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A Thanksgiving Testimony

Every time we receive a copy of Time magazine, my mom says, “I don’t know why we keep getting it. I’ve never paid for a subscription.” But the magazines keep coming.

I wonder, if at some point, someone paid for a lifetime subscription for us. Or something. Who knows?

Anyway, as we received the December 9, 2013 issue, Marilyn came across a curious article entitled, “I’m thankful for …” I say “curious” because, usually, there is nothing in this magazine that is remotely spiritual and definitely not Christian.

And, while I am in this neighborhood, I have to get on my annual soapbox when it comes to Thanksgiving. Somehow, from a secular standpoint, this holiday has morphed into a kind of nebulous attitude of gratefulness. There is nothing wrong with this on one level, but on a much significant level, it misses the point ENTIRELY.

Thanksgiving is not some nebulous attitude; it is an act of worship TO GOD! As believers, we can actually put a name, THE NAME, to the ONE who is responsible for everything good we enjoy in this life.

And, everything bad we don’t …

That is where the testimony comes in.

In this article, there are excerpts from all sorts of folks—Michelle Obama, David Ortiz (of the Boston Red Sox), Marvin Kirk (a senator from Illinois), et cetera. Last but not least is the testimony of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, a SBC congregation.

Years ago, I attended a church growth conference at Saddleback before they moved into their current location. Then, a few years later, while on vacation in California, my family and I visited the church on a Sunday morning.

I’ve read Warren’s books. He has sold millions and millions of copies. I have a lot of respect for him.

Anyway, his testimony is included in this article.

I had forgotten this. I had heard about it. But somehow, it had slipped my mind.

Last year, Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son, killed himself. In the article, Warren states that his son had struggled with mental illness since childhood…. I can’t imagine how hard all of that—dealing with his illness and then his suicide must be. Can’t imagine.

Well, anyway, Rick makes some points in his short article. First, he says, “God doesn’t expect me to be thankful FOR all circumstance, but IN all circumstances.” Great point. Indeed, in spite of what I just said, thanksgiving is an attitude of gratitude. But again, it is directed toward God.

If I am thankful FOR all things, Rick indicates that this kind of response is masochism. If I am grateful to God IN all things, this shows maturity. He states that even in bad situations, there are still things to be thankful for.

He then lists a few things. He is thankful for:


    This is the Christian testimony of a parent who just lost a son to suicide. I have basically cited and/or quoted the whole article. It is not long. It is not verbose, but it is packed. All of these statements could make a whole sermon. And, I think it is significant that Warren even included the gospel in this article, as he alludes to the cross the resurrection. It is one of the most powerful I have ever read.

    "So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News" (2 Timothy 1:8, NLT).

    Lord, I am so grateful TO YOU today for the way that you take us through tragedy and give us a testimony to your grace and strength. You are indeed an expert “pieces of life picker-upper.” You are incredibly skilled at turning tragedy into victory—the resurrection is a case in point there. And, thank you that absolutely nothing is wasted, nothing, EVER. Thank you for the privilege of suffering for Your name’s sake.

    I pray for Rick and Kay today as they continue to grieve the loss of their son.

    “Make my life useful to Thee.” Amen.
    Comments

    Clarifications

    First of all, I hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving. We sure did. As is our custom, we went out to eat at noon. We had a good meal and a good time.

    As we were backing out of our driveway, we had a chance to visit with Brent and Holly, our neighbors to the south, and in right in middle of that conversation, Pres (that’s her name) came by as well. We see her walking her dog just about every day. She was the neighbor Marilyn called to get some more Coyote stories.

    Back to the “dog bite saga” for a moment. On Wednesday, I did receive another message from Clay at the Denver Water Board. He said that he had talked with “his guys” who work out at the station. “They have never seen any coyotes out there. They did see a fox.”

    The other thing he indicated was that he talked with some folks at the Department of Wildlife (DOW). Apparently, they said that it is highly unlikely that a pack of coyotes was actually living in that field. The critters are highly transitory, except when they are having babies, and this is not the season for that.

    Clay’s conclusion? The Denver Water Board is not at fault. Surprise, surprise, huh?

    I called Clay back and left him a message with these rebuttals. First, the fact that “his guys” have not seen coyotes during the day is no big surprise. Second, how can some remote government agency make conclusions about animal behavior on a certain plot of land WHEN THEY AREN’T THERE? (Experts though they may be!). My dander again!

    Back to yesterday--Holly told us a couple of very interesting things. First, she said she took a picture of a coyote at her back fence looking in her yard! Are you kidding me? Whether or not the beast was passing through is immaterial at that point, right? It is obvious we have an issue with them. It just boils down to what the Denver Water Board is going to do, and if I had to hazard a guess, I would say nothing.

    Second, she said that she has actually seen packs of coyotes in that field.

    Third, she indicated that she received a survey from Colorado State University about “wild” animals on Denver Water Board property. How about that?

    Pres also vowed to give us more information. More fuel for the fire.

    It was so encouraging to see Brent, Holly, and Pres. I appreciate them so much.

    Hey, again, I’m just concerned about safety. I may be barking up the wrong tree (no pun intended), but somehow, I think something needs to be done, and I am not going to let it go easily. Stay tuned for more about the “dog bite saga.”

    I want to go back to a post of a couple of days ago—the Church Users article—and my response to the lady who called. I so appreciate all the feedback on that. Again, thank you all very much. Reading over what I wrote—it does appear to be very harsh on my part (it probably was).

    When I attempt to relate incidents like that, I really struggle with what to share and what not to share because I never want to use this forum to bash people unnecessarily. But I do feel the need to elaborate a little more on what happened. These are points of clarification about where I stand and more about what occurred in that conversation.

    First, we allow CHURCHES who have no bapistry to use ours all the time. In fact, a few years ago, I had a pastor call me to ask if someone in his church could get baptized by immersion. He explained that his congregation had no bapistry and thus did not do that, normally, but a new believer wanted it. He asked if it would be okay. I said, “Sure, absolutely.”

    Second, I try to be very discerning when it comes to these types of things, no matter what it is—baptism, marriage, funerals, or whatever. If I sense that someone is genuinely seeking the Lord and needs us, I am always ready to help and use the resources of our church in that regard. No problem.

    Third, when I refer to church “users,” I am talking about people who don’t give a wit about God and just want to “use” the church for their own agenda—whatever that is.

    I would not say that I have the gift of discernment, per se, but I do believe that after almost twenty-five years of ministry, I am able to see who is genuine and who is not. Is my discernment infallible? Of course not. But I am often put in a position to make a decision “on the fly,” and I just have to trust God.

    Fourth, back to the woman—when she called, I was already aware of her situation. I was very politely trying to explain our stance to her: we do not baptize “isolated” individuals because we believe that baptism, besides being a symbol of one’s personal identification to Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection is also a picture of one’s identification with a local church body—we are baptized INTO Christ. “Now, if you are interested in joining our fellowship …”

    It was at this point that she interrupted me and said, “I’m not interested in your church. I already have one. I want to do this for me. I want to do it as a pledge of the fact that I am a new person in Christ Jesus. I don’t want to be affiliated with any institution …” And she proceeded to lecture me in a very condescending, rude, and boorish (I’m not sure I have ever actually used that word before—humm, but it applies here) way.

    She just had her agenda and was not interested in any viewpoint except her own.

    I will have to admit that the longer the lecture continued, the angrier I got. I mean--here is a lady calling us! Can’t she be polite and humble? I listened for a while, until I could take it any longer, I interrupted her, “Ma’am, that is not our theology. I think you need to look elsewhere…” At this point, she hung up on me.

    Had I had the opportunity, I would have tried to give her some scriptural support for my position, and I was perfectly ready to say that if her pastor wanted to call me, I would be glad to talk about it. But she did not give me an opportunity.

