hotdogs.

The plan involved taking grills out to the park and cooking the meat OUT THERE.

Well, Chuck graciously offered his pickup to help us transport the grills. We took one from the church, and we also grabbed Kelley’s grill. Just to write this makes this sound easy, but it was anything but.

I so appreciated the fact that Chuck had the necessary equipment to help with this. He had this web-type cord that he was able to pull over the grill to stabilize it in the back of his truck, but just maneuvering the grills required a lot of dexterity. At one point, Chuck said lifted up his arm and asked, “Am I bleeding?” Those of us who were helping could see that he had scraped most of the skin off the lower part of one his arms. But there was no blood, amazingly.

Well, anyway, Chuck and Kelley and Patty got the grills out there and stayed at the park to get things set up during the service. They wanted to have everything ready to do so that, when people started showing up, they would not have to wait for the meal to begin. Most people are sort of like me in the fact that they tend to be hungry after the service.

We had our picnic at a new park in Thornton. It has just recently been built. The city of Thornton went all out. There is a skate park there and a lake with paddleboats. In addition, they did a good job with pavilions. We reserved one that was perfect for us. We were near some horseshoe pits and I was able to play horseshoes with Dave and his son Dave along with Bryan, Paul, and Jeremy. We had a blast, and you will be glad to hear that I did not hit anyone with a horseshoe!

I’ll tell you what: that would hurt! Horseshoes are substantial pieces of metal. It has been years since I have actually picked one up.

About 2:00, things started to wind down. We had some good help cleaning up, but we had to transport those grills back to Kelley’s and back to the church. Again, no small task. We went to Kelley’s first and then we took the church’s grill back and threw it in the dumpster—it was done. I say “we” but at the final “dump off,” it was only Chuck and Belle along with one of our teenagers, Tom, and me.

We finally got everything wrapped up about 3:00.

That was Sunday, and then over the past couple of days, I have had a lot going and we have had record-high temperatures. The thermometer in my truck actually read 100 degrees yesterday.

Here is my point in all this verbiage (I promised I would get back to it today, didn’t I? Ha): I just didn’t drink enough water. It is even more crucial to be hydrated when it gets this hot, and for some reason, I just failed to hydrate myself.

When this fact dawned on my thick brain last night, I just began pouring water into my mouth, and it was crazy, I started to feel better almost immediately. I was still fatigued, but after a good night’s sleep, I am good to go today.

I have a friend who is a personal trainer. He categorically teaches that the optimal amount of water each person should consume per day is half of his/her body weight in ounces.

My primary care doctor disputes this. I am going to get a little graphic here. Sorry. He told me that when your urine is clear the water you are drinking is giving you no benefit. Humm. Interesting.

I would have to say that my problem remains that I don’t drink enough water, and so I am going to continue to focus on it. It is supposed to be in the nineties all week.

This morning, after finishing Philippians, I am back in the Old Testament. I am starting book of Joel. One of the things that you need to keep in mind as you read this book is that the setting of this prophecy is a locust plague in Israel.

I remember my Old Testament survey class in seminary as Boo Heflin (yes, his first name was Boo. He was a phenomenal teacher) talked about locust plagues. Up till then, I had no idea. He read a first-hand account of a modern-day locust plague.

The best way I can describe it is that everything turned black—both the sky and the ground. When it was over, there was nothing left on any tree or plant.

The only analogy I can think of is the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Now, of course, humans didn’t die, but the landscape probably looked similar. It was a catastrophic event.

Joel mentions this plague in the first few verses of the book: "What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten” (Joel 1:4, NASB).

The Lord has ways of getting our attention, doesn’t He?

Lord, I thank you for helping me last night. I thank you for water. Thank you that we live in a place where it is readily available. This is just one of the basic ways that you provide for us.

Thank you for crises as well—those times when everything turns dark and we can’t see our way out. You are in charge of those times as well.

Help me today to continue to trust you and DRINK water!

“And step by step You’ll lead me” (BH 2008, 480). Amen.
Comments

Unlikely Places

Another relatively short entry today. I’ll be back to my usually verbose self tomorrow. Don’t worry! Ha.

I was very interested to hear that the New England Patriots picked up Tim Tebow yesterday. I’m glad for him. All the pundits were saying that his career in the NFL was over.

Unlike many of the writers who pen articles in the various papers I get on my Ipad, I was very surprised that New England was the team. I know that Josh McDaniels, the former Bronco coach who originally drafted Tebow is there. Yada, yada, yada. But Bill Belichick runs the show there.

No one comes the Patriot’s without his blessing. I’m just surprised that he gave it in this situation. Very interesting.

Honestly, I would love it if Tebow flourished there and eventually became an All-Pro. If he plays quarterback, this scenario wouldn’t happen until the “great” Tom Brady retires. If you detect a note of sarcasm there, you are right. I’m not a fan of Brady’s off the field lifestyle. I guess he is a good quarterback (it is hard for me to compliment him even on THAT field).

We will just have to wait and see, but again, I am happy for Tebow. One article that I read said that he continued to work out and work on his throwing motion even after the Jets cut him and it looked as if no other team would pick him up. I am not surprised.

Anyway, there is a curious statement in the second to last verse of the book of Philippians. Here it is: "Give my greetings to each of God’s holy people—all who belong to Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you their greetings. And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household" (Philippians 4:21-22, NLT).

Believers in Caesar’s household? Wow. Obviously, Paul does not name them specifically. That would have been a sure sign that their heads would be removed from their shoulders.

My imagination is running wild this morning. I wonder what it must have been like to be a Christian and serve a pagan ruler like all the Caesars were. Study any of them—Augustus, Nero, and Domitian—none were examples of high moral character. Let’s just leave it at that.

