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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Mary and Sally--Settle Your Differences

The more I think about these two verses in Philippians four, the more amazed I am. Plus, they hit a little close to home.

Let me quote them: "Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life" (Philippians 4:2-3, NLT).

Who are Euodia and Syntyche? Who knows? They might as well be Mary and Sally.

Whoever they are, does it strike you as significantly as it impacts me that in all of Paul’s letters, he NEVER does this!

Granted, he does mention individuals frequently and even hints at some problems on occasion, but these verses contain very specific instruction to two specific women.

Here is the blunt command: settle your differences! Whatever this disagreement was about (and apparently that was not important because Paul doesn’t mention it), the fact of the disagreement elicited this firm admonishment from the Apostle.

Is it bad to say that this disagreement encourages me?

I know that sounds strange, but the thought that came to me this morning was, “Even Paul had to deal with this kind of stuff.”

I tell you my mind is flooded right now with memories of huge disagreements I have dealt with over the years. One particularly painful one involved several families and it spread through the church, polarizing a lot more people.

I spent days and weeks appealing to both sides. No one was willing to bend an inch. Each “party” wanted me to side with them and then, they both became united in one thing: everyone was displeased with me!

I was encouraging them to take the Matthew 18 approach, and the attitude was, “I’ll be glad to get with them when they take the initiative to get with me.”

My appeal was, “Someone has to be bigger in this situation. Someone has to be willing to swallow his/her pride and take the first steps toward reconciliation.”

What happened ultimately? I bet you can guess. One of the major players in this whole thing left the church, angry and bitter and mad at me.

Significantly enough, the other families eventually found something else to get crossways about, and they all left too.

I don’t know … I guess I would have to say that my experience is that most of the time, rather than addressing issues, people just decide to leave. And, then, it is like divorce.

Sixty percent of marriages today end in divorce. This is the latest statistic I have heard, and it doesn’t matter whether the couples are believers or not. The stats are the same. Isn’t that sad?

But I have heard that the divorce rate increases significantly in second and third marriages as well? I’ve heard that it climbs toward 80 percent.

I believe the same principle holds true when it comes to disagreement and resolving conflict in the local church. If you don’t resolve things, and choose to leave, guess what? You take all those hurts and bitterness to your next church, and then, when something happens, your first impulse is to leave THAT church as well. And the cycle continues.

One family in our church that left (of course) has left at least three other churches that I know of on the north side. Come on!

You know the old saying, “If you are looking for a perfect church, don’t join this one, because the moment you do, it won’t be perfect any longer.”

The people that leave churches (and again, I feel that I need to say at this point that sometimes, people need to leave a church. There are some valid reasons for leaving. My argument here is that disagreement is with someone else in the church is NOT a good reason) oftentimes don’t think about the collateral damage they leave behind.

It strikes me how many times people come up to me months after someone has left to ask about them. They are not as close to “the action” as I am, so it takes a while. And often, I think that what is in play is a grieving process, a “death” of sorts. That is how painful this type of thing is.

And damaging.

This is why Paul addresses Mary and Sally, appealing to their relationship to the Lord. Shouldn’t it make a difference if we are talking about disagreements with believers? Shouldn’t it???

Paul also appeals to the relationships this women enjoyed and the work they did for the kingdom. Of course, this always suffers when unresolved conflict occurs. Satan sees to that.

Lord, thank you for the blessing of unity. There is nothing so uplifting as when believers are unified.

And the converse of that is that there is nothing more painful than unresolved conflict. It is okay to disagree, but we still need to love each other.

I pray for Duane’s recovery today and for Don as he and Susan sit down with the oncologist to discuss treatment options today at 4:00. My heart and love goes out to them.

I’m not going to cite words to a song but just refer one to you. Jim mentioned this weeks ago and handed me a CD a few days ago. George Beverly Shea (this wonderful brother passed away recently at the age of 104) sings a hymn with Guy Penrod. The title of it is: “Does Jesus Care?” The whole CD is off the charts, but this song is excellent. Find it and buy it. I am reminded of Shea’s ministry in Billy Graham Crusades. Thank you for those memories and that ministry, Lord. Amen.
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Fewer Pastors

I receive so many magazines at the church that I rarely take time to read any of them. But the cover of one caught my eye recently. It was the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary Gateway. It is a magazine that the seminary sends out to “alumni and friends.” It is the Spring 2013 issue. The title of this particular issue is, “The Call to Pastoral Ministry.” It caught my eye.

The first article in the magazine gives excerpts from an address that Jeff Iorg, the President of the seminary, gave recently. “There is a coming crisis related to pastoral ministry in the church. The crisis isn’t internet pornography, misuse of funds, authoritarian leadership styles, or doctrinal error. The coming crisis is we soon won’t have enough pastors. Over the past decade there have been a consistently declining number of students who have enrolled at Golden Gate Seminary who checked ‘pastor’ on the entrance survey as their ultimate ministry objective.”

Oh, man.

There is so much to say about these assertions. First, I would have identified everything the Dr. Iorg mentions as very relevant issues for the contemporary pastorate—all those four items—pornography, the handling of money, leadership style, and doctrine. I have had contact with guys who have struggled significantly and whose ministry has been affected profoundly as a result of all of these issues. I think the average person in the pew has no idea what pastors struggle with and many don’t care.

They just want their pastor to “produce,” and they don’t want him to be real because it is perceived as whining and complaining, and the response is always, “Well, you think your job is hard, I work twenty-two hours a day seven days a week, and you only work one day a week.” That kind of drivel.

Second, it breaks my heart that the number of men who are training to be pastors on the seminary level is declining but I understand it from several different standpoints.

I honestly think that more and more guys are just deciding to forego a seminary education. There is a common viewpoint out there that says, “I don’t need seminary. I can do this job. It isn’t that hard.”

And churches seem more and more inclined not to value theological education as they should. It seems less and less important to people that their pastor has paid the price to take extra time and years and blood and sweat and tears to go to seminary.

I cannot begin to tell all of you what a sacrifice it was for my family to spend EIGHT years beyond college to get more schooling. I’ve shared in this blog that as I neared graduation, I really struggled with even going at all. My attitude was, “I can preach. Why do I need seminary?”

I had a good friend at Baylor who chose that career path. He jumped right into the pastorate after graduating from college and right now is in a much larger congregation than the one I serve.

Do I ever look back with regret on the years I spent in seminary? Not one second. Those eight years were some of the best years of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

And, just to go on the record as saying this—I got a PhD NOT so that I could get a larger church. I got the most advanced degree they offered so that I could be a better pastor. I know PhD’s are for guys that want to teach, and I’m not ruling that out somewhere down the road, but it was never the goal for me. I majored in preaching and minored in pastoral ministry. I wanted to be a pastor. That’s it.

But back to Iorg’s statements—I believe he is seeing a decline in pastoral ministry candidates at Golden Gate seminary because many guys are not valuing theological education.

Over the years, I have heard a lot of criticism about what seminaries offer and how they really don’t prepare guys for the pastorate. I think this is bogus. I received great training that I continue to resource week by week.

Here is another part of this: being a pastor is dog tough and thankless and un-esteemed work. It used to be that pastors were the most highly regarded profession in the community. Not any more. It just isn’t that way in our culture.

Plus, it is amazing—I was telling Betty this yesterday—here is another part of all of this. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t get “advice” about how to do my job or criticism (it is often veiled in “trying to help me out”) about my ministry.

The concept is: your job isn’t that hard. Anyone can do it. Even me. I could do it and do a better job.

I’m sick of it, and I always tend to get blind-sided with these types of comments. And later on, down the road, during the day, the thought hits me, “Wait a minute. He just attacked my integrity.”

I am trying to learn to be ready with a response, and I’m tired of being polite as people tell me how to do my job. And I want to say, “I don’t tell you how to do your job. Don’t tell me how to do mine. If you don’t like it, find a church and pastor it yourself because the Lord has called me to serve this one, and I will do it the way He leads me.” Shut up. End of conversation.

Oops. Kind of touched a cord there. Ya think?

Back to Iorg’s comments: I really do have a burden for my profession. We need more guys who will be called to a place and serve there for YEARS.

And, in spite of everything I have just said, being a pastor is the best job in the world. And it isn’t a job. If you love people and serve them and feed them—they will love you back in unbelievable ways. This has been my main experience at the church I have served now for almost twenty-four years.

For every jerk who tells me how to do my job, there are ten folks who love Jesus and serve Him and want to support their pastor.

As you can see, there is something to all of this. The Lord is working me over again today.

One more thing that I have to say just to be honest: I do struggle with the challenges of the pastorate to the point where I want to step aside from it and I want to quit. But it is amazing how the Lord brings very timely encouragement just at the right moment.

For example, I received an email from one of my former students at the Rocky Mountain extension of Golden Gate seminary. Over ten years ago (has it really been that long ago), I taught preaching. Sean had sent me a note, but somehow, it had gotten buried in my email. I just discovered it the other day.

He wrote me to thank me for the class. He is pursuing a doctorate himself now. And he is a pastor in our state.

When I read the note, something burst inside me.

Lord, I know that you know my heart and you know what is really going on, but sometimes, it just feels as if I am a 14-carrot failure. This job is dog hard, and even though I don’t do it for this reason (I’m serving you and you alone), it seems to be un-esteemed and unappreciated, not only in the church but especially in our culture.

But Lord, I would and could do nothing else. Sure there are jerks in the church and everywhere, but thank you for the privilege of serving your people.

“Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” And I am so thankful for the vast majority of people who put up with me and have called me to serve them as their pastor.

I’m honored deeply honored and grateful. I just pray that I don’t mess it up. I don’t want to do anything that negatively impacts your testimony and the church’s reputation in the community.

I pray for Sean in his education and ministry. Raise up an army of guys just like him. More of his tribe.

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work" (Philippians 4:1, NLT). Amen.
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The Belly god

I prefer the graphic language of the KJV in a couple of instances in this chapter. The verse for today is a case in point.

I’ll talk about it in a minute, but I need to share a couple of things. A very busy day yesterday culminated in a meeting about some building stuff. Duane and Mary Ann were there along with Bob and J. B. Every pastor needs folks like these four.

I would include Mary Ann in this statement as well. I believe that all four of them have the spiritual gift of craftsmanship. This is not a part of any New Testament list, but craftsmen (were there craftswomen in the Old Testament?) were vital in all the construction projects of the tabernacle, the temple, and the king’s palace. They played a vital and crucial role.

I’ll tell you that they are crucial in the church as well, especially if the church has a fifty plus year old building. As a general rule, when “stuff” occurs in the building, I get mad and frustrated.

The four people in that room last night just fix it, whatever “it” is. They have an eye for things and see things that I don’t even consider.

For example, Bob shared a list from another brother in our church—Ray. Ray would be on the Building and Grounds Team if he weren’t doing a lot of other stuff. But he helps out with any project and always makes a positive contribution.

Anyway, somehow, we got on the subject of doors that needed to be repaired. As the group was talking, I was sitting there, “Duh, yeah, right. They need to be fixed.” Our back door in particular is in bad shape. I just try to pull it shut and get irritated at it.

Anyway, we had a good meeting that started with all of us praying for Duane. Get this: he is going in today to have BOTH of his knees replaced! He is an electrician by trade and a football player as a younger guy (just as his two sons were) and his knees have worn out.

He said, “They tell me these replacements will last thirty years so when I am eighty-five, I guess I will have to have them replaced again.” Ha. I’m glad he can laugh and make jokes about it. I don’t think I could. He is facing some major down time and recovery time. But I don’t blame him for doing both at the same time. It is my experience that with folks that go through having one knee replaced, they rarely decide to do the other one after the first surgery. Again, it is major stuff and painful.

Please join us in praying for him today.

Well, back to the passage for today. Paul is continuing to describe these “enemies of the cross of Christ” who masquerade as genuine disciples and preachers of the gospel. His list continues in verse 19: "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:19, KJV).

He asserts that these folks worship, but their god is their belly. Or, in other words, they serve their own appetites and sensuality. The Amplified Bible uses these two words in its translation of verse 19. I think this is accurate.

The culture of Paul’s day, whether we are talking Asia Minor or Rome, was known for its profligate behavior. Things haven’t changed all that much, have they? The United States of American could rival any culture in history. “If it feels good, do it.”

A couple of guys from Columbia (carpet cleaners) came by to do some work at my house yesterday. They noticed all my golf paraphernalia sitting around, and somehow, the subject of Tiger Woods came up. I said, “Well, I think Tiger is a great golfer, but his personal morality leaves a lot to be desired.”

Alex responded, “Well, I think he is good for the game. I’m glad he is back, and hey, whatever a guy chooses to do is up to him. If it works for him and doesn’t hurt anyone, I say it is okay.”

Doesn’t hurt anyone? Is he kidding? I wonder what his ex-wife and kids would say? The whole idea that a man could be unfaithful to his wife on multiple occasions and there is no damage from that.

I don’t know … but he voiced a common feeling in our culture. “Hey, I am not hurting anybody. I’m just having sex with women. No big deal.” What about THOSE women? What about the damage there? Of course, they have responsibility as well.

But this whole practice of profligate sexual behavior among pro athletes is now so common that no one even thinks about it. I think of Magic Johnson and Shawn Kemp and Kobie Bryant. A former Rockies’ pitcher Denny Neagle comes to mind. And how about Travis Henry? This was a running back the Broncos acquired a few years ago with multiple kids from multiple women in multiple places.

They all worship the god of the belly.

And of course, these types of examples are not confined to pro athletes (and not all of them, of course). Pastors have their struggles as well. Unfortunately, we could list several in the “belly” category there as well, both literally and metaphorically.

Paul’s comment is a graphic reminder again that Christianity is not about meeting my needs first and foremost. It is about serving the Lord and meeting others’ needs. Only the indwelling Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of Christ’s character can empower us to have a higher concern than our own bellies.

Just as an aside here: Marilyn hates the word “belly.” It is kind of funny even to mention the word around her. She cringes.

Lord, I thank you that the upward call of God in Christ, this glorious race- adventure of knowing Jesus and following Jesus, lifts us up and out of the trap of trying to satisfy all our lusts and passions.

It is easy for me to rail against public figures, notorious folks, but I pray that you would enable me to appropriate my life in Christ, seating at the right hand of the throne of God.

I thank you for Duane and Mary Ann and Bob and J. B. Give each of them a great day, especially Duane in his surgery.

“Christ receiveth sinful men” (BH 2008, 471). Amen.
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Enemies of the Cross

First of all, I have to talk a little about the fall-out of the stuff I have been dealing with for a couple of weeks now.

I had to do some work yesterday, but for the most part, I could not do very much. Whenever I sat down for a moment, I had to fight fatigue and the urgent desire to fall asleep. It felt like my days of chemotherapy. And, as it turned out, I did not fight it.

As my family and I discussed, we rank Memorial Day up there as one of the best holidays of the year—it sort of feels like the first “official” day of summer, and this year, in particular, it could not have come sooner. We dealt with snow and cold weather way too long this year.

I feel for folks in upstate New York who have to dig out today from a three-foot snowstorm over the weekend.

Well, anyway, back to this whole idea of fall-out. Of course, when I use this analogy, I have no idea what I am talking about (ha, this is not unusual!), but it feels as if it is similar to what happens in the playoffs, no matter what pro sport you are talking about. As a player, you are focused, involved, and so “into it” that it affects absolutely every area of life, particularly sleep.

When I talk about wanting to learn how to shut my brain off, I’m primarily talking about the middle of the night. I can drop off to sleep, and then wake up in the middle of the night (as I usually do) and then, bang! I am right in the middle of the “issue” as if someone tossed me in the deep end of the swimming pool. And I’m floundering, struggling, and flailing.