    This was a typical case of a church user. It still makes me angry.

    Well, on to the verses for today. Having finished Micah, I’m back in the New Testament book of 2 Timothy—further exhortations from Paul the elder to his disciple, Timothy.

    "I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:5-7 NLT).

    These verses are NOT teaching that any of us can get our faith from our parents or grandparents, but they are a testament to the role of godly heritage in INFLUENCING children toward faith in Jesus. Tim had that blessing.

    “Fan into flames the spiritual gift”—love that phrase! For each of us, with a spiritual gift, we have a responsibility to cultivate it and allow the Spirit to have more and more us each and every day.

    Father, the attacks on the church continue. Give us vigilance and wisdom and discernment. This is YOUR church, not ours. There is no room for personal agendas of any kind. We need to be about YOUR agenda—the Great Commission—the call to share Jesus, baptize them into the body of Christ, and teach them to follow You.

    To that end, Lord, fan the flames of the gift You have given me and use me, Lord. Use me. Amen.
    Comments

    The Final Word, As Always, for Thanksgiving

    First of all, I have to start out by praising Jesus for His mercy and grace. I am thankful today for salvation in Jesus. I’m grateful for my family, for my church family, and for the fact that, TODAY, I am in remission.

    I am also grateful for all of you who take you valuable time to read this blog and care enough to respond on occasion. Your comments and prayers these past few days … my family and I can not express how much we appreciate each one.

    I talk to folks all the time who tell me that they read the blog and don’t always respond or comment. That is awesome.

    I have to say that, in regard to this blog, I feel a lot like I do on Sundays at First Southern. When I enter into the auditorium at church, I am always a little squeamish. I just wonder if anyone is going to be in there!

    And, I know people aren’t coming for me. I know that. But every single person sitting out there voluntarily chooses to come. No one forces them. They don’t have to come. And if they choose to go, there are a lot of other churches out there with pastors/preachers who are a lot better than I am. But they choose to come to First Southern, and I have a part of the worship service they come to.

    The fact that anyone is sitting out there is another evidence of God’s mercy and grace.

    But this is a huge motivator for me to spend more time than ever on that weekly sermon. I want to have a clear conscience before God that I am more than fully prepared and I will let God take care of the rest. Ultimately, He is in charge of who is sitting out there and who isn’t.

    Thank you, Lord. But thanks to all of you “out there” who read this verbiage. All of you encourage me more than you will ever know.

    It is amazing how this has expanded and continues to expand. It started off just on Caring Bridge. Then, Marilyn helped me create by own website—www.pastorjohnsblog.com. Shortly after that, I started posting this blog on Facebook as well.

    Recently, the Lord has opened up still another avenue. A few Sundays ago, Marvin came forward. He is a wonderful brother in Jesus. He has been in the church since day one when I started back in 1989. He was a young boy at the time. I’ve seen him grow up, go away to college at UNC, get married, come back to the area, have four of the greatest kids on the face of the earth, become a prison guard for Denver County, and get involved in the fellowship. He now helps Jeremy in our youth ministry.

    Anyway, when he came forward, he indicated that the Lord was getting a hold of him and he needed encouragement. He asked me if I could send him a verse each day—“a verse a day.” Cool, huh? I have been working on this as an additional writing ministry. Somehow (and I know this sounds weird because I don’t seem to have trouble rattling off three pages of words per day—thank You, Lord) this has been a struggle for me.

    Part of the reason is that I just don’t want to close my eyes and find a verse to send Marvin. I want it to be something significant. So, this has been a little more sporadic than I would like, but I am working on it.

    Another great brother in the church, John, sends out a verse via text on Sunday mornings. It is always a blessing and appropriate to what the Lord needs me to know on Sunday. Thank you, John.

    So, now, the Lord has opened up four avenues for writing each day, and I consider each of them to be a very important part of my pastoral ministry. In effect, now, I feel as if I am preaching a sermon in four venues every day of my life.

    I am just so amazed and grateful for the technology that allows me to type something out sitting here on this couch, with Maxwell the cat lying beside me (he has now become my daily writing companion. Maybe this is the greatest miracle of all—I actually LIKE this cat, and more of a miracle, he seems to like me—the first cat in the history of the world who has), and I can click a button and people all across the nation can read it, if they even wanted to! Amazing. I thank the Lord for technology as well. So much of the time, it is misused, but it does have the potential for great good.

    While I am in this neighborhood—my heart is so full of gratitude right now—I have to ask all of you to pray. As each day passes, ideas for books continue to accumulate. But I seem to have less and less time to work on my next book and the other books God has laid on my heart.

    As I was discussing this with my mom and sister the other and expressing frustration, Marilyn said, “I think you get bogged down with feeling as if you need to write books. How about writing articles for religious or even non-religious magazines?” Humm. Food for thought.

    Whatever it is, book or magazine, I feel that I just need help carving out time to write. Please pray for me in that regard. Thanks.

    Well, the passage for today—the last verses in the book of Micah—provide plenty of fodder for praise. And they confirm one thing that is constant in scripture: no matter how severe the judgment of God is, the final word is ALWAYS grace and mercy. The book of Micah is no exception to this rule. Here is sampling of what I am talking about from the final verses:

    "O Lord, protect your people with your shepherd’s staff; lead your flock, your special possession. Though they live alone in a thicket on the heights of Mount Carmel, let them graze in the fertile pastures of Bashan and Gilead as they did long ago…. All the nations of the world will stand amazed at what the Lord will do for you. They will be embarrassed at their feeble power. They will cover their mouths in silent awe, deaf to everything around them…. Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago" (Micah 7:14, 16, 18-20 NLT).

    Some special aspect of God’s character for which I am thankful today:

    First, I thank God that He is the ultimate Shepherd. In the “backyard” of life, with enemies lurking around every corner, I depend on him to protect me.

    Joe the dog is forever scarred, I am afraid. Now, when he hobbles outside to do his business, we put him on a leash and the first thing he does is look over in the corner of the yard where some critter bit him. But, we are not going to let that happen again. I am going out with him. I am going to stand next to him, alert and on the watch for the enemy. That coyote or raccoon or whatever will have to fight me first.

    Our Shepherd Jesus does the same and MUCH MORE for us. His leash is his trusty shepherd’s crook. He already fought the battle and won it.

    Second, these verses contain one of the greatest statements about forgiveness in the whole Bible. “You will trample our sins under your feet and
    throw them into the depths of the ocean.” GONE. FORGOTTEN. I can’t forget. But God can. He remembers EVERYTHING, absolutely every casual and off-hand comment any and every person has made who has ever lived, but in His grace and mercy, there is ONE THING God forgets—my sin.

    Oh, Jesus, from the bottom of my heart—I thank you for YOU. Thank you also for every eternally valuable person who is reading these words right now. Encourage them as they have encouraged and prayed for me. I wish I could hug every one of them. I guess that is what heaven is for—a giant “group hug” for eternity.

    Somehow, this song comes to mind, “Just As I Am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” Yes. Amen. Yes. “Thank you Lord for saving my soul; thank you Lord for making me whole; thank you Lord for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.”
    Comments

    Church "Users"

    I almost feel sorry for a lady that called the church yesterday and caught me on exactly the wrong day (almost).

    Apparently, she had called the day before. Here was her request: she wanted to “use” the church to be baptized.

    So, when she called, I started to reply, “Ma’am, we don’t do that. We don’t just baptize people. If you are interesting in becoming a member of the fellowship, that is another thing …”

    At that point, she cut me off, “I’m not interested in becoming a part of an institution. I already have my own church. I just want to follow the Lord in baptism as a testimony of the fact that I am a new person in Christ and …”

    This was probably not the right thing to do, but by that time, I was genuinely angry. I said, “Well, I am going to interrupt YOU. That is not our theology. You need to find somewhere else …” At that point, we got cut off. Something happened on the phone line OR she just hung up.

