A Stroll At Leisure With God

Someone Twixt and Tween

You never know what a day is going to bring. Yesterday was no exception to this rule.

Notice this verse in Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs
27:1 NASB). Reading this verse reminded me of some similar words in James.

“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (James
4:14-16 NASB).

The thing that makes boasting about tomorrow so ridiculous is that it is a patent denial of the reality of human life. James asserts, “You are just a vapor.” Life is so fleeting and so fragile. We all say this, “You never know what tomorrow will bring,” but we really don’t believe it.

Well, anyway, as I read these two passages and meditated on them, it slapped me in the face: these two passages are the negative side of a verse the Lord gave me shortly after I was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NASB).

Boasting and worry are two sides of the same coin! They both have the potential of distracting us from the realm the Lord calls us to focus on: TODAY. What a timely and needed reminder.

Why? Well, two things happened yesterday that tanked me.

First, after my PET scan, I was sitting here doing my sermon work, and I got a call from the cancer center. Maureen, one of Dr. Jotte’s assistants, had a rather urgent tone to her voice. “John, as we were looking at the PET scan, we noticed that there might be some issues going on with your appendix. Do you have any pain? Have you had a fever? Have you taken any antibiotics lately?” She peppered me with questions.

What? Huh? Who? My appendix! Are you kidding me? After I got over the shock, I had to laugh a bit. What now???

I assured her that I had had none of the issues she asked me about. She said that she was going to talk with a doctor and get back to me.

It wasn't long before she called back. “Well, John, I talked to another doctor here. Dr. Jotte is out today. He said that if you don’t have any pain on your right side, just keep on going. If there is ever something wrong, you will know it. Don’t worry about calling a doctor. Just go immediately to the ER.” Okay. Don’t worry.

But I asked, “Well, if the PET scan showed that there is a problem or issue there, can’t I just get it taken out?”

“No,” she replied, “that’s not possible.” I’m going to check on that, but in the meantime … So, I just have to live with the potential that I could get appendicitis at any moment and have to go to the ER. Great.

As I was contemplating all of this, I touched my neck. Here is the second issue. It seems to have swelled much more significantly yesterday.

And I can’t begin to tell all of you how I just started to go down. Oh, man. I do not want to do chemo again right now. I was hoping for a bit of a break.

I talked with my mom and sis. We prayed together, but I could not get it off my mind as the day wore on. I just went down and down and down.

I’m not sure I have ever been lower in all the years I have dealt with this disease. AND, I didn’t sleep all that well last night …

But here is the deal, and I know this sounds weird, but I feel encouraged this morning. I feel that the Lord is lifting me. I have no earthly idea why. I’ve got these two clubs hanging over my head, but there is Someone twixt and tween. Guess who?

“Thou, oh, Lord, art a shield about me. You’re my glory and the lifter of my head.” Amen.

Pet Scan Today and Von

I have a PET scan today at 9:45. Thank you for your prayers.

If you remember (and I certainly don’t blame you if you don’t; I’m not sure I do) after the last scan in March, the doctor said, “John, the scan shows that your cancer is stable. It is not in remission, but reading these scans is rather subjective. We are going to do another one in June just to make sure we know how you are doing.” This is not an exact quote, but it comes pretty close to what he said.

And, I am glad. As I shared in this forum several days ago, I discovered a lump on my neck. I called the doc about this. He said that we should just stick with the plan unless it gets worse. As far as I can feel, it doesn’t seem as if it has worsened, but the test today will determine it.

Plus, I’ve also had some pain on the left side of my abdomen. This is opposite the area where I first discovered I had cancer. This is a bit concerning as well.

But what I have just described is the “nature of the beast” when it comes to cancer, I’m afraid. Or, it can be. Every little ache or pain, “Oh, no. What is this?” I just refuse to live this way, ruining the precious days the Lord has given me right now worrying about what might be the case. It just isn’t worth it. So, again, thanks for your prayers.

Back to yesterday—it was an awesome time of worship. During our community group time, I got a chance to visit with some dear friends who used to be members of our fellowship but now live and go to church in Idaho. Bill and Melba along with Carol Ann (who still lives here) sat and visited a bit.

Duane knocked on my office door, “John, there is a lady out here that needs to speak with you.” Oh, okay.

When I found her in the foyer, I could tell that she was visible shaken. After introducing ourselves, we sat in a room to talk. Her name was Von (short for Yvonne). She has recently dealt with some severe physical maladies and shared with me that, as a result of her illnesses, her family has all but abandoned her. She was facing loneliness and out of her desperation, was seeking to find a church. She was upset that she had missed our services. She added, “I just need to get saved and I know I do.”

When she said that, I had to laugh—for multiple reasons.

I had just preached a sermon on the Holy Spirit from the last two verses of chapter fifteen of John. I focused on the role of the Spirit as a Testifier of Jesus. Toward the end of the message, I made the point that true evangelism is nothing that we manufacture or some kind of canned sales pitch. Rather, it is the testimony of the Spirit in someone’s life meeting the testimony in my life. AND, it is the Spirit bringing those two testimonies together.

This is EXACTLY what happened yesterday. This is why I laughed. The other reason is that I have been asking the Lord for an opportunity to share and He gave it to me. Oh me of little faith! You better be ready when you ask …

Also … I laughed because I love to encounter folks in whom the Spirit is working that are obviously going to get saved right then and there. LOVE IT!

I shared with her for a few moments. I could have said anything (well, not really). I prayed for her and ask her to talk with Jesus. He prayer was simple. “I need you in my life, Lord. I can’t go on the way I’m going. Please take over and save me.” Oh, man. It still makes me cry. The Spirit was obviously at work. He brought us together. I was trying to be an instrument while staying out of His way at the same time. Does this make sense?

I got Von’s information. I’m going to give her address to some ladies in our fellowship who can love on her. Before we parted ways, she said, “I need to get baptized.” Okey dokey. Praise God! I love to see Him save people.

Lord, thank You for your work in Von’s life and thank You so much for allowing me to be there yesterday morning. I lift up this dear woman to you today. Please do what You do—lift burdens and encourage her today. Spirit of God, I’m available today. I lift up the folks who will administer this scan today. Use me, Spirit, as a vehicle to meet your testifying work in their lives. Amen.

The Value of Reproof

I would like to make a comment or two about the recent Supreme Court decision about marriage. Quite honestly, I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it.

One of the first things that happened to me was a deep conviction. I used to pray regularly for the members of our high court, but that practice has waned a bit in the past few years. I’m burdened that I need to return to that practice. But I think it is important to add government officials at all levels.

I received an email from a friend yesterday. He lives in Texas. He was commenting about how Greg Abbot, the governor of Texas, responded to this decision. Again, my thoughts went immediately to John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado.

I need to redouble my efforts to pray for him. This place, where more and more people are moving (I know this from personal experience; they are all in front of me on I-25 at all times of the day and night; the traffic in this town has increased exponentially) is rapidly moving farther away from God.

Yesterday, my mom and sis and I went to the mall to eat lunch. We were remarking at the folks we saw who had rainbow dye in their hair or a tinge of purple. We were wondering what was going on, and then it dawned on us, “They are affirming the Supreme Court’s decision.”

I do not.

But what to do? Well, as angry and concerned as I am, I do not have a feeling of despair. There is hope. There is reason for optimism. Why? Because God is on his throne. And God’s definitions have not changed. And … the call to pray and share the gospel is still paramount in this age where many think they can change the standards.

Sure we must speak out about this issue and discern ways to do it, but I still think that the Great Commission is our priority. None of what is happening whether it is decisions by the government or rainbow dye in the hair is beyond the saving grace of God to change.

Honestly, after reading the following verse in Proverbs today, I sense another urgency. Here is the verse: “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold Is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs
25:12 NASB).

I think we need to be more dedicating to giving out loving reproof (there is that word again; I wonder how many times it is used in Proverbs) and listening to reproof. Why? This verse reminds us that it is very valuable.

As our world is “on a greased pole to Hell” (as a friend of mine used to say), we, as the church, must be sharper and must sharpen one another more than ever. Business as usual is not going to cut it.

So, I have been praying for revival for our church and the American church at large. Maybe this decision will serve as the cattle prod we need.


Lord, I do lift up our President, the members of the Supreme Court, Governor Hickenlooper, and other elected officials. I don’t know where each of these folks stand in their relationship to You, but You do. I pray that each and every one of them could get saved. Have mercy on our nation. Have mercy on the church. Get us moving. Amen.


He Who Weighs Hearts

He Who Weighs Hearts

Yesterday, my mom and sis and I drove up to Westminster for Connor and Jess’ wedding. It was great to see some old friends from University Hills Baptist Church as well as First Southern at the service. I thought the whole thing was very God-honoring and far from what I was talking about the other day. I say that because I know Connor and Jess.

Please see the attached picture I took of the group from First Southern and one sister who used to go to our church—Lauri—right before the service started.

One thing that happened in the service I need to talk with Connor and Jess about is the weaving of a three-strand rope. Jess took a few moments to do this prior to the pronouncement. I noticed that Connor paused a moment when Jess had finished just to contemplate its significance.

I also like the symbolism of the unity candle in weddings, but I think the “three stand rope” (based on that verse in Proverbs that contends that this type of rope is not easily broken; can’t remember the exact reference right now) is maybe more significant because it is a visible demonstration of the fact that without Jesus, a marriage has no chance.

Anyway, the three of us enjoyed the service and visiting with the folks that were there.

After the service, we got a chance to visit with a couple for a few minutes. We had a very good discussion about church and spiritual things.

Among the things we talked about was just the role of testimony in worship. They did not call it that. We as Baptists use that reference. The scriptures in 1 Corinthians 14 give us the idea that is was customary for a few or several folks to stand up and share a word with the church. The question emerged, “Why don’t we do that as Baptists?” We may have testimonies, as we did at First Southern a couple of weeks ago, but we don’t seem to the “1 Corinthians 14” thing.

You know, I agree, and this discussion has been on my mind and heart since. First, I do believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer. Every single person in the church, therefore, is a potential vehicle of a message from God and we should allow this more often.

Second, we do give the impression that the only one who is qualified to speak is the pastor. That certainly isn’t biblical.

Third, I think I would be uncomfortable with a week-by-week plan in which we would just show up, sit there, and someone would stand up to say, “Ok, does anyone have a word or a song or a testimony?” And we would just wait and if and when that was done, we would close the service and go home. Now, I know certain churches operate this exact way, and I am not throwing rocks here. But I am just commenting about me.

Fourth, the Reformation put the pulpit back in the center in worship. What is preaching? This is no formal definition, but I believe it is reflection of the Spirit’s work in planning and preparation throughout the week prior (or even longer; I take two weeks to prepare a sermon; even longer, really, when you consider the planning it takes to seek the Lord’s direction in a sermon series).

I said this to the couple, not in answer to any issue they have, but just to say it, “I grate a bit against the notion that the only way the Spirit works is in spontaneity. I also believe He can work the Monday before a service.”

Honestly, in this whole matter, I think it is or should be a balance between “planned spontaneity” and “immediate spontaneity,” if that makes sense.

It was a good discussion.

The verse for today brings out what should be the main concern: whatever the Lord tells us to do in a church building during a service or outside it in the world or in a home or wherever, we should do it.

“Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs
24:11-12 NASB).