Over the course of the years I have served this church, sometimes this kind of thing goes on for months until it is resolved, one way or another, and recovery to some kind of normalcy (whatever that is; I’m beginning to think that conflict is the norm in church these days—just talk to any pastor) takes weeks.

I can already tell you that this will take a long time as well. Even as I am sitting here this morning, I am struggling. I have a full day—a lot on the calendar to deal with after the long weekend and my few days of “vacation.” But I wish I could take a couple of days just to “sleep it off.” Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.

And it is okay. I’m not going to push myself, but I have to hit the ground running.

But I have a lot to process through this. There are some things that I did and things that occurred that, I promise you, are NEVER going to happen again, if I have anything to say about it. Today, I’m going to start to address those things. Please pray that I can.

Again, I’m sorry that this has to be so cryptic. Maybe I can be more specific down the road.

As I continue to inch my way through one of the greatest chapters in the Bible—Philippians 3—the Holy Spirit continues to point things out to me. The verses for today are no exception. Here they are:

"Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:17-18, NLT).

A couple of things stand out. First, Paul has the gall to tell the people to pattern themselves after him. I can’t get over this! His confidence in the Lord and his faith in Jesus gave him the grounds for this assertion. If anyone else said it, it would almost seem arrogant and self-serving. But not when you weigh it in the balance with what he says in the next verse.

“There are many whose conduct shows that they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.” I surmise as I read this statement that Paul is talking about other preachers and ministers. On the outside, there is a veneer of spirituality. They look like a “duck.” They quack like a duck. But they aren’t a duck.

In other words, I don’t think Paul is talking about folks who come right out and deny the Lord. Satan’s tactics are more subtle than that.

He is speaking of folks who claim to preach the truth, but in reality, (and here is the key word), their CONDUCT contradicts their words.

I can see how this can happen in Christian ministry. I can see how things can shift and it becomes all about me and not about God.

What does it mean to be an “enemy of the cross”? I am reminded of Jesus’ famous challenge in Luke 9, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NLT). I can’t have it both ways. I can’t be catering to myself and following Jesus.

Being an enemy of the cross means that I put myself above following Jesus. And following Jesus means that John Talbert is dead. If I truly believe in what Jesus did on the cross (and water baptism pictures this), then it means that the old John Talbert died with Christ on the cross, was buried, and rose with Jesus as a new creation in Christ Jesus in which the old has passed away and everything has become new.

That is not just something I spout out of my mouth, but the cross is something that I take up DAILY. I’ve heard this explained WRONGLY in some many ways. A few years ago, a lady said, “Oh well, my lost and cantankerous husband is my cross to bear.” Ah, NO. That is NOT what Jesus is talking about.

The cross is an ugly instrument of death. Jesus DIED on the cross he carried. When we come to know Him, we die with Him. Galatians 2:20 is a famous reminder of this.

Paul preached the cross and he lived the cross (this seems to be a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?), and this is why he could point to himself as an example for others.

Lord, thank you today for the cross and all it means. I’m thankful for all the ways and means—including emotionally exhausting church issues—which you use to bring us to the end of ourselves. When we get THERE, I know that I am at the beginning of your power and your grace.

So, today, I reckon myself dead to sin but alive to You. I deny myself. And I’m thankful for my identification with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.

“Without Him, how lost I would be” (BH 2008, 470). Amen.
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Full Growed

First of all, I want to thank all of you for praying for me. It was a very emotionally difficult day, one of top gut-wrenchers ever. But I had a meeting, and I made it through.

Just to give a tad bit more detail. The issue I have been struggling with relates to the Hispanic congregation that uses space in our building.

I know that some as they read this blog must have thought, “What on earth is going on in the church? It must be cataclysmic.” Well, of course, the Anglo church I serve has its issues, and we always will. But for the past few weeks, my struggles have had to do with this other congregation.

All of this confirms what I shared yesterday: I look at the people in these other congregations (the Hispanic, Brazilian, and Korean) as part of the flock at First Southern even though they have pastors of their own.

These past couple of weeks confirmed that, right or wrong, good or bad (and I am not sure it is good; I’m really not).

When I finally got to my mom’s house yesterday, they both said, “So, it looks as if things have finally come to a conclusion in this matter. Can you now stop wrestling?” I laughed, maybe for the first time in a month. “Humm, I hope so.”

But as it turned out, the answer to that question is “no.” There is much work still to do, and so I woke up in the middle of last night with those challenges on my mind and heart.

I think my case of “pastor-itice” is terminal. And again, please know that I am not patting myself on my own back. I still have a lot to learn about boundaries and turning things over to Jesus and leaving them with him.

Marilyn told me about what a guy does at a place where she used to work. She said he told her that when he leaves work, he consciously tries to redirect his attention to other things on his way home, and by the time he gets there, he has left the job at the office.

Okay, that is all well and good. I wish I had an “office” job. Some look at the pastorate that way. I wish, but it isn’t. I don’t go to a place and punch a clock and then punch it again when I leave.

Having said that, however, does NOT mean that I don’t need to learn some things about how to deal with things or I am pretty close to going over the cliff into insanity. I’m half kidding!

Anyway, back to the passage for today. I think this is what Paul is talking about in a round about way. The word that jumps off the IPad today is “perfection.” In our American church culture, this word is almost anathema. If I have heard this once, I have heard it a thousand times, “Nobody’s perfect.”

If we are talking about “sinless perfection,” then, certainly, I can agree with that comment, but more often than not, it is about something far below that. That statement is usually used as a justification of evil and toleration of sin.

“Well, sure I have this fault and I struggle with it a bit, but nobody’s perfect. At least I haven’t murdered anyone.”

This is not Paul’s mindset and not the way he uses the term as it is translated in the modern versions. Let me quote the NASB: "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Philippians 3:12, 15-16, NASB).

The Greek word translated “perfect” in English means “mature, fully grown” (or full “growed,” to use Barney Fife’s term in one of my favorite episodes of the “Andy Griffith Show” where Opie takes care of three birds …, but I digress).

Paul ran a race toward being full “growed.” This is the analogy he uses—a race. He is on the track. He is making progress toward the finish line, but he isn’t there yet.

And, he goes on to speak to those who are mature. He says that in THEIR race, if something is off when it comes to attitude and action, the Lord will show them. Plus, he urges them not to backtrack, but to keep on living by the standard the Lord had helped them achieve.

Another way I might put it is: if the Lord has helped you reach 3rd grade, don’t go back to 2nd.

So, in all of this, here is my confidence in the Lord: I’m trusting Him to grow me in dealing in my gut with these kinds of church issues. It is a spiritual maturity issue, and I’ve got a long way to go.

I can’t remember if this was my mom and grandmother who said this, but one of them commented a few years ago, “Well, John, it takes a long time to learn things. Some things you don’t learn until you are 80, but when you reach that age, no one cares what you think any longer. You are too old.”

I laughed when I heard that comment, but there is a lot of truth to it, tragically so. We don’t esteem age and the wisdom that comes with it like many other cultures in our world.

Oh, Lord, thank you for the race toward perfection. I know that you are helping me grow in my walk with you. And I look forward to the day when, in my resurrection body in your presence forever, I will have achieved perfection—all because of your grace and mercy.

In the mean time, like Opie’s birds at first, I’m a long way from being “full growed.” Keep me on track and in the race.

Lord, also, I pray for the Hispanic church. I pray for Myrtle with her Parkinson’s disease. I lift up Fran whose husband Harold passed away yesterday. Comfort her in her grief.

“Without Him I’d surely fail” (BH 2008, 470). Amen.
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Dung

I had to check my notes again, just to make sure. Most of the modern translations clean up the word a bit (no pun intended). It is actually a very graphic Greek term. The transliteration is “skubalen.” It means dregs, refuse, stuff thrown out to the dogs, and/or dung (as the KJV puts it). I think “dung” is probably the best translation.

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but RUBBISH (dung) so that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8, NLT, emphasis mine, parentheses mine).

This is a dramatic contrast, if you stop and think about it.

In Paul’s “former” life, he was very successful as a zealous Pharisee. He had just listed his pedigree in the previous few verses. Paul had everything going for him including his family background and an impressive list of accomplishments that involved hounding and arresting Christians whom he hated with a passion. He no doubt had a lot of money. He actually witnessed with his own two eyes and approved the stoning of Stephen. I’m sure he felt that he was fully justified in murdering that man of God, back then.

But you know that watching that courageous believer die was a memory that he could not erase from his mind.

It is one thing to live for God; it is another thing to die for God. That is what Stephen did.

But to Philippians 3—Paul says that absolutely everything in his life took on a new perspective and value when he came to know Jesus. In comparison to knowing Jesus, everything else is dung. It is as worthless as the trash you toss out. It is garbage. It is the dregs—bottom feeder stuff. Yuck. Can’t imagine.

The word “dregs” means the remnants that are left in a container. I guess the closest thing to what I am talking about is—coffee grounds. Once they are used, they are worthless and we throw them into the trash.

But my little analogy falls short because I think Paul is trying to use a term that would disgust us a little bit. “Dung” fits that bill.

Anyway, I wonder if, deep down, I feel the same way.

Sundays are always very busy. This day is no exception. I have a lot of “stuff” crowding into my mind. I get to pick up the boys today. Jerry, Diane, and William are in town, and they want to go to church to see them. I am starting a new series of messages today (a holiday weekend is probably not the best time to do this, but whatever). And I have a difficult meeting after church today. On and on and on.

These types of things tend to take up a lot of space in my tiny brain, but for Paul his singular focus was getting to know Jesus better and better each day.

I think down the road when I get time to reflect on things, I will realize that I stressed over way too much and did not enjoy the ride as much as I could have.

Today, I have an opportunity to get to know my Jesus and love Him more fully and deeply than ever before. And I will never get the opportunities of today back.

Again, I think all of us have to watch the temptation of just racing into the throne room and giving God our list of finely organized prayer requests and then racing back out—no communion, no fellowship, no praise, no at-the-feet-of-Jesus time, just “God, I need this and this and this and this. Thanks, bye.”

Something is wrong with this. Something is off.

This morning, as I gather with the guys to pray, I’m going to emphasize that at its root, prayer is communion with God. This fellowship is only enhanced in the company of two or three. Remember, Jesus reminded us that when two or three gather, He is there in the midst.

Jesus, I am anxious to meet you “in the midst” today. This is my main goal in everything. I love you. I want to crawl into your lap right now and stay there the rest of the day. The truth is that we are closer than that. You live in me; I live in you.

I lift up Don today as he will meet with the doctors this week for his treatment options. It was so great to see this brother yesterday and visit with him. He is noticeably nervous about what is unknown and is ahead. Lord, I’m thankful that I could share with him out of my own experiences. I want to be there for him, Lord.

I lift up Diane’s mom Rita who went to the emergency room yesterday. Take care of her as well. It will be so good to see this family again today.

So many good things. So many challenging things. I lay them before you. But the best thing about this day is YOU.

“I’ve found a friend who is all to me,
His love is ever true” (BH 2008, 469). Amen.
Comments

Sitting Duck

Why is “rejoicing in the Lord” a safeguard for believers?

As I ponder this today, I can think of numerous examples. To me, it boils down to getting our focus off the Lord and getting it on ANY thing or anyone else.

Recently, I was working with a young man who was sensing that the Lord was calling him into ministry. He was serving as an apprentice in one area of our church.

This is the way I have learned to do it. In the past, if someone came to me, and said, “John, I fill the Lord is leading me to do such and so,” I would have jumped on it with both feet. This is unfortunately what happens way too often in church life. We constantly NEED people to fill slots so we will take any live body.

This is very dangerous and potentially damaging for that person and for the church.

Back to this young man, we had numerous talks. He was dealing with some personal issues that came up constantly in our conversation. In retrospect, I should have been more discerning. Instead of even encouraging him to be an apprentice, I should have said, “Joe (not his real name), there are some other issues we need to address first and then we will see.” If someone is genuinely being led by God or called to serve, he or she will do whatever it takes to get there, including delay to work on what is necessary.

However, I did not take that step. I encouraged him to help out and then do a little teaching. One week, he was involved. The next week, he dropped out, and has not been back to the church since. I have contacted him repeatedly and I have not received anything back except one rather cryptic message. He is gone. Poof.

My mind goes back even further to another young woman who got saved as a result of someone in our fellowship who brought her. At that time, she was dealing with marital issues that resulted in divorce.

Again, in retrospect, (hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes), we should have progressed very slowly, helping her as she dealt with all the repercussions of divorce, and we were there for her. Don’t get me wrong, but we did not do enough. She rose in the ranks of leadership in some areas in our church.

After having to deal with some tough things, it affected her to the point where she gradually pulled back and now, it has been months and months since we have seen her. I’m going to put her on a contact list and call her next week.

This all goes back to something that Eugene Peterson says in his writings about the way churches and pastors typically operate. He contends that we need to avoid seeing people as “a resource to be used or a problem to be fixed.”

Man, is this ever true!

But back to the whole issue of rejoicing in the Lord—why is this so important? Well, I think we can come up with reasons on a personal level, but that is not Paul’s concern in Philippians three. He is focused on the congregation as a whole.

If all of us are not actively rejoicing in the Lord, then we are vulnerable to false doctrine. "Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more” (Philippians 3:2-4, NLT).

This is rather chilling stuff, I think.

My mind goes back to the two folks I have alluded to. I love them both deeply. Nothing will change that, but when they or any of us get out and away from the “rejoicing community,” we are a sitting duck for Satan. He will see to it that some false teaching comes along that tantalizes us in our non-rejoicing in the Lord state.

The more I think about this today, I believe that one of the main jobs of pastoral leadership is focus. It is my responsibility as a leader to keep the church focused on Jesus AND responding appropriately to that focus with rejoicing.

If my mind is set on the one who is above where I am seated with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, why wouldn’t I rejoice? There is really nothing else to do.

But we all need reminders. We all need to be in a setting where, if we enter not rejoicing in the Lord, we leave having address the vulnerability.

The essence of what Paul is saying, I believe, is that our joy in the Lord (or lack thereof) affects our alertness. We become dulled to the truth and we don’t see “the dogs” coming, as we should.

Paul gave testimony to his rejoicing lifestyle. This became the foundation to instructing them to do the same. Here’s how it works: I am in prison, chained between two Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day but I am rejoicing in the Lord AND I continue to love Jesus and the gospel. These circumstances are no obstacle to missionary activity and the proclamation of the truth. They are just another platform.

Likewise, in the congregational setting, trials and troubles should not become the focus. Rejoicing in the Lord should be. As Christians we need to focus on Jesus and continue to share the gospel OR we make ourselves a sitting duck for Satan.

There is no neutral ground. I’m either fully in with the Lord OR I am vulnerable to false doctrine.

Lord, thank you again for the fact that everything, absolutely everything you ask us to do, has a solid reason behind it. Of course. Should we expect anything else?

I pray for the church I serve. I lift up the two individuals I have mentioned. Take care of them, Lord. I love them both deeply.

I pray that I would not allow all the struggles and difficulties we are facing right now to affect my “rejoicing in the Lord.” I want to be a Chief “Rejoicer.”

I love you, Jesus.

“But when He saved my soul,
Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace” (BH 2008, 468). The only reason I can rejoice! Amen.
Comments

Asphalt in the Christian Life

Thank you for praying for me. I had one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had yesterday. When I finished, I said to Betty, “Now, I’m really ready for a vacation.”

I’m not complaining. It just goes with the gig, but I really didn’t have one these past few days, and after about one hour, I felt as if I had run a marathon. This is the only way I can describe it. It was not physical exhaustion. It was emotional fatigue.