    Honestly, as I think about that whole conversation, I’m still steamed. Betty told me that this woman lives in Wheatridge. For those of you who are reading this and don’t live in Denver—Wheatridge is a long way from Northglenn—clear on the other side of town.

    So, some woman from Wheatridge, who already has a church, wants to come to Northglenn, to “use” our church so she can get baptized! Weird.

    But the key word in all of this is “use.”

    If I had not been interrupted the first time, I was going to explain to this woman that, whether she likes it or not or agrees or not, biblical baptism has always been linked to a local expression of the body of Christ. The phrase in scripture is “baptized INTO Christ.” What does that mean? Well, it isn’t JUST an individual identifying with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. It is an identification with an institution! Absolutely! The church is an institution.

    I could site plenty of scripture to support this contention. At this point, I don’t need to preach to the choir, but again, this particular situation is part of a larger issue—people want to USE the church without having any involvement or participation in it.

    I have been thinking about this for two days, but here is a list of ways that people want to “use” the church:


      I could go on and on. Get the idea?

      This may seem rather innocent, but the more I think about it—I think users are “used” themselves. I believe that the enemy uses them to try to divert and time and attention and resources away from the mission the Lord has given us.

      I believe that the conversation I had with that lady (if you can call it that) was the reason I was in the office yesterday. I believe that He was using me to protect the church! How about that?

      “Users” are the ultimate expression of the perversion of sin. They want to USE God and their church for their agenda.

      The truth is—it should be the other way around. Christianity is total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We come to God with no agenda. We come to Him in humility, seeking Him and in availability to Him, that He might USE us.

      The church is NOT a place for me to exercise my personal agendas, whatever they might be. It is a place to serve God.

      And I am going to fight to keep it that way.

      "Then my enemies will see that the Lord is on my side. They will be ashamed that they taunted me, saying, ‘So where is the Lord — that God of yours?’ With my own eyes I will see their downfall; they will be trampled like mud in the streets" (Micah 7:10 NLT).

      Lord, the attacks on the church are increasing by the day. Our enemy is subtle sometimes and other times, is not so subtle. Keep us focused on YOUR agenda. Guard us from imposing our agenda on you. Protect your church from wolves or coyotes or foxes or whatever …

      “I love you, Lord.
      And I lift my voice.
      To worship You,
      Oh, my soul, rejoice (www.metrolyrics.com, accessed November 27, 2013). Amen.
      Comments

      The Proper Context for Prayer

      Before I get into the “subject” of the day, I want to tell you how the “dog bite saga” is going.

      First, Marilyn got a tetanus shot yesterday. We were all glad about that.

      Second, the dog is driving all of us into the insane asylum. He is now whining and scratching on the door of his quarantine room all night long. I have moved to a different room in the house just to try to get some sleep, but Marilyn is the one most affected.

      Plus, she had to put the dreaded cone on his head just so he does pull out the stitches in his leg.

      I guess this means he might be doing a little better …

      Someone asked me yesterday, “How do you know if your pet has rabies?” (I may have already mentioned this; if I have, sorry). The answer is kind of strange: you don’t. You just have to wait it out to see if the critter shows rabies characteristics, the main one being a total change in personality.

      I don’t think Joe has rabies. He is just as big of a pain in the neck now as he always has been, but still we have to keep him away from the cats for a few more days, just to make sure—if all of us survive.

      Third, I made a phone call to Denver Water yesterday. My purpose was to inform them about the coyote pack on their property and ask if there was anything they could do about it. Turns out no one can contact the Denver Water Board directly. You have to go through Denver Water. My first conversation was with a very nice woman in customer service who really no clue what I was talking about, but she tried to record my concerns to relay them to the proper department.

      Mid-afternoon, I got a call from a guy named Clay who was a little defensive at first. I tried to tell him that my issue was one of safety, not just for pets but also for small children. “Would you want a coyote in your backyard when your kids or grandkids were playing out there?” I asked.

      “Are you sure they are on our property?”

      “Clay! We hear them out there and have for years! Yes, we are sure.”

      Finally, he gave me the typical bureaucrat answer: “Well, John, we will do more checking and get back to you. We are neighbors. We do need to work together.”

      I talked to Brent next door. He and Holly have three kids.

      Marilyn visited with a lady down the street who went on and on about her coyote stories. I can actually see our case building.

      I know that “wild” animals are everywhere, showing up in all kinds of neighborhoods—no way to eradicate them. HOWEVER, if a pack were living on MY property, I would take steps to do something about it. Especially when the safety of others is at risk. The Denver Water Board should be no exception. I’m going to stay on them until something happens, even if we have to start writing letters to legislators. Stay tuned for this story. I sound like an anchor on the 5:00 news!

      Well, enough of that. As you can tell, my “dander” is up! (What does that expression mean? What is “dander”? Ha).

      Back to the subject for today—again, the Lord is teaching me a lot through this as I continue to think about the church and ministry.

      It really is remarkable how many voicemail messages I receive—people must be calling in the middle of the night—to leave me long lists of prayer requests. First, I don’t know these people, for the most part. Second, it is kind of weird. One lady calls me all the time. She mumbles for two to three minutes. I can’t understand a word she is saying, really.

      At first, when I received messages from her, I deleted them immediately. I felt guilty about that. So, I just tried to pray for “that lady.” Hard to do.

      I have a struggle praying for these “stranger” requests. I have been wrestling with this. Why is this a problem for me?

      Well, here is what I have concluded. This may be something that is very obvious to all of you. It hasn’t been to me until now. Most people don’t care about God or think about Him until they are in a crisis, and when they are in a crisis, they want people to pray for them. Somehow, it doesn’t work.

      Why? Because the fellowship (in the truest sense of what that word means biblically) of the church is the only proper context for prayer!

      What do I mean? Well, I am NOT saying that we don’t pray for people outside the church or for folks around the world.

      BUT, when I am in crisis, I need, not only a repository for prayer requests, but also I need much more than that. I need to know I can share with folks who know me and love me and can give me support and encouragement.

      It isn’t just about a litany of “prayer requests” that I leave on some pastor’s voicemail at midnight (these folks obviously don’t want a conversation with a pastor—heaven forbid—they just want prayer for themselves without the “bother” of a relationship). Somehow, I don’t think things work that way.

      Can I really have a relationship with the Lord in its fullest expression WITHOUT meaningful relationships with believers? NO. I question anyone’s salvation who loves the Lord but hates the church—until they have a crisis and then they call it for prayer. There goes my “dander” again! Ha. Something wrong there.

      I’m tempted to call all those folks back who leave messages. Caller ID tells me the numbers. I want to tell them—we are not a pharmacy, dispensing prayer. Come to this church or find one and join it, but don’t leave messages on my voicemail any longer.

      Is that too harsh? Spirit, show me.

      Father, thank you for all the prayers and support that my family and I have received. I know folks are praying. I deeply appreciate that and the body of Christ that meets at First Southern and the broader church community of brothers and sisters who care about us. It is huge. Thank you Jesus.

      I echo this affirmation from Micah: "Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies. The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness" (Micah 7:8, 9 NLT).
      Comments

      Rabies is a Serious Deal

      As I get started this morning, I am asking everyone who is reading this blog to pray for my family. Thanks. Yesterday was an extremely difficult day on several levels.

      This deal with Joe the dog …

      We have lived in this house for over fifty years and had how many pets? I don’t have the energy to try to count, but it has been over a dozen. And nothing like this has ever happened. Again, it feels as if we have been violated. Marilyn and I have decided to clear out the area at the corner of our backyard and put lights in each corner. At least THAT will make it more difficult for some critter to hide out there.