I have to brush up on my Roman history. I am not exactly sure who the emperor was when Paul was in prison in Rome, but whoever he was, he was exposed to a Christian witness—people in his household serving him every day. He had his chances.

I also wonder how these folks came into contact with Paul so that he knew about them and could pass along a greeting from them. Humm.

You never know how the Lord works and you never know where you will find believers—in the household of a pagan king or on the New England Patriots. I’m not sure what environment is more unlikely.

Lord, thank you for another beautiful and hot day. Use me as a witness today. Empower me to share. None of us knows where people who know you will end up. Wouldn’t it be crazy if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick got saved as a result of the life and witness of Tim Tebow? Anything is possible with you! Amen.
Comments

The Same God

My entry today is going to be rather short. This will probably be the case tomorrow as well. I’ve got a lot going the next couple of days.

We often quote Philippians 4:19 in a vacuum. “My God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory.” This is our concept of what we think God ought to do for us.

Unfortunately, however, this is not what Paul is teaching in this well-known verse. I am going to quote it from the New Living Translation.

"At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:18-19, NLT).

He is commending the church. He is thanking them for the gift they sent and he acknowledges that it is a generous gift.

And like all gifts in the church context, it is a gift given first and foremost to the Lord as an offering that pleases Him.

Here is the part I like: “the same God who takes care of me will amply supply all your needs.” I love it.

So, here is the deal: this promise of God’s provision is directed to those whom the Lord allowed to meet needs in Paul’s life. “My God shall supply all YOUR needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

We saw this principle come into play yesterday in the service. I showed the slides of the church in Myanmar the Lord allowed us to help. We rejoiced that a congregation in Northglenn could help a church over 8,000 miles away.

On a human level, we sent money (it wasn’t all that much really) out into space—poof, gone. On a God level, we gave it to Him. The same God amply, generously, supplied our needs in a couple of ways.

A youth group from Oklahoma joined us in our service yesterday. They were on their way to Utah on a mission trip. They just picked us. It was awesome to see them and meet them. It was a shot in the arm to all of us. The Lord used them to meet this “shot in the arm need.” Ha.

AND, the Lord added a young family to our congregation—mid-twenties with three kids. How about that? We praise God.

I tie all of this together.

The same God—and You are awesome. I am praising You this morning. Amen.
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Give and Take

Paul makes an interesting comment in Philippians four as he talks with the church about his situation and his support. It is clear that he had a unique relationship with the folks in Philippi, and a lot of it had to do with money.

"You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I'll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I'm looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity” (Philippians 4:15-17, MSG).

This church helped Paul out more than once, when no one else did.

And Paul was glad—not for his own sake (even though, you have to know that he was glad because he got to EAT—again, we aren’t talking cable TV here), but for the sake of the church.

He rejoiced because they got to experience the blessing of generosity.

Reading this passage this morning brings several things to mind. From the bottom of my heart, I want to serve a GENEROUS church. I am not talking about throwing money around and not being good stewards. Of course, this is important, but in our ministry, and in our dealings with people, I believe we have to be generous. And I realize that this is somewhat subjective. Everyone perceives this differently, but I believe everyone recognizes it when they see it.

Recently, a family in our church went through a crisis when the mom had to have brain surgery. She was out of commission for a while, but now she is doing great. She was up at the church the other day doing some work.

Anyway, we took a special offering. We gave them a “pounding.” I think I mentioned this a few weeks ago. Anyway, the total amount of food and money given blew their socks off! And that is the way I like it and the way it should be. This is the way Christians ought to minister to one another and to a lost and dying world.

In addition to that, recently, we took up a special offering for a church in Myanmar. We found out about this need through a dear friend and brother. All in all, we collected a total of $1,835 in a special offering to help this church with roof repairs on their orphanage.

Just the other day, I received three pictures of the repairs and the building. The pastor reported that all the work was completed and the church has no debts. Amen.

What are these two examples? I have to tell you that in both instances, it is “give and take.” What do I mean?

Well, as far as the family in our church is concerned, this “pounding” would not have taken place if they had not been such a blessing in the first place. They are a loving, caring family. The dad is as hard a worker as you will ever find. The wife’s mom also lives with them. Her husband passed away a few years ago. I did his funeral. But since that day she has flourished in serving the Lord.

We have received many blessings from them. It was easier to give to them.

As I write this, I realize that this could be misconstrued in some ways. Someone could say, “John, this doesn’t sound like Christian love to me. You are saying that because someone blessed you, you blessed them.”

No, this isn’t about anyone “earning” the love of Christ. I’m just describing the norm of what happens in church. It is a mutual blessing. I honestly believe that this same thing would happen with anyone in our fellowship! People would be there, and they would give.

However, let me say that the very practical aspect of this (call it what you want) is that people are more likely to help folks they know, over those they don’t. And this just speaks to the fact that being in a church and serving God lays a foundation for crises.

If you don’t give God the time of day and don’t go to church, then the resource of the body of Christ won’t be there when YOU need it. That is just reality.

As far as the church in Myanmar is concerned, it is also a “give and take.” This still touches me very deeply any time I think about it. But this pastor and his wife led their church to pray for me when I got cancer! Think about that. Their practice of prayer blows away what I just said in the above paragraphs about helping people in the church.

They did not know me from Adam’s house cat, and they still prayed for me!

By the way, I just went to Google to find this information. It is 8155.2 miles from Denver to Myanmar. It takes 16 hours and 56 minutes to get there (I would think this is talking about a direct flight and I doubt there are any).

This is the way I look at this: if these folks who live over 8000 miles away can pray for a total stranger, the least we can do is send some money to help with a building need. The least we can do.

Here is the bottom line, though. Everyone involved in the “give and take” gets blessed.