I had a doctor’s appointment afterwards. I think I mentioned that the recent CAT scan revealed that I am still in remission cancer-wise (and again, I praise the Lord for this) but I have a hernia. It has been bothering me a little bit. I’m just noticing it, especially when I cough. Weird.

He said, “John, you need to go to a specialist and get this checked out, especially if it is bothering you.”

“If you get a hernia ‘repaired’ (this was my word; it don’t know the proper term), how long does it take to recover?” Of course, you know what I was thinking about. Summers are so valuable to my psyche because I get to be outside, not just for IT but for exercise and walking. I love my morning walks in the summer, especially on the mornings where I am actually putting my sermons together. It really gets the juices going, especially because I throw in some rigorous exercise as well to get my heart rate up.

I digress …

“Well, John,” my doctor replied, “it is hard to answer that question because each hernia is different. I would say two to six weeks.”

Six weeks! In the middle of the summer! Are you kidding me?

This sounds strange to say but I feel that I have a lot of patience with my cancer stuff, and I’m willing to put up with this LONG process (of course, I don’t have any choice and I’m glad to), but I’m feeling that I have a very short fuse with other types of stuff, zero patience.

Oh, well, we will see how all of this plays out.

The bottom line after all of this mid-afternoon: I was and am totally spent. And there are more challenges ahead.

Again, sorry to be so cryptic about stuff at church but I just don’t feel it is appropriate to go into detail. I can only talk about how I feel and how it affects me. And it is not good. I don’t know how many more of these types of situations I have left in me.

Everything seems to be a battle these days.

Plus, add on the fact that I was dialoguing with a brother in the course of the day, and I asked about someone we both know who had dropped out altogether. “What is going on?” I asked. “Please don’t share anything in confidence.”

“Oh, well, he is not in a good place with the Lord right now.” And he went on to give details. Huh? My heart dropped to my stomach. What?

This was a guy who recently had been a leader in our fellowship.

All of this has the potential to be a huge downer—all the stuff at church and now a new health issue that I don’t want to deal with.

How to respond? Well, the first verse of Philippians 3 hit me between the eyes like a baseball bat. I’m going to quote it from two versions: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1, NASB).

"FOR THE rest, my brethren, delight yourselves in the Lord and continue to rejoice that you are in Him. To keep writing to you [over and over] of the same things is not irksome to me, and it is [a precaution] for your safety" (Philippians 3:1, AMP).

The NASB translates it as “safeguard.” The Amplified puts it as “a precaution for your safety.”

Interestingly enough, the Greek word here (I checked my study notes) is “asphales.” Do you see it? It is the word from which we get “asphalt.” It means firmness or steadiness.” What is the asphalt, the firmness, and the steadiness of the Christian life?

Rejoicing in the Lord! Paul says, “I’ve told you to do this many times. I’m telling you again. It is not trouble for me to pen this admonition multiple times, and it is asphalt to your Christian life.”

Something the CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) and other DOT’s across the country put on roads and highways to make sure autos have a smooth and steady ride has to be hard, very hard, and stable and solid.

What keeps us stable and solid in the Christian life? Well, it can’t be uplifting and happy circumstances, and an easy go. It can’t be that. Just the events of yesterday show me that. This is just one day’s “stuff.”

Think about Paul chained between two Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day for months. I’m whining about six weeks.

What kept Paul stable and steady in His walk down God’s highway? An attitude that chooses to rejoice IN THE LORD.

If the object of my rejoicing attitude is stable, then I will be.

Lord, you are the Rock. More stable and steady than anything or anyone. People change. Circumstances change. Our bodies change. Relationships change. Feelings change. But you don’t.

And I hang my hat on you today. Thank you for the brother who texted me and the brother who called to encourage me. I lift both of these brothers up to you.

I give you the situations at church and the folks who have fallen into sin. I give you this stinking hernia.

“My anchor holds and grips the solid rock” (“In Times Like These,” BH 2008, 455). Amen.
Comments

More About A Brother

After yesterday’s post, my curiosity about Epaphrodites piqued. I did a search in YouVersion for the mention of him in other books—nothing except in Philippians.

Humm. I was sure he was mentioned elsewhere.

I finally figured out why I was having trouble. Let me just quote these verses from Colossians: "Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis" (Colossians 4:12, 13 NLT).

Now, do you get it? Paul mentions “Epaphras” in Colossians. I believe that this is a nickname for Epaphroditus.

So, let me go back and rehearse some of the qualities of this brother that Paul mentions in Philippians. He was a true brother, a co-worker, and fellow soldier. He served as an emissary from the church in Philippi to help Paul in prison. After helping Paul, he apparently sent E (my personal shortened nickname) back to the church because E loved them very much.

One other thing about E that I didn’t mention yesterday is that he had been sick and almost died but God healed him.

Finally, E risked his life for the gospel and almost died in that service as well.

Let me just stop here for a moment: E got sick and almost died and then he faced death and nearly died.

Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed this before.

I guess one would say that E was not playing games.

This is what we learn about him in Philippians. The verses in Colossians gives further insight, actually one more thing that completes the picture. I like how the New Living Translation puts it: “he prays hard.” The NASB puts it: “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.”

We would call E a “prayer warrior.” Of course someone who is committed to prayer would be a companion of Paul.

Of course.

This encounter with Epaphroditus or Epaphras or E has impacted me.

I’m not going to quote this statement exactly, but you will get the idea: “A man is known by his friends and his enemies.”

I want to garner these types of men as my close companions, and furthermore, I want to BE this type of man.

This is someone who served behind the scenes. This is someone who helped Paul. This is someone who served Jesus and faced all kinds of troubles and problems and difficulties, nearly dying on multiple occasions.

Just another word to share in this forum. Thank you so much for praying for me. I have an overwhelming sense of peace this morning. I’m going back to work today. I have difficult things to do along with some other things that need to be addressed. It won’t be easy.

Is it ever? Look at E.

Oh, Lord, I thank you for the encouragement that comes from “meeting” servants of yours who love and follow you to the point of death.

I confess the sin of griping and complaining about my little problems.

I give you the events and circumstances of today.

Make me a man who “prays hard.” Of course, prayer is hard work. That is why so few people actually do it.

“Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others (like E) fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?

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

A True Brother

I continued to be amazed at the way Paul speaks about the guys who partnered with him in his missionary efforts.

Yesterday, I quoted his statements about Timothy.

As chapter two progresses, he speaks about another guy—one that is perhaps not as famous but equally significant in Paul’s life and ministry. His name is Epaphroditus. He mentions him in Philippians 2 and in other letters in the New Testament. When you pull all those references together, you come up with a very impressive follower of Jesus.

I’m going to quote three verses from chapter two of Philippians here: "Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. Welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away" (Philippians 2:25, 29, 30 MSG).

There is so much just in these verses, but as I was reading this morning in the Message Version, one phrase stood out to me. In Paul’s eyes, E (my shortened nickname for Epaphrodites; certainly he HAD to have a nickname; I can’t imagine having to use this five-syllable name in everyday conversation, can you?) was a “true brother.”

I’ve never had a blood brother.

But I don’t feel deprived. I think I got just about the best sister in the whole world.

We grew up playing sports together. The truth is (and I don’t mind admitting this because it is true) Marilyn is a far better athlete than I am.

Of course, we played football together. Along with David Westcott next door (and he was a scrawny little kid), we could beat anyone. How? Speed. I’d just send Marilyn long and she just outran everyone. Touchdown. Game over.

In one famous game with some boys down the street, we whipped them without having to run an offensive play. Again, how? Marilyn ran back every kickoff for a touchdown! They got so frustrated! They picked a fight, and Marilyn took care of that as well! She jumped on Grant and he was down for the count before he knew it!

She was also a very competitive tennis player.

She played basketball and field hockey in High School.

And then, the coup de grace, as the expression goes. The last time we played golf together—this has been years ago—Marilyn had five pars in row! This is my sport! Here is her “expert golfer” brother (so-called, mainly in his own mind!?!) going through all his motions that might make someone think for just a second that he knows what he is doing. And then, here was Marilyn. She just stepped up and hit it.

The two guys we were playing with stood there with their mouths open! They couldn’t believe it.

So, I could go on and on. This is just one aspect—one of the minor ones—as a matter of fact that make her a great sister—the best ever and my best friend.

But back to the topic—I don’t have a blood brother. But in Christ, like Paul, I have had only a few true brothers in my life.

I’m not sure I’m going to mention any names at this point. I need to spend some time thinking and praying and making some phone calls TODAY. I need to tell them and thank them. One in particular comes to mind. I haven’t talked to him in a long time.

I guarantee you, though, if we do make contact, it will seem as if it hasn’t been a long time.

A True Brother. How many of those does one have in the course of one’s Christian life? I can tell you—not many.

Father, thank you for the relationships you allow us to have in the body of Christ. Thank you again today for my mom and sister—a great wide receiver and kick returner.

Thank you for the brothers in Christ you have given me over the course of my life. They are very valuable to me.

“My Father is omnipotent
And that you can’t deny”

(“It Took a Miracle,” BH 2008, 468). Amen.
Comments

The Devastation in Moore and Perspective

As I sit here this morning, I can feel the clutter in my brain accumulating again. I appreciate your prayers for this issue. I heard a good analogy that explains things.

Yesterday, we had to call a plumber at my mom’s house because, for some unknown reason, the hot water would not work. Since Sunday, (I don’t think my mom and sister did this), I have been taking cold showers. I will never take hot water for granted again.

Anyway, he came out yesterday. The pilot light had gone out in the hot water heater. He lit it. No big deal, but of course, he told us that it was fourteen years old and we needed a new one. Yeah, right. Probably do, but not right now.

The interesting thing about the plumber is that it is the same guy (same company) I had asked to do some work in my house a few months ago. While he was there, he told me that I had a water pressure problem. Mine was 120 (I don’t know the exact description of that number; is it pounds per square inch? Whatever). It should have been 55.

As he was getting ready to check that same thing for my mom’s house, he said, “That water pressure is a big deal for toilets and other appliances where the shut off is sudden. On faucets, you turn them on gradually. Anyway, that high water pressure pounds against things like the ‘guts’ of toilets and eventually, they wear out.” He held on hand flat in the air as he pounded a fist against it with the other.

Thankfully, my mom’s water pressure was fine.

But here is the point: lately, I feel like the ‘guts’ of a toilet (whoa that is graphic language—sorry), all this stuff is pounding my brain. I think the end result of stress on folks is similar to the damage that excessive water pressure causes.

As I was pondering all of this, I thought about those folks in Moore.

Talk about stress!

The pictures of the devastation caused by this massive tornado are overwhelming. Pictures from the sky show entire neighborhoods that are gone. I feel for the families of the children in those two elementary schools. I hope all the boys and girls were able to get out safe.

I know that reports indicate at the time of this writing that over fifty people have been killed. I’m sure the number is higher now. No telling how many were seriously injured, and to insult to injury, the hospital in Moore was destroyed as well.

I was watching a news report this morning that this is the fourth massive tornado to hit this same part of Oklahoma in the past fourteen years. The other three occurred in 1999, 2003, and 2010.

Can you imagine? I believe I would move out of Moore if I lived there, but it is a different story for folks who call that area home.

Anyway, all of this lends perspective to the water pressure issues pounding my brain and leads me to spend some time this morning just thanking God. Among other things to thank him for, I want to include near the top of the list: food, shelter, clothing, and last, but certainly not least, hot water showers.

There are many multiplied thousands of folks in Oklahoma that do not have any of these basics.

Oh, and one more thing, on a lighter note: last night, I went to a Rockies’ game. The main reason was that my friend George actually got a chance to throw out the first pitch! He is a long-time baseball fan, season ticket holder for nineteen years. Somehow, a few months ago, he had a chance to visit with owner Dick Monfort.

He told Monfort about his cancer (George is receiving treatment now and doing well), but he said that one of the things on his bucket list was to throw out the first pitch at a Rockies’ game.

Not long after making that request, Monfort contacted him and told him that it would be May 20th.

I went to support George and see him do this. It was rather chilly, but I enjoyed getting to hang out with John and Calla and their two kids. Dayton sat next to me most of the game. We had a good talk. Later, I got a chance to visit with Sydney as well. We had a lot of fun.

When George came back to the area where we were sitting, I got a chance to visit him, “Hey, will you still speak to me now that you are a celebrity?” I asked him what it was like to stand on the “hill” at Coors Field and throw a pitch. He replied, “I just wanted to make sure that I got that throw all the way to the plate.”

Unlike a couple of Presidents, he did. He got it all the way there. Good for you, George.

How about this amazing comment about Timothy? Paul’s right-hand man. "I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:20, 21 NLT).

Lord, above and beyond everything today, I want to care for what matters to Jesus Christ. May His primary concerns be mine, today and forever.

I lift up the rescue operation in Moore. I pray, Lord, that you would keep the tornadoes away today. End the storm. Help everyone who has lost everything.

Show me; show us at First Southern, what we can do in addition to prayer. These are fellow Americans who are hurting.

Thank you for George and John and Calla and Dayton and Sydney as well.

“God so loved the world.
God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (BH 2008, 467). Amen.
Comments

Harris Park Bible Church

My friend Rob is the Interim Pastor of Harris Park Bible Church. Since I was “off” yesterday, I drove up to the church to attend a service.

I continue to be amazed at all the nooks and crannies that are in this state.

I headed west on Hampden Avenue. The actual highway name is 285. It is just another busy road here in town, but if you go west far enough, it becomes a highway that winds in and among the mountains past little towns like Conifer and Pine Junction.

At a certain point, I took a right on Highway 43 and headed north through a part of the state I have never been in.

As I wound around some other mountain roads, the thought occurred to me, “I have lived here in Colorado, except for my time in college and seminary, all my life. There is so much of this state—my home state—I have never seen. People come here from all over the country to visit to see places I have never seen. Something wrong with that.”

Off in the distance, I could see snow on the very high mountains. I’m not sure which ones.

I was using a GPS, but I still got turned around a bit. I backtracked on some dirt roads, made a couple more turns, and somehow (I still don’t know how I found it), I ended up at Harris Park Bible Church.

Rob was talking with some folks at the front door, but he greeted me. I went into the little auditorium of the church and sat next to Rob’s wife Judy.

There were probably about twenty-five to thirty folks in that little room, give or take, but I have to tell you: it was a lively group. And very informal.

Rob did a great job of greeting everyone. There was no need for the formal and often contrived “greeting time” that a lot of churches have (including First Southern). Some folks came in a little late. Rob said hi to them. No big deal.

He led worship, recognized a lady who was having a birthday this week, led prayer, and preached the sermon.

His message was from Revelation three. He is preaching a series of messages from the seven churches of Asia Minor in the first part of that book.

I have to tell you, and I mentioned this to Rob at the end of the service, the Lord spoke to me in some very specific ways through the service. It was a huge blessing and encouragement.

I will unpack that in subsequent posts, but I just want to make some general comments about the service.

It was refreshingly simple and straightforward. Just people gathered for worship and fellowship. Isn’t that what it is about?

It was very cozy and personal. People spoke out and gave prayer requests. I’m going to share them with our church. It was remarkable how many folks in that little church were dealing with cancer. One lady’s 12 year-old boy is undergoing chemo treatments. His name is Logan. Please pray for him.

But back to the service—as I was sitting there, it just occurred to me that with all of our planning and technology things get so complicated.

Don’t get me wrong! I like our new sound system. I like our videos (John does a good job). I like the piano and the guitars and the choir. Scott works hard to pull all of that together and does a good job also. No problem there.

But this church has none of that. And still, they can worship God.

I don’t know … I just think we make things too complicated “in the big city.”

These folks in Harris Park are not any different than us “city slickers.” This is their church and they love Jesus too.