      The whole concept of not being able to let the dog out in a fenced backyard is crazy. None of us have any interest of putting the dog on a leash and going out with him when he has to do “his business.” Are you kidding me?

      Plus, just watching that little creature suffer was hard. He can’t walk without great difficulty and still whines a lot.

      In addition to all of that—there is the threat of rabies.

      Here is the thing about all of this that bothers me more than anything. Some jerk at the Animal Hospital made Marilyn feel bad about all of this.

      First, we were behind on Joe’s rabies’ shot. Some “guy” at the vet told her that it is against the law to have a pet and not be up to date on rabies’ shots. Marilyn blames herself for this.

      I have tried to tell her that she has so much going … it is not her fault. I live here too. But things happen.

      Second, whatever bit Joe could have had rabies. The hospital gave Joe a shot to update his immunizations, but whether or not he has rabies is a waiting game. There is no way to diagnose this disease in an office, apparently. You just have to wait it out.

      In the meantime, Joe has to be quarantined—he can’t be in contact with the cats or they have the potential to get rabies as well.

      Not only that, but it is a threat to humans as well. He should not be around Mother and me. We could get it.

      Marilyn … I don’t know if I told this as I was sharing the story about what happened but, shortly after Joe got bit, he bit Marilyn on the finger. So, there is potential that Marilyn could have rabies.

      She has to get her bite checked out, and here is the rub with that check-up: if she tells some doctor the story, the potential is that the authorities could come and pick up Joe and potentially euthanize him.

      Apparently, the vet has already sent a report of this incident to some authority somewhere because they are obligated to share these incidents because rabies is a big deal.

      Let me hasten to say that she is going to get her bite checked out, just to make sure.

      But all of this is just so troubling, so unsettling, and so weird. I just don’t know to put it any other way. Marilyn said it best, “I just didn’t need this right now.”

      My mom is upset as well.

      Anyway, I don’t want to belabor this, but I’m grateful for a forum like this to be able to share.

      What occurs to me as I sit here this morning is that, oftentimes, we don’t give enough detail when we share lists of prayer requests.

      I hate to admit this, but I have often snickered a bit when we have received a request relating to someone’s pet. And if I had to summarize this one for a prayer sheet, my request would read, “Pray for the Talberts. Their dog was bitten by a coyote.”

      Reading that (if it weren’t me), I might tend to discount that a bit. “What is the big deal?”

      Honestly, I don’t think anyone else in the congregation would respond this way. I’m just talking about me.

      And, it always seems as if the Lord uses incidents like this to shake me up a bit and to help me realize that if someone shares a prayer request, no matter how “silly” or “insignificant” it seems to me, I must take it seriously.

      This leads me to quote the famous Micah 6:8 from the Message version. I came across this yesterday, but I did not have time to chew on it until now. Here it is:

      "But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously" (Micah 6:8 MSG).

      Did you notice the final phrase? Peterson translates “walk humbly with your God” as “Don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” I love this.

      “Taking myself seriously” is an ego trip—canonizing my thoughts and feelings over what God thinks.

      Taking God seriously … This is the mandate of the hour.

      AND, when I take God seriously, doesn’t this naturally lead to taking others seriously? This is a crucial issue of fellowship, no matter what I think or feel about what someone shares, I need to pray for them.

      Now, the perennial shoe is on the other foot …

      Lord, we are crying out to you for help through this weird incident with all the factors involved. I pray for my mom. This has upset her a lot. I lift up Marilyn. Lift the guilt trip. Heal her finger. Keep us from getting rabies.

      I lift up a family in our congregation that is in crisis. Comfort them today.

      We sang this yesterday. I believe it. “Great is Thy faithfulness! Oh God my Father …” Amen.
      Comments

      A Dog Bite

      When we heard the sound, all of us knew immediately what had happened …

      Now, I know what Paul felt like, what he was talking about, in his final message to the elders at Miletus.

      Okay, let me back up a second. I think I have mentioned this before, but there is a field behind our house. The Denver Water Board owns it.

      Along our back fence, they have planted some evergreen trees. We have a few inside our property, plus at one corner, where Marilyn and I used to have our fort (some would call it a “playhouse;” we HATED that term and NEVER called it THAT), there is a lot of thick overgrowth of trees and bushes. You can still get back there, but it is tight.

      One more thing, (I can’t remember exactly who this gentleman was or what company he was with), a man who came to work on our house or yard made a comment a few years ago. He said something like, “You better be careful with your pets, especially your dog. There are a lot of critters in that field (referring to the Denver Water Board field) like foxes and coyotes. Your dog is a ‘one-biter.’” Over the years, we have joked about that term. Sometimes, we even call Joe that.

      But not now.

      Last night, he let out a scream that I will never forget. My mom had let him out. That silly dog always races off toward the back fence. We have no idea what he runs out there to do. The truth is that he is a pansy. He stays “out there” a while. We just let him out and do something else inside before he comes to the door and wants in.

      But when we heard “that noise” we all ran out to the back yard. Joe came running, still screaming, loud. When brought him inside, and Marilyn picked him up. He bit her. We tried to calm him, but we realized we were seeing thick drops of blood on the floor. And he kept screaming. He was scared, but he was also hurt.

      We had to scramble a bit. Marilyn called a local vet hospital. We found some towels and a large container. We lifted him, still screaming, and put him in it.

      That’s where we argued a bit. I was getting ready to go. Marilyn said, “No, you are not going. You have to preach tomorrow. This could take a long time. Mother and I will go.” I knew I wouldn’t sleep a wink till they got back home.

      Marilyn knew of an emergency pet clinic at University Hills, not far from our house. She knew they stayed open to midnight on Saturday night.

      Question: are there any emergency clinics for PEOPLE that stay open to midnight on any night?

      So, they jumped in the car with Joe.

      Here is the bottom line of what happened: indeed, some type of critter bit him on the leg. That was not too serious, but also this fox or wolf (that’s what we think) bit him on the side. This was a deep wound. At first, we were concerned that the bite had pierced a lung or some major organ, but after x-rays and an extensive exam, the doctor told us that the bite had torn some muscles and she needed to operate on Joe.

      But at that point, the doctor told Mother and Marilyn just to go home. She would operate last night and leave him at the animal hospital overnight.

      Of course, while all of this was going on, I was just sitting in a chair at home. I should have gone, but Marilyn called to give me the final update and said, “John, go to bed.” By then, it was nearly mid-night.

      I’ll have to tell you. I have a weird feeling this morning. Marilyn said it last night, “We can’t even let our dog out in our backyard. I’m mad about it.”

      We feel violated, almost as if someone broke into the house and stole something.

      This morning, as I was eating my breakfast, the passage I preached from last Sunday, came to mind where Paul warned the elders at Miletus that, when he left, “savage wolves” would attack the flock.

      That’s what this feels like—some critter (it may have been a wolf—we’ve seen them in that field behind us, heard them at night) tried to make Joe a “one-biter.”

      In a weird sort of way, this creepy incident has sobered me up a bit in my profession.

      From now on, we can’t let Joe “run free” in our backyard at night EVER AGAIN. It is going to be a hassle, but no matter how cold it is, someone has to be out there with him and he will have to be on a leash, even in a fenced-in backyard. That’s just what has to happen.

      As far as the pastorate is concerned, I need to pray about the steps I need to take (and not just me, but the whole body) to protect the sheep at First Southern. Somehow, last Sunday, as I preached, I saw them that way—sheep. Of course, I am a sheep as well, but the Lord calls me to be a sheep dog. He is the Shepherd. HE is the real Pastor.

      Vigilance and obedience are our protections against the wolves out there. It isn’t about religious rituals, either. It is about an alert and aware walk with God.

      "What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6-8 NLT).