Lord, it is such a blessing to know you and be involved with the church of Jesus Christ, wherever it is in the world. Thank you for your generosity. Thank for giving your One and Only Son. Thank you for your lavish love. Thank you for your abundant grace. “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.”

Use us today to be generous with one another in the services and the picnic that follows. Please keep us safe there. Give us opportunities to share Jesus with folks.

“All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee” (BH 2008, 479). Amen.
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Christ's Sufficiency and Hernias

Isn’t it phenomenal how certain verses become attached to certain times in life, forever?

My mom used to read the Living Bible for her daily devotions, and she had the habit of marking passages with a date and a little note about what was going on in her life at that time so that when she came back to that passage, it would be a reminder.

One of our deacons, Jim, does something similar, but he does it with my sermons. He marks his Bible with dates that I preached certain passages. Recently, (I think it was one of our Wednesday night Bible studies), I made a comment about how often I preach from the Psalms. Jim stated, “The last time you did it was 2007.” He is a student of the Word and takes notes on all the messages.

I wish others in our fellowship did the same thing—not to record what I say, but to keep track of what God said to them, WHEN.

I think this is a crucial way to allow history to build faith. It kind of jogs the memory, “Oh, yeah, I remember what God did back then as He spoke to me through that verse or passage.”

Philippians 4:13 and reading it from a particular version will always be attached to the final semester of my senior year at Baylor. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do at that point. Many of my friends were glad that school was just about over for them. They were planning on careers and making money and getting married.

I, on the other hand, was starring straight into more school in a strange new town ninety miles up the road in Fort Worth. My friend Dan and I took a trip up there and got the “grand tour” at seminary. I was immediately impressed at how “old” everyone looked. I surmised that most of them were married with several kids. And the atmosphere of seminary was radically different than that of college.

People seemed to be more serious and sedate. And, what a duddy place—they didn’t even have a football or basketball team. What was I going to do?

These are the “profound” thoughts and struggles of a twenty-three year old college grad. I just didn’t know if I could handle what was ahead.

I’m glad Dan and I started seminary together. We “hung out” a lot that first semester, but as it turned out, Dan left school after that first semester and went back to work in his family’s business in Oklahoma. So, there I was, but by then, the truth of this verse had helped me get over that initial “hump” of seminary.

Well, anyway, what was the verse? Here is Philippians 4:13 in the Amplified Version: "I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]" (Philippians 4:13, AMP). Wow! This verse in this version still sends chills up my spine.

“I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength in me.” There is nothing that any of us will go through that the strength of Christ cannot supply strength for! Since that final semester of college, I have added many more things to this list, many more transitions such as Masters level to PhD, preliminary exams, language exam, orals, dissertation, graduation, first sermon at First Southern, first deacon’s meeting, first church fight, first devastating disappointment, first staff “issue,” forty-second staff “issue,” cancer, et cetera.

The strength of Christ enabled me to be ready for all of that and more AND equal to those things. This does not mean that any of them were easy. In each of these situations and more, there were many times I thought, “I just don’t think I am going to be able to make it.” Somehow, the Lord pulled me through, as He always does.

But I also gravitate to the second phrase: “I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.” To me, this means that Jesus is all I need.” This is, in effect, Paul’s secret of contentment—the all-sufficient Christ.

This is one of those statements we often hear or make, but do we really believe it? Jesus is all I need. How do I LEARN THAT? Well, I think the only way is that Jesus is all I have. When He and He alone is all I have, then I learn that He is all I need.

I guess this hernia issue is another way that He will use to show me this truth.

I have to be honest. I have had a lot of anger and resentment about this hernia. It is no big deal, I realize, but I just have not wanted to deal with it. It has kind of stressed me out, like a fly buzzing around my head.

I had my appointment with the doctor yesterday. As it turns out, she is the wife of my primary care doctor. She knows her stuff and explained everything to me, but one thing she said struck me from the first, “John, if you choose not to have this surgery, it is okay. I am not here to convince you to have this operated on. This is a small hernia. It is NOT life threatening. You could go on for years and have no problems. Some people just want to get hernias fixed, and if that is where you are, then we can do it. If not, no problem.”

I cannot tell you the relief I felt when she said that. I went in there dead set against getting it fixed and mad that I even have to deal with it. I left thinking that I am going to get it fixed but later on in the summer or early in the Fall so that I don’t have to take a break from golf. And she was okay with this!

So, once again, the Lord took care of it and helped me through another issue. So, this verse is now attached to a hernia, and I know I will have to come back to it in the weeks of recovery from the surgery, but I am not going to cross that bridge yet.

Thank you, Jesus, for the inner strength you infuse in our lives. You are strong. You are stronger than anything or anyone. Since you dwell in me in the person of Jesus Christ, I share that strength.

You give strength for BIG things like cancer and strength for LITTLE things like hernias and you give strength for all sorts of things in between. You are awesome.

“You have called me to this passage (through the storm), and I’ll follow though I am worn” (BH 2008, 477, parentheses mine). Amen.
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I Need Help But I Don't

Paul walks a rather precarious tightrope in the final verses of Philippians. He is asking for help from one of the few churches that does help him. And of course, he is asking because he has needs. And yet, before he gets into all of his needs, he wants to make one thing clear: he doesn’t NEED the help.

What I have just written may appear to some to be very convoluted and confusing, but I not only believe this is what he is saying, but also I understand it.

Let me see if I can explain it.

I know that Southern Baptists do things differently than most denominations when it comes to supporting missionaries. We give to the Cooperative Program, and our missionaries receive support without having to enlist it on their own. I like this. I think it is the best system out there.

However, it does remove the personal responsibility element a bit. Over the years, we have taken responsibility to support some individuals—we are doing it now. I have encouraged the church to do this just because I think it is good for us. It makes missions a little more personal. We are not just giving to some huge “program.”