I want to quote this verse from Philippians two again. I’m still not done in my mind and heart with the “drinking offering.” In Old Testament days, the priests poured that offering out on the ground. It was a very visible way of thanking the Lord for the ground (the land of Canaan) that produced the fruit from which the wine came. It was a way of giving it back to God.

What is the “ground” for the pouring out of Paul’s life? Verse seventeen tells us.

"But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Philippians 2:17, NASB).

Paul poured his life out on the “ground” of the sacrifice and service of the faith of the folks in Philippi. Isn’t that awesome?

As I was sitting in that little auditorium in Harris Park, Colorado, the thought occurred to me, “These folks are valuable and need a pastor too. This church is never going to be a mega church, but the ministry here—who these folks are and what they do for Jesus in this remote place—matters.”

Lord, thank you for Rob and Judy. Bless them in their work and ministry. Bless the folks in Harris Park, Colorado and the Harris Park Bible Church. Thanks for Rob’s message and the way you used this church in my life.

Thank you for allowing me to drive up there to hear from you.

I pray for Logan. Help him through his cancer treatments.

“Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now” (BH 2008, 465). Amen.
Comments

The Drink Offering

What is the expression? “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

I am picking up on what I wrote yesterday. I can’t get this whole “topic” out of my mind.

If somehow FSBC Northglenn closes its doors and the 7/11 Corporation buys the property or a bar or whatever, and I am sitting before some denomination figure and he says, “So, John, tell me about your ministry experience.”

“Well, I served as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn for a pretty long time.”

“Humm,” he answers as he leans back in his high-backed leather chair, “First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn. I have never heard of it. Is it still around?”

“Well, no. It closed a couple of years ago.”

“Oh.”

So, in other words, it doesn’t count. Write off those twenty years, plus. They were wasted.

Now again, not to beat a dead horse, this is my little Satan-produced horror film.

As you are reading this, you probably are thinking, “I think this church has a bigger problem right now. Its current pastor is insane!”

It is crazy, isn’t it? But if we all could share the kind of warped thinking that Satan comes up with and attacks us with, I’m sure all of us would be labeled as having “lost it.”

I know. But I struggle with some aspects of this scenario that aren’t all that far-fetched.

Again, I know that the church is NOT a building. I have a lot of respect for people that serve in our denomination (most of them, anyway), but I would not care what someone thought about my experience—whether it was valid in his eyes or not. No matter who it was or where he or she worked. Don’t care.

However, I think it would kill me to drive by the location where our church is and see a bar there instead.

This has literally happened with a congregation that is near and dear to my heart. It isn’t a bar (thank goodness). I’m not sure what is going up there—more apartments or retail shops or whatever. But the church building is gone!

And, as far as I know, there is no SBC witness in that community. Gone!

My mom and sis comment on it every time we drive by that spot in south Denver. It is literally painful and deflating.

But back to FSBCN—this could happen to the church I serve right now. And I struggle with this, especially when I am away from the work any length of time. This is another one of those “shut my brain off” issues.

Well, anyway, all of this is background for his metaphor that Paul uses in Philippians 2. Let me quote the verses again, this time from a different version:

"But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Philippians 2:17-18, NASB).

The whole concept of the drink offering.

I’ve started doing some research on it. First, the reference in Philippians 2 is not the only time that Paul mentions it in reference to his ministry. Note this comment in 2 Timothy 4: "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6, NASB).

I am curious. What is a drink offering?

I found an excellent article on the web about it. You can read it for yourself at www.biblicalhorizons.com. The title of the article is “The Theology of the Drink Offering.” The author is Peter Leithart.

Let me summarize some things about it here. First, the offering is only mentioned three times in the Old Testament. Second, God commanded the Israelites to make this offering only after they settled in the land of Canaan. Leithart affirms that it was an offering of victory and rest.

Third, it was a compliment to the “food offerings.” It was given to God in conjunction with another offering. But unlike the food offerings in which the priests kept part of the offerings for themselves, the libation (another word for drink offering) was poured out TOTALLY to the Lord.

Fourth, like the grain offering, it was symbolic of the works of the worshiper. When a priest poured out the offering, it pictured giving back to God the fruit of the labor of the people.

It is in this context that Paul speaks of his labor in the Lord as a libation that he pours out to God. It is an offering of joy! It is an offering of victory and he is asking the folks in Philippi to join him.

But here is another thing: it is poured out! Totally and completely.

The actual “drink” in the drink offering was wine.

Therefore, let me put this together. The Lord gave the people of Israel the abundant land of Canaan along with victory over all the enemies there. As a result of all of that, the Lord commanded the people to “give back” to the Lord some of the fruit of that victory, just to pour it out in praise and adoration to the Lord.

You know this whole Satan film I’ve been talking about the past couple of days (like so much of what Satan does) has twisted things up in a knot.

First, ministry is NEVER about us; it is always about the Lord.

Second, buildings and opinions and valuations of “success and failure” are human and are evidences of the flesh.

Third, everything and anything we get to “get in on” and any fruit (this is God’s standard=FRUIT) is produced by Him and for Him and all goes back to Him in praise and adoration and honor.

I’m tossing this Satan DVD in the trash. I’m not worthless; the devil is!

Lord, thank you for pouring yourself out for me. Thank you for winning the victory at Calvary and Easter. It is all gravy from then on! Thanks for letting me on the gravy.

Thank you for the victories you have won and the fruit you have borne. You and you alone are the ultimate judge of all that.

In the meantime, I’m glad, so glad to serve you and to leave the “results up to you.”

Oh, and if that church building is razed and someone builds a bar there, you will win out over that too.

Thank you for Al. Preach through him today. I pray for Scott also. Thank you that the ministry of First Southern goes on (and better) without me there. You are the only indispensible for ministry there.

“Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory
That overcomes the world” (BH 2008, 521). Amen.
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What a Waste!

Thank you for praying for me yesterday. I was thankful for the Lord’s help in not thinking about the church on one hand and enjoying things on the other. I was able to get out some and relish one of the best days of the whole year.

I plan to do the same today.

Saturdays are completely different days when I don’t have to preach the next day.

On a normal Saturday, I usually end up studying at least some of the time in the morning. It varies. But by 3:00 in the afternoon, I begin getting ready for Sunday. General stuff in the afternoon but after dinner, I spend a couple more hours on the sermon. I find it helps me get locked in.

More detail than needed or wanted—for sure—but that is the deal.

Today, however, I am going to try not to do anything related to church. Try. Even if I do, I just have this sense that the Lord is helping me not to dwell on things. Again, this is an answer to prayer and a testimony to God’s power.

Back to the passage for today—it really strikes a cord with me.

Sometimes, ministry feels like such a waste. I’m sure I am not the only one who feels this way. You teach. You preach. You spill blood. Whatever. And a lot of the time, when it is done, you wonder, “Did that make any difference in anyone’s life?” Now, for me, I usually have one or more folks who make a point to encourage me.

A sister in the Lord in our church did that yesterday. She left me a voicemail message. I appreciate it so much.

But I know that many servants of the Lord in remote places here and across the world serve in difficult places and see no “results.” The missionary ministry of Adoniram Judson comes to mind. He preached and served for seven years with only one or no converts (I can’t remember the story exactly this morning; either way, though, you get the idea).

Again, I know all the cliché statements about results and success. I know those in my head, but my heart needs to catch up.

What I am going to say is certainly nothing I believe that is imminent. I make a lot of very candid and honest statements about the church I serve. But I have a lot of reasons to be encouraged. The Lord is indeed at work there. There is a lot of good.

But sometimes, and it has been more frequently in these past few weeks and months, I wonder what the future holds.

I wonder if the church will even be there.

I wish I could find statistics. I’m sure they are out there somewhere. But I bet it would be staggering to find out how many churches close their doors each year. And I bet if you could talk to the folks in those churches, you would find that most of them love Jesus and worked very hard, but things just happened and people left and eventually, it closed.

This is the thought I have about First Southern. I see myself locking the door to an empty building and driving off.

Now, there is a lot wrong with this picture. First, the church is not a building. Ours isn’t. So “locking the door to an empty building” means nothing. Second, there are a lot folks in our congregation that have perseverance and love Jesus. They would probably stick things out a lot longer than I would. So, my little imaginative scene gives me a whole lot more credit than I deserve.

I am not Joan of Ark or Adoniram Judson. Far from either one of them.

But this is the scene that comes to my mind. I think Satan is the producer of this film. He brings it to mind and then says, “If and when this happens, everything you have done for the past twenty years is a waste.”

I recall a conversation I had with someone in denominational work years ago. I was halfway through my college career. At that moment, I still had not decided to go to seminary. I thought I didn’t need it.

I was talking to this gentleman about a job, some job, any job. He asked about my experience. Up to that point, I really hadn’t done much “paid work.” For one summer, I had served in Aurora helping a brother try to plant a church. I had spent the whole summer working.

I told this man about my experience. It had been great and I had learned a lot. He replied, “Well, is there a church there now?”

“No,” I replied.

And at that moment, he said something like, “Well, it doesn’t count, then.” Those were probably NOT his exact words, but that was the very clear indication I received.

The implication is: if there is no visible tangible evidence or a building or something, then it was a waste. A total waste.

This is what Satan brings to mind in his little film.

But let me take that scenario a moment. Let’s say that First Southern closed its door and the church’s Joan-of-Ark pastor was the last gallant person standing, and he walked off into the sunset with Tonto (oops, getting a little carried away here), would it be a waste?

Would it?

Paul uses a very graphic image in the passage I read today. I want to quote two versions:

"But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy" (Philippians 2:17, 18 NLT).

"Even if I am executed here and now, I'll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ's altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout's fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me" (Philippians 2:17, 18 MSG).

I like both those versions.

Paul’s life and service was like a drink offering poured out to God. On a human level, this could look like waste, but here is the point: on a God level, it is an offering to Him.

No offering given to God is EVER a waste.

And I like the concluding words of the Message version: don’t feel sorry for me.

I have an urgent sense of that this morning. I’m serving God. I’m pouring out my life to Him. Our human perceptions are so skewed and fleshly.

All I care about right now is what God thinks.

Lord, this morning, shut down Satan’s little film production. Today, even while I am not thinking about church, you are. You are working things out there. Thank you for the ultimate honor and privilege of a life poured out to you.

Nothing is EVER wasted. Not one drop.

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

Shutting Off the Brain

I am taking what people in the church call a “John vacation.” Some have actually coined this term.

What is it, you may ask? Well, I am taking some days of vacation but I am not leaving town.

I had hoped to be able to. I wanted to take another trip to Texas. This will have to wait until later in the year. This is another story.

But back to the John vacation—actually, I really like doing this—no hotels, no travel expenses, et cetera. Of course, I know this is part and parcel of the essence of vacation, the whole idea of getting away.

I have to be honest, however. I’m getting less and less enthused about traveling alone, even if I go see people. I don’t know. I guess I’d rather spend money in other ways …

This does not mean that I am never going to take another trip. I actually hope to take a golf trip this year, but I will be doing it alone. It will be okay, I guess. (Are you bowled over by the enthusiasm?)

Anyway, I’m taking a John vacation for the next few days.

And I was sitting around talking to my mom and sister last night. They were expressing concern for me as we were talking about “stuff” at the church.

One of them said, “Aren’t you supposed to be starting your vacation? Here we are talking about the church.”

In other words, how does one shut off the brain and actually get away?

I could get on an airplane and fly to Tahiti (I want to do that someday) but if my brain is still on the stuff of the church, what is the point? Going to another location does not guarantee this. This is obvious, right?

This may be another reason I take John vacations. Why waste money on a trip by myself if I know I won’t enjoy it because I am worried about the church?

So, back to the question: how does one shut one’s brain off?

It is at this point that statements I have made to others come back to me. One of the things that I say often to people who are worried or burdened is: just turn that over to Jesus and go on!

Turn it over to Jesus—sounds very spiritual, doesn’t it? I do believe in that expression. I think it is very biblical. Proverbs 3:5-6 would be a passage that I would think supports this statement: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto thine own understanding …” (KJV).

However, it is one thing to tell someone else to do this. It is another thing to do it oneself. It is one thing to know about this on an intellectual level; it is another thing to live it on an emotional level.

I am not kidding: how do you shut your brain off?

I don’t think there is any formula. But I feel led this morning to take the issues I am dealing with to the Lord in prayer. I’m going to tell Him as much as I can about everything and then in my mind’s eye, release it. Let it go.

I was in some sort of service not long ago and during the invitation, the man who was preaching encouraged us to place our hands palm up on our laps, give our burdens to the Lord, and then as a visible, tangible sign, open our hands to the Lord, releasing and letting go.

I thought this was very powerful. Now, if I could only do this in reality.

And as often as the worry or the anxiety or the brain activity returns, repeat this over and over. “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5, KJV).

What occurs to me is that I would need to do this even if I were sitting in the church office right now!

"Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless" (Philippians 2:16 NLT).

This verse reminds me that it is not just about NOT thinking about stuff at church. How about the challenge of filling my brain with the word of life? I like Psalm 37:5 as a verse to have on my mind and heart today.

Lord, thank you for this beautiful day you have created. I’m so thankful for the good report you gave me at the cancer doctor. Thank you for taking care of your church. You don’t need me to do this. You can handle it, even when I am on vacation.

Show me, Lord. Teach me how to turn things over to you and LEAVE THEM THERE.

IT STARTS NOW …

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee”

(BH 2008, 463). Amen.
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Four Brothers Offering Tangible Help

I am learning that I have to be careful when I talk about “situations” in the church here. Of course, again, I feel that I need to be careful. It is just not appropriate most of the time to go into detail, certainly about confidential matters.

However, when I do make general comments, I also realize that they have the potential of scaring people in the church. What on earth is going on? Has the building collapsed or something? (This has NOT happened, by the way!)

Thus, I feel that I have to walk a fine line in my desire to be “real.” But this is the line that every pastor has to walk. None of us has the luxury of operating as “individual agents.” In everything we do, we must always consider the glory of God and the good of the congregation as a whole.

As I said the other day, SOMEONE HAS TO THINK ABOUT THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE. And guess what? That is one of the roles of the pastor.

Having said all of that, I am continuing to deal with a situation. And I am so grateful for the help I have received from four brothers.

I am not going to name them specifically, but one thing I will tell you about them is that, at one time or another (some currently), all of them have worked in denominational work in SBC life.

Over the years, (I have to be honest here) I have not been as involved with the denomination as I probably have needed to be.

I used to make a point of attending the annual SBC conventions. One of the main reasons I like to go is that I got to spend time with Andy Sr. and Andy Jr. and other pastor friends from Colorado. That was the best part.

I guess I will go ahead and tell this story. One year, (I believe the convention was in Atlanta), the two Andy’s and I along with Joe (another pastor buddy) went to lunch in a mall near the convention center. We placed our order at a Pizza fast-food restaurant (I think). I ordered my food and they gave me a number—47.

At one point, as we were standing there and waiting—it was very crowded and busy—I heard my number. A voice with a near eastern accent, “Number 47; number 47!” I turned around and started saying, “Yes, yes. That’s me. Yes!”

Well, it wasn’t someone from the restaurant after all. It was Andy Jr.!

By then, all those guys were laughing so hard that they could barely stand up!

That is the kind of fun we had at those conventions. I have many more stories. I MIGHT tell them someday. Might.

But anyway, as valuable as those experiences were (even the ones that occurred at my expense), I stopped going to the SBC. I just could not see spending the money to do it as the purse strings have tightened at the church over the years.

I have served on State and Associational committees on several occasions, but again, especially since my cancer diagnosis, I have backed out of all of that. I just feel that I need to devote my energies to the church. There is plenty to do. No problem there.