Lord, thank You for Connor and Jess and their wedding yesterday. Thank You for everyone we saw. Thank You for the discussion we had yesterday. Jesus, may our church honor and glorify You, no matter who is speaking. You and You alone are the One who weighs hearts. Amen.

The Origin of Satan

My cousin Howard in Michigan has been sending me copies of the notes he is using for some rather heavy-duty doctrinal studies at his church. He is asking my opinion and feedback on what he is teaching. Of course, I’m all too glad to oblige. I have an opinion to share on just about every topic as you readers of this blog have probably surmised—“in my humble but accurate opinion,” as the expression goes. Ha.

Interestingly enough, at least at first, they tracked with what I am preaching on Sunday mornings at First Southern—the Trinity.

After the study he taught on the Holy Spirit, his next study was “Angelology.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it stated quite that way. It is the study of angels.

Emerging out of this study I noticed a section about the origin of Satan as a fallen angel.

Now let me state from the outset that once again, I’m sharing my opinion here. It would not be the first time this hour that I have been wrong.

But what I wrote back to Howard was that I do not believe that the Bible teaches anything about the origin of Satan. I do not have time or the wherewithal this morning to cite all of the passages that purportedly talk about this, but I am unconvinced that, if one does the proper study, he or she can rightly conclude that the “Prince of Tyre” in Ezekiel is a reference to Satan, for example.

In response to the email I sent, Howard wrote back, “Then, what do you believe about him and his origins? And, do you have a book that supports your contentions?” He was very gracious in his response as always.

“Well,” I replied, “I think that the best way to approach this, first of all, is just to study the passages that purported speak of his origins to find out they don’t. But beyond that, I just believe his origins are a mystery—one of those things that the Bible does not tell us about.”

I’m not sure this is a very satisfying answer, but that is what I believe. So, let me list some things this morning.

First, we have to believe that God created Satan. Why? How did this come about? Maybe he was a fallen angel. Who really knows?

Second, he just appears in the Genesis record to tempt Adam and Eve. How did he get there? Who knows?

Third, references to him are few and far between in the Old Testament, a little more frequent in the New.

Fourth, the Bible teaches us about him and gives us warnings and tools to confront him (such as Jesus’ temptation narratives and the armor in Ephesians 6).

Fifth, Jesus wounded him mortally on the cross and someday he will be thrown into the lake of fire.

Is all of that too simplistic? Maybe, but I think trying to delve too much into our defeated foe is a waste of time. Please hear me: I am not denying his existence or trying to minimize his work and influence, but I would much rather focus on Jesus—who He is and what He has done and how He defeated him.

“Apply your heart to discipline And your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12, NASB).

Lord, thank You for Howard and his desire to teach the Word. Help him as he does this. Lord, there is a lot I don’t understand in your Word, but thank You for what I do understand. Jesus, thank You for your victory over the enemy. Let me live that victory in practical terms today. Amen.


Just Keep Playing the Piano

A Marilyn Vertigo update: she was feeling much better yesterday. Thanks so much for your prayers. She still has a doctor’s appointment on Friday, but it looks as if the Lord has brought her through this. Thanks again.

Yesterday, after work, I had a special fellowship opportunity. Pastor Ilamarques and I got to take a bike ride together.

Now, let me say first of all that last summer as I rode with a group from the Brazilian church, they smoked me—down to the very last petite young lady in the group. I was at the back. She was back there with me, but she finally grew tired of the snail’s pace I was setting. She passed me and looking back said, “Sorry, Pastor.” No, I understood. Oh, man.

Like any other sport, there are levels of expertise. Cycling is no exception.

Anyway, Ilamarques is a very good cyclist, but he dialed things WAY back to hang with slow me.

We headed out west from the church along an interesting labyrinth of trails that took us under I-25, past the Northglenn Marketplace, alongside Legacy Ridge Golf Course, and to a route further west beside 104
th Avenue. However, by the time we arrived on 104th, we stopped to notice that dark storm clouds were gathering. Thus, we turned around a headed back.

Thank the Lord for a tunnel along the golf course. We stopped inside as the rain pelted the path and lightning and thunder boomed overhead.

This gave us a further opportunity to visit. Words cannot express how much I love this brother. The Lord continues to use him in my life.

Of course, as two pastors, our conversation eventually gravitated to the subject of our congregations. I’ve learned the hard way that if I really want to be open and honest about the challenges of the pastorate these days, I just need to talk to another pastor. I’m tired of dealing with comments like, “Oh, quit your whining. You have such a cushy job. You should try mine …” Et cetera.

We waited for the rain to abate, emerging from the “catacombs” to continue our ride.

As we neared the church, Ilamarques said, “Years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I was the pianist at our church in Brazil. The devil repeatedly told me, ‘Just quit.’ But I did not do so. The Lord helped me to continue as I had before. I just continued to serve the Lord. Later, I found out that another lady in the church who was going through a similar difficult period was encouraged through what the Lord enabled me to do.” There are more specifics in his story, but I am not going to share them here. I don’t think I need to.

Good story. Point well taken.

You never know who is watching, but even if no other human being is, we know of ONE.

Sometimes, though, we need to be reminded of this fundamental truth. The Lord used a significant trial in Abraham’s life to do this. In Genesis 22, He commanded the old man, “Take your son, your only son (whom you waited for 25 years), up to the mountain and sacrifice him there” (Genesis 22:1, my paraphrase and my parentheses added).

Abraham didn’t blink. He just headed out to do it, even as his son asked, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” while they trudged up the mountain.

Abraham raised the knife and as he was coming down, the angel stopped him. The point of that story is in the name of God that came out of it. “Jehovah-Jireh.” I am frustrated because most of the time in contemporary songs and hymnody and pop Christian culture, that phrase is mistranslated! It is NOT “The Lord will provide.” The point of the story is NOT the ram in the thicket.

“Jehovah-Jireh” means “The Lord will SEE.” In the day of testing, we can be confident that the Lord will see.

When I am thinking right, this is all I need to know. Thanks for using Ilamarques to remind me. Amen.

A New Friend on a Walk

Again, let me start off by talking about Marilyn a bit. Yesterday evening, the doctor stayed a little late to see her. They talked about a lot of things, including Stevia (the sugar replacement; Marilyn and I both have been using it A LOT; maybe that isn’t a good idea). Bottom line: he gave her some medicine and some instructions along with another appointment on Friday. She seemed to be a little better when she got home last night. Thanks for your prayers.

Well, yesterday morning after my prayer time and “blog” time, I was glad to take one of my first walks of the summer. For various reasons, especially my leg injury a few weeks ago, I have not taken my walks as much, conserving my leg for walks on the golf course (priorities, you know! Ha!). But my leg finally seems to be doing better so I was excited to go out.

I miss my walks not just for the exercise element. They also provide a wonderful avenue for meditation on the Word and for prayer.

I have a little route I usually take. It heads down Happy Canyon Road to Thomas Jefferson High School. Then, I divert over into a neighborhood where I wind around a bit to end up again on Happy Canyon Road for the approximately mile long walk back up to my house.

Yesterday, in the “neighborhood where I wind around a bit,” all of a sudden this beautiful and playful golden, rather longhaired dog approached me. I’m not sure what kind of dog she was. Usually, I’m a little gun shy when it comes to strange dogs, but I could tell I was in no danger with this dog. She was very friendly.


She jumped on me, tried to lick me in the face. Then, she started biting at my feet and more than once, got a hold of a shoe lace, nearly ripping my leg off.

I just kept trying to move forward and keep going, hoping she would lose interest in me and go back to her house. She would leave me momentarily to scout out something at a nearby house, but she would then look up, notice I had progressed further down the road, and come again on a dead run to leap at me again.

As I kept walking, she kept following for many blocks. I’m kind of slow on the uptake, but I realized that this dog had somehow escaped from her home. Her owner was nowhere to be seen. So, I stopped finally. I tried to calm her down. She sat right next to me.

I called 911 on my cell. I wasn’t sure I was supposed to do that, but when I got an operator, I told her the situation. She asked my location and said she would send someone right out.

As I continued to stand there, my new friend calmed down even more. She was just a friendly puppy that had strayed from home. I liked her. I guess she liked me, for the moment …

I say that because, as we were both there on the sidewalk waiting, a guy on a bike pedaled by. At that moment, she wrenched herself out of my grasp and raced after the guy on the bike and down the street! Poof! Gone!

Our “date” was over, I guess. She dumped me! Ha.

It wasn’t long before an Arapahoe County officer in a truck pulled up. He spotted me, and I went over to his truck. “Officer, I had the dog, but she took off after a guy on a bike. She went that way.”

He paused a second. “Well, sir, that is actually Denver County right there but I will head down the street and see if I can find her.” Okay thanks. And I headed off.

What an episode! I hope that dog was reunited with her owner. I wonder if I will see her again. As I said, I liked her … my new friend.

As I headed off, the lady who owned the house where I had stood with my new friend, came out and looked at me, “What is going on?” I told her the whole story. She paused a bit so as to absorb it. “Oh, okay.” That’s all she said. I was hoping for more conversation, but I wasn’t going to get any so I just said, “Have a great day.” She said goodbye.

As I write this morning, I’m searching for the spiritual significance of what happened yesterday. Ha. Not sure that lesson is apparent to me right now.

By the way, just to add this detail. My lady friend had a collar but no tag. I don’t even know her name …

Lord, thank You for this time of year. I love it. Thank You for protecting me on the path. Take care of that dog. Help her owner to keep better track of her. Thanks for the quick response of that officer. Wow.

“There is no wisdom and no understanding And no counsel against the LORD.”
21:30 NASB). Amen.

A Signficant Revelation about Prayer

Before I get into the topic for today, please pray for Marilyn. This is kind of weird to say after what I wrote about the golfer Jason Day a couple of days ago. But Marilyn dealt with vertigo yesterday. By last night, when we were going to bed, she was very sick. I hope she got a good night’s sleep and feels better today. I’m going to encourage her to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Thanks for your prayers. I will let you know more when I hear what is going on.

Okay, so yesterday, I had a great conversation with a brother who serves at our state convention office. His name is Ron.

Over a week ago, I received an email from him “out of the blue” (I know that in God’s economy, nothing comes out of the blue). Ron and I have had some contact over the years, but we have not seen each other for a long time. He wrote to tell me he was praying for me.

His message came in a very timely moment. They always do. I’ve learned that when the Lord puts someone on my heart, I need to stop everything right then and there and pray for him/her AND then contact him/her.

I responded to Ron’s message and shared some things that were going on with me.

It wasn’t long before I received a message back. What struck me about it is that it was NOT a note that said, “I will pray for you.” It was actually the prayer that he did pray for me. Very impressive.

So, out of that exchange, I called him to set up a get together. Yesterday was that day.

Not surprisingly, Ron told me that prayer and encouraging churches to pray and the whole topic of revival is the burden of his heart. He shared the story of his ministry at a church north of Colorado Springs. God answered prayer in that congregation in amazing ways as Ron led them by example to be “a house of prayer.”

As he told his story, my mind was spinning … so many things were filling my brain. I will unpack them in the days ahead. But one of the main things I learned was actually a strategy for corporate prayer.

This is a significant revelation because for many of us, prayer is a very individualistic and sporadic activity. Most of us give our laundry list to God a few minutes a day (if that) and move on, but Ron made a very convincing case that prayer in the New Testament was more of a “church thing” than an “individual thing.”