But I often wonder, how would I handle it if I were somehow cut loose (I sure hope this doesn’t happen!?!), how would I approach asking people to support me? Honestly, I can’t even imagine it.

My first gut reaction is that I would work at McDonald’s before I would be in that position. This is making an assumption that I could actually get a job there! I think maybe I could as long as I didn’t have the French fry detail. I’m afraid I would burn the whole place down!

But if I had to do that, I would feel that I had to walk the same tightrope that Paul is on in Philippians four. “Folks, you know I have needs, but I want to make it clear that I really don’t.”

In other words, he is not begging.

I’m sure that folks in Paul’s day were as skeptical and tired of preachers doing that as folks are in our day and time. The guys on TV are masters of it. They get people (mainly seniors, I’m afraid) to give them all sorts of money that supports a lavish lifestyle, in many instances. It is crazy.

One of the main differences between those flyboys and Paul is that Paul is sitting in a prison cell. I’m not exactly sure how large his cell was but I don’t think you could put a boat there.

He was indeed asking for the basic necessities of life. Chained between two Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day—one can only imagine what those necessities could be. Not much.

This is what makes Paul’s appeal so powerful to me. It isn’t that he is talking about having all the cable channels or NOT; having a yacht or NOT; or whatever. Paul is talking about that he has learned to live with the necessities or without them.

Here are his comments: "Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (Philippians 4:11-12, NLT). These are admittedly rather general comments. But he does give us a clue as to what he is talking about. One area is food.

Paul has learned to live on a full stomach (most of us here in the United States know what this is about) and he has learned to live without food.

I wonder what the food plan was in that prison where Paul was in Rome?

Ah, none.

I wonder what the dining hall was like?

Yeah, right.

He depended on folks to bring food or he didn’t eat.

I wonder how many folks starved to death in prison in Paul’s day.

I don’t know … all of this is deeply convicting. Have I learned the secret of contentment LIKE Paul? I gripe and complain when the coffee maker doesn’t work. This happened yesterday, and I was not in a good mood. Heaven forbid! I had to fill my coffee cup with water and actually put it in the microwave and then put my teabag in that water!

Oh, man. My suffering probably goes on the list with the others in Hebrews eleven. “By faith, John endured, even though he had to put his coffee cup in the microwave.” Wow, that goes high on the list next to the folks who were sawn in two!

You get the point.

Lord, I thank you for these words in the latter half of Philippians 4. Teach me, Lord. Help me to learn how to be content.

“He sends the sunshine and the rain” (BH 2008, 475). Amen.
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Praxis

How do you like that fancy word? It came forcefully to mind through the events of yesterday. The Lord pulled some things together for me.

First, I had a great day, and I want to thank everyone for the birthday greetings I received in a variety of ways—cards and also online through Facebook and some folks just told me “Happy Birthday” last night.

Calla’s son Dayton (he and I are buds) asked me, “Pastor John, how old are you?”

“28,” I replied.

He tilted his head in a hilarious way as if to say, “Ah, no way.”

I laughed and said, “No, Dayton, try almost twice that.”

Once again, his expression was rather quizzical as he did some fast computations in his head. I think he reached for an age that was A LOT older.

When I was his age, 50 might as well have been 150. I thought it fit in the category of Methuselah.

I answered him again, “That is closer. A little older.”

“53? 54? 55?”

“Bingo, you got it.”

“Oh,” he said. I don’t think he quite knew what to say at that point. He was probably thinking, “Whoa, that is old, but I don’t want to tell him THAT.” He just turned and ran down the hall with his sister.

But I had a wonderful day of fellowship and ministry. I was on the run from early in the morning till about 9:00 PM. I was exhausted, but it was a good tired.

One of the things I did yesterday was meet with Larry. He is a brother from North Metro—a sister SBC church on the north side. We partner with this congregation to do ministry in another neighboring community—Federal Heights. I will have to say that, recently, North Metro has been carrying a huge percentage of the load, particularly as it relates to the Good News Club at Federal Heights Elementary School.

The Good News Club (GNC) is an incredible after school program sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. The Lord has used it to bring a lot of boys and girls to faith in Jesus.

Anyway, Larry came by to talk about how we are going to follow-up with the boys and girls who professed faith in Jesus this past school year. As we discussed this, we came up with the idea that we just need to try to make personal contact with each family (we have the names and addresses of each of these kids) and try to encourage them to find a church home and/or follow Jesus in baptism.

The other challenge with this is that most of these children are Hispanic. They speak English, but many of their parents do not.

I feel that our church needs to take this challenge on. And I am going to ask some folks in the Hispanic church to help us as we try to make these contacts. It seems like a great summer outreach project.

Thus, as I stood before the class of adults I teach on Wednesday night, I said, “Next Wednesday will be our last study for the summer. The next Wednesday, I am going to talk with all of you about a ministry opportunity. I hope that you will feel the leadership of the Lord to participate. If not, that is fine. At least you can know about it so that you can pray.”

Not long ago (and the details of this conversation are still rather fuzzy in my mind), I was visiting with someone who told me that on the mission field (and we were talking about a specific place or maybe more than one—again, this 28 year old is battling senility) missionaries take an interesting approach. Instead of teaching folks a bunch of things over the course of 26 weeks or longer, they teach ONE THING and then urge folks to go out and immediately do that ONE THING.

I like this. It is a polar opposite to the way we do things. We are top heavy with tons of knowledge, but we don’t focus on application or practice or PRAXIS.

From now on, I am going to apply this principle as much as possible. I think classes ought to have a balance between learning and application. How do I know if I have learned? It isn’t about more knowledge crammed in my head. I know I have learned if I LIVE IT, right?