All of this to say, that in spite of all of that, I value the relationships I have forged with folks who serve on the associational and state levels more than ever. The fellowship is valuable. The support is crucial. And in times like I am in right now, I can call these guys for advice and they give it.

And their advice is helpful. Very helpful.

Honestly, this is a huge benefit of being in a denomination, and not just any, but a denomination that regards the overall structure of things not as an authority over the local church but as a partner with it. I believe in the “autonomy of the local church.” This is very crucial. But I do not believe the independence of the local church.

We are not just one dot on the chalkboard of American church life. We are a dot in a circle of churches and believers, not only here in the United States, but also across the world as well. And not just SBC churches either. Yes, I do believe that one can go to heaven and not be a Southern Baptist. Ha.

So, I am thankful for “the four.”

Some of these guys read this blog. You guys know who you are. Thanks a million! I love and appreciate you all. You and your friendship are valuable to me. I hope that I can help reciprocate as well.

I love the very critical dichotomy in the verses for today. It is both/and. Not either/or.

"So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12, 13 NASB).

One side is: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. If I just had that one side, our faith would be very human effort, works focused. But this is not where Paul leaves it.

He goes on to touch on the other very crucial aspect of our Christian faith. We can do A above because B: God is at work in us.

I heard this somewhere. You will immediately tell that it is a preacher comment. But, I “are” one so I like it. “Salvation is working out what God has worked in.”

I think a good parallel at this point is Ephesians 2:8-10.

Father, I’m grateful for the indwelling energy and power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for saving us and energizing us to work out our own salvation and to walk in the works that you have prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

You knew about this situation back THEN also. You created me. You saved me. You put me in the broader circle of fellowship, not only of the SBC, but also of all believers.

Thanks for the “four.” Bless each one of them today.

“We’ll work till Jesus comes, And we’ll be gathered home” (BH 2008, 462). Can I go today, Lord?

But unless Jesus comes, I don’t think that is the plan for today, at least!

One more thing …

I am thankful that I had a good report about my CAT Scan. Doing great. Thank you Jesus! The only thing is: the oncologist told my mom and sister and I, “Well, the test did show something.” My heart stopped. “John, you do have a hernia.” Huh? I don’t think anyone has ever been more glad to hear THAT than I was/am. Ha.
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Down, Down, Down

Modern translations of Philippians chapter two rightly, I believe, set off verses six through eleven.

If my memory serves correctly, from past study of this chapter, this section is an early hymn of the Christian church or at least some kind of common saying. As Paul makes an appeal of unity and humility, he points to the ultimate example of both—the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are these verses. Frankly, they don’t appear to be like a hymn. In our English translations, they look like prose. Whatever—the message is very powerful:

"Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11 NLT).

There are three “downs” in these verses. Jesus stepped down from his place of privilege where He was co-existent and co-equal with the Father.

Second, He came down to take the humble position of a human being and not just any kind of human being, a slave—the lowest of humans.

Third, He descended even further in His death on the cross where He died a criminal’s death for us.

Down, down, down.

As I read these verses this morning, it dawns on me that I have no idea what humility really is.

Jesus totality gave up every prerogative He had as the Son of God. Think about it. At any moment, Jesus could have said, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done with all this pain and suffering. I’m tired of these ants who think they are something who are nailing me to this cross. I’m out of here and I am going to send legions of angels to destroy them all.”

Humility kept Jesus from doing THAT. Humility restrained Him from taking matters into His own hands and taking care of business.

And, as a result, God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name.

Someday, willingly or not, every knee will acknowledge Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Awesome.

But Jesus willingly lived the humility lifestyle.

In several place in the New Testament—the Gospels and James are two places that come to mind this morning—we are specifically commanded to “humble yourselves.”

What does this mean? Well, I think there are a lot of false perceptions of humility out there that are really extreme forms of pride. “Oh, I am just a dirty dead old dog.” Statements like that. This is NOT true. All of us have been created in the image of God. That image has been marred by sin, but when we accept Christ, we become new creatures in Christ Jesus.

While we walk around in this flesh sack, we are still susceptible to temptation and sin. When we do fail the Lord—sometimes over and over in the same area—it makes us FEEL like a dirty dead old dog. Granted. But we are NOT.

In my experience as pastor, usually the folks who say that about themselves, then follow up with something like this: “But Pastor, I really disagree with something that you are doing or the church is doing.” This may not be humility (disagreement is not necessary a sign of pride). It could be pride.

What is humility? Well, I need to pray more about it today. I think it is a frank acknowledge of my humanness with all its weakness and limitations.

I can write that and intellectually embrace it, but I wonder if I really live it. When I try to do God’s work for him, this is pride.

I think experience and tenure are very dangerous.

I have served this church for over twenty-three years. When I started, I often said, “Lord, I feel in way over my head. Please help me.”

Now, I just rely on myself and my experience—“been there, done that, got that closet full of tee shirts.” I don’t think I need God any longer. I know what to do. Right? This is pride.

The reality is I need Jesus more than ever this morning.

Oh, Jesus, you made me. I’m grateful for this. I am a human. You did a wonderful job of putting me together. Thanks again. But I am finite. You are infinite. I am flesh. You are spirit. I don’t know a lot, in spite of my education and experience. You know everything. I can only be in one place at one time (and sometimes, barely that—ha). You are everywhere at all times.

Thank for helping Lorna and Melanie through their surgeries. Thank you for the encouragement I received from Jennifer and Carol and Dan, yesterday. You sent them for that purpose.

Lord, today, I go to the doctor to find out the results of the CAT scan I had on Monday. As this cancer pilgrimage goes on, I barely think about it any more. And when I do, I try not to.

But Lord, I give this report from the doctor to you. Whatever. Prepare me for whatever. Whenever. However. Not whoever. You-Ever.

“He hideth my life in the depths of His love
And covers me there with His hand” (BH 2008, 461). Amen.
Comments

A Sleepless Night

As I talk about this today, I’m not going into a lot of detail. But I didn’t sleep well if at all last night, and it had very little to do with the test I took at the hospital yesterday.

It is a “situation” at church. Again, I’m not going into detail.

Someone the other day shared something with me and then said, “Please don’t put this in your blog.”

This comment took me off guard a bit. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

My initial reaction was to reply, “I will put whatever I want in there, thank you. It is my blog!” I would hope that people would realize that as a pastor, after twenty plus years, you learn to be careful to keep confidences. I know this is going out to the “public,” if that is the way to put it. There are some things that are just not appropriate.

Humm. I do get it.

But on the other hand, I decided long ago as I am nearing my third year of posting blogs on the Internet that I am going to be myself. I am going to share my heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly—or I am just not going to continue. I have no interest in “fluff” pieces.

Having said all of that, this is one of those days that I am going to be real. I was sitting at the hospital yesterday. My mom and sister went with me. At one point, Marilyn looked at me and said, “What is going on with you?” They can read me like a book. I can’t hide anything from them. Absolutely anything! It is very disarming.

“Oh, I’m dealing with a situation.”

Marilyn threw up her hands! “Here? Now?”

I have to share that their greatest apprehension is that my cancer will come back, and they worry that the stress of the job will make that more likely to happen.

We can argue all day that stress doesn’t cause cancer. The doctor told me that, basically. My family and I all know this in our heads, but I don’t think any one of us—me included—believe it in our hearts.

So, as I was getting this CAT scan, this weight, this burden was on me, and it made everything more difficult. It took me a long time to recover from the test yesterday.

I struggled for the whole day and into the night.

As I was tossing and turning last night, my mind touched on all the sleepless nights I have experienced through the years. And I just wonder how the folks who accused me of not working because I was not in the office two days a week would factor all of this into the total. Let’s see. How does “wrestling all night” fit into the punch clock? Do I get “credit” for those hours?

The point is: being a pastor is not a job! It is a life. It is something that you eat and sleep and no-sleep.

I’m not looking for any sympathy here. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m just being honest.

Hey, I would do nothing else. I didn’t sign up. The Lord called me. It is His deal. Not mine.

This type of gut wrenching, toss and turn-type stuff is just part of the gig. At least, this is true, I am convinced, if you care. But it is relentless.

As my mom and sister were talking in the evening, someone said, “Well, I guess this is just church—one crisis after another. I guarantee you some major issue is brewing as we sit here tonight and it is getting ready to explode. Mark it down.”

Great. Just great.

Hey, if you are reading this and saying, “Boy, John sounds crabby this morning.” Well, now you know why.

Again, I can’t give details, but please pray. In spite of everything I have said, I do believe that the Lord will take care of things. He always has, and he always will. My head knows this; my heart will catch up, eventually.

Whenever I start to get resentful about these types of thing, I have to remember that someone has to have the broader perspective of the church as a whole in mind.

The longer I go in ministry, the more I see folks who come to church and are there for all the wrong reasons. People are motivated by a myriad of things, most of which have nothing to do with God. I can make a list: money, power, getting a husband/wife, control, needing a warm fuzzy, et cetera. The list is longer than your arm.

Very few, however, are there for the right reasons. Even fewer have the broader interest of the church as a whole on their minds and hearts.

Paul gets at the issue of motivation as he talks about Jesus in Philippians, chapter two: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too" (Philippians 2:3, 4 NLT).

How about that? The essence of humility is seeing yourself as Jesus sees you. In comparison to Him, all of us fall well short. Miles, light years, short.

Who am I to think that I deserve better than apostles or pastors who have gone before? I’m not even on the same planet as Paul. I complain about one thing on his list in 2 Corinthians 11. Sleepless nights are one of those things (2 Corinthians 11:27). But let me see: as I look at the rest of the list, very few of the things that Paul mentions like “spending a whole night and a day adrift at sea” are experiences the Lord has not allowed me to have.

It doesn’t diminish this experience; it just puts things in perspective a bit.

Lord, I affirm today that you are Lord of Your church. You are in control of everything and everyone in it. I know this. I believe it. Please let my heart catch up.

I put this “situation” in your hands.

Thanks for taking care of Lorna yesterday in her surgery. I’m looking forward to seeing her in the hospital today (one of the perks of pastoral ministry for sure; it is not all bad!). Take care of Melanie in her surgery today, and continue to comfort Don.

Another beautiful day, Lord. You are awesome.

Love this song:

“His strength is perfect when our strength is gone;
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on” (BH 2008, 460). Amen.
Comments

CAT Scan Today

I would really appreciate your prayers today. I have a CAT scan. This is a routine test to check me over. It comes three months after the last test, a PET scan.

The doctor told me that they want to monitor me pretty closely now that I have completed the maintenance treatments because, as he continuously reminds me, “Your cancer is probably going to come back.”

Well, God knows whether he is right or not. I’ll put my trust in Him.

But I certainly prefer CAT scans to PET scans. I think I have described the difference in machinery before. Here are the differences.

First, preparation is much more involved for the PET scan. One cannot eat or drink anything but water SIX hours prior to the PET. That number is FOUR for the CAT scan. In addition, they say “no strenuous activity” prior to the PET scan, so exercise is out. They don’t put that stipulation on you prior to the CAT.

Second, for the PET scan, after drinking the barium stuff (just like the CAT scan), you are escorted to a special trailer where you sit for at least a half and hour. Invariably, I have to go to the bathroom when I get there so a nurse has to escort me back to the main building and back to the trailer. It is a hassle.

The CAT scan, on the other hand, is not at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. It is in Skyview Hospital. I check in there, go to a special waiting room where I drink the barium and wait for an hour before I go back for the scan. The bathroom is right there. Thank you, Lord, for the little blessings.

Third, the two machines are different. For the PET scan, they lay you on a table and strap you in. This “table” goes in and out of this machine that is the width of a human. I mean, when you are getting scanned, you go under that machine totally. And the table moves back and forth, back and forth, and it takes a half an hour. This is why I close my eyes for the whole thing. I just don’t want to even come close to claustrophobia when I am under that machine.

On the other hand, the CAT scan machine is about two feet wide. When you go “under” the machine for the test, only the part of your body they are testing is under. It is a lot easier and less stressful.

Fourth, Dr. Jotte likes PET scans more than CAT scans. The results are more comprehensive, I guess. I think if he had his druthers, I would have PET scans all the time, but these tests are insurance driven. This fact kind of bothers me a bit.

Several months ago, I asked the doctor about it. He replied, “John, don’t worry. There isn’t that much difference in these two scans. You are not getting cheated. The CAT scan shows us what we need to know.”

Okay, good. Then, why can’t I have it all the time? Again, the PET scan is slightly better.

Are you nodding off to sleep yet?

What I have described is just part of the world for cancer patients, and there is not really any way anyone can understand all this or even care about it (I don’t blame them either) unless you have cancer and have to deal with it.

This past weekend, a dear brother in our church was diagnosed with a melanoma. His wife shared with me that the doctors discovered cancer in a few places. I’m not going to name him here, but please pray for him. This week, he and his family will meet with the doctor and discuss treatment options.

He will enter this world I have just described and in fact, like me, won’t ever be totally done with it. Ever. This side of glory, I mean.

Hey! How about this for another great thing about heaven? No PET scans or CAT scans, no health insurance, and no more worries about health. Our heavenly bodies won’t ever get sick, EVER. Praise God!

But to this brother in our church, please pray for him. When I visited him in the hospital, he had a lot of questions. I’m glad I was able to share some things with him.

Thanks for your prayers for me also. Honestly, I am not nervous at all. In fact, until Marilyn mentioned it yesterday evening, I had not even thought about it. It was a jolt. “Oh, yeah. I’ve got a CAT scan in the morning. Better make sure I don’t eat anything when I get up.”

I get kind of paranoid about the “not eating anything” part. I always leave myself a huge note in the kitchen in the morning. The last thing I want to do in a fog when I first get up is accidentally eat something. That would cancel me out of being able to take the test. This is the last thing I want to do.

I want to get this show on the road, baby!

Well, here is the passage for today. I have a lot to say about it, but I think I will reserve my comments until tomorrow. I have to get ready to leave. Mother and Marilyn are going with me. I’m glad my mom can. She didn’t feel well yesterday and couldn’t be in church for Mother’s Day. I missed her. And Marilyn as well. It is always a huge downer for them both when they can’t get to church on Sunday.

"Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose" (Philippians 2:1, 2 NLT).

O, Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for the technology that allows doctors to see inside of me and check to see if my cancer has returned. Bless them in their work today.

I pray for this brother in our fellowship and while I am in that neighborhood, a sister who is having surgery this morning. Take care of her as well.

There is nothing more powerful than the unity of God’s people as they come together for prayer.

Thank you all for praying. Amen.
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Work Day, Real Work

Funny, but not long after I entered the church building yesterday morning for “work day,” I knew what I wanted to write about this morning. Well, sort of …

Let me explain.

I parked in the back lot of our property because I wanted to load some stuff in my truck and haul it off. I entered the back door, said hi to a couple of folks who were already there, and headed up the stairs.

As I turned the corner toward the church offices, I heard voices, loud voices. At first, it sounded as if some were having an argument, but I quickly realized that it was not THAT. First, they were speaking in Portuguese. Second, they were praying in the auditorium.

The summer I was diagnosed with cancer is the first time I heard the folks in this church pray. I have heard them a couple of times since. Yesterday was another example.

This type of fervency is just not evident in the American church. Well, let me put it this way—it may be, but not in public praying.

Think about the contrast for a moment. I can’t get it out of my mind. The Anglos were there to move molecules around or out of the church building. The Brazilians were there to pray, and not just any kind of praying at 9:00 on a Saturday morning, but fervent, impassioned praying.

It has often been said for us that if we don’t want anyone to show up, call a prayer meeting.

I actually do wonder how many folks in our church would come if I did that. Maybe we would have a few on ONE Saturday for an extraordinary prayer need of some sort, but I guarantee you, NOT EVERY WEEK.