Indeed the Lord does speak to us as we open ourselves to Him, but more importantly, He speaks to the church and the message He shares is the same!

Of course! This makes sense. If we really believe that the local church is the body of Christ AND all of us have the same Spirit, then it jives.

And so, Ron shared that before any significant decision, he led them to spend 30 days in prayer, as he challenged his church to ask God, “What are You saying to us as a church?” Great question. Great practice.

After that time, he gathered folks together with a big piece of paper on an easel (it took me fifteen minutes to find the correct spelling of that word!) and just asked folks to share. Out of that prayer and discussion, the church took action!

How about that? I like it.

Unfortunately, I think major decisions are made in a church by just a few and then, as leaders, we wonder why the church as a whole does not buy in. Hello, McFly!

Ron said a lot more about prayer on a corporate level. I told him I needed to pray about what he shared about prayer! Ha. That is exactly what I am going to do. It was an awesome conversation.

“The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs
21:1 NASB). How about that for the power that is available to us in prayer?

Lord, I pray for Marilyn. Help her today. Thank You for Ron and the burden You have put on his heart. I’m grateful for the perfect timing of our conversation yesterday. Give me wisdom as I process what He shared. In the meantime, make us in deed and in truth “a house of prayer for all nations.” Amen.

Weddings, Renewals, and Departures

Yesterday was one of those days where my tiny mind was taxed to the limit—in a good way. I can barely think about one thing, let alone four.

Let me explain.

In addition to the sermon (more than enough to keep my mentally engaged on a Sunday), we had three important things to do at the end of the service yesterday. Connor and I had talked about it earlier in the week and we geared things accordingly so that we had some extra time at the end.

The first item on the agenda was to mention Connor and Jess’ wedding this week. It will occur on Friday afternoon. My family and I will be there and glad to do it. Two days after the wedding (when Connor and Jess are on their honeymoon), we will vote on him as our worship leader. I wanted to urge people to pray for them and for this very important vote.

The second thing was a wedding vow renewal. On their 36
th anniversary, Paul and Kathy wanted to do this and we decided to do it at the end of the service. It was very simple (just the way I like it; I’ll explain in a moment). Paul and Kathy stood at the front along with their son Bryan, daughter Holly, and two awesome granddaughters—Zoey and Zelitta.

I led them in some simple vows. Then, I read some verses from 1 Corinthians 13. That was it. I like it. More importantly (much more), Paul and Kathy affirmed it.

Back to my comment a couple of paragraphs ago … the reason I said I liked it is because that would be my ideal wedding scenario. If I ever get married (I think the planets in our galaxy would be jarred out of their orbits), I would like my wedding to go like this: my fiancée and I would just come to the front of the auditorium at the end of the service and exchange our vows in front of the congregation and have a cake in the fellowship hall and call it good.

It would be better to do this with no announcements or fanfare at all. I’d love to see the expressions on people’s faces. I think we would have to have some ambulances ready to transport folks to the hospital.

I guess I am stepping up to this soapbox. I might as well get on it. At the outset, let me say that marriage and thus weddings are a big deal. They are and should be a once-in-a-lifetime event. So, there is nothing wrong with going all out. People are free to do what they want, of course.

But this is my opinion: I think there is far too much emphasis on the CEREMONY and way too little emphasis on the marriage. Some folks spend multiplied tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding! What a waste of money!

Now, I turn around: each case is different. Sometimes, weddings cost a lot because of travel expenses. One brother I knew had to pay for his family to fly in for the wedding. I understand that. So, again, these are very general comments and my opinion as one who may never get married (that’s up to God)—easy for me to talk. Right? But I still have opinions and convictions. Surprise, surprise.

I stand by what I contend. It is ridiculous, especially when you consider that the divorce rate is now sixty percent, inside and outside the church. Something is off here.

Okay, off the soapbox. Back to Paul and Kathy—is this simple reaffirmation of vows after thirty-six years any less significant than the fanciest, most expensive wedding ever? Me thinks not.

Well, there was one more thing to do. Yesterday was Belle’s last Sunday. She came to the front. She was emotional. So was I. I am going to miss her. She mentioned what I was thinking—I have vivid memories of the first Sunday when she and Chuck came (Chuck passed away several months ago). What an awesome couple! They were just solid dependable people who, from the first, were supporters of the church and me.

As Belle mentioned yesterday, this was not blind support. Chuck and I disagreed on stuff, but we loved each other through it all.

Belle is moving to New Mexico to be near her son there. I am going to miss her. “Loyalty, support, encouragement, and dependability” are rare commodities for church members these days.

Belle, if you are reading this, please know that I love you and will miss you. Thanks for serving Jesus the way you did at our church. Good job! You will be in our prayers. Keep in touch.

At the end of the service, we prayed for Connor and Jess, Paul and Kathy, and Belle.

Lord, I thank You for the beautiful institution of marriage. Thank You for Connor and Jess. I pray for them as they prepare for their wedding on Friday. Thank You for Paul and Kathy and their 36 years together. I praise You for the testimony of a lifetime together—more and more rare in our culture. Thank You also for Belle. Help as she ties up the loose ends of her life here and moves to New Mexico. Help her to find a good church there.

“Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs
20:24 NASB) Amen.

Benign Positional Vertigo

Whatever that is … Jason Day is playing in the U. S. Open this week. He is a really good player in his own right, but lately he has been struggling with “benign positional vertigo.”

At the end of the second round on Friday, he actually collapsed in the fairway of the ninth hole (his last of the day; he started on ten). Amazingly, he got up and finished his round.

Many were surprised that he did not withdraw right then and there.

But he came back yesterday and birdied three out of the last four holes to be in a tie for the lead.

The television commentators observed that the crowds at Chambers Bay seem to be pulling for him. He is now their favorite to win the tournament today.

It is an incredible story. It hearkens back to the U. S. Open in 1964 when Ken Venturi overcame heat exhaustion to win. Tiger won in 2008 with an injured leg. This scenario is similar.

Why is it that this type of storyline is so appealing? I think it is just the whole idea of overcoming a huge obstacle that tugs at us a bit.

This is all well and good for fans of golf like me, but I guess what has been on my mind is that the greatest heroism will never receive the kind of publicity that Jason Day is getting in a golf tournament.

Modern-day heroes like Saeed Abedini and other persecuted believers are suffering in relative anonymity in prisons all over the world.

Jim sent out an email yesterday from “International Christian Concern.” The lead article told the story of Boko Haram killing 38 Christians, including women and children, in two villages in Diffa, Niger.

Please understand: I am not trying to diminish what happened in Charleston this week. It was horrific, but this type of thing (the murder of innocent Christians in great numbers) is going on all over the world. Where is the outrage? Where is the publicity?

It isn’t going to happen. But God knows and we can continue to pray, not only for Christians around the world, but also for fellow believers here.

This gives so much perspective as I approach a busy Sunday of worship and activities here on a beautiful June Sunday morning where we can gather in total freedom to serve our God.

Lord, in the midst of a culture that exalts sports and sports heroes (nothing wrong with this necessarily unless this replaces the worship of God), I exalt You today. I thank You for the privilege of worship here on Father’s Day in the United States of America. I continue to lift up Saeed and those families in Niger and persecuted believers across the world.

“The fear of the LORD leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil” (Proverbs
19:23 NASB). I pray this for the persecuted church and for believers everywhere. Amen.

Just Overlook It

The truth in the verse in Proverbs today—if church people could practice it—would have saved me most of the gray hairs on my head.

I will get to it in a moment, but first …

Yesterday, I think I fell victim to some heat stroke or something. About midday, I got a headache and just felt very unsteady on my feet. When I got into my car about noon, the temperature gauge in the car said “109 degrees.” Ouch! (Again, I am not complaining. I love it. The hotter the better—bring it on!)

So, I made a point to get some lunch and start drinking much more water. By late afternoon, I started to feel better.

It is just the adjustment. Only a few days ago, here in this crazy state, it was in the sixties and raining every day! I guess we have made the transition to summer. It is about time!

Anyway, back to the topic for today. Let me go ahead and cite this verse: “A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs
19:11 NASB).

If I had a dime for all the times I have sat with someone in my office, someone who is ticked off, and he or she says, “Pastor, so and so did such and such to me. Can you believe it? I am so angry. What are YOU going to do about it?”

Okay. I wish there would be a way to teach the practice of biblical forgiveness and how to deal with the anger that comes from an offence. I actually try to do this in the membership class and stress it there as much as I can.

First, if someone offends you, go to that person and tell him or her.

Second, do NOT go to an outside party (whether it is the pastor or someone else to gossip to) to share the issue with.

Third, one feeble attempt is NOT what the Bible teaches as a way to resolve things. It often takes several attempts.

Fourth, in the process of trying to resolve something (as Jesus instructs in Matthew 18), take a witness. The role of the witness is NOT to be on anyone’s side but to be an observer of the process.

Fifth, if those steps do not resolve the issue, then it goes before the church. Actually, I have never had a conflict go to the church when someone has followed these steps.

BUT, all of that having been said, here is another way to deal with an offence: OVERLOOK IT! This is easier said than done, of course. At this point, the first part of the verse comes into play. We must always deal with anger.

This verse dovetails with the admonition in James to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19, NASB).

My usual procedure in these types of matters is to say to people, “If this is something that is going to get under your skin, then you must go to that person. Otherwise, overlook it!”

This seems so simple, but I believe that only the grace and forgiveness of God can allow someone to do this.

If you think about it, how many of us have done something stupid or offended someone and have gone to that person, and he or she says, “Oh, I didn’t even notice. Don’t worry about it. No problem.” Have you ever considered that maybe, he or she just decided to overlook what YOU did to them?

We live and act and respond in ways that indicate we don’t really realize that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” and the magnitude of the forgiveness that the Lord extended to us.

It comes out in these petty offenses.

Lord, this is easy to write but hard to do on a personal level. Give me the grace to be slow to anger and overlook offenses. Help the folks in the church I serve with this as well. Amen.

A Quick Exit

While I was visiting Ray in the hospital yesterday, something happened that I just can’t get out of my mind.

When I entered the room, Juanita, Ray’s wife was there along with Sharon and Karen. We chatted for a moment.

Then, the doctor came in. He seemed to be very personable. He talked to Ray and checked him out a bit. When he had finished, he asked, “Are there any other questions?” Juanita and Sharon had a couple. Karen raised her cell phone in front of him to show him questions from Rachelle, Ray and Juanita’s daughter.

I was impressed that he took the time to visit and to be available to the family.

At one point, Sharon stood up, “Well, I’m going to let you guys get some rest. I’m going to go.” I chimed in, “Me too, but before I go, let’s pray.” When I said this, I had hopes that “something” would happen.

Before I tell you, let me back up a bit.

A few years ago, I was in the hospital preparing for surgery (I can’t remember the specifics of what I was there for—maybe my hernia). My friend Rob and his wife Judy came to visit me. We were laughing and talking as a couple of nurses were prepping me. Rob saw that he needed to leave, so he said, “Let’s pray.”

At that point, I was impressed that the nurses stopped their work on me and joined hands with everyone gathered around my bed. When Rob finished, they voiced an “amen” along with the rest of us and continued their work.

Now, maybe that was a little bit different of a situation than yesterday, but that exact incident was on my mind when I gathered everyone around Ray’s bed.