Paul emphasizes this in his instruction to the folks in Philippi. "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT).

He urges them to think the right things, but he goes further. “Keep putting into practice what you learned.”

I believe this is a critical component of discipleship.

Lord, help me to put into practice today what you have taught me. It is easy for me as a pastor to think about everyone else. I choose today to focus on me. Teach me how actually to apply biblical truth. I talk about application. Show me actually how to DO IT.

JUST DO IT.

“He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall” (BH 2008, 475). Amen.
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Safe, Even on the Double Nickel

Several years ago, Michael Jordan had one of his greatest games.

There was something about the crowd and the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden in New York that got his competitive juices going even more than usual. He loved playing there.

The Knicks had some good teams in the years he was playing. Patrick Ewing was their center. John Starks was an acrobatic player that drew the assignment of guarding Jordan, most of the time. They had other great players.

But the Bulls seemed to have their number, especially in the playoffs. Especially when Jordan was “on” as he was the night that he score 55 and the Bulls won another game. In the litany that describes the great games in Jordan’s career, that one has been dubbed “double nickel.”

Rob used it yesterday to wish me Happy Birthday. The phrase reminded me of Jordan’s great game.

This morning, I am also reminded of something else--another birthday I had a few years ago. It was one of the most depressing days of my life. I think it was my 48th birthday. Somehow, everything that happened to me that day hit me the wrong way, and I just felt that old age and a nursing home were just around the corner for me since I had reached the ripe old age of 48.

It all seems totally ridiculous to me now. I regret that I wasted a day, any day, but particularly a birthday getting depressed over stuff like THAT.

I have to tell all of you that this morning, I am deeply glad and grateful just for the fact that the Lord has allowed me to live another year. I am close to the three-year mark now since I found out that I had cancer.

And while I realize that I don’t have any idea what the coming year holds, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m not going to waste this day on what might happen.

I learned this lesson from Jon, my friend from college who has had cancer himself. Several months ago, as my mom and sis and I had some fellowship with him and his wife Lynda (who is also a good friend from our Baylor days), I asked Jon about worry over the future. He said something like, “I’ve learned it just isn’t worth it. Most of the time, what you worry about never happens anyway.”

So, today, on the “double nickel” birthday, I feel like Jordan in the Garden. I’m ready to score 55 on the Knicks! Bring it on, baby.

Going back to that depressing birthday a few years ago, I had to be careful after that to make sure that I allowed some room for myself on my birthday, just to make sure I avoided my depressing days. I mean, if you get depressed that you are forty-eight, it is even going to be more of a downer when you hit 55, the mid-fifties, they round up all the “mid numbers” to the next highest decade—60! Oh, man, I need to just lay my head on a railroad track!!!

Not really. Don’t worry. I’m just tracing the trajectory of depression, but again, it is all nonsense.

Today, I don’t need to leave myself any margin. I have a very full workday that will take me from morning well into the evening. Some friends who used to belong to our church—Bill and Melba—now live in Idaho, but they are in town and want to take me to lunch. In the evening, prior to all the stuff on Wednesday night at church, my mom and sis are coming up to Northglenn and we are going to eat somewhere. It will be great. And so will the rest of my appointments and ministry stuff today.

Again, I’m just grateful to be able to be alive and feel good and feel in better shape than I have been since high school. What is there to be depressed about that?

Plus, I have this overwhelming sense of peace today.

Back to the verses I have been camping on the past couple of days, I want to quote them again from yet another translation: "Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, GNB).

I am indeed counting on Him to keep my heart and mind SAFE today.

The peace of God is a garrison, a rampart that the Lord builds around us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have anxiety, but with our relationship, we have a place to take it. Instead of worrying and fretting (birthday number 48), I can just lay things out to God, trusting that He will continue to provide for my needs and those of my family and those of the church, and just go out and let it fly.

The Double Nickel. 55 points against the Knicks. 55 years old—what is the difference?

Lord, from the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful for another year you have graciously allowed me to live. As you give my breath and life, I feel invigorated to “let it fly”—to serve you wholeheartedly and unreservedly, as long as you allow me to have health.

I’m thankful for the garrison of peace that keeps us safe in Christ Jesus.

You:

Cheer each winding path I tread
Give me grace for every trial
Feed me with the living bread

(BH 2008, 474). I sure loved how the Baylor Religious Choir (BRH) sang this wonderful hymn when I was in college, back in the day. How long ago was that? Man, that is de … Nope. Ha. Amen.
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A Definition of Peace

I am still not “over” what the Lord did on Sunday, in both services, but particularly in the Hispanic church. On a couple of occasions yesterday, as I was in my car, I just could not help crying my eyes out.

Those of you who read this blog fairly regularly (and again, I’m so grateful for all of you out there) know the agony of the past few weeks.

This morning, I received an email from a brother. We had discussed doing some ministry together this summer in Federal Heights. The second I saw his message, it hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, yeah. We had talked about that. Oh, man.”

This happened yesterday with another brother. Same scenario. He said, “Well, John, I just didn’t hear from you, so we are going to have to postpone it and do it some other time.”

I have just been buried in this deal with the Hispanic church. It has consumed my attention, and there is just so much tied up into all of it.

All through the past few weeks, I have doubted myself. I have been wondering, “Am I way off base here? What am I doing? This thing has been going along for eight years and now, it appears that all is for naught and we are starting over.”

It honestly was one of the loneliest experiences of my life as well. This is something that IS going to change in the future. I’m NOT going to repeat this experience again. We ARE going to have a Missions Team OR, I honestly doubt we can continue with the mission congregations we have.

It just HAS to be more people in the loop than just me. In this whole thing, I regressed again to my pre-cancer days of being a lone ranger leader in so many different ways.