But the Brazilians gather for prayer, this type of praying, every week. And this is continuing even though Pastor Ilamarques is out of the country. He went back to Brazil to take care of his 90+ year-old dad.

It is no wonder that New Generation Christian Community Church is so vibrant and active and alive. No wonder. No surprise.

I think I could have cratered as this contrast weighed me down yesterday, AT FIRST, but then I started to work. And other people showed up. We even had a couple of guys from the Brazilian church along with “Edgy” (Pastor Ilamarques’ wife) show up to help move some of their stuff from the fellowship hall to a storage room. It was great to see Aaron and Dan.

I will tell you this: as the morning wore on and I saw people working hard—some of our women were in the kitchen, cleaning and reorganizing; others were moving stuff into a storage room; Mary Ann was weeding a garden in front and then mowed; et cetera—I changed my tune a bit.

I mean—we got a lot accomplished.

Somehow, as I was watching all this good, hard work, it dawned on me. Churches need BOTH kinds of work: people who will pray hard AND people who will work HARD. BOTH types of work are absolutely vital in the body of Christ.

And, neither type of work is attractive to the crowds. And, here is where the Lord brought me with THAT. It is okay. I just appreciate the folks who came to work yesterday, and I am going to tell them so.

"For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it" (Philippians 1:29, 30 NLT).

“We are in this struggle together.” I like that statement. Regardless of what the Lord asks us to do, whether it is praying or cleaning out a kitchen or preaching the gospel from a prison cell, every single one of us can make a contribution to the advancement of the kingdom. It is all a privilege and a blessing.

This is a lesson my mom taught me. She loves serving when she gets an opportunity even to this very day. I think this is one of the hardest things for her given some of her physical challenges and the fact that my mom and sis live so far away from the church. It is hard on her, but she wants to serve and has always been ready to do whatever she was asked to do, no matter what.

I still remember one week at University Hills Baptist Church when our custodian was ill. My mom took Marilyn and me with her and we cleaned the church. She cracked the whip and worked us hard. “This is God’s house,” she reminded us.

Lord, I thank you for my mom today. Thank you for everything she has taught me over the years—especially a work ethic.

Thank you for the people who prayed and the people who cleaned the building yesterday. I love them. I’m glad to be in this together with each of them.

I lift up Ilamarques and his dad. I pray for Don who found out this week that he has cancer. I pray for Lorna’s major surgery tomorrow. Thank you that Tina did NOT have cancer. The list goes on …

“When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with You above the storm” (“Still,” BH 2008, 459). Amen.
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The Creepy Hostage Situation in Cleveland

I tell you—the more the details about this hostage situation in Cleveland come to light, the more creepy it gets. “Creepy” is probably not a strong enough word. It is the essence of evil.

To think of those three young women trapped in that house being abused by this monster who killed the babies he fathered (all except one, apparently) for TEN YEARS is beyond my imagination to conceive. I can’t begin to fathom what they went through.

Marilyn told me that the mom of one of the girls was so grief-stricken over the kidnapping of her daughter that she died. There is another useless and pointless consequence of this whole sordid thing.

And of course, as one network interviewed the neighbors and friends this man had, they all confessed that in spite of some creepy isolated incidents that occurred every once in a while (they called the police who came by the house, knocked on the door, but never went inside), they suspected nothing.

I think the thing that gets me is that you wonder what is really going on in your neighborhood right now!

The second I hear about something like this, my first thought is, “Well, that sets the bar at a new low. Yep, that is the worst thing I have ever heard about.” As soon as you say that, something else comes along that tops it.

What does all of this lead me to think about? Well, I want to share some salient points about what I believe about eschatology (the study of end times). Whenever I do this, I make people mad. Please know this: this is just my opinion. Responsible and conservative scholars disagree with me. That is fine. I don’t believe that one’s view of eschatology should be a test of orthodoxy. In a sense, all of us should be “pan-millenialists”—it will all pan out in the end. We will find out someday and then it won’t matter as we are face to face with Jesus.

First, I don’t believe the Bible teaches a rapture of the church. I believe it affirms that following Jesus means that we experience suffering and persecution and the evil this world is all about. The Lord is going to leave His church in this world until He comes back. Why? So that we can be salt and light.

Second, I believe we are in the millennium right now. Through the incarnation and death and burial and resurrection, Jesus “bound Satan” for a complete period of time (10 times 10 times 10—the number ten in Revelation is a symbol of completeness). But before Jesus comes back, he is going to have a “furious fourth quarter rally” of sorts. If things are bad now, can you imagine what THAT is going to be like?

Third, Jesus is coming back after all of that to judge the world and gather His people home.

Fourth, in the meantime (no matter what you think about what I just wrote in very summary form), we as the church are still here, and we have work to do.

But in light of all of this, is it no wonder why things are so difficult for all of us right now. If the enemy can just keep Christians distracted and fighting among themselves and focused on peripheral things, then he wins another aspect of this whole thing.

The church being the church and sharing the gospel is the only hope for this ever-increasingly evil world.

Everyone who does not know Jesus is just as much a prisoner to sin as those three women were captives in that dark, boarded up house.

Satan has all of us locked up, living in a culture of abuse and death, but Jesus came to open the door, take the enemy away in chains, turn the lights on, and set us free!

The truth is: “This world is not my home. I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue” (www.lyricsmode.com, accessed May 11, 2013).

Paul pulls this together in the verses I read this morning: "Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself" (Philippians 1:27, 28 NLT).

Lord, I thank you for my eternal home in heaven. I have citizenship there. I’m glad this dark and boarded up evil world is not my eternal resting place.

I lift up those three women and the daughter one of them bore. I know their lives will never be the same. Heal them. Comfort them. Restore them.

In the meantime, move the church out of the realm of minutia. Help us to be more bold than ever. Unite us.

We have had a glaring example of evil plastered before us as the horrible story of this kidnapping and slavery has been described on the news.

Lord, I feel led to pray that you would use me and the church I serve to be glaring examples of righteousness, not for any personal or human glory, but for your glory, yours alone. Amen.
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World-wide Persecution of Believers

These past few days, I have been literally overwhelmed with reminders of how tough it is to follow Jesus these days—no matter where you live or who you are.

Marilyn sent me an article entitled “The Mass Exodus of Christians from the Muslim World” (just go to Google and enter this title and you will find it on www.foxnews.com). Having been acquainted with the story of Saeed Abedini and others who were imprisoned in Iran, I can understand why one would leave that part of the world.

As I read that article, this thought occurred to me: “I wonder why we don’t expel all Muslims from this country!” That will never happen and I guess it shouldn’t but still … Radicals come here and get citizenship and then blow up a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Have you also been following the story of Tim Tebow? There aren’t any NFL teams lining up to sign him these days. Why? Well, I think the main reason is that he is out-spoken in his beliefs and that creates a stir that teams don’t want to deal with. Again, just my opinion and Marilyn sent me another article that bears this out. (Look at “Tim Tebow blackballed by NFL Teams because of cult-like following, media frenzy” on Yahoo sports).

Marilyn is sending me these articles from various places because we talk about this subject a lot. As a family, we are going through difficult times. I won’t elaborate on this right now. But I need to say it. We feel under attack from the enemy.

I got a call from a friend and former member of our fellowship. She and her family live in another state. They have gone through a lot of illness and tragedy over the past few years. She was asking, “What is going on? How do I give an answer to people in my family who come to me for answers to all of this? I am just waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

As she was speaking, I was reminded of the story of Job. He was just going along one day and all of sudden, one messenger after another came to his house to share one piece of devastating news after another. It didn’t take long for him to lose absolutely everything except his crabby wife who told him just to give up, curse God and die. I bet he wondered why she still had to be around as his “only friend.”

Sorry. He probably didn’t think that. But I always have.

Yesterday, I was visiting with a friend about his pastor. Pastor Ed serves a church in Aurora. Last year, his house nearly burned down. He has experienced some physical challenges and deaths in the family. Just the other day, his 32 year-old son was working in the front yard and collapsed with a heart attack. He laid there a while before anyone discovered him. He is a police officer in Aurora.

My friend said that Ed’s church is praying for him specifically just because of everything that has happened in his life over the past few months.

When my friend told me the story, I said, “Well, I think that the Lord is turning up the heat on the stove these days. These are not times for the faint of heart. But, I am learning to believe that the attacks of the enemy are actually a compliment. If we weren’t a threat, the enemy would not bother.”

Again, I know Satan does not operate as an independent agent. He works under God’s permission. God tests; Satan tempts.

Understanding this does not lessen the magnitude of what is happening.

Certainly, no one would argue that Paul is part of the fellowship of the persecuted. Are you kidding? But his experienced caused him to boil life down to its essence. This famous verse in Philippians reflects this.

"For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live" (Philippians 1:21-24 NLT).

To me to live is Christ. There it is. And the sequel, to die is gain. There is nothing better than Jesus except eternity face-to-face with Him.

Having said that, it changes everything. I want all the Muslims to move here. Why? So that they can be exposed to the light of the gospel of Jesus and go back to their radical friends and dissipate darkness.

Lord, I affirm today that to live is Christ and to die is gain. This is a general prayer: I lift up the persecuted church all over the world and here at home.

There is a big part of me that just wants to dump this old world and go home, but Lord, if you allow me to live, I want to make a dent for you, bear fruit for you. Open my mouth today.

“There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God”

(BH 2008, 458). Amen.
Comments

Boundaries

I had an interesting and encouraging experience yesterday. I want to tell you about it.

Let me back up for a minute. One of the cardinal rules of my philosophy of ministry is to recognize my areas of weakness in ministry and seek help from others when I need to operate in one of those areas. Right at the top of that list is counseling.

I’m always glad to visit with people and minister to them one-on-one. Don’t get me wrong. This is one of primary joys. However, when it comes to the more formal relationship of counseling, I just don’t think that is one of my gifts and for the most part, I refer folks to others.

Over the years, I have accumulated some places and ministries that I trust when I refer and one of those is Southwest Counseling Associates in Littleton. I have referred people to them for all kinds of needs but primarily marriage and pre-marriage counseling.

One of the main obstacles facing others and myself as I do this is that Littleton is no little distance from Northglenn as one drives across metro Denver. Some people chose to make the drive; most did not.

Several weeks ago, I received an email. Pastor Kim from Crossroads Church sent it as a mass message to all the pastors on the north side. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Southwest Counseling Associates (SCA) DID indeed have a presence on the other end of town. They had been using space in a church, but the church they were using had asked them to move on. No problems, just this congregation needed the space.

Therefore, SCA needed space in another church building. I jumped on it.

I contacted Doug who is the head of the organization. He came up to the church one day. I showed him our space. He liked it and since then, we have been talking about an arrangement. I have not shared this with the church yet, but I plan to in the near future.

Anyway, in the course of my conversation with Doug as we sat in my office, he said, “John, would it be possible for you to come to our offices one day and do a devotional for us at the beginning of our staff meeting? That way everyone at SCA could meet you?”

I was glad to do this. Yesterday was the day.

I met with most of the counselors at SCA in the basement of the building they use. We sang a couple of songs. Then, Doug introduced me.

I started off by thanking all the counselors for their good work. I told them that as we hope to formalize a relationship between our congregation and SCA that I wanted them to feel free to share prayer requests with us. We would be honored to pray.

Then, I added, “You all are very brave to invite a preacher to do a devotional. When I was in college at Baylor in Waco, (at this point another man in the room hollered, “You went to Baylor? So did I!” Great) I went to preach one Wednesday night at a small church in the suburbs of Waco. Someone had told me that you had to tell a joke at the beginning of every sermon. So as I stood up, I said, ‘Thanks for inviting me to come tonight. I will try to hold my sermon under three hours.’ I was hoping someone would laugh, but no one did.”

Everyone did laugh yesterday, and someone added, “Don’t worry about us. We are counselors. We know how to set boundaries. We would all just get up and walk out.”

I replied, “Well, then, don’t go up to the church I serve in Northglenn because the folks up there do put up with my sermons, even when they get long.”

We all laughed again.

It is weird what the Lord uses to bring an issue to mind. He used that exchange to remind me of boundaries.

I stayed in the room after I finished my devotional. Staff meeting was interesting. After the meeting, I met with Doug and the three counselors who do work on the north side and would be counseling people in our building. We talked about how the arrangement might work. We touched on as many details as all of us could think of.

Then, Doug took two of the counselors and I out to lunch. We had the opportunity to visit more. I got to know the two counselors who came along. It was very interesting.

To be honest, it was refreshing to be around people in this organization. Everyone I met has an obvious love for the Lord. This is first and foremost. Plus, the counselors I met were highly educated and seemed to know their stuff.

I hope this doesn’t sound snobbish. As most of you know, I don’t parade my degrees around. I prefer that people do not call me “Dr. Talbert” or even “Dr. John.” (Dr. John sounds like a laxative). I want to say this upfront.

However, I am rarely around people that have advanced degrees (and that’s okay; it is no reflection on how smart they are) or even care one wit about education at all, and in fact almost even disdain it.

Thus, I was so encouraged to be around people who love Jesus with all their hearts and yet are educated. Why can’t it be both/and? As my mom taught me, education just gives the Holy Spirit more tools to use.

Now, I am even more confident to send people to SCA than I was before, and I am thrilled that instead of having them drive all the way across town, they can just walk down the hall at church. Awesome! Check out SCA’s website: www.southwestcounseling.org.

I hope this arrangement works out. Please pray that it will as I pick the time to share this with the congregation. We will have to vote on it, for sure.

But back to the issue of boundaries—the Lord is laying this on my heart. I choose to follow His leadership and direction.

Here are a couple of Paul’s boundaries. Boundaries encompass not only things I won’t do but also attitudes and actions I am committed to, no matter what: "For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die" (Philippians 1:20 NLT).

Father, I thank you for allowing me a taste yesterday of what is going on in the broader Christian community. Thank you for SCA. I lift up Doug and all the counselors in this wonderful ministry.

Bless them today as they use the gifts of counseling you have given them.

Guide FSBCN as we seek some of arrangement where they can use space in Your building and thus enhance our ministry to folks inside and outside the church in our community.

“Be still and know that I am God” (BH 2008, 457). Amen.
Comments

What Does it Matter?

Whenever I read this passage, I am reminded of a sermon I heard in Westminster Chapel in London in May of 1985. The preacher was the pastor of that famous church. His background was Southern Baptist. His name was R. T. Kendall.

This verse was the text of his sermon: "But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice" (Philippians 1:18 NLT).

In addition to all the physical suffering that Paul endured as he was chained between two Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day, he also had to face mental challenges, and he speaks of them in the context of the verse I cite for today.

Paul’s preaching in prison sparked other preaching as well. Some preached the gospel with pure motives; others proclaimed the truth with impure motives. They were hoping to steal the spotlight from Paul and take over “head apostle duties” while Paul was in prison. Of course, in reality, there was no such thing, but some leaped on Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity for personal advancement.

Of course, I see this all the time. Whenever a plumb mega-church pastorate opens up for any reason, “preacher boys” flock around it like bees to honey.

Someone told me the other day that Jim Dixon, long-time pastor of Colorado Community Church, a mega-church in Highlands Ranch, is retiring. I guess they were telling me this thinking that I might be interested.

Okay, now, first of all, I am not. Second, I don’t think they would be interested in me (ya think? Ha). Third, clamoring after some pastoral opening is rather repulsive to me. No one ever seems content to be where he/she is. People in all lines of work—but especially pastors--are continually looking over the fence at some other lawn where the “grass is greener.”

It has to be mowed as well.