But he didn’t. As soon as we joined hands, he made a quick exit out of the room!

Ray was the first one to say it, “Why didn’t he stay and pray with us?” His question lingered a bit. “Not good,” was the only thing I could say.

It was a missed opportunity. Someone later said that he was a Catholic. Who knows? But this is my contention: as a doctor, whatever one’s personal beliefs or lack of belief is, you stay in that room and pray with the family as an encouragement to them.

I’m certainly no expert on doctors and medical practice … but that is my opinion.

Well, anyway, please pray for Ray as he recovers from pneumonia over the next couple of days. Pray for Juanita as well as the rest of the family. We love this family.

Here is the proverb for today that the Holy Spirit brought forward in my reading today. It helps me pray for Ray and the other folks in our fellowship who are rehabbing from injury like Libby and Marvin.

“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, But as for a broken spirit who can bear it?” (Proverbs
18:14 NASB).

Lord, I pray for Ray and Juanita and the family. Give Ray a speedy recovery. Buoy his spirit along with that of Libby and Marvin. Lord, I pray for that doctor. I think he made a mistake yesterday, but you are ultimately in charge of the hospital and all doctors and the universe. I thank You that You are in charge of our care and us. We do NOT depend on any human ultimately. I thank You for doctors and for using them. But again, I affirm You as Doctor of Doctors. Amen.

Fellowship Among Brothers

Now, before I make some comments, I want to be very clear: I am NOT complaining about the weather. “Some like it hot.” I am definitely one of those. Here yesterday, it finally felt like summer and I love it--the hotter the better.

Jim and I had the service at Northglenn Heights. Then, after lunch, we made three visits—all were good, but by the end of the afternoon, I was a little spent--nothing bad, but probably just adjusting to the heat. I don’t know.

I felt rather tired and weary as we started the men’s Bible study last night. Four guys—Paul, Mike, Jim, and Larry—showed up.

I don’t know if I have mentioned this before (I probably have), but we are using Dennis Rainey’s book
Stepping Up as the guide for our study. I really like this book. As Larry said last night, it is an easy read, but it is one of the best books I have ever read challenging men and husbands and dads to “step up” to their godly responsibilities.

This is the second group of men I have studied with at First Southern, using this book, and both studies have gone extremely well.

It is as far from a “lecture approach” as I have ever taken. I try to refer to a Bible passage each time, giving some brief comments about it, but it is a discussion. I just toss questions out there and let the guys share.

The best studies in my opinion are those in which I talk very little, and the guys talk a lot. This occurred last night. The guys talked about their dads and growing up years and their families now. They were “real.” I just seemed to feed off it.

At the end of the study, we prayed for each other and concluded in about an hour. It was about 8:00—one hour from the time I usually start winding down to go to bed.

But I felt energized. This is the point I want to make this morning.

True fellowship in the body of Christ is energizing. It fills the gas tank and gives us impetus in our week.

I wish things were set up for this to occur more often on Sunday mornings. We are far from formal or stilted as a church, but someone I think “Sunday mornings” feel a little more formal and almost inhibiting to being real.

Maybe this is just because of the way things are set up. We are on a pretty tight schedule. Now that we have moved worship to 9:00, we make sure that we end the service about 10:00 so that folks can get to “Community Groups.” We are making a priority of our small group Bible study just to get folks re-engaged a bit.

Over the past few years, however, on certain occasions, we have approached the morning in a different way. We called it KOINONIA—the Greek word for fellowship. We started in the fellowship hall with breakfast. We sat around tables and just allowed folks to visit. Then, we typically had a little worship time and an interactive, short Bible study.

After this, we made a transition upstairs to the auditorium for worship at the “regular” time to allow for visitors or other folks who just come for worship. Up there, we had the sermon and the Lord’s Supper. It was a good change of pace.

Of course, in our current configuration, this is not do-able but I am determined to figure out something like it.

Anyway, my point is that we need more genuine fellowship times on Sunday and during the week. I want folks to feel as I did last night when I left the church building—refreshed and energized. Isn’t that the goal?

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe”
18:10 NASB).

Lord, thank You for the fellowship of the body of Christ as I experienced last night. Thank You for those four guys and their families. Bless them today as You used them to bless me last night. I pray that all our “church experiences” could be as refreshing and energizing as last night, no matter what the schedule is. Amen.


Testing Times, Part 2

I guess I am not done with yesterday’s topic quite yet.

If you don’t believe that God has a sense of humor, then you don’t know Him very well.

So, yesterday, as I wrote about testing times, one of my main questions was, “How do you know you are in test?” Or “When does a test begin and when does it end?”

As I was pondering all of that, I reached up and touched the left side of my neck (for some reason), and I felt a little lump there. This is the side where my cancer is. It is also the side that swelled up before. Humm. I felt it again. Definitely a lump there. What is going on?

I shared this bit of knowledge with my mom and sister. Of course, they were a bit concerned as I was/am. I called the Dr. Jotte and left a message with his assistant Monica.

Later in the morning, she called me back with some specific questions about size and hardness of this lump on my neck. At the conclusion of the brief conversation, she added, “Well, thanks for this additional information, John. These are things that the doctor will want to know. I will get in touch with him. He is not in this office today. I will call you back by the end of the day to let you know if there are any changes in the plan.”

Right now, the “plan” is that I am scheduled to get another PET scan on June 29
th and my second “maintenance” treatment on July 2nd.

Well, Monica did call me back. I missed her call because I was talking with someone on the phone, but she basically said that the doctor does not want to change the plan for now but that he urged me to monitor my neck very closely and if anything changes, let him know. Okay.

So, there you have it AND I have the answer to my questions about testing. My answer has two parts.

First, the Lord is always testing us. There is not one second of our lives that is bereft of the Lord’s scrutiny and His work to conform us to the image of Christ. The second you think so, just reach up and feel the side of your neck! Of course, I am speaking metaphorically here, but I hope you catch my drift.

Let me stop at this point: I have no idea what is going on with my neck, and I am not going to waste these precious days worrying about it. But to me, it was a very timely reminder that, even though I got through those three very difficult months of March, April, and May, the test is still on.

This kind of reminds me of how I felt when I dropped off my PhD dissertation in my final days of seminary and school. Remember, I was in school STRAIGHT to the age of 31. Under my breath, I said, “Well, I’m so glad I am done with school and tests FOREVER.” Half of that statement is right—“done with school.”

But believe me. Those words came back to me after my first very contentious deacon’s meeting in the Fall of 1989. When that meeting was over, it was as if the Lord said, “John, you are not done with TESTS. Now, they are just different.” Great.

Second, and this is more significant: especially good times ARE TESTS. In fact, I think they are more severe than difficult times when we know we need the Lord. Will I still acknowledge Him, serve Him with fervor, and worship Him when everything is peachy? THAT is the real question.

Of course, this came out in Job’s famous statement, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” It didn’t take long in that story for Job to move from having everything including his family and his health to having nothing (except his wife whom he probably wished had died as well, especially after her sage advice, “Job, curse God and die.”).

Well, anyway, the beat or the test goes on. I’m going to choose to thank Him for that lump on my neck. And, I am also going to thank Him for friends. “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs
17:17 NASB).

How about this? Along with tests, along with the Lord himself, He provides friends to help us through.

Lord, thank You for the test I am currently in. I thank You for this lump on my neck, whatever it is. Thank You for being there through the good times and the bad and always. Thank You for friends as well. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Amen.

Testing Times

It didn’t take long before the Holy Spirit stopped me in chapter seventeen of Proverbs at this verse: “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3 NASB).

“The Lord tests hearts.” There you go.

This is such a large topic in the Word as it relates to God’s people. The way we respond to testing determines whether or not we are indeed God’s kids or not.

On an individual level, I am certain that the Lord turned up on the heat on me over the past three plus months. He used physical maladies and a series of other incidents as his instruments. I think I have chronicled this before, and there were numerous aspects to it: chemo recovery, my foot injury, a virus that seemed to last forever, a sty in my eye, the freakiest month of weather EVER (May with all the rain), and my mom’s virus (where she almost contracted pneumonia).

Is the test over? I’m not really sure … stay tuned! Ha.

How did I do? I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t think I did very well on my exam, but only the Lord knows. As this verse in Proverbs reminds us, He tests “hearts.” And only the Lord knows where my heart really is.

As I am sitting here this morning, all these questions are coming to mind. Let me add a couple more. How do you know for sure when the Lord is testing you or not? How does one prepare for a test from the Lord?

One distinction that is important to be made is the difference between testing (something God does) and temptation (something that God allows Satan to do). Oftentimes, these two things are the same incident.

The primary examples that come to mind are the wilderness experiences of the people of Israel and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Often, in scripture, the wilderness is a metaphor for those times. A vast majority of Israelites (all except Joshua and Caleb) failed the test and gave into temptation to grumble and complain and worship idols. Why? Well, I happen to believe that they were never believers in the first place, and this is incredible when one thinks that they were witnesses of and participants in the Exodus!

Jesus, of course, passed the test. He responded to the devil by quoting the Word of God.

And if there is anything we can do to prepare for one of God’s tests or to negotiate it properly, it is to be immersed in the Word so that it readily comes to our minds and HEARTS and mouths to quote to the devil.

This is where the Lord has me personally these days. Above and beyond any sermon work or teaching responsibility, I am responsible to be IN the Word and to allow the Word to be IN me—this is for my own survival.

Why do I put it that way? I believe that on a larger scale the Lord is testing the church these days. Ed Stetzer is correct. The heat is turned up on the stove and those who are nominal or who are not saved at all are dropping away in droves. I think this gets masked somewhat in mega-churches because it is easier for people just to come and sit and spectate with no genuine conversion experience.

And, don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing this per se. I would rather see people in church under the Word than not, but this is patently not the case in smaller congregations. There is no place to hide.

But, here is my struggle with all of this on a church scale: many churches are just not going to survive these testing times. We are losing people for one reason or another, and some congregations cannot sustain this. Some congregations need to die. They really do, but others don’t.

Why is the Lord allowing this?

Even as I ask this question, a biblical example comes to mind. God had to diminish the size of Gideon’s army for two reasons. One, most of the men who applied to serve weren’t fit as soldiers and God weeded them out with his test of how they drank water. Remember? Second, God got Gideon’s army down to a size where He and He alone could get the glory in victory.

The Marines say it, “The FEW, the brave, the proud.”

Maybe that’s it, but I frankly don’t know … anyone who does have the answers, please call me immediately.

Lord, in the arena of testing, there is a lot I don’t understand. There is a lot I can’t figure out, but I’m glad I don’t have to. I just want to pass. And, I ask You to help the church I serve—no matter the numbers—to pass as well. It is hot in here! Amen.

Three Testimonies

I’m glad that Connor and I felt that the Holy Spirit was leading us to open things up yesterday. At Connor’s suggestion, we put up a slide that invited four types of responses: testimony, prayer, praise, or scripture reading. This opportunity came in the middle of a worship set.

Before I go on with what happened yesterday, I must interject something here.

A few years ago, we regularly invited “sharing times” in Sunday morning worship services. People responded very well, I thought. In fact, I can remember the sense that the Holy Spirit wanted to do something more in our church. I don’t know quite how to put that. I prayed. I tried to be open to whatever that might be.

It seemed that we walked right up to the edge of “it,” but somehow, He chose not to move OR (probably better to the point) we did not allow Him to do so.