      Lord, take care of Joe, that silly dog. I say that, but it was tough to see that dog suffer like that.

      But beyond that, I trust you to take care of us. We face a similar threat every day, and the damage is severe. And I ask you to use me to take care of the flock of God—a flock that you have entrusted to my purview. Guard them from wolves on the outside and inside the fences. They are everywhere.

      “Faith of our fathers living still
      In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword” (BH 2008, 594). Amen.
      Comments

      A Response to a Humanist

      This started the other day when Ray called Betty to tell her about something he saw on 9 News—the local television station here in town.

      Apparently, Skyview Academy, a charter school in Highlands Ranch, was heavily involved in Operation Christmas Child—encouraging competition among class to see who could fill the most boxes. Things were going well until the school received a letter from the American Humanist Association, threatening a lawsuit unless the school ended its participation in this program.

      Here is a quote from the letter the Humanists sent the school. I’m also quoting from the web article itself:

      “’
      Because the purpose and effect of Operation Christmas Child is to induce impoverished children to convert to Christianity, the school's promotion of this program violates the Constitution,’ the letter read. ‘The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert,’ the letter said.
      The AHA encouraged the school to donate already prepared boxes to "an appropriately secular program, such as Toys for Tots." (“School leader privately admits ‘indefensible’ breach of separation of church and state,” accessed on
      www.9news.com, November 23, 2013).

      It has been interesting to see what has happened since this story broke. 9News received an email from one of the principles at the school, admitting that he knew this was a violation of the “separation of church and state.” But the public stance of the school has been exactly the opposite. They have defended their actions. Parents and students are up in arms, and are making plans to continue to be involved with Operation Christmas Child this year and in the future.

      Since this story broke, I heard that there was another school—in South Carolina—that had a similar encounter with the American Humanist Association and had to back down.

      Well, anyway, I was watching Fox News the other night—The Kelly File. Megyn Kelly interviewed the executive direction of the Humanist association who crowed about the fact that he got these two schools to back down.

      As the interview was winding down, she asked him (I’m paraphrasing here), “So, what is your plan to help these poor boys and girls to receive this charity?”

      “Well,” he answered, “we are not a charitable organization.”

      Kelly jumped in, “So, you don’t believe in charity?”

      “Oh, no. We gave $30,000 to the Philippines.”

      She answered, “Well, good for you. You won your case but these kids won’t receive the charity.” And that was it. It was an awesome response. Excellent. I’m still in shock. It was one of the best I have ever heard. I bet you can find it if you search for it in Google.

      This man from the Humanist organization was flabbergasted. He had no response.

      Back to the school here in Denver—the parents and students in this school are not backing down. They are organizing a “Religious Rights Rally” soon.

      All of this is fascinating to me. It will be interesting to follow this story further, especially in light of our church’s participation in this ministry. We are going to be praying over the boxes we have received (hopefully over 400) and sending them on.

      I wonder when some secular person or group will object to this. Honestly, if that ever happens, I will fight it, even if I have to go to jail. It will mean the end of our country. We are heading that way right now. Mark my words.

      This is the burden of the prophet Micah as he, as the mouthpiece for the Lord, pleads with the people of Judah to turn from their casual idolatry. He preached to them on the basis of God’s broken heart that comes out in these words:


      "O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me! For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you. Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the Lord, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness” (Micah 6:3-5 NLT).

      In the history of Israel, the Lord did everything He could to show His people how much He loved them, and still, still, they turned away from Him.

      I think the history of our country could follow a similar line.

      All the stories about JFK—it was the Lord who took care of us in the Bay of Pigs incident. This is just one example of His mercy and grace. He continues to give us opportunities as a nation to turn to Him.

      Oh, Lord, I pray for Spiritual Awakening in our land and revival in the church. I pray that Christians would get with the program—your program.

      I pray that the boxes we are collecting and those that these two schools have gathered would indeed reach their destinations, not as a bribe but as a platform for the gospel.

      No one—including the American Humanists—can stop you.

      “Purer in heart, O God,
      Help me to be;
      May I devote my life to
      Wholly to Thee” (BH 2008, 591). Amen.
      Comments

      Like the Dew … Like a Lion

      After the prophecy about Bethlehem for a future “ruler” of Israel, the Lord speaks about the remnant.

      There has always been a remnant of God’s people. I define “remnant” as true believers in the Lord.

      I am reminded of what the Lord told Elijah the prophet as he huddled in fear of Jezebel the queen who was pursuing him. He was complaining that he was the only one left in Israel. God replied, “No way! I still have 7,000 who have not bowed the kneel to Baal.” I’m sure that retort from God blew the prophet away—7,000! Many more that he could ever have imagined.

      In Micah’s day, in the wake of the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the question that lingered was basically the same as that of Elijah a few decades earlier: will anyone be left?

      Here is the answer the Lord gives:

      "Then the remnant left in Israel will take their place among the nations. They will be like dew sent by the Lord or like rain falling on the grass, which no one can hold back and no one can restrain. The remnant left in Israel will take their place among the nations. They will be like a lion among the animals of the forest, like a strong young lion among flocks of sheep and goats, pouncing and tearing as they go with no rescuer in sight. The people of Israel will stand up to their foes, and all their enemies will be wiped out" (Micah 5:7-9 NLT).

      Unlike God’s response to Elijah, this time, there is no reference to an exact number. As you noticed in the verses above, the Lord characterized this group of folks with two, well really three, metaphors.

      He stated first of all that the remnant would be like dew OR like rain falling on the grass. I have cited this metaphor before in this blog. Right now, this morning, my memory is a little hazy. I need to check. Yep, Hosea 14: 5--the Lord refers to Himself as the dew.

      Here, it is a metaphor of God’s true believers.

      As I look at my window this morning, I see a Colorado “version” of dew—SNOW. Yesterday, we had our first official snowfall of the year. On Tuesday, the temperatures were in the high 50’s. Yesterday, they were in the mid-teens. It was FREEZING.

      I think my disgust for the “white stuff” is well documented. No matter how much I hate snow and wish it would never fall, there is nothing I can do about it. It is the same with the conditions that produce dew or rain.

      Who said, “Everyone complains about the weather; no one can do anything about it”?

      Really, if you think about it, weather is one of the most relentless entities there is. In all of our technology and prowess when it comes to architecture and material, a good breeze from God can blow anything away.

      This is true of God’s people. God’s remnant is a group of folks whom “no one can hold back and no one can restrain.” Amen!

      Second, the Lord compares the remnant to the lion in the forest—the top “dog” of all the animals, especially when compared to sheep and goats. Those critters are McDonald’s hamburgers to lions. No match. Not even close.

      When it seems that the enemy is too big and too overwhelming, this metaphor is good to remember. No one can hold a candle to the least among us in God’s family. Take the youngest child or the feeblest senior (from a physical standpoint). They are both lions in God’s forest.

      One more thing that comes to mind: I really wonder what the number of the remnant is right now in the United States of America. If we knew, I wonder what we would think. My guess is that we would be shocked at how low it is.

      Lord, I hope I am wrong. I don’t think so …

      In the meantime, Father, remind true believers today about who we are in Christ. The truth is—no one can hold us back. No one can stand against us. World, hear us roar! We take a back to seat to no one!

      “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts;
      Let us not lift our souls to another” (BH 2008, 590). Amen.
      Comments

      Small Village

      Yesterday was an interesting day of sorts. Betty got some women together to prepare the Operation Christmas Child boxes for delivery to the distribution center on Sunday. At one point, late in the day, I asked one of the ladies, “So, how many boxes do we have so far?”

      Marge pointed at a table stacked high and full of boxes, “Well, we have 280 here.” There were others still to be counted. Thus, it seems that we are well on our way to 400, I hope.