I don’t know … whatever was swirling around Paul as he preached the gospel in eight hour shifts to two people at a time (this kind of blows the bigger is better mega-church attraction, doesn’t it? Paul’s contemporaries wanted the glory but not the work of a twenty-four hour a day ministry in prison), he kept right on preaching.

I’m learning that Satan has all kinds of tricks in his bag to get in our heads.

Back to R. T. Kendall’s sermon—he said something I have never forgotten. I’m paraphrasing here. “All of us have to make decisions about what matters and what does not.”

Some hills are worth dying on, as the expression goes. Others are not.

As long as the gospel is proclaimed, Paul didn’t care about motives. In making this decision, he turned the tables on Satan.

I want to learn how to do this.

I met with a brother yesterday who has. I have a world of respect for him. His name is Sam. He has served as a catalytic missionary helping churches start multi-ethnic work on an associational and state level. In fact, he is the brother God used to bring Jose and Ilamarques our way.

We had a great chance to visit and catch up yesterday. Sam told about his church in Dallas and his call to Colorado. He made the move from a metropolitan area to a small town—Sterling. And he said, “When my family and I got there, I said, ‘My God, what have I done?’” But he reiterated the fact that the Lord led him to this pioneer area.

I know for a fact that it has not been easy for Sam. Oh, man.

But the Lord has led him here, and he continues to serve faithfully.

Just being around this brother yesterday was a shot in the arm.

I can’t get that phrase “pioneer area” out of my head. That is exactly what Colorado has always been. It still is.

This is not an easy place. It is not for the faint of heart. Living here is hard. Serving here is even harder. But it is a place where there are lost folks who need Jesus. Someone has to be here.

For now, I guess I am one of those folks.

Lord, thank you for the prerogative of choice that you give us as humans. This is one thing that separates us from animals. I can choose to focus on what matters and choose not to think about what does not matter.

You know the motives of people. You know hearts. I’m going to let you take care of that.

I, on the other hand, am going to continue to focus on preaching the gospel of Jesus to two or twenty or whoever. Give me a chance to do it today.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes”

(BH 2008, 456). Amen.
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A Conundrum

How is that for a word? I like it. Conundrum.

What am I talking about? Let me see if I can explain it.

During all those months that I was going through chemotherapy, I had plenty of time just to sit and think and pray. I actually miss those times. As I have felt better (and I praise God for it), I have become busier and more active but my times for reflective prayer have diminished.

Even as I write this today, I am convicted that I need to carve out time to get back to it. It is crucial.

I know that for me, without leisure with God, I tend to become myopic and get buried in the little stuff of church life. And there is always plenty of little stuff to keep one occupied in a church. That is for sure.

Back to my burden—I had plenty of time to reflect on everything I could remember that we did for outreach over twenty plus years. If effort counts for anything, I think we would have received and A+. We tried hard. We worked hard. We spent a lot of money. On what, you may ask?

Well, mainly, programs—outreach programs. We had “Round Up Sundays” when I first started. We had visitation night and I know I have shared in this blog before about our pilgrimage with THAT. We tried absolutely every way possible. I think some people joined in spite of the fact that we bugged them to death.

We have done Vacation Bible School just about every year I have served this church as pastor. I have kissed fish, eaten a grasshopper, run a race in a wig and skirt, dressed up as a sumo wrestler (this is the best costume of all; there is a little fan built into the costume. When you turn it on, it blows up the suit. Awesome). I loved all this stuff.

In recent times, we have had huge events for all the holidays and prominent times of the year. You know the drill. Choir concerts, back to school parties, et cetera.

Add to all of that: the summer I was diagnosed, I bet we delivered ten thousand brochures on doors in our community. The only response we got was from an angry man who emailed us to tell us not to put any more materials on his door ever again!

Please understand: I am not knocking all of those things. We did what the Lord led us to do. We met some people, networked some relationships. Nothing is totally lost in God’s work.

However, and here is the ten thousand dollar question: were these activities effective in seeing lost people come to faith in Jesus Christ and become baptized believers in the body of Christ?

Any honest person would have to answer, “No.”

Thus, as I was sitting on this very couch, thinking and praying and dealing with the effects of chemo, I had time to think about all of this, and I realized that the most effective thing we have ever done is to see people come to Jesus and come to the church because someone invited them. It all goes back to relationships.

As a result of this revelation, our church is focusing on relationships for this year, and I am encouraging folks with the 4XFour Challenge—identify lost friends and family, intercede for them, invest in them, and invite them to Jesus. This sounds like another program, doesn’t it? And it has to be Southern Baptist because the four steps all start with the same letter.

While we are in this neighborhood, I have to tell you I resist alliteration like the plague in my sermons. I could say a lot more about this, and I will at some point. I just want to make sure folks get one point.

Well, anyway, even though this does sound like a program, I believe it is just relational evangelism, and we are encouraging folks to do it.

Is it happening? And here is the essence of the conundrum this morning. Well, it has in some ways. Interestingly enough, the folks that have invited friends and neighbors have seen those folks come and some have become a part of our fellowship.

Helen is a notable example who invited Debbie and her husband Dave. They joined our fellowship recently and last Sunday, they invited their son to come. This is awesome.

But for the most part, I don’t think this relational evangelism is happening. And let me personalize this: it is not happening in my life!

How can I lead others to do it when I am not?

This leads me to the verse that the Holy Spirit brought to me today in Philippians. Now, remember, Paul is chained to two burly Roman soldiers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If there were ever anyone who had a good “excuse” for not sharing, it was Paul. Sure, these men were a captive audience, but many of us are in situations like that. We are not chained to people, but we see them or sit by them at work every day. And we don’t share. I don’t.

But notice Paul’s statement: "And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear" (Philippians 1:14 NLT).

This is an amazing statement. Paul encouraged the other believers in Philippi, whether they were in jail with him or not, just because of his lifestyle.

In short, he led by example. This is the best kind of leadership, especially when it comes to evangelism. We’ve all been through various trainings multiple times. The problem is not a lack of knowledge; it is a lack of “do-edge.”

I’m asking the Lord for wisdom here. I think I need to find someone with a burden for sharing who will ask me, “John, have you shared Jesus this week? Why not?”

I am growing in my conviction that this whole thing must be a group effort. Just telling isolated individuals in the church: you need to share Jesus with folks in your circles of relationships is not enough. It is not for me. I need others around me and with me. I’m NOT talking about a visitation program, but there is some merit to the whole idea that I am blocking off time and going with others. Some can’t knock on a door but they can pray; they can encourage.

Jesus did not send folks out as individuals; he sent them out two-by-two. There is a principle there.

Anyway, the Lord won’t let me off the hook on this.

Father, I know what I need to do. You have commanded us. The truth is that it just isn’t that much of an urgent priority. That is the bottom line.

I confess that as sin, and I turn to you, Lord. Help me. Give me urgency and boldness. Help me to lead by example.

Give me the same excitement I saw in those boys and girls Sunday as they shared their testimonies and followed Jesus in baptism. Awesome.

“Fear not! I am with thee; O be not dismayed” (“How Firm a Foundation,” BH 2008, 456). Amen.
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Six Children Follow Jesus in Baptism!

It was awesome.

A couple of months ago, Calla came to me asking if we could have a baptism class for the boys and girls because some of the kids were asking questions. We figured out a way for both of us to do it together.

On the first Sunday, I gave a gospel presentation to all the children. On that Sunday, there were two girls in the class. Their dad had been bringing them. They were interested in everything I talked about. Later on that morning, I said to the dad, “Hey, I would like to come over and visit with you guys. Your two daughters are interested in what we have been discussing in the class.”

There were several reasons why making this home visit was difficult—the main one was that the mom had the two girls during the week and the dad worked a lot.

After that class, those two girls have not been back to church. I found out that she had told her ex-husband and their neighbors that she did not want the girls to be baptized.

This is a fairly common scenario I have encountered over the years. God has put something inside of us. I believe it was the French philosopher Voltaire who called it a “God-shaped vacuum. Thus, when children or adults, for that matter, hear the gospel, there is an attraction, gravitation to the truth. I could see in those two girls.

I believe that parents who try to inhibit their children in coming to Jesus will have to answer for their actions some day.

Anyway, back to the class, my point and burden in this baptism class was that all the kids were indeed SAVED.

I told Calla this as we were preparing for this class, “I’m sick and tired of having people tell me through the years, ‘John, I was baptized as a child but I wasn’t saved.’”

I shared with the boys and girls and so did Calla. Then, I made it a point to sit down with each child who expressed an interest in baptism and ask them about their relationship with Jesus.

I learned a long time ago that you can talk a child into just about anything. Questions like, “You believe in Jesus, right?” are not appropriate.

I’ve learned to ask children questions like, “If I were to ask you, ‘where is Jesus?’ what would you tell me?” Or this one is even better: “If you were explaining to a friend how someone can become a Christian, what would you say?”

I’m not looking for complicated and intricately framed theological answers, but with questions like these you can get a real good idea very fast if a child understands how to be saved and if he/she has done it.

I visited with five boys and girls. I visited with one girl in her home last week. One boy gave me his testimony—he is saved, I believe--but when I asked about baptism, he told me he was not ready. I respect those wishes. I never want to force any child to be baptized, EVER. No problem.

Thus, we ended up with four children out of the class who are saved and genuinely wanted to follow Jesus in baptism. After checking with the parents (this is a crucial issue as well), we were ready to move ahead.

About that same time, Scott’s oldest son (Scott in our worship leader), stopped me after the service. He said, “Pastor John, I just wanted you to know that I invited Jesus into my heart.” His face was radiant as he shared it with me.

It almost makes me want to cry to think about it. There is nothing more impacting than a child who loves Jesus!

As it turned out, his sister had also received Jesus. So, Scott wanted to baptize his own children, and they were a part of the group yesterday.

Are you keeping track of the numbers? That is six boys and girls.

I don’t remember EVER seeing that many children take this crucial first step in their relationship with Jesus on the same Sunday in all the years I have served this church. It was off the charts.

We are going to have this class again in the future—maybe the Fall. It just provides a good opportunity to share Jesus with the kids. That’s the way I look at it.

I don’t care one wit about any stats that make us look good as a church. It would take a lot more than stats to do that, anyway! Ha.

Sure, there are potential issues with this kind of thing. You don’t want any child to do this just to “go with the crowd” or because of peer pressure. But Calla has discernment with this type of thing AND if we make sure to have individual conversations with all the children, I think we guard against that type of thing.

Ultimately, though, it is up to God—whether you are talking about a child or an adult. He knows our hearts.

Here is the passage I read today in Philippians—one of the greatest statements in the whole book and the cornerstone to Paul’s philosophy of ministry:

"And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ" (Philippians 1:12, 13 NLT).

If I had been Paul, chained to two Roman soldiers on either side who took shifts to make sure I didn’t get out of prison (I think by then the stories of the miraculous release of the apostles from jail on more than one occasion had preceded Paul), I would have whined and complained and had a bad attitude, “God, you called me to be a missionary, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and here I am sitting, chained to these two smelly soldiers, what is going on?” I-800-whah.

Instead, Paul just shared Jesus with them.

Can’t you just see the conversation in the barracks? “Hey Justus, would you mind taking my shift today? I can’t stand hearing that preacher tell me about Jesus again today. That is all he talks about for eight hours! I am sick of it. I’ll tell you, though, it makes sense, but I just don’t want to hear it.” Something like that.

Paul’s attitude turned the tables on the situation. Instead of looking at his circumstances as a negative, a barrier, he viewed them as a platform, and a whole lot of Roman soldiers heard the gospel and got saved. Acts tells us about one in particular, but I wonder how many others got saved?

Oh, Lord, thank you for my circumstances right now. Thank you for those boys and girls yesterday. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of that in a small way. I lift them up to you right now.

Father, instead of complaining and griping about my circumstances (I certainly don’t have it as hard as Paul did, no matter what happens to me even if my cancer comes back), use me today to share Jesus with someone and to honor you IN my circumstances.

“Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock” (BH 2008, 455). Amen.
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Cold Weather Care

It feels so weird on those Sundays that I don’t preach, whether I am on vacation or whether we are having some sort of special service, as we are today. Weird.

It is hard to teach old dogs and pastors new tricks.

Honestly, I can’t imagine a day when I don’t preach every Sunday. I hope to do it till the day I die. I wouldn’t mind dying in the middle of a sermon—what a way to go!

I could tell the heartbreak in Andy’s voice several months ago when he told me that he just didn’t have the energy to preach any longer. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. I may get to find out.

Here’s the thing about Andy: just because he can’t preach any longer, it has not stopped him from ministering. AND, here IS something one can do till his/her dying day—PRAY.

Anyway, the reason I am not preaching today is that I have invited an organization on the north side of Denver to come and share with us.

Let me give you a little background. Since Community of Faith United left, I have been telling the congregation not to get used to an empty building during the week. I’m never going back to THAT.

I think one of greatest tragedies or lack of stewardship in the American church is that we build these huge cathedrals or mundane buildings (whatever, large or small, ornate or plain) and then they sit empty for most of the hours of the week! There is something wrong with that.

I probably have said this in this blog before. My definition of a full building? I don’t think we have the call to build a bigger building until the one we are in is being used day AND NIGHT seven days a week!

Yes, you read that right—NIGHT.

This is what Cold Weather Care (CWC) is all about. Community of Faith United (COFU) was instrumental in this. CWS was started to address the challenge of ministering to homeless families in Adams County. The truth is that there are 2,500 hundred homeless families in our community. Does that number surprise you? It shocks me.

I would not be surprised to hear that there are that many homeless people in downtown Denver but in the “burbs”?

Plus, the profile of homelessness does not fit the stereotype of someone standing on a corner asking for money. In fact, Jim Sines, director of COFU, cautions against giving money to those kinds of folks (that is another story; I will get to it someday). But I think that stereotype is in people’s minds when they think of homeless folks. The truth is that many are families, many single parent families, women with children, with no roof over their head.

How does Cold Weather Care work? Each family submits to an intake process. Ashley (one of the women coming to our church today; she is a Baylor grad, by the way; sic ‘em Bears) is a case manager. She deals with each family and seeks to meet their needs one by one.

But for each family that comes in, they are taken to a church building in the evening. There, they receive a meal, a bed for the night, and breakfast the next day. They are not allowed to stay in the church building during the day. They are encouraged to get up and out and look for a job or whatever.

Isn’t that great? That is all there is to it.

Right now, in our North Denver church community, there are four churches involved in this ministry. Dawn, the other lady who is coming to share with us today, is on staff at one of those churches. She has a real heart for the ministry.

The other day, as I was visiting with Dawn and Ashley, she shared about the opportunities for the gospel that this ministry affords as people from these churches share the love of Christ with these people who have no roof over their heads.

This ministry functions during the “cold weather months” when it is dangerous to be outside in the cold at night. I believe the goal is that it continues twelve months a year.

Anyway—that is the gist of the ministry. To me, it is a no-brainer. There is no one in our building overnight. It seems quite easy to move some cots in some classrooms and allow people to sleep inside. This ministry requires separate rooms for families. Single men have a room; single women have a place as well. I think CWC requires six to eight rooms per night. Each church that is involved in this program commit to one week, and then another church is up to bat.

As I said, four churches in our community (only one of which is Southern Baptist) are committed to this ministry now. I pray that First Southern can be number five.

We will see. I pray that people in our congregation feel led to step up to the plate, whether it is to cook meals or stay overnight or whatever. It is a big commitment, to be sure, but come on!

As I write this, the Lord impressed my heart, “John, are you willing to be one of the folks who serve?” YES, Lord.

Here is my prayer for myself and the church I serve: "I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God" (Philippians 1:9-11 NLT).

Did you catch that?

We don’t learn ourselves into loving. We love ourselves into learning.