God is sovereign. He moves when He chooses. We cannot program Him or manipulate a movement of the Spirit.

I guess this is where the Lord has me right now. I just want to be open and available and ready and then STAY OUT OF HIS WAY.

I was telling a friend this a few weeks ago. In the past, when I sensed the Lord wanted to do something, I would just work harder and try to push more. Now, I want to work smarter and allow room for the Lord to work. Somehow, this seems to be “harder” work than hard work! Does this make sense?

Anyway, back to yesterday, as we provided opportunity, three folks stood up to share. It was awesome.

Jim emerged out of the choir to take a microphone. He said that the doctors had diagnosed him with a condition in which the plan of action was actually to drill a hole in his head. The first priority was to take care of the condition (I’m sorry I don’t remember the technical name for it). Whether or not Jim could see after the surgery was a secondary concern. This was obviously a serious matter.

However, as the doctor was checking him out to prepare for the actual surgery, he told Jim that this malady was gone! Gone! WOW! Jim asserted that the Lord had taken care of it and healed him completely! He thanked everyone for praying.

That was the first testimony of the morning. Hard to top that! Ha.

Then, Carol stood up. A few months ago, she had been very seriously ill with a condition related to calcium levels in her body. She seemed to be declining rather rapidly, but the Lord healed her! She shared that she is feeling better and better, stronger and stronger, and is now back in the saddle! Good thing because I believe the Lord has a lot more for her to do. She is such an outspoken witness for Jesus Christ and has a burden to share with her neighbors.

We need Carol in our church right now, more than ever.

Finally, Belle raised her hand to speak. Since her husband Chuck passed away, she has sensed that the Lord is leading her to move back to New Mexico, her home state where her son lives. It has been quite a pilgrimage, but the Lord is putting all the details together.

Her house here sold very rapidly. The new buyers bought it “as is.”

She was able to find a new place in New Mexico very rapidly.

People in the church have helped her pack up her stuff and get ready to move.

A mover has already come to move the big furniture.

All of this has come together and Belle stood up to give credit where credit is due—the Lord and to answered prayer and to the support of the church.

These three testimonies encouraged me greatly. They have been on my mind since yesterday. I want to learn the lesson the Lord wants to teach the church and me through them. I value each of these sisters and brother greatly.

“The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs
16:23-24 NASB ).

Lord, I thank You for the fellowship of the body of Christ. Thank You for those awesome testimonies yesterday and for leading us, Holy Spirit, to offer the opportunity. Thank You for healing Jim and Carol. Thank You for working out all the details for Belle. You are awesome! Amen.


Both Sides of the Coin

As I was reading in Proverbs this morning, something hit me. Notice these two verses, not together, but in close proximity in Proverbs 16:

“Commit your works to the LORD And your plans will be established…. The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs
16:3, 9 NASB).

At first glance, these two verses appear to be contradictory. On the one hand in verse 3, we are called upon to commit our works to the Lord. On the other hand in verse 9, it seems as if the Lord intervenes no matter what we do.

What is the answer here? Well, I believe it is both. How about that for putting both feet solidly on both sides of the fence? Ha.

No, I don’t think it is that, but again, this brings us back to the age-old debate about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

I still remember Spurgeon’s analogy in this regard. He believed that both of these doctrines were like the twin rails on a track—they go together but seemingly never come together—but they do in the mind of God.

So, how does this work itself out practically? Well, I believe that it is very biblical to plan. Proverbs uses this term quite often. But HOW?

At this point, what I offer only comes from my experience. I do not want to use my experience as a standard, but I put it out there this morning.

Right now, I believe that First Southern is at a point where we need to make some plans. I believe the Holy Spirit led us to this point. He is guiding circumstances and situations.

As we sit down to make plans (in whatever forum that might be with whomever is involved), I believe it is important to pray, asking the Lord for wisdom and direction. AND, I believe that prayer ought to saturate every part of the process.

Then, at some point, having been led by the Spirit and believing in the guidance of the Lord because you asked, you make plans. And, at this point in the process, you must believe that the Lord will take it from there.

Is this little process I have outlined a guarantee that everything will always be peachy? Absolutely not. BUT, I believe that failed plans can even be a part of God’s guidance and direction because His ultimate concern is that we be conformed to the image of Christ. Romans 8 reminds us that THIS conformity has already occurred in the election and predestination of God.

Therefore, our choices have already been predetermined in the sovereignty of God!

Someone might then argue, “If this is the case, why not just stay in bed with the covers over your head?” Nope. Even though I believe what I wrote in the sentence above, I also believe that the Lord put us here to MAKE decisions and plans.

Now, I can’t reconcile these two realities, but they run together off into eternity where the two rails come together in the mind of God.

So, please pray for us today as I begin, in my study of the Trinity, to preach sermons on the Holy Spirit. As I was talking with Connor the other day, we PLANNED some things for the service today. We trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit today, but we are praying that these sermons and this focus will not just be some sort of dry intellectual discussion.

We are praying and yes, planning, for the Holy Spirit who is present in all believers to have total freedom to move and operate in our lives as never before.

How about that?

Lord, take it from there. We trust You. Amen.

Rain, Rain, Go Away ...

Please insert after, “Little Johnny wants to play!”

Yesterday, Al and I planned to play golf together at one of my favorites—Indian Peaks Golf Course in Louisville.

But when I got up, looked at the forecast, and listened, I realized it was raining and not just a little bit. It was POURING rain.

I texted Al and he replied, “Not raining up here. Just wet.”

That was all I needed. I jumped in my car and headed north. It is not a short drive from southeast Denver up to Boulder, almost.

As I drove, the rain seemed to diminish more and more until, when I arrived at the course, it was a slight drizzle. I checked with Courtney in the pro shop. She said, “The only people we are letting out today is walkers. No carts.”

I called Al again to inform him of this. He usually takes a cart when we play because past leg injuries make it difficult for him to walk 18 holes. I understand this with my former leg injury that still bothers me a bit as I walk. Anyway, Al responded, “Well, that leaves me out today. There is always next week!” I missed the fellowship with him, but I went ahead and teed up.

It was one of those days that I felt as if I was stealing because, for the first nine holes, I was the only one on the golf course. There may have been a couple of guys behind me. I’m not sure.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I like playing golf with people of course. This is one of the benefits of the game—a long walk NOT SPOILED to counter Mark Twain. I love it and some of my best memories with “the guys” are on the golf course from the days when I was a kid with Gary, on through college and seminary, and now as a pastor.

A few years ago, I was playing golf with Jack, Tom, and David at Riverdale Dunes—another favorite course. Jack and Tom were in the church at the time. David was on staff. Tom was having a rough hole. Just as he holed out, a duck started to quack. Tom was not a little irritated and he yelled out, “Aw, shut up!” All of us, including Tom, laughed about that. It took a couple of holes before we all composed ourselves. A good memory.

That is just a small example of the benefit of playing golf WITH others.

That having been said, I still enjoy the rare occasions when I get to play alone—just a brisk walk, no dilly dallying (as people who play with me know). I got around the front in a little over one hour. I discovered when I reached the tenth tee that there were two guys in front of me.

It always ticks me off a bit when pro shops allow a person to be inserted in front of someone who has paid the price to start at the first hole. I feel my “dander” increasing as I write this. It is one of my pet peeves. I could go on … but I will leave it at that.

I was determined NOT to let anything spoil yesterday, so I just slowed down a bit and enjoyed my rainy day a little more. By 17, the rains had picked up. In spite of the fact that I had my trusty umbrella, I was really starting to get wet, but again, I didn’t care. I finished just at the right time. A good day IN SPITE of the rain.

I’ve kind of stopped complaining about the amount of rainfall we have had the past couple of months. It doesn’t do any good anyway, right? Plus, I do LIKE the rain. I really do. I just would prefer it AFTER I finish my round.

I think yesterday was the very first time I have ever played an entire round of golf in a rainstorm. Maybe not … I’ll have to think about it.

Lord, thank You for a good day and the health to play. Thank You for the rain. What a blessing, especially yesterday. Holy Spirit, thank You for allowing it.

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs
15:8 NASB). Amen.

Pastor Luke

“Cool Hand Luke.” I just wanted to say a few words about a fellow pastor in the Mile High Association.

I first met this brother last year. He called me out of the blue. He took the initiative to do this. We met at a Starbucks about this time last year and that’s where things began.

We chitchatted for a bit and then he just jumped into the deep end of the pool, “Hey, I wanted to tell you about our outreach strategy. We are partnering with a local elementary school.” He proceeded to share about how they approached this ministry, the people they had met at the school, and the growing opportunities that came their way as a result.

It was a huge encouragement.

I went back to the church at Northglenn and got Patty involved. We went over to Leroy and visited with principal Teresa. She was quite accommodating and glad to receive our help. To be honest, I was shocked.

I am amazed at how things have turned around as far as church/public school relations as concerned. It wasn’t too long ago where schools wanted nothing to do with churches. It was a closed door. Now, for Luke and for me, we have experienced nothing but an open door.

Luke has been able to do some significant ministry as the school he works calls on him more and more. I see the same thing in our future.

Anyway, we have had a great year with the school. We have been able to give some food to needy families and then get involved in mentoring this Spring.

Back to Luke—about mid-year, he and I met at an associational meeting. We had opportunity to sit and talk. He asked about how things were going with the school and gave me some timely advice and counsel—much appreciated.

Yesterday, we had another great conversation. He shared about some further opportunities for outreach that the Lord has brought their way. Wow. Very impressive. But he is “out there.” He is not just sitting on his hands bemoaning how tough it is to reach folks.

I told him about our growing relationship with the school. He encouraged me further.

Is it possible to be mentored by someone who is younger? Ha! YES, me thinks so.

I appreciate Luke so much. He is a busy guy. He has a family. His church keeps him hopping. I get all of that, but I think it is the epitome of a kingdom mindset to help another brother and another church. He doesn’t get anything out of doing that. I appreciate it so much.

The busier I get, I tend to become more myopic in my own little life and ministry and church.

I am very impressed with this young brother, and I am thankful that the Lord brought him to Denver. We need more pastors like him.

“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs
15:3 NASB).

Lord, thank You for Luke. I pray that You would bless him, his family, his congregation, and the ministry you have given them. Thank You for bringing this brother across my path. Deliver me from my myopic selfishness. Use me Lord to encourage others as you have used Luke to encourage me. Amen.

Purifying Bloodletting, Not An Arrow to the Heart

I came across a very insightful article in the Rocky Mountain Baptist—our Colorado Baptist General Convention paper—yesterday.

But before I get to it, I just have to pause to ask you to pray for me today. I am not in a good place spiritually because I allowed something to get to me BIG TIME yesterday—TRAFFIC. Going up to church, heading to an appointment, and especially going home last night—I got caught in huge traffic jams.

I allowed the one last night to push me over the edge, I’m sorry to say.

I just had completed a great time of fellowship with a couple of friends in the church. It was about 9:00 PM. I jumped in the car to head south down I-25. Apparently, there was a huge accident on the highway, maybe even a fatality (I’m not sure; and last night, I didn’t care).

Usually, at that time of the night, it takes me 25 minutes to get home. Last night, it took an hour and a half! And I think I was just primed to lose it because I had been stalled in two other traffic jams that same day.