But I guess it was lonely for other reasons as well. Sometimes, I wonder if the church “at large” really even thinks about or cares about the other congregations who worship with us in God’s building. This is rather harsh to say, I know, but it is the way I feel.

I’ll tell you: by anyone’s standard, however, these three churches have been nothing but a blessing. We all work together well. There is no one in any of these congregations that is not extremely grateful to have a place to worship and that does not treat the building as if it were their own. I could list more blessings.

Anyway, I’m not trying to bash anyone in our congregation. Most folks these days have a lot on their plate and just don’t have the time or energy to think much about “church stuff.” But from the beginning, the future of this ministry weighed on me. We have at least ten years invested in reaching Hispanic people in our community. I just didn’t want to see it all go down the drain.

I’m not trying to be overly noble or dramatic (as preachers tend to be on occasion), but I felt that I was fighting for this church, for its survival, but I wondered if it would.

I knew that a couple of people would be there last Sunday, but I had no idea.

So, let me rehearse the count. There were actually six folks there who had been leading/attending in the Hispanic church. I did not know this until I received an email from Jorge yesterday. The one couple that was sitting in the back was visiting for THE FIRST TIME. Jorge said that they liked the church, want to come back, and are willing to commit to serve. Isn’t that awesome?

Then, there was Steve and Sylvia and Raymond. I just can’t get over this threesome. God sent them. That’s all there is to it.

You know, I put myself in their shoes. I am meeting a friend and things get delayed a bit. The original plan was to go to church together, but it is getting late in the morning and I can’t find a service to go to. This is what I would have done: I would have blown it off and just gone to Black-eyed Pea.

I have painted myself as sort of a male version of Joan of Ark in some of the comments I have made in the paragraphs above, but obviously, I am far from that. Very far. I would have blown off church.

But these three did not. They kept looking and searching and found a church that meets at 12:15. So, they went to a restaurant, grabbed a bite to eat, and made their way back to show up on time.

Now, here is the second amazing thing. They found a service in a language that none of them spoke very well. Raymond lives in Mexico, and he speaks in Spanish, a little. And I think Steve said that Sylvia speaks/understands Spanish a bit. But still …

Now, if Brother Joan of Ark (me) had been in that situation, I know I would NOT have gone to a church where people speak a language I didn’t understand that well, even though I am learning Spanish.

So, but unlike me, they forge ahead and show up on the one Sunday the Anglo pastor is preaching and God speaks to them.

It is just incredible. And it shows how the Lord works. I like the fact that one of the greatest services I have ever been a part of had twelve people in it (I include myself in that number—twelve total).

I will relish what happened and what the Lord did there as one of the best memories of my ministry life.

And I am so grateful for the Lord’s encouragement and affirmation, not just for me personally, but for this church that is making a “re-start” of sorts. Jorge’s message was brimming with excitement. I’m so happy for him and the five other folks.

Well, I read these famous verses in Philippians 4 from the Amplified Bible. I want to quote them now: "Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, AMP).

How about this as a definition of the peace of God? The peace of God is “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is.” Awesome! Off the charts!

Oh, Lord, thank you for peace WITH God. This occurs at the moment of salvation and it is what you do for me in Jesus. But, from the bottom of my heart, I also thank you for the “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.” This is the peace OF God. Spirit of God, thank you so much for the huge encouragement of Sunday.

I lift up this church and ministry. May this congregation grow and thrive. Thank you for bringing Jose and Maria last Sunday as well.

Today, I ask you to help live the admonitions of these verses in Philippians: don’t worry about anything; pray about everything.

Oh, Lord, your encouragements are huge. Thank you for giving me a day to allow the magnitude of what you did to sink into my heart and soul.

“All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?” (BH 2008, 474). Amen.
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An Incredible Intersection

I am not talking about a street! I am referring to an amazing work of God!

I want to say, first of all, that the Anglo service was one of the best worship experiences we have had in a long time. We switched things up a bit. I preached my sermon toward the beginning of the service. Then, we allowed folks time to share; we sang together, and we had the Lord’s Supper. But I don’t attribute what happened to anything we did, except for the fact that I think Scott did a great job in the music he selected.

At one point in the service, he left the platform. I didn’t think much about it because I was focused on worshiping the Lord. In a few seconds, he returned with his son Seth. He was obviously emotional. He shared that his son had helped him this past week in his walk and worship of the Lord. Seth is young. He is about eight, I think, but he stood up there with his dad and belted out praises to the Lord.

It was off the charts. Things just “felt” different. People seemed to participate more. I am still so thankful.

But what I want to talk about happened in the Hispanic service that started at 12:15. There were only a few people there at the beginning. But, right before the service was about to start, three folks came in. Steve and his wife Sylia along with another guy named Raymond. They were all Anglos.

Steve and Sylia had a friendship with Raymond who was passing through town (he is a truck driver who actually lives in Mexico). They decided to meet in the Northglenn area and go to church together. They were running a little late, however. They went to a few churches, only to discover that the services were already in process.

When they drove by our church, they discovered that there was a Hispanic service at 12:15, and even though none of them spoke Spanish all that well, they decided to come. How about that?

When I met Steve, he told me that he had ministered in Romania where he didn’t understand a word of what was being said in the services there, but he still worshiped the Lord.

Steve, Sylvia, and Raymond sat on the second row. There was a lot of empty space all around them. There were probably only eight other adults in the service, but I tell you: the worship was great. Jorge did a fantastic job.

I learned a new song yesterday. The title is “Mas Que Vencidores.” It means “More than Conquerors.” I was able to pick up enough of the words of this song that I was able to understand the message, and it encouraged me greatly.

When it came time to preach, I had chosen Matthew 16:13-18 as my text. The focal verse was verse 18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (this is my paraphrase of this verse—pretty close to the NIV84, I think).