      As for me, I tackled a project that has been hanging over my head for months. We have a rather large office that is not occupied at this juncture. As a result, it has become a junk repository/storage room. One of the main things it contained was books. We moved all our books in there after Community of Faith United moved out. We did this so that we could re-carpet the room and paint and put new bookshelves in there.

      My goal is to turn the room into a resource center. I want to challenge the church to accumulate Bible study resources so that folks can come in there and actually have tools to enhance their study.

      I realize that this sounds rather archaic. Most Bible study stuff is online now. I use a great program called Logos, but even then, I still prefer to supplement my studies with actual books. It still seems easier. Maybe eventually, we can get some computers in there … who knows?

      Anyway, I spent a few hours moving books in there and beginning to organize them.

      Many of the books that had found their way into our library were (how shall I put this?) obvious cast offs from folks who just wanted to get rid of them. I put THOSE books in a box I am going to take to Goodwill.

      Back to this resource center—I have been encouraging folks in the congregation for years to learn how to study the Bible on their own, and now, finally, after all these years, we are in a place to provide resources.

      I hope that the church will catch on to this and we can stockpile resources that can be used for years to come.

      I think it was Joel Gregory, my pastor when I was at Travis Avenue in Fort Worth who planted the original seed for all of this. He stated, “It is our job as pastors, not only to preach the Word, but also to model a reproducible method of Bible study in the pulpit.”

      I agree with this wholeheartedly.

      “Fanciful interpretation” (I am coining that term) leads people to laud the preacher and makes them, as they leave the worship service, say, “Wow, I have never heard THAT before. Where did you come up with that? You are awesome!” I like compliments and appreciate encouragement, but THAT is not what I am after.

      Instead, I would rather have folks leave thinking about God and how awesome He is, while, at the same time concluding, “I could do THAT.”

      As a matter of fact, I am teaching to the folks at church the same Bible study method I learned at Southwestern under Farrar Patterson (he was my first preaching professor) and taught to the fledgling preachers at the Rocky Mountain extension of Golden Gate seminary when I was there. Same thing.

      Well, anyway …

      On to the passage for today—arguably the most “famous” prophecy of the book of Micah. In fact, I feel led to preach from this prophecy later on in December at First Southern. I love it. The Son of God was born, not in the lights and glitter of the big city—Jerusalem (well, I guess there were not lights and glitter in any city in A. D. 5, but it sounds more dramatic). Instead, Jesus was born in a little wide place in the road. His birth was quiet, attended by only a few shepherds and some philosophers. His audience was animals in stable …

      "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord ’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world" (Micah 5:2-4 NLT).

      Oh, Jesus, I think you for your birth in Bethlehem about which Micah the prophet spoke hundreds of years prior to the fact. Born in a small out of the way town, you reign now as Lord and Savior of the nations.

      Thank you again for saving me. Thank you for calling me to preach. Thank you for the privilege of equipping the saints. My goal is to present every one in the church I serve “mature and complete in Christ.”

      Oh, and also, I pray for Lorraine as she goes to see a neurologist today.

      “Holiness, holiness is what I long for,
      Holiness is what I need” (BH 2008, 589). Amen.
      Comments

      Iron Horns and Bronze Hooves

      Before I get into my discussion of the passage for today, I would let to tell you about Operation Christmas Child. A few years ago, actually as I think about it, over ten years, we started participating in this ministry. Many people were rather skeptical and blasé.

      Then, a few years ago, something happened, and it started to catch on. Last year, we sent out 310 boxes! This year, Betty has challenged the church to send 400! And I honestly think we are going to do it. It is great to see people get involved in this project and participate to the degree that they are.

      Betty told me yesterday that Gladys is bringing a few dozen boxes in today. She is bringing a lot herself, but several of her work associates have expressed interest and put boxes together as well. Love it!

      Once again, I love how the Lord is using the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to reach people for Jesus.

      I don’t know how many of you saw the Billy Graham special on the other night. I have talked with several people in our fellowship about it. It brought me to tears as I saw snippets of Billy Graham preaching. The power of God was all over his ministry and still is today.

      Even in his nineties, it is clear that Billy still has his passion for God and desire to see people all over the world saved. Now, Franklin Graham with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child and his crusades are carrying the torch.

      The other day, as my mom and sis and I were about Billy Graham, she shared the story of how the Lord used him in our family.

      As many of you know, my mom (not saved at that time, but searching) felt that we needed to leave the church we were attending—University Park Methodist across the street from the Iliff School of Theology and Denver University—and look for another church. Again, she was not saved, but somehow, she knew that we weren’t receiving the Bible instruction we needed.

      I remember a lot of the churches we visited—all denominations. And we became discouraged because whatever IT was that we were looking for (I know what IT is now; not an IT, a HE), we didn’t find it.

      Now this is part of the story I hadn’t ever heard before. My mom says that she had an issue of Time magazine with Billy Graham’s picture on the cover. She was about ready to throw it away, but she said, “Maybe the article about Billy in this magazine will tell what church or denomination he belongs to.” Sure enough, the article did indicate that Billy Graham was a Southern Baptist.

      My mom went to the Yellow Pages (boy, does that date me or what? Does anyone use the Yellow Pages now?) and found that there was a SBC church right down the road—University Hills Baptist Church. We went there, and, as the expression goes, the rest is history.

      But the Lord used Billy Graham to lead us to Jesus! How about that? I am going to a library the end of the week to try to find that particular issue of Time magazine. How about that? It shouldn’t be that hard. In fact, I might be able to find it in Google.

      Back to us at First Southern—we are going to have an Operation Christmas Child dedication service this Sunday. At the end of the service, we are going to pray for the boxes and then, we are going to load them on Dean’s truck. Dean is Jeremy’s father-in-law (Jeremy is our youth pastor). Dean has graciously consented to transport the boxes to the distribution center in Aurora. It should be a great time of celebration.

      On to the passage for today—I love the final verses of Micah 4. The Word describes a huge battle in which the enemies of God’s people gather against them. Defeat looks imminent. But the Lord steps in:

      "Now many nations have gathered against you. ‘Let her be desecrated,’ they say. ‘Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem.’ But they do not know the Lord ’s thoughts or understand his plan. These nations don’t know that he is gathering them together to be beaten and trampled like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. ‘Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!’ says the Lord. ‘For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves, so you can trample many nations to pieces. You will present their stolen riches to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth’” (Micah 4:11-13, NLT).

      When the odds are against us, the Lord is on our side. He is able to empower us to do battle and win the victory. That “empowerment” in this passage is “iron horns and bronze hooves”—graphic imagery, huh?

      As I read these verses I was reminded of the description of the Battle of Armageddon:

      "And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them” (Revelation 20:9, NLT). How about that?

      The Micah passage and the verse in Revelation show that we win the ultimate victory in the ultimate battle. And the Lord does it through us and for us.

      God, this morning, my heart is full of gratitude. Thank you for the victory You won for us on Calvary and through the resurrection of Your Son. We know that the enemy is still on the loose, but not for long. In the final conflagration, you will finally clean up, destroying every last enemy, as the Micah passage reminds us, all the wealth of all the nations of the world—wealth they have stolen—will be returned to You.

      In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do. As we send the boxes, help us to be motivated to share as never before.

      Thank you for the open door of ministry you have given us in our own community (more about this later). I love you, Jesus.

      “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” Every time I hear this song, I think of the Billy Graham Crusades and that invitation … it still brings tears to my eyes. God, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for Billy. Amen.
      Comments

      Swords into Plowshares

      Prophecy is fascinating to me. It very quickly shifts from one reference point to another, often in the very same passage.

      Of course, one must always take into consideration the original grammatical and historical setting.