I’ve been in the recovery stage of the “lost it the night before” enough that I know I pay for it the next day. There are always consequences for the level of anger I experienced. Not good.

Anyway, enough of that—just wanted to share.

But back to the article—the author is Ed Stetzer. I may be mistaken, but I think he works at Lifeway with Thom Rainer and publishes a lot of very useful information for the church.

The title of the article (you can probably find it with a search on Google) is “Takeaways from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey.” He cites the fact that Christianity in America is as strong as ever and yet, there is a decline among mainline denominations.

What gives?

And here is the huge insight from the article: Stetzer asserts that nominal believers and becoming “nones” so that the “middle” is going away. Therefore, the result is that these nominal believers are the ones that are dropping out of the church while Christianity—the true faith as practiced by true believers—is as strong as ever.

Here is his concluding paragraph: “Christianity is losing—and will continue to lose—its home field advantage; no one can (or should) deny this. But the numerical decline of self-identified American Christianity is more of a purifying bloodletting than it is an arrow to the heart of the church.” Wow.

Just yesterday, I heard about a family that used to go to our church. I asked, “So what is going on with them?”

The answer: “Well, they aren’t going anywhere right now.”

Now, it is easy to jump to conclusions with everyone. I don’t want to do it, but here is the truth. Some people drop out of church for a time for a variety of reasons. I don’t have time to cite all those reasons here, but then, ultimately, eventually, they return.

Others drop out and NEVER go back.

These are the folks that are, to use another phrase Stetzer employs in this article, “honest reporters.” The truth is that they were never saved in the first place, and the Gardener pruned them off the tree. They may have made a decision to leave, but it was a work of God—a “blessed subtraction,” so to speak.

To hear about the state of the American church does not give me much pleasure. However, all of us that are witnessing the decline tend to blame ourselves when people drift away. Certainly, I am far from perfect and neither is the church I serve--no doubt about it, but a lost person is not going to stick it out. They will eventually leave and become who they really are.

I’ve said this before: I’m tired of trying to convince people to come to church. If someone is genuinely saved, he or she will find a way to come to church eventually. If not, they will drop out and stay dropped out, no matter how good the music or preaching or children’s programs are.

Lord, all of this makes me want to pray for the folks who are still in the church. It ain’t no picnic! It is hard to follow You, Jesus. Help us! Help me, especially if I am sitting at a standstill on the highway at 10:00 PM at night. I blew it last night and still had a bad attitude this morning and sinned against You. Lord, I am wrong. I confess it to You. Keep us all (myself at the top of the list) on the straight and narrow, no matter what, no matter who drops out. You are the SAME.

“He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Proverbs
14:29 NASB).

Right. Amen.

Back to Work Today

“The party’s over. It’s time to call it a day …” However the song goes. This has been a good couple of days. I’ve played a lot of golf and when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been sitting around “vegetating”—a pretty good combination for me (and not hard to do, either! Ha).

In my humble but accurate (ha) opinion, a good vacation is a combination of two things. This is going to sound weird. On the one hand, I don’t want it to end. On the other hand, I’m ready for it to end and get back to work.

One of the best things about these past few days is that I think we have made the transition from this rainy and cool month of May to the “dog days” of summer. It was close to ninety yesterday.

However, I heard that we are going to get more rain in the next couple of days, so maybe I am a little premature on that comment, but it is warmer, and I like warmer.

Anyway, this time of the year is a pretty crucial outreach opportunity. Please pray for us in that regard.

Last year, we had a sports camp and a great group of folks from Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Claremore, Oklahoma came to help us. It was an awesome week.

We had talked about making a trip to Claremore this summer to “return the favor,” (so to speak) but because of a combination of factors, we could not go.

Now, we are working on something else. Clay is a big part of the impetus of this. Last summer, he came to Sports Camp and liked it so much that he brought his parents and sister to church the Sunday after. The Lord was at work in all of this because they have been a BIG part of our fellowship ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Clay was waiting to talk with after a service. When I became available, he said, “Pastor John, are we going to have a Sports Camp this summer?” Oh, man! His question still breaks my heart.

I answered, “Well, Clay, I hope so. We are working on it. I will let you know.”

Please pray for us in that regard. Sports camp is an option, but there are others.

Now that we are working with Leroy Elementary School down the street from the church, there are also possibilities with them as well.

Anyway, our window is closing. My experience is that much past early July, people start to travel and get into their routines for the summer, and it is almost impossible to do any special outreach.

But I love the challenge and hope to have a couple of conversation about it today and we will see what happens.

On to the verses for today in Proverbs—notice the contrast in these two verses: “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27, NASB).

Two statements about wisdom—first, in the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence. To men, this means that if I earnestly ask for and seek wisdom, then I am always on solid ground. This does not mean that I will never make a mistake, but even if I do, the Lord will use it and guide me through it.

Second, wisdom is a fountain of life—once again, a metaphor of overflowing abundance. Nothing the Lord does for is measured and small. It is always abundant. Grace is the primary example of this. Where my sin is abundant, grace has to be more abundant to save a wretch like me.

These are resources we can depend on as individuals, as families, and as a church.

Lord, what I am earnestly seeking as I return to work is wisdom. Thank You for this vacation. It was very timely and needed. Thanks for Clay’s question. Thanks for his awesome family. Thank You for strong confidence and for abundant provision. Thank You for Your generosity, Holy Spirit. Amen.


Marilyn and the Snake

Doesn’t that sound like the title of a fable or children’s book?

Yesterday, I was visiting with Tim. I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago in conjunction with Pastor John who is painting our house. Tim works with him and MADE us some new shutters for our house. I’ll have to take a picture and show you when the job is completed. They are awesome!

Anyway, the doorbell rang. Marilyn went to get it. One of our neighbors, Kevin, was driving down the street when he saw this big snake crawling up into my car that was parked in front of our house!

Now first, who does that? Who stops when he or she sees something like that? I believe this was a divine encounter based on the fact that we have been praying for our neighbors.

Kevin stops and comes to ring our doorbell to tell us this.

So, Marilyn runs out to the garage to grab a rake. She reaches under my car and snags this snake. By this time, Tim and Ruby and my mom and Beth and her two sons (they live next to us on the north) and I are standing out there along with Kevin.

Now, back to the snake—this critter is at least five feet long! I’ve never seen a snake this large in our yard before.

Marilyn pulled him out and swiveled the rake a bit. The snake extricated himself from the rake and took off across our yard. He was more afraid of us than we were of him.

He wriggled off as Marilyn tried to snag him again. All the while, Tim and I are saying, “Just kill it.” But Marilyn refused. She called out to me to get a box and a garbage bag.

Finally, after numerous attempts, she got the snake into a garbage bag to the cheers of the crowd. What to do now?

Well, she was worried that if we just let him out, even in the field behind our house, he would somehow return and kill one of our pets. This snake although large did not seem like the killer type.

So, Marilyn and I jumped in my car, and we drove down Happy Canyon street, turned right on Monaco, and left into the parking lot of a business with a field and swamp next to it. Marilyn took the bag and emptied its contents there. Task completed.

Now, let me back up a bit. If you want to see me act like a junior high girl, just put a snake anywhere around me. I don’t like the critters. Tim said the same thing. “Whenever I see a snake, I kill it. The only good snake is a dead one.” Amen.

But not Marilyn. When we were living together in Fort Worth, we looked up one night and saw a snake in our living room. He was nowhere near as large as the snake yesterday, but still … Of course, I freaked and went to look for my five iron. Marilyn somehow picked the snake up and took him out our front door to let him go.

And herein lies her motivation in all of this. It is twofold. First, she is NOT afraid. Second, she has mercy and compassion for the animals and doesn’t want to kill them.

As for me … I was morbidly afraid as we drove down the street with that snake in a bag that he would somehow get out of the bag and wrap himself around my throat as I drove. Now, thankfully, that didn’t happen, but … as I said, junior high girl.

When we got through this incident, and Tim and Ruby along with our neighbors left, Marilyn went online to try to find out what kind of snake she was dealing with. We kind of figured that it was a bull snake, but we are not sure.

Back to Kevin—we did not find out his exact address. We regret this for three reasons. I want to thank him for stopping. Can you imagine how this junior high girl would have reacted if somehow that snake had gotten into my car and I had discovered him as I was driving? I can just see the headline, “Mysterious Death of Northglenn Pastor on I-25: authorities have no idea why his car suddenly diverted off the highway and over an embankment, killing the driver. One unnamed source postulates that alcohol must somehow be involved …” Or something like that.

The second reason we would like to see Kevin again is that he took a bunch of pictures of the “snake incident” and none of us around here did.

Third, I believe the Lord has some divine purpose in all of this. Duh! Do ya think?

Lord, thank You for protecting Marilyn and all the rest of us yesterday. Thank You even for the snake. I’m sure he is enjoying his new home in the swamp right now. He better be … Amen.

The Role of Reproof

It was a rather uneventful day yesterday. No complaints. Those are good, but it didn’t end that well.

As we were watching television, suddenly, my mom got dizzy and nauseated. Marilyn and I helped her to get upstairs and get into bed. I don’t know what happened exactly. I don’t know if she is sick or not. This type of thing has happened before.

Anyway, please pray for her.

Writing and thinking about my mom this morning ties in with a verse I read in Proverbs 13. “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, But he who regards reproof will be honored” (Proverbs
13:18, NASB ).

The Spirit has drawn my attention to the word “reproof.” Webster defines it “criticism for a fault, rebuke.”

If you really stop and think about it, true reproof is rare in families and in churches today.

My mom NEVER had a problem doing it. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her, but when she noticed a fault, she jumped on it like a frog on a bug. And it was never out of spite. It was motivated by love. I never doubted this.

This verse in Proverbs contrasts “him who neglects discipline” with “he who regards reproof.”

I can’t tell you how frequently I see kids in public places acting up in one way or another (I won’t go into detail here; you know what I am talking about) and parents either downplay it or disregard it completely.

Sometimes, when I witness this type of thing, my mind goes back to my childhood and I think of myself doing it, and my next thought is, “When I did THAT, I couldn’t sit down for a week.”

My mom was vigilant and observant. She used reproof to nip faults in the bud before they became character issues. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about?

But not only is reproof rare in families today, but also it is even less rare in the church.

Using this word reminds me of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for REPROOF, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB, caps mine).

The other day, I was visiting with a man in a restaurant. Somehow, we got on the subject of church. He said that he attended a mega church here in town (I won’t name it), but it was clear that this man was intoxicated and erratic in his behavior. I wonder what happened when he got in a car to go home—scary thought.

Okay, now this is just an example, but this is not appropriate behavior for someone who claims to be a believer, and it is a black mark on his church. Someone needs to address this.

Someone needs to address this fault and rebuke this man. Again, if he did not make a claim to know Jesus, it would be a different approach—love him and share Christ with him. But with a believer—love him and REBUKE this behavior.

Now, it is easy for me to write this as a pastor, but it is hard to do, as are most challenges when actually ministering to people. But if we looked at this in the right way, if we approached it in love, shouldn’t we, using the God-breathed scriptures, teach, reprove, correct, and train?

Shouldn’t we? And it doesn’t have to be just the pastor. This is the role of the church. And it has a positive purpose, just like good parenting. It is not intended to be condemnatory or nit-picky, but redemptive with the ultimate goal of equipping each other in righteousness.