I believe that one of the things that Jesus was telling Peter is that his confession of Christ is what Jesus is referring to when He says “upon this rock” I will build my church. I don’t want to re-preach my sermon here (I know you are glad about that). But I believe that Jesus is the cornerstone of the church but he builds it with confessing believers like Peter.

I don’t think Jesus is pronouncing Peter as the first Pope or anything like that, but his confession, like that of any believer, is very important.

Anyway, after the message, we shared the Lord’s Supper together and then I said, “There is one more thing that I feel led to do.” Earlier that day, I had asked Dayton, Calla’s son, to retrieve some pebbles from the garden in the front of the church. I washed these rocks off a bit and had them in a towel.

I walked up to every adult and handed them one of those pebbles, and stated, “You are Steve, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail.” I did this with every adult in the service, just trying to encourage them.

Well, as I handed Raymond and Sylia and Steve the little rock, I could tell they were really reacting.

After I finished, Steve stood up. “I need to say something, Pastor.” I invited him to the front. Jorge stood next to him to translate.

Steve looked at me. “Pastor, you have no idea what you just did.” My heart skipped a beat. Okay, what have I done now?

Steve went on, “Not long ago, my wife and I felt led to go on a mission trip. Before we left, a dear friend handed us a little rock like this and said, ‘Take this with you as a reminder that the church is behind you in your travels. We went to various places in the United States (he named several towns at that point). Then, we traveled to London and when we were there, we picked up a rock. We then went to Paris. We picked up a rock there. We went to several other towns in Europe. We have been home now for a while and Satan has really been attacking us. The Lord brought us here today and you handed us a rock! There is no way this could have happened unless the Lord orchestrated it.”

Okay, can you believe that? As he was sharing, I was finding it difficult to contain my emotions.

All of the events of the past couple of weeks started to bubble up within me. It has been a very hard stretch and now we are basically starting this Hispanic church over.

But through all of that—it was as if the Lord was saying, “I am still at work. Keep going.” I honestly believe that all the eight adults in that room got the same message.

I believe that THIS is what Paul is talking about in these famous to verses of Philippians four: "Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6-7, MSG).

This is exactly what happened yesterday—“a sense of wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” What an amazing intersection of the work of the Holy Spirit!

My heart is full this morning, Lord Jesus. Thank you so much for what you did yesterday in both services. I give you the praise and honor and glory.

I lift up Steve and Sylia and Raymond. Bless these emissaries that you sent to that service yesterday to use in a mighty way. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Help Patty this morning, Lord, as she recovers from her appendix surgery yesterday. Thanks for taking care of her.

Again, Lord, you are awesome. Thanks for enabling us to be “mas que venicidores.” Amen.
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Two DIFFERENT Sermons Today

The thought occurred to me yesterday: it has been a while since I have preached twice on Sunday morning. On a couple of separate occasions, for a few years each stint, we had two services.

The early service was more traditional; the later service was more contemporary. “Contemporary” as we define that term probably never came close to the way other churches would define it.

On both of those occasions—in those seasons of our church’s life—I would preach from the same text in each service, but the sermon was always a little and sometimes very different. This happened for several reasons.

First, I have never looked at preaching as a static event with a script. I believe that it is a dynamic communication first between the messenger and the Lord. And beyond that, I think one has to be sensitive to the audience and their needs.

Second, honestly, I couldn’t preach the same sermon twice in a row because it was boring. I had to change it up somehow just to keep ME interested. If I am not interested, I didn’t think anyone else would be either. Ha.

Third, the services were different so I believed that the style of the sermon should vary. I always found that I was a little more forceful in the early service, a little more conversational in the second. That never was a hard and fast distinction, just a slight variation.

While I am in this neighborhood, I found that, back then, I would tend to raise my voice more often than I do now. One guy in our church made no bones about how he felt about this. “I hate it when you yell and scream,” he protested.

“Yell and scream?” I responded.

“Well …” was his only comeback.

Honestly, it was nothing I planned. It just came out and bubbled over. I think this is why I have been accused on occasion of being a “hell-fire and brimstone” preacher. I have learned that when someone calls you this, more often than not, it is NOT because you preach on hell each week (I am reminded of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He probably NEVER raised his voice when he preached this well-known sermon. In all likelihood, he read his manuscript with one hand while speaking in a sedate voice and while holding a candle in the other, but I digress …). One gets labeled this way when he raises his voice.

I don’t know if I raise my voice as much these days?? The guy who had the real problem left our church years ago.

Anyway, back to the point of all of this, in those days of yore, I did at least preach from the same text, but not today.

As things have shaken out with the Hispanic church, I am going to be preaching in that service and one of the guys in the church is going to translate for me.

I wrestled with what to do. Obviously, the easiest course of action is to preach from the same text in both services, but I felt a distinct leading from the Holy Spirit NOT to do that. And the Spirit impressed me this way rather late in the week.

It has been a challenging past couple of days, not because of the added preparation. I love THAT. But just to keep these two sermons from getting all mixed up in my mind.

Please pray that I can remember what I am preaching in both services today! And, continue to pray for the Hispanic church. I’m glad to be with them because I want to encourage them today.

Following up on yesterday, I want to take a moment to share the next verse in Philippians 4. Here it is: "Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon" (Philippians 4:5, NLT). Do you remember the old KJV word? It is “moderation.” In 1611, this word meant “considerate or fore-bearing,” but it certainly does not mean THAT today.

What is Paul saying? Peterson translates these verses in the following way:
"Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!" (Philippians 4:4-5, MSG) I like this. “Work with folks and not against them.” This is a great word for pastors and Christians who serve in churches.