      While I am in that neighborhood, I have to mention a conversation I had with two sisters in the church the other day. Somehow, we got on the topic of preaching. They are both on board in our fellowship and are always seeking ways for our church to grow and reach more people. I appreciate them both very much.

      Anyway, one of them commented mentioned that someone else had made a comment about preaching as “a history lesson.” I think that is a fascinating criticism. On the one hand, I guess I understand it. In no way should one focus on what was going on THEN without bridging the application gap to how that teaching in scripture applies to NOW. I get that.

      However, (and this is a very firm conviction of mine), there is no way properly to interpret God’s Word without a very clear understanding of historical context.

      I happen to believe that too much of contemporary preaching is distilled pop psychology advice. The Bible is used (as one famous preaching book I studied in seminary coined the phrase) as a “rhetorical device.” It simply provides the words for the preacher’s topic on some “relevant issue.”

      I am opening a can of worms here. I don’t want to delve into all the ins and outs of what I am talking about. But I am arguing for the priority of history when it comes to teaching God’s Word.

      I’m not sure that there is any section of scripture in which this is more important than the Major and Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. Without a clear understanding of the original audience and historical context, prophecy becomes a potpourri (I’ve been waiting three years to use that word—I love it) of picking and choosing passages that fits one’s eschatological (end times) perspective.

      In short, teachers and preachers with this approach can make the Bible say anything they want. Not good.

      Well, anyway … I have chased that rabbit far enough. Back to Micah. Most of the verses in the early chapters of this prophecy relate to Micah’s preaching to the inhabitants of Judah in the latter years of the eighth century BC as he looks at what is going on in the northern kingdom of Israel as a portent of the judgment that will come upon Judah.

      However, chapter three takes a quantum leap. Notice these words:

      "In the last days, the mountain of the Lord ’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For the Lord ’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will mediate between peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far away. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore" (Micah 4:1-3 NLT).

      The phrase that stands out to me today is “they will hammer their swords into plowshares …”

      Interestingly enough, that very phrase is used in two other places in the Old Testament—Isaiah 2:4 and Joel 3:10. It seems evident that this was a very common phrase the Holy Spirit used to talk about what would happen on the Day of the Lord.

      “The Day of the Lord” is another common Old Testament expression that describes the future judgment of God. Again, a lot to go into here—I’m not going there today.

      But suffice it to say that I believe the reference here is to the Second Coming of Jesus and a time in the future when all war will be done forever.

      If you go to Google and enter “Swords into Plowshares,” you will discover that, at the United Nations, there is a statue depicting this ultimate state of affairs. Well and good. However, I do not think that any institution, no matter how well intentioned it may be (and honestly, I have some serious doubts about the UN), cannot usher world peace in by their efforts or diplomacy.

      This is only something that can happen as every person who has ever lived in human history stands at the Mountain of the Lord before the Lamb. There will not be any need for the implements of war; we will need all of them to be transformed into tools that will help us in the Great Harvest of souls for eternity.

      Lord, again, thank you for this reminder today that we see and hear about on the news is NOT going to last forever. Someday, in our shared eternity with you, no more war, no more bloodshed, and no more sorrow or grief associated with the loss of life.

      I can hardly wait. When do we go?

      Help me today to allow you to use me to increase the population of heaven—more farm hands for the harvest of eternity.

      “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true” (BH 2008, 588). Amen.
      Comments

      The Breaker

      A reference I read yesterday in Micah captivated me, so much so that I felt compelled just to read the verse in our service yesterday.

      I didn’t quote it in the blog yesterday because I needed more time to chew on it and look up a couple of things.

      Before I go further, I want to quote two verses, from the New American Standard Bible and from the Message version:

      "I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold; Like a flock in the midst of its pasture They will be noisy with men. The breaker goes up before them; They break out, pass through the gate and go out by it. So their king goes on before them, And the Lord at their head" (Micah 2:12, 13 NASB).

      "I’m calling a meeting, Jacob. I want everyone back—all the survivors of Israel. I’ll get them together in one place— like sheep in a fold, like cattle in a corral— a milling throng of homebound people! Then I, God, will burst all confinements and lead them out into the open. They’ll follow their King. I will be out in front leading them” (Micah 2:12, 13 MSG).

      The reference I am alluding to is “the breaker.” The Hebrew word is PRS—one who makes a breech. I like Peterson’s translation: “Then I, God, will burst all confinements.” I like it.

      I was able to scratch around to try to find out what is going on in these verses. As I have said in an earlier post, I believe that it could have something to do with the siege that occurred under Sennacherib. See 2 Kings 19:31 and Isaiah 37:32. If you remember, he had Hezekiah and the people boxed in with no way to escape and he continued to taunt the folks who were huddled in Jerusalem.

      This may or may not be the exact historical context to which this reference in Micah is connected, but the whole thing makes sense as a word of hope.

      Here is the message: not matter how tight or hopeless the situation, God can make a break and deliver you!

      I am reminded of the song, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me…” Love that song!

      In this message of judgment in which things will not turn out well for the people who are rebelling against God, there is deliverance for the remnant of God’s people.

      I love all that comes to mind this morning as I think about the ways I have experienced my Lord as the Breaker in my life.

      Where do I start?

      I really believe that the Lord helped break me out of rather debilitating grief after my dad died. I can’t really pinpoint any exact time. Grief doesn’t work that way. The truth is that I am still not over my dad’s death and never will be, but the Lord helped break me out the pall that hung over my head and that of my whole family.

      The Lord broke through in some difficult times my sophomore year at Baylor, the culmination of which was a call to full-time vocational ministry.

      He also broke through my first semester at seminary. Oh, man, was that ever a hard few months as I sat in my apartment in Fort Worth thinking, “What on earth am I doing HERE?” My friend Dan left after the first semester, and went back home to Oklahoma. He couldn’t take it. (His story ends well because he is now serving in ministry, as I knew he would—it was obvious. This is just the road God led him to travel. Not good or bad—just different).

      Getting into and out of the PhD program at Southwestern were two significant “breaks.” There were many days at both ends of that experience where I didn’t think I was going to make it.

      And then, at the church. Oh, man, some of this is hard to dredge up again. There were several occasions (and any pastor reading this understands it all too well and Betty does too) where I just didn’t think I was ever going to make it through a difficult staff or leadership challenge. Dealing with conflict is an emotional jail, a siege of the mind and heart, in which you often think, “This is never going to end.” (Kind of like how I felt as I watched the Broncos and Chiefs last night—I’m exhausted; and I don’t make that comparison to make light of any of this).

      This just goes with being a pastor … but He took me through and broke me out of them all.

      The Lord just has His ways and means of breaking us out! Some are subtle; some are not so subtle.

      And, to use the words “break out” does not mean that you get over any of them. It is just His way of delivering through with all the battle scars and deep wounds and memories still very much intact.

      This is why it is going to be so hard to get rid of this port in my chest. It is a constant remind of how The Breaker took me through cancer. It is kind of like my “scars for the Lord,” as Paul states in the last verse of Galatians.

      He takes us through and breaks us out.

      Oh, Breaker, I love the way that you make a way, when there seems to be no way. For all these times and more—I thank you and praise you this morning, for this walk down memory lane and all the reminders of your specialty—delivering your people in and through impossible situations. God, you are NEVER confined, NEVER limited, NEVER in jail. EVER. Amen.
      Comments

      My Mom's Best Friend

      The other day, we received news that my mom’s best friend, Harriet, had passed away. She had been ill for several years and lived in a nursing home. Her son called to give us the news. He left a voicemail message. My mom called him back the other day.

      Since then, we have heard some stories about Harriet. My mom told us yesterday that all the girls hated Harriet and my mom. Why? Well, because of my mom’s “hangout.”