I know God better and better as I love, as I allow the Holy Spirit to bear more and more fruit in my life. And in this process, I get to know God better.

I think most churches focus too much on knowledge and too little on action—loving each other and those for whom Christ died.

Father, guide us today. This is one of those times that the response of the church is crucial. I pray that you would allow people in our church the opportunity to see with your eyes and love with your heart.

Number five, Lord. NUMBER FIVE, but it is all in your hands. Thank you for Dawn and Ashley and every congregation involved in CWC: Northern Hills, Crossroads, North Metro, and … I forgot the name of the other church. Bless these congregations, Lord. Bless them.

Oh, and I pray for the boys and girls who are being baptized today as well. I can hardly wait! Amen.
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"Tips for Wounded Disciples"

This is the title of a section in Michael Wilkins’ NIV Application Commentary. I came across them yesterday as I was preparing for my sermon on Mother’s Day, May 12th. I am not preaching tomorrow. I will say more about that in the morning.

Back to Wilkin’s comments: I was intrigued by his list of eleven items. I am going to try to copy and paste this list into my Pastor John Talbert Resources Facebook page, but one part of his tips captured my attention. Wilkins is speaking from the perspective of what he learned as a pastor:

“But in my growing understanding of God’s vision for my relationships with others, even those who were the most disagreeable, I realized there was a bigger picture. I was called to be God’s agent of love and encouragement in the process of transforming the lives of people. It is comforting to broaden our vision to have God’s perspective on our relationships with others, especially when others have a narrower vision of what they want from us.”

Let me see if I can translate this a bit. Over the past few months, as we have been experiencing our ups and downs as a church, I think I have reverted to some extent back into “the people pleasing approach” I lived in prior to my cancer diagnosis.

Right or wrong, good or bad (and I know I am not unique in this regard), when someone leaves the church, I take it very personally.

Several years ago, I was talking to our youth pastor at the time. I think his name was Tom. He was visibly agitated. “What is wrong, Tom?” I asked.

He replied, “Oh, a family that I work with in our ministry here has decided to leave the church.”

I jumped in. “Who is it?” He named the family.

Now, of course, in our church, I know just about everyone fairly well. I knew this family. I had visited in their home several times.

Let’s just say it this way: I knew that it was inevitable that at some point, they were going to leave our fellowship. How did I know this? Their history. They had been in and out of several churches on the north side of Denver.

Just as an aside: I wonder how many families have joined multiple churches in our area, the proverbial musical churches of church involvement. They come and stay and they are your best friend in the world UNTIL something happens that they don’t like, and then, poof—they are gone like a puff of smoke.

I believe they are wounded and they just have the concept that if they leave the church, it will solve the problem.

Here is my opinion: leaving a church never solves a problem if you leave for the wrong reasons. It only makes the problem worse. These types of people take their hurt and woundedness to another church and spread it there. Plus, if you are looking for something to get mad at in a church—is it really that hard? Come on.

Anyway, back to my conversation with Tom. After he told me the name of the family and I recalled their history, I was not surprised. But Tom was devastated. I tried to explain what I have just mentioned to him to try to help him feel better. But I didn’t help him.

Here was his comment: “John, I just don’t want anyone to leave on my watch.” He blamed himself. He took it personally. And it tanked him. And, honestly, I think it was a contributing factor to his resignation not too many weeks after this.

I’ll tell you: pastors and staff members in local churches are like the proverbial family dog that people kick when they get home from a bad day at work. They can’t be grumpy and act like a three year old at work or they get fired. But they can take it out on people at church who can’t retaliate.

Oops. What was that? You know what? I think that I just revealed part of my woundedness.

It is impossible for all of this not to affect anyone. We are human after all, but Wilkins’ comments have helped me see some of this in a different light. Instead of living life trying to avoid all of this, I am going to turn the table a bit. I’m going to focus on loving God with everything I’ve got and letting the Holy Spirit love folks through me.

If that gets rejected or stomped on—so be it. I’m going to ask the Lord to help me not take it personally UNLESS I have done something personally to offend someone.

Anyway, go to my Pastor John Talbert Facebook pages for Wilkins’ full list.

One more thing: please pray for a friend of my family. Her name is JoAnn. She and her husband Jerry (I’ll have to tell you about them in more detail sometime; he is a character) have been our friends since our days at Calvary Baptist Church of Englewood. Whoa. How many years is that? Thirty?

She is having some issues with her heart, and Jerry is concerned about her. He called last night to ask me to get the church praying for her. “I figured that the more people and churches I could ask to pray, the better.” Right on, Jerry.

I figured I would share this request in this forum and get even more churches on the prayer bandwagon for JoAnn.

Well, having finished Hosea, I am back in the New Testament to one of my favorite books—Philippians. How about this verse?

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

This reminds me of Steve Green’s awesome song:

“He who began a good in you
Will be faithful to complete it
He who started the work
Will be faithful to complete it in you”

(“He Who Began a Good Work in You,” www.lyricsmode.com, accessed May 4, 2013).

Lord, this is the bottom line. Thank you that my salvation depends on you, not on anyone else. Heal JoAnn and comfort Jerry. Amen.
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Marilyn's Birthday

When I was a kid, I needed to be spanked just about every day. I wonder why my mom and dad didn’t just come into my room the second I woke up. “Okay, John, let’s just go ahead and get this spanking out of the way now since we know we will be doing it at some point.”

A case in point: one year I threw a fit on Marilyn’s birthday. My mom said, “What on earth is going on with you?”

I was whimpering and crying, “How come she gets presents and I don’t?”

As young as I was, I can still remember the look on my mom’s face when I said that. She was trying to compute my false rationale. And it took her a while.

“John, Marilyn’s birthday comes before yours on the calendar. It is earlier in the year. You will have your time. It is next month.”

As she said this (and I rarely got explanations when I was whining about stuff), I got the idea that it was now my urgent opportunity to understand HER logic OR something serious was going to happen to ME.

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but it probably didn’t end well for me after I had ruined Marilyn’s birthday.

Funny what you remember.

Yesterday, Marilyn said, “Last year, the leaves had come out. This year, I don’t see one leaf.”

One of the greatest things about Marilyn’s birthday is that it always seems to be a reminder that summer is right around the corner, and even though weather can be very “iffy” this time of year (this year is a case in point), usually it has started to warm up.

Not this year. We had another snowstorm this week. It is the fourth week in a row that it has snowed.

I don’t know one person (even any of the notorious “snow lovers” in our church) who is not very sick of snow and ready for it to warm up.

My family and I top the list of the “snow haters,” no matter what time of year it falls.

Not too many years ago—it was October—I remember standing on a tee box at a golf course as the first snowflakes of Fall came down. I was determined to finish. Somehow I hoped that if I just ignored the snow, maybe it would go away.

It didn’t.

Back to Marilyn’s birthday—I hope she has a great day today, an encouraging day. I want the Lord to use me to bring that about.

About the passage for today—the last two verses of the book of Hosea. I’m actually sad to be moving on from this book. The whole book is a metaphor. But it is filled with vivid images and analogies—all of which point to the very specific message at the end of the book.

"O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me. Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those with discernment listen carefully. The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those paths sinners stumble and fall" (Hosea 14:8, 9 NLT).

Stay away from idols! There it is. This is Satan’s tactic for believers. He doesn’t tempt many of us just to deny the Lord and renounce the faith. His goal is just to add gods to the mantel of our hearts so that we are distracted. One little decision here. One little misstep there.

And we wake up one day and wonder why we are miles off course.

In these verses, the Lord gives us reasons why we ought to stay away from idols. First, the Lord is our husband. He cares for us. When I was throwing a tantrum on Marilyn’s birthday (man, I was a little brat), I should have allowed this thought into my vacuous brain: John, have you ever been treated unfairly in this house; haven’t your dad and mom always given you presents and more?

Second, God is always green. Never any winters when it comes to him. Awesome, I say. No down times for God. No offseason when there are no leaves. All my fruit comes from him because there is always fruit.

This sounds very similar to the eternal dwelling of the Lord that Ezekiel describes in chapter forty-seven. The book of Revelation picks it up in chapter twenty-two. Heaven will be about summer all the time!

Sorry all you snow lovers!


Third, I need to stay away from idols just because the path is straighter on the God Road than it is in the tangled and circuitous streets of idol worship. When you worship other gods, life somehow gets very complicated and unnecessarily so.
When will I learn?

Lord, thank you for Marilyn, my best friend in the world. Thank you for a great sister. Give her a great day and year in Jesus. Encourage her today. Use me in that process.

How old am I? May my tantrums decrease; may praises to you increase!

With all my heart, I ask you give me diligence and wisdom and alertness to the enemy’s tactics. Give me the grace to stay away from idols.

I love this hymn:

“In times like these you need a Savior,
In times like these you need an anchor”

(BH 2008, 455). Amen.
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Dew

There is an interesting metaphor in the final chapters of Hosea that is used in two distinct ways. It is kind of amazing, the more I think about it.

The metaphor is dew.

We really don’t have dew in Colorado AS MUCH as other parts of the country. When I go to Florida and get up early to play golf, the ground is literally covered. I can clearly see the line where my golf ball rolled on the fairway and on the greens. It is an adjustment, especially on the greens, because the ball picks up water as it rolls, thus slowing it down significantly. I’ve learned that I have to hit it much harder to get it to the hole.

But I digress (whenever I start to talk about golf in this way around my mom and sis, they try to care, but I can see it; their eyes glaze over a bit. Ha) …

Back to my experiences with dew … it covers the ground, and then all of a sudden in the increasing warmth of the day, poof! It is gone.

This is the first aspect of dew that the Lord focuses on in his description of the people of Israel. Because of their sin and rebellion, their ultimate destiny is POOF! Gone. "Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney" (Hosea 13:3 NLT).

Notice the accumulation of metaphors for this passage: mist, dew, chaff, and smoke. None of those entities lasts very long. They appear for a little bit and then they are gone in a short period of time.

This is the description of life apart from Jesus Christ. We have a few short years and then, POOF, we are gone.

A brother named Phil and I were talking about this yesterday. Phil is a good friend and is passionately in love with Jesus as he shares and travels across the world as an equipper. He was telling me about some ailments he is dealing with these days. They are pretty severe.

We had just finished talking about cancer. He and his wife Nancy have prayed for me (and still are). I so appreciate it, but my situation is different from that of Phil. I feel so good so much more often that I can’t stand it, but his ailments affect him every day.

Anyway, we both concurred that illnesses remind us that life is so fleeting.

However, as believers, we affirm that our lives are NOT like dew. Our human life is short but eternity with Jesus in heaven lasts forever.

But for unbelievers, human life is short and then it is over, gone forever. Eternal separation from God is the ultimate “disappearing act.”

This is one way the metaphor of dew is used. Chapter fourteen gives another.

"The Lord says, ‘Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel like refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon’" (Hosea 14:4, 5 NLT).

In the arid desert in which the Israelites lived, dew was very important as a water source. Are you kidding me? So, this passage uses dew as a metaphor for the faithfulness of God. He is like the dew in the morning!

This reminds me of one of my favorite passages in the Bible. “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:23, NLT).

I love how morning dew glistens. It is as if God spilled a million diamonds on the ground and then turned on His flashlight to look for them.

This is the mercy of God EVERY single morning! A new load of diamonds covering all my sin, every new day for the rest of my life, no matter how badly I have failed the Lord the past day.

Oh, God, I can’t contain myself today. I hug your neck, Jesus. I kiss the nail- scarred hands. Thank you for the blood that flowed that saves me and keeps me saved.

Is it bad to say that I prefer dew more than a foot of snow on the ground?

“Great is Thy faithfulness,
Oh God my Father”

(BH 2008, 96). Amen.
Comments

The Chain of Encouragement

Yesterday, I got a chance to talk with Andy, my pastor.

Every pastor needs a pastor just like everyone else, and he has been my pastor for the past thirty years.

We had been trying to hook up with each over the past couple of weeks. Andy has had some health concerns. He suffered from an error the doctor made in some surgery he had last year. He frankly admitted to me that it is hard to take. “John, I know doctors aren’t perfect, but it still makes me mad.” I can certainly understand that.

When I called him, he had been outside in the backyard of his home in Salt Lake City dealing with some sprinkler issues.

After we had visited for a few moments, Andy asked, “So, how are you doing these days?”

I replied, “Health wise, Andy, I’m great. But I am really burdened with the church. We have had some people leave recently and it is hard to take. We are struggling, and sometimes even though the spirit is great in our church and we have no major problems that I know of, I just wonder sometimes if we are going to make it.”

He is one of the few people on this planet that I feel comfortable sharing that with. Now, all of you know what I said.

Some days, I seem to do well; I know the Lord is helping me with what is going on in the church. Other days, it feels as if a thousand pound weight is hanging around my neck.

In the past, I would have tried to manufacture something, anything with the vain hope of getting things moving.

These days, I have no energy for anything like that (and it isn’t a physical lack of energy; I have more of that than ever). It is an emotional and motivational and spiritual lack. All the little fixes (which really aren’t) in the bag of tricks leave me cold.

Back to my conversation with Andy. He replied, “Well, you are not alone. It seems that here, if you don’t have a large church with music that is basically entertainment, you are declining. Last Sunday, a great family—a family of eight—said good-bye in our church here. They are moving away. It was a huge blow.”

I thought it was interesting that Andy linked music and entertainment. I think he is dead on right.

Is the goal for me to “like” the music or to worship God? I can just hear all the counter-arguments. It goes back to what I said a few days ago (I won’t beat the dead horse any longer). Anything, even music in church, that I value more than God is an idol.

My goal is NOT entertainment. Never has been, never will be.

I had a meeting with Scott last night. We talked at length about how to teach worship in our services each week. We are embarking on this challenge. It will be interesting to see how people respond because it won’t be conventional. It won’t be business as usual. We are going to shake things up a bit and pray that people get it.

Instead of tucking my tail between my legs and bemoaning the fact that we aren’t a mega-church and don’t have a concert every Sunday, I am going to attack this with everything I’ve got. I pray that the few people who come to First Southern will learn to worship God, not music, not their preferences or feelings or rituals, but God, God alone.

Anyway, back to yesterday, I hung up the phone with Andy encouraged as I usually am.

Shortly after that, I had another conversation with a pastor friend. He told me about a prominent family that had left his church. He went on, “John, I’ve had it. I am sick and tired of this and want to leave the pastorate. I am so angry.”

I let him vent a moment and said, “Well, brother, don’t leave over this. Just know that you are not the only one. All of us are going through this. You still have people in your church who love Jesus and love you. Focus on Him and on them.”

Have you ever been giving advice to someone and feel that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, “John, do you hear what you are saying? You need to do what you are telling this brother to do.” Amen.

As I was reading the thirteenth chapter of Hosea this morning, I came to this verse: "Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death? O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them" (Hosea 13:14, NLT). In the judgment of God to Israel in their idolatry and unfaithfulness, he consigns them to the grave. Without God, the grave is the end. And eternal separation from Him is the consequence.

But these verses as God addresses the grave and death remind me of another passage that does the same thing: "Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, NLT).

For the believer, death and the grave are not an end but a beginning. Jesus beat them both through His death and resurrection. We can too in Him.

I think all of this has some relevance to the ups and downs of church life. Don’t you?

Father, thank you for Andy and JoAnn and this family. Thank you for Andy’s friendship all these years. I value him greatly. Help him to have a good day today, health-wise and every other way.

I pray for my pastor friend. Encourage him today.

Jesus, you are a conqueror. You took on the “big boys”—death and the grave and beat both. Conquer through me today. Take on all the strongholds in our church and in the community I serve. Whip up. Beat them all.

“My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed”

(BH 2008, 454). Amen.
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