As I do that, we help people see that Jesus is coming back soon. A few months ago, I challenged the church with this saying, “All hands on deck.” When a ship is under attack, everyone needs to be fully engaged and on the same team adequately to confront an enemy attack.

This is the situation we are in, especially at First Southern. We can’t afford to be at odds with one another over any issue.

I continue to be frustrated with believers who wear their feelings on their sleeves and always evaluating everyone else’s behavior and how they are treated. It is a blatant sign of immaturity. It reminds me of a fussy baby sitting in a high chair.

Lord, thank you for the privilege of serving you today. It is an honor and a privilege. Fill me, Spirit of God. Enable me to be a good communicator in both services today.

Teach all of us how to be considerate of one another and to work together because you are coming back soon. Come today. Come, Lord Jesus.

I continue to pray that you would help Duane manage his pain levels and help Don. He got some encouraging news from his visit to the oncologist yesterday. Help him as he starts his rather rigorous treatment soon.

“Surely his grace will keep us from falling” (“Free from the Law, O Happy Condition,” BH 2008, 472). Amen.
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Rejoice ALWAYS

Some commands in the Bible, if you really stop and think about them, are absolutely impossible. Then, the more you think about them, all are impossible. From a human standpoint, that is.

This is the genius of the preaching during the Evangelical Revival that started in the eighteenth century in England and spread to the United States. George Whitfield and John Wesley along with Jonathan Edwards were the main leaders/preachers. I did a paper in one of my preaching seminars in seminary on this century.

There is so much to say about these men and the way the Lord used them. One thing that I can’t resist sharing is about George Whitfield. One of the things about him and John Wesley is that they were known for preaching outside. They would often pick a prominent spot along the road and preach to the masses as they were on their way to work or coming home at night.

Anyway, (and I remember reading this in several different places), people affirmed that one could hear George Whitfield preaching A MILE AWAY. Now remember, back then, there were no fancy amplifiers or speakers or microphones.

I did find out that Whitfield built a stand with a curved back that helped with the amplification of his voice (I’ll have to find a picture of that stand), BUT STILL. It is hard to believe.

Back to my point: these men were known for a distinctive style of preaching that covered the whole Bible. It was called Law/Gospel.

They would present the Law of God in all its pointed and particular detail—law after law after law. Then, they would share the Gospel of Jesus.

They upheld God’s standards without compromise and folks would see how far short they fell and come under deep conviction (as the Holy Spirit worked in this revival), and it was almost like Peter’s Pentecost sermon. When they realized that they fell short and there was nothing they could do to “improve” their behavior, they were in primo position to hear about how Jesus can save and empower us to live the Christian life.

This approach radically differs from that of many contemporary American sermons. I am making generalizations here, but we often don’t uphold God’s standards and therefore water down the gospel.

I realized this last week as I started a new series of messages with Ephesians 5:18 as the focal point. It presents a clear contrast: do not get drunk because that will ruin your life, but allow the Holy Spirit continually to fill you with Himself (this is my paraphrase of that famous verse). As I was preaching this passage, it dawned on me that we don’t talk about the abuse of alcohol much in the pulpit these days—for a lot of reasons, mainly because it seems rather old-fashioned and provincial.

Maybe so, but is that wrong? Listen to R. G. Lee’s famous sermon, “Payday Someday,” and you will hear a lot about the abuse of alcohol.

Not these days. I have heard so many hedges on this verse. The main one is, “Well, it doesn’t tell us not to drink; it just says don’t get drunk.” So, there are some who twist this to give some sort of loophole for moderate alcohol consumption. Are you kidding me?

The contrast is stark. Don’t fill your life with alcohol and the lifestyle that follows, but allow the Spirit to fill your life and allow Him to live through you the lifestyle He empowers.

Anyway, my point is: we need to uphold God’s standards and commands—put them out there with no apology.

And the passage today presents a couple. Here they are: "Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice! Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon]" (Philippians 4:4-5, AMP).

Okay, so the command is rejoice ALWAYS. Are you kidding me? This is totally impossible from a human standpoint. Totally.

I got to visit Duane in the hospital yesterday. He is a guy in our church who, the other day, had two knees replaced. TWO. When I got to his room, he was in severe pain. Now, for those of you who don’t know Duane, you have to know that he is up on the list of one of the toughest guys I know.

The nurse came in to give him some pain medicine. She was filling in some information on his “chart”—on a computer in the corner. One of her questions was, “Duane, on a scale of one to ten, what is your pain level?’’ His answer was immediate: “Ten.”

Okay, so here he is in a hospital bed in severe pain and you are telling HIM, “Duane, rejoice always, including right now.” Are you kidding?

Well, let me hasten to say categorically that Duane was doing exactly that!

And this isn’t some feel good, flighty emotional thing. Biblical rejoicing runs far deeper than that. It is a settled confidence and trust in God that shows in attitude and actions. We laughed and joked as I stood by his bedside.

THAT is rejoicing.

But here is my point: only the Lord can enable and empower anyone to respond that way—no matter what he or she is going through.

And this applies to the next commandment as well, but I will get to it later.

Lord, I thank you for the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit of God who produces the fruit of Christ’s character in our lives and one of the aspects of that fruit (singular) is JOY!

Lord, today, I don’t feel like rejoicing. I am not in the mood, but I thank you that I don’t have to be! I choose to trust you to enable me to rejoice TODAY and right now.

I just got a text from Duane as I was writing this blog. He said that he feels much better this morning. Praise God! I pray that you would continue to help him with pain and continue to enable him to rejoice ALWAYS.

Here is a song that I listened to over and over yesterday. It is Job’s testimony that corresponds to the command of Philippians 4:4: “Blessed by the name of the Lord, blessed be the name … He gives and takes away; He gives and takes away.” Amen. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
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