Lord, I do lift up my mom today. Help her feel better today. Thank You for the kind of parent she is. Thank You for the example she set in our home that has spurred me on as a pastor. Thank You for the proper use of the Word of God. Amen.


85 and 96

Before I get into the topic for today, I want to say that it is a little weird this morning. I am taking a couple of days off, so I won’t be at church today. Dan is preaching for me. Thanks a lot, brother. I really appreciate it. Please join me in praying for the services today and for Dan as he preaches.

I will have to say that I am looking forward to a VERY relaxing day.

Well, anyway, yesterday in the Memorial PGA golf tournament, Tiger Woods shot an 85. This was his worst scoring round of his career and puts him in dead last in the tournament. Looks like MY golf scores!

I am a little ashamed to say that I USED to be a big Tiger fan. I loved to watch him compete and win multiple tournaments and majors, but I am NOT a fan any longer. In fact, I find myself rooting against him now more often than not.

I certainly don’t want to pile on the man. I’ll leave the judgment up to God, but it is fairly obvious to see that his golf game has not been the same since revelations of his off-the-course behavior came out and his wife divorced him. Just look at his record since he won the U. S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

I believe that he, like all of us (we are not different), is facing the consequences of his actions. But the spiral as far as his golf game is concerned, continues to go down.

As I was sitting here this morning and thinking about Tiger, I asked myself, “What prominent person would I choose to be the exact opposite of him?” Immediately, Billy Graham came to mind.

I will attach an article from Christianity Today on the Facebook version of this blog post, but you can easily find it as you search Google. The title is, “Billy Graham: 96 and Still Preaching.”

Last November, Billy Graham had his 96
th birthday, but as the article contends, he is still going strong. Maybe his physical frame has weakened a bit, but he grows stronger spiritually by the day as he prepares to go home—real home.

The article states that his last crusade was in 2007, but he continues to preach through a new avenue called “My Hope.” Not too many months ago, I spoke with a brother from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about this ministry. Now, Billy Graham is preaching through video one can use in the home. I first heard about “My Hope” through my friends Bill and Melba Stackhouse. It is awesome. I urge all of you to check it out.

Anyway, the point is that the contrast could not be greater between these two men. One is relatively long but his career dissipation light is already flashing; the other is old but the light of the glory of God is shining brighter than ever all the way to the end.

This contrast reminds me of what the book of Proverbs does from beginning to end. This awesome book presents one contrast after another regarding the way of foolishness versus the way of wisdom.

Here is an example from the passage I read this morning:
“The wicked are overthrown and are no more, But the house of the righteous will stand” (Proverbs 12:7 NASB).

Sometimes, this contrast gets a little obscured because sometimes, wickedness looks as if it is prevailing. It is applauded. One gets the spotlight. This describes Tiger’s life prior to 2008. But no more.

However, someday (in some cases sooner than later), things come to light. If not here, then in eternity.

Lord, I thank You for the ministry and the EXAMPLE of Billy Graham. By Your grace, I want to be like him. Help me to serve You all the way to the end and then go home! I pray for Tiger that he could get saved. You know where his heart is. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Amen.

A Defense of the Church

Well, Marilyn sent me another article to read. This one got under my skin a bit. So, I would like to make a few comments on it. I’m sure no one is surprised about this.

One of the good things about the era in which we live with all of its technology and the prevalence of social media is that communication is more available than ever. ANYONE, and I mean absolutely anyone, (including an obscure Baptist pastor in Northglenn, Colorado) can type out some words on a page and send them out in the World-wide Web for anyone to read.

This is a good thing, but it also has some potential dangers. I believe it is incumbent on us all to make sure we check out the folks we read or follow online. Here are some questions that are vital: does this person make a claim to be a believer? What are his or her doctrinal beliefs? And what church does he or she attend? What is the track record?

Some of this information is readily available; some of it is not. And if it is not, beware and be wise.

One example is the author who wrote the article about which I would like to comment. His name is John Pavlovitz. He has a blog, just like yours truly. He claims to serve a Community Church in North Carolina. What is this church? What is his position of service? What are his credentials? Who knows?

But apparently, none of this matter because Pavlovitz appears to have quite a following online. He has written a lot.

But the title of the article I would like to comment on is “The Duggars, The Jenners, And the Growing Exodus from Christianity.” If you search Google, you can find it. I will attach a link to this blog in Facebook. I urge you to read it.

First, I am sick and tired of people bashing the church and declaring the demise of Christianity. Admittedly, the American church is facing difficult times. I am a witness to this, but I would not declare that Christianity is declining or even in danger of doing so. In fact, I would say that the church is stronger than ever as folks who are there for the wrong reasons and may not be believers at all are getting weeded out.

Second, it doesn’t take a genius to point out inconsistencies in the church. Of course there are! Why? Because the church, though redeemed by the grace of God, is patently a human institution. Newsflash! There are hypocrites in the church! But show me any place where there aren’t! A close scrutiny of the life of John Pavlovitz would reveal that he is a hypocrite as well.

Third, I think we need to be very careful when we try to assume the role of God and pass judgment on anyone, whether it is the Duggars or Bruce or Christine Jenner. I do agree with him at that point. However, having said that, there IS a difference between believers and non-believers when it comes to their present experience of the forgiveness of God in Christ.

I believe that we ought to hold believers to a higher standard than that of folks who do not know Jesus because they ought to know better and they have the Spirit of God in their lives.

This does NOT mean that there is any difference between my sin and anyone else’s. Sin is sin.

Fourth, I have a problem with Pavlovitz’s article because he does not reference scripture while he urges, “We who claim Christ can no longer be people who abandon logic and decency and compassion for the sake of religion and get a pass.”
What does this mean? I think we need to choose to obey what God says and line up our “logic and decency and compassion with it.” I can love a person without embracing their sin.

The last time I looked, scripture says nothing about letting “logic” guide us. Whose logic? John Pavlovitz’s? Thanks but no thanks.

Fifth, I don’t agree with Pavlovitz about why people are leaving the church. I think he is way off. I think it is precisely the opposite. People are leaving because they want the church to bless what they are doing OR, and this is closer to the point, they want to go somewhere where sin is NEVER addressed, where the little psycho-babble messages never touch on the hard issues like morals and consequences and judgment and hell.

I don’t know … yes, the church is flawed, but if all of us leave it, please tell me where do we go? The corner bar? I might find some loving people there, but wait until something happens and see where those folks are. I have heard this testimony over and over.

God has no plan B for where individual believers come to work out their inconsistencies in a community context where we often don’t act perfectly in line with what we say we believe, but the Gardener keeps pruning and working on us. And He is always there and the community is there for love and support. That community is the CHURCH.

I am reminded of some comments that Eugene Peterson makes in the introduction to one of the books of the Bible (not sure which one). He asserts that churches are far from perfect places. However, the difference is (or should be) that sin (mine and others—we don’t differentiate) is brought out into the open and addressed with the mercy and grace and love of God.

“The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD, But the blameless in their walk are His delight” (Proverbs
11:20 NASB).

Holy Spirit, thank You for the church You created at Pentecost. Fill us. Empower us. Grow us when it comes to our responses to the sins of others and our own sin. Amen.

The Leadership of the Holy Spirit

Yesterday morning, Connor and I had a good discussion about the whole concept of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. As I approach preaching about Him in a week or so, this topic has been on my mind, particularly as it relates to worship in the local church.

My initial thought when approaching this matter is to think of spontaneous acts—such as standing up to testify or changing boats in mid-stream or even some of the excesses I have heard about like someone standing up to speaking in “tongues” or utter loud praises.

When I was a child, we often had a guest preacher at U Hills. His name was Harold McGlamory. I thought he was an awesome communicator of God’s Word. But on several occasions (and this is a very vivid memory), he would stand up in the pulpit, take his sermon notes out of his Bible, and set them aside, stating, “Well, I had a sermon planned today, but the Holy Spirit wants me to do something else.”

My first impression of this was, “Wow.” But, today, after twenty-six years of preaching sermons weekly in the same congregation, I think a little differently about it.

Come to think of it—in all those years—I think I have pulled a “Harold McGlamory” only one time.

Here is why: a statement I read years ago made a huge impression on me. I’ll have to find the exact quote. Let me paraphrase: “It is interesting that people who think so highly of the Spirit’s leadership in the spur of the moment think so little of His role in planning before the event.” Something like that.

So, I seek the Spirit’s leadership in planning my sermons months in advance. Is this any less an evidence of the leadership of the Holy Spirit than a spontaneous shift of gears? Brother Harold supplied the pulpit in churches in Denver. He had a wealth of Bible knowledge and a vibrant walk with the Lord. I think he could pull it off. I think if I lived as a pastor on the edge of spontaneity FREQUENTLY, I would be in the insane asylum.

Anyway, I say all that to come back to the challenge: how does or should the weekly worship of the local church reflect the leadership of the Holy Spirit? This topic is a burden on my heart for two reasons. First, I have a sense that this is a CRUCIAL study for us as a church RIGHT NOW. Second, I think we, like most Baptists I would imagine, have neglected talking about Him because of all the excesses out there.

But I want to declare this morning that I am not afraid of the Holy Spirit, and I sense in my heart an openness to Him, maybe more than ever.

In our talk yesterday, Connor and I came up with a couple of initial thoughts. First, we want to provide ROOM for him in the service. I think we get scheduled up (and there is nothing wrong with this. Again, both of us pray about our roles in the service and hopefully what we say or lead in worship is a reflection of the Lord’s leadership) at times and maybe miss out on what the Spirit wants to say. We are going to provide opportunity for testimony more often.

Second, Connor and I are going to spend more time in prayer together, praying about and for the service.

Third, and this is something Connor mentioned, in our public prayers, actually mention the Holy Spirit as we address God. If He is God, we can pray to Him as we would the Father and the Son. Good suggestion.

I know those three items seem rather rudimentary, but they are a start. We are going to continue to pray about this and seek counsel. This verse in Proverbs 11 is germane: “Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs
11:14 NASB).

Holy Spirit, I thank You today that You live in us and that You are constantly available as our Parakletos—a Friend called alongside to Help. We are asking for Your Help. May our congregational services of worship be a reflection of Your leadership whether in planning or in the spur of the moment or whatever. Fill me. Demonstrate Your fruit through me today. Thank You for the resource of the Your work in others as counselors. Amen.

Concern for the Flock

Now, I have to be careful here and couch this the right way because yesterday morning was kind of a whirlwind.

I had spent some time with Jorge as we discussed some matters relative to the Hispanic church Torre Fuerte.

When we finished our conversation, I had someone in the front office talking with Betty. When I round the corner, I saw Matt*. Now most folks in our church would not even know him (even if I used his real name). We just haven’t seen him for a few years.

Before I go further, I have to say that I love Matt. He is a guy that always makes me laugh and has had some very interesting experiences in his life. I’ve missed him the past few years.

Anyway, I was in a hurry, so I said, “Matt, I have got to get out the door here. Can I come by and visit with you in the next few days? I would love to catch up on what has been going on with you.”

He replied, “Sure, but I’ve got to tell you that now, I am a full-fledged Mormon and love it.” He went on to say a few more things.

Before we parted ways, he added, “John, is it okay if I still keep coming here in Sunday mornings?” I answered, “Matt, this is your church home always. Of course.”

Now, since this brother still wants to come to our church, I have some real questions about his comment about being a “full-fledged Mormon.” So, I am not going to make any terminal comments at this juncture. I will just reserve them until we get to visit.

Several months ago, a couple of women came by our church. They were very congenial. They asked if they could use our church building for a school they were affiliated with. It seemed rather intriguing. We talked on several occasions.

At one point, I asked, “You ladies have told me that you hold to Christian values in your school. That is very commendable. Can I ask what church all of you are affiliated with?” Each of them replied, “Oh, we all go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” One of the ladies paused after she gave an answer. “But we have one or two families in our school who are not Mormons.” Okay.

As we continued to converse, one of the ladies said, “I know we are a part of a different church, but we hold the same values, don’t we? It doesn’t bother us at all.” Well, yes, but …

Putting both of these two scenarios together (by the way, it didn’t work out for this school to use our building), I wonder what is going on.

I want to give the reason I am saying this. I am not commenting about Matt or even these ladies. I won’t make judgments about people. That is up to God. But I am speaking from what I know about the DOCTRINE of the Mormon Church.

We have some HUGE disagreements about very core issues such as the canon of scripture (we only use ONE book) and the nature and work of Jesus Christ. Typically, the Mormons I have known in the past want nothing to do with people who go to other churches, except to convert them to their point of view.

We had a family in our church a few years ago. Their grown-up son and his family somehow affiliated with the Mormon Church. I think it is because their son married a Mormon girl. I’m not sure. Anyway, this broke the parent’s hearts. They invited them to our church on several occasions for special programs. Their son replied, “My church won’t let us come to yours.”

Traditionally, that has been the stance of the church. Is this changing? I just have two examples—not a large enough sample size from a scientific point of view but it seems that things might be shifting a bit.

I don’t know … I just have concern for this brother. We will talk and I will find out for sure, but it is the same burden that I have for any sheep that leaves the flock for any reason. Matt and his family are still members of First Southern.

Please join me in praying for his family and my visit with them.

Lord, this brief meeting with Matt yesterday renews my burden to keep praying for the flock. Again, don’t know what is going on with him but he is still a member of the fellowship. I lift his family up to You. Protect all of us. Guard us. Help us to be vigilant. Amen.

Long, Extended Times of Suffering

The other day, I heard about what happened to my cousin Cathy. She is a schoolteacher in Las Vegas. These were her last days in the profession as she is planning to retire, but I got word from Duane her husband that she fell at work and broke her arm and fractured her hip. Ouch. Now she is looking at four to eight weeks of recovery.

I feel for her in this injury and the timing of it. Please pray for her.

I also got an opportunity to visit with Marvin yesterday. He is now at home. He is his usual very upbeat self, although he admitted that he struggles at times on an emotional level with his lengthy recovery. Of course. I can certainly understand this. Please continue to pray for this brother.

And then, there is Libby—a sister who, like Marvin, is recovering from surgery on both legs. She is still in a rehab center and wants to go home soon. Betty told me yesterday that she had a minor setback the other day, and things will be delayed a bit. Please pray for Libby and her husband Tom as he cares for her.

One more—I have a friend who was laid off from his position as a Director of Missions. This was several months ago, and he is still searching for a new job. It has been a very long and arduous process. Please lift up this brother as well.

Well, as you can see, I could go on, but is there a theme here? I think so.

Yesterday, as I walked into the office, I said to Betty and to Barb who were both sitting there, “Well, I have an announcement. This is the first day in three months that I have entered this church building without some physical ailment.”

Betty laughed and replied, “Be careful.” Right! As she said that, I fully expected the floor to give way or the ceiling to collapse.

As those of you who kindly read this blog on any kind of consistent basis can readily see, I have certainly struggled these past few months. I can never remember going through such a long and sustained period of difficulty. And it was just my stuff. It was my mom and sister. It was the weird weather we had in May (again, not as severe as in other places like Oklahoma and Houston) and a combination of other factors.

And I would be the first to say that I did not handle it well.

That is why my heart goes out to the four I mentioned. Please add Pastor Saeed Abedini to the list. Talk about a long and sustained period of difficulty—he has been in prison in Iran for over three years!

And even as I write this, I know there are other brothers and sisters who have faced been in prison and have faced other forms of long and extended times of suffering.

What I am learning and my conversation with Marvin confirms this—the mental and emotional part of these long periods is the primary challenge.

I just don’t see how Saeed does it. I would think at some point, I would just say to my Iranian captors, “Look I want out of here. What do you want me to say or do and I will do it.” But of course, if Saeed did that, he would play right into their hands and invalidate everything he has stood for. But still …

So, how do you do it? How does anyone do it?

It is the power of God.

And, it is making a choice that we won’t listen to THAT woman who sits at the side of the straight and narrow path, urging us to divert just a little.

“The woman of folly is boisterous, She is naive and knows nothing. She sits at the doorway of her house, On a seat by the high places of the city, Calling to those who pass by, Who are making their paths straight: ‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,’ And to him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, That her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (Proverbs
9:13-18 NASB).

Lord, my heart goes out to the five I have mentioned this morning. I lift each one of them up to you. Strengthen them. Encourage them. Empower them. Keep them on the path. Keep them from listening to the insidious temptations of the woman of folly. Amen.

"A Year Without God"

Yesterday, Marilyn sent me a link to an interesting article. It is an interview with a pastor who, in 2014, embarked on a pilgrimage in which he decided to spend “a year without God” to see what would happen.

At the end of the year, Ryan Bell made the decision that he did not need God any longer.

The interviewer, Chris Stedman, asked Bell to elaborate on a statement that he made on National Public Radio—“I don’t believe God exists.”

Bell replied, “I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to—and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from—is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us… The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of things.”

You can read the rest of the interview, but notice the word that Bell uses above—“provisional.” I’m not sure that he is ready to jettison his Christian beliefs, but he could head that way … or not. We will see. The story is not over yet.

Well, of course, I have a couple of comments to make about this as I sit here this morning.

First (and this may be shocking to some), I can understand what this guy is saying to some degree. Believing in God and acknowledging Him and seeking to serve Him is not easy. It does add an element to life that is difficult. No argument there.

And, on one level, it might be easier on certain occasions if we just didn’t have to deal with the Lord, for a little while ... maybe.

Second, as Bell says, “The world makes sense to me as it is,” I cringe a bit. This is a little arrogant. I guess he has never had to face any kind of suffering or loss. I wonder how much sense the world would make to him if suddenly his wife were killed in a car accident or some drive-by shooter killed his child. I certainly do not wish that these events or any tragedy would occur in Bell’s life, but I am just saying.

Eventually, all of us face something at some point. That is the nature of human life, and when it occurs (not if, but when), then the order we put our faith in is disrupted. And, whether Bell or any atheist would admit it, that is when we seek something solid, something dependable, something trustworthy.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, as they go through tragedy, “I can’t imagine how anyone handles things like this without God.”

Third, and this is what I depend on: whether I need God or not, whether I acknowledge Him or not, He is there. He is relentlessly there. And at some point, whether it is in this life or in eternity, I will deal with Him.

And, if there is only a 1 percent chance that Christianity is right, am I willing to take that gamble?

Plus, when I talk with atheists, I want to ask: “So, you reject the Christian claims about the existence of God. You don’t believe God exists. So, what is your alternative?” Listen to what they say. It seems rather empty to me, but I am sure that atheists believe that Christians live in a dream world of delusion, and they feel the same way about us.

Anyway, it is a provocative and interesting read. There is no need to get in a “dither” over it. People come to various points in their pilgrimage. God doesn’t fall off His throne in shock.

I urge you to read the article. If somehow I can’t get the link into this post, just search Google. The title is “’Year with God’ pastor: Why I am no longer a believer,” by Chris Stedman.

I’m always intrigued when I come across something like this article and then open my Bible. Today’s reading comes from Proverbs 8. Remember, this chapter about the personification of wisdom comes on the heels of the story of the foolish young man following off the wanton wife in chapter 7.

Two passages captured my attention: "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. "By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. "By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly” (Proverbs
8:14-16 NASB).

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life And obtains favor from the LORD. But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death” (Proverbs
8:34-36 NASB).

Lord, I praise You, Wisdom. I thank You for the life, the real life I find when I find You. It isn’t that I have all the answers but having You gives me strength to live with all the questions and it is still hard. I pray for Ryan. Help him during this “provisional” time. If he is one of your kids, You will set him straight. If not, I pray that he comes to know “whom to know is life eternal.” Amen.

A Vivid Picture of How Someone Destroys Himself

Proverbs 7 is one of the most descriptive and ominous chapters in the Bible. It sends chills up my spine every time I read it.

I know that it plays a dual role in the book. On one hand, it is a contrasting metaphor to the personification of wisdom. She stands out on the street corner in the light of day calling any and all who would come to her.

The way of foolishness is exactly the opposite. She calls solitary folks in the dark corners of life. Secrecy is one of Satan’s primary tools.

On the other hand, I have no reason to believe that this is not an actual observation on the part of the human author of Proverbs.

In a sermon a few years ago, I shared with the folks that I had always envisioned some sort of two-story house with a white picket fence around it. One day, as the sun was setting, the observer happened to look out of his window to see this meeting between the brazen wife and her prey. He watches as they walk off down the street together.

I don’t know … this is just how I imagine it.

The other day, I was talking with a pastor friend. I asked him about a family we both know and their children. I knew the girl when she was a teenager. She met a guy, moved in with him, and eventually married him. I was glad to hear this, but I was sad to hear that she had chosen that path.

Of course, in all of this, we always think about moral diversions of one sort or another, but one can take the path of foolishness in many ways.

Not long ago, I read the story of a world-famous pastor. For years, this man had been embezzling money from his church. His executive pastor knew about it and finally let the “cat out of the bag.” Here is a man who had a stellar reputation and now it is destroyed.

When I use the word “destroyed” in this article today, I do not want to imply that the sins I have mentioned (even the one in Proverbs; we don’t know the end of the story for these two illicit “lovers”) are beyond the pale of forgiveness. Of course not! There is no sin that fits in that category except unbelief.

What I am saying is that choices we make have consequences, often very serious, and this chapter serves as a graphic warning. Don’t go down THAT path; stay on the straight and narrow.

How do we do this? Proverbs gives good counsel about that as well. I want to go back a couple of chapters. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NASB).

Well, anyway, yesterday was a great day. We presented Jorge and Vida to the English-speaking church as the new pastor of the Hispanic church. Then, I preached in the Hispanic church yesterday afternoon. This is the 2
nd Anniversary of this congregation.

I won’t re-preach my sermon here, but I preached from Luke 13:1-9 and talked about fruitfulness. The Lord calls us as individuals and as churches to bear fruit for His honor and glory. I used our former crabapple tree as a metaphor to challenge this church. I urged them to continue to be faithful to God and to be fruitful as long as the Lord allows them to exist as a church. That tree lasted 52 years. I trust that this congregation continues that long or longer.

We shared a great meal afterwards. One humble brother thanked me for my story about the tree. I thanked him for this comment.

To me, it is a vivid picture of what walking down the right path is all about—nothing-flashy—just consistent fruit bearing year after year after year. Only the Spirit of God can do this.

Lord, I thank You for the graphic warnings in Your Word and all around us. Wisdom calls out from everywhere—even a crabapple tree. Give us the grace, by the power of Your Spirit, to choose the right paths. Amen.