      In her home in Hutchinson, they had a rather crude ping pong table in the basement. My mom said it was just two boards, cut to the right size and joined together with a net across the middle. All the boys came over to the McNerney’s to play Ping-Pong and “run around” and listen to records.

      Peggy’s parents, who lived nearby, owned a furniture story. They were hoping to attract the “hangout” crowd, so they put all the fancy furniture along with a pool/ping pong table combo (I’ve never seen one of those) in their basement. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

      But no one liked to go to Peggy’s house. They preferred the McNerney’s unfinished basement with cinder block walls where everyone could scribble a message or sign their name.

      My mom said that one summer, as she and grandma and Leo (that’s what I called them) were preparing to take their annual trip to Manitou Springs, Colorado, that George, one of the hangout boys came to Leo, “Hey Mr. McNerney, would you mind giving me a key to your house so that we can come over and play ping pong while you are gone. I will be responsible to take care of things.” He was class president and quarterback of the football team. My grandfather said, “Sure, no problem.”

      That’s just the way it was. Mac (I hope it is okay to tell everyone my mom’s nickname) and Harriet were the only two females in the hangout fraternity.

      Fast-forward sixty years to 2005. All three of us traveled to Hutch for my mom’s 60th High School reunion. We got to spend a lot of time with Harriet and her husband Jack. By the way, my mom’s claim to fame in that regard was that she introduced them! How about that?

      One day, we all went out to Prairie Dunes for a round of golf. I just have to say that Prairie Dunes ranks very high as one of the best golf courses I have ever played. It is literally cut out of a bunch of sand dunes outside of town. One would never expect to find a world-class golf course in central Kansas, but that is what it is.

      It has hosted LPGA and senior tour events in recent years. Jack and Harriet were members.

      The interesting thing about that round is that, when we went out there, Jack had not played golf in a long time as he had experienced some health problems. But for that day, he was rejuvenated. He and I played, and if memory serves, so did Marilyn, while my mom and Harriet rode along in an electric cart.

      I have to tell you: it was one of the most memorable rounds of golf I have ever played. We laughed all the way around. And my mom laughed. She always seemed to laugh when she got around Harriet.

      Don’t you think that this is the mark of a great friendship—someone who makes you laugh? Harriet was a character, but it was obvious that she and Jack thought the world of my mom, and the feeling was mutual.

      This is in spite of the fact that, over the years, my mom was not shy about sharing the gospel with her buddy. She wrote Harriet a letter and sent her some sermon tapes. One time, she sent her one of my sermons on tape. Oh, my! I’m not quite sure how Harriet received all that … but she and my mom remained very close friends.

      We can only pray that at some point in her life, Harriet repented and trusted Jesus.

      My mom always says that one of the greatest blessings of her life was to move out of Hutchinson. She is convinced that, had she stayed there, she never would have gotten saved. I have a sense that she is right. Who knows?

      Anyway, on that trip eight years ago, we spent a lot of time with Jack and Harriet and sat with them at the dinner table at the 60th Anniversary celebration.

      Little did any of us know that we would never see Jack or Harriet ever again. Jack passed away in 2007.

      I would just ask that you pray for my mom. She seems to be handling this whole thing very well. But I know it is hard. One of the things about getting older—you see your friends, one by one, pass away.

      This reminds me of Rick this morning …

      Lord, I pray for Harriet’s two sons and for their families in the loss of Harriet. I pray that my mom’s witness and her conversation the other day would water the seeds of the gospel that have been shared in that family.

      Thank you for my mom’s best friend. Strengthen and encourage her today.

      “Thou soon shalt be fitted
      For service above” (BH 2008, 587). Amen.
      Comments

      Dream World

      The verses I read today further confirm why folks don’t like to hear sermons from the Minor Prophets. We all like to live in our own little dream world.

      Have you seen pictures of the devastation that has occurred in the Philippines because of that typhoon? Jim sent an email out yesterday that just breaks my heart. I will try to attach a picture to my Facebook entry for today.

      I can’t imagine. And I don’t think any of us could unless we were actually there to see it.

      We see hints of it here and there—the flooding in our state in recent months is an example. That was very difficult for many people, but this deal in the Philippines …

      Micah is called to preach judgment as he walks around naked and barefoot mimicking the call of the jackal and the moan of the owl. And of course, no one wants to hear it. Why?

      "’Don’t say such things,’ the people respond. ‘Don’t prophesy like that. Such disasters will never come our way!’ Should you talk that way, O family of Israel? Will the Lord ’s Spirit have patience with such behavior? If you would do what is right, you would find my words comforting" (Micah 2:6, 7 NLT).

      These verses tell the tale, I am afraid. We look at pictures of disasters and deep down inside we think, “Well, THAT is never going to happen in the good ole’ US of A.” Who says?

      I’ve just got to say that each day brings news of how we are pushing Jesus out of the public arena in so many ways. Our culture wants nothing to do with Him, not even the mention of His name, while at the same time, our tolerance of absolutely every other religion on the face of the earth expands. Anything but Jesus. Anything.

      Again, I urge all of you who are reading this to get a hold of Franklin Graham’s book. I believe it is called, The Name. He chronicles this in no uncertain terms.

      Here is the prophet Micah speaking of impending doom, and people cover their ears like children on a playground, “I don’t want to hear it! Nah, nah, nah.”

      In addition, the interesting thing about Micah’s ministry is that he preached to the nation of Judah in the south about the coming judgment on their neighbors and fellow-Jews to the north in Israel. Samaria, the capitol city of Israel, fell in 721 B. C.

      The people of Judah were witnesses to it. Of course, they had no TV or Internet but it was common news. They heard about it. They heard from the prophets. They knew that the Assyrians swept like a typhoon into the land and destroyed everything, effective bringing the nation to an end. They knew all of this.

      And still, it did not cause urgency or repentance.

      I think this is common with human nature. We don’t really get serious until our house is in a pile of rubble and everything we own is gone.

      And yet, in the passage for today, did you notice one other thing?

      “If you would do what is right, you would find my words comforting.” This is incredible to me. Even the message of certain judgment and the end of a nation? Encouraging? Are you kidding me?

      Well, for believers and followers of Jesus, even if we lose “everything,” we really don’t lose everything. And, when the whole nation crumbles and we are penniless and homeless, we still know that our real home is unaffected. We know where we are going.

      Another reason that we are comforted is that, even though we can’t explain WHY disasters occur, we know WHO is ultimately in charge. It isn’t us. It isn’t up to our finite ways of explaining things to figure it out. It is up to the Lord.

      One more thing: after I finished yesterday, I realized that I never explained why I said that I “hoped” I could preach my sermon this Sunday. I have just felt bad the last few days. I have no idea what is going on. It felt as if I had a virus or worse.

      So, I have just backed off completely and laid low the past few days. That is okay because I have had a lot of sermon work to do.

      I still don’t feel that great, but I guess I will just plan to preach tomorrow unless things really turn south today. Humm? Who knows? I’m trying to stay on top of my health better than I did in the past … Anyway, just wanted to explain.

      Lord, my heart goes out to the folks in the Philippines. I pray for disaster relief efforts and for the folks without homes or food or help.

      Someday, THAT could be us here in America.

      Lord, help me to be ready to preach judgment when You ask me to do so. I pray for the church to be more urgent than ever to share Jesus before it is too late.

      Deliver the contemporary church in America from a “dream world.”

      “So amid the conflict, whether great of small,
      Do not be discouraged, God is over all” (BH 2008, 585). Amen.
      Comments

      Howl Like a Jackal, Moan Like a Owl

      Back to the Old Testament today—I’m in the minor prophecy of Micah.

      Again, I say that I think this is the forgotten part of the Bible when it comes to hearing sermons from these books in the contemporary pulpit. You just don’t. My goal is to preach at least one sermon from every book in the Bible before the Lord removes me from First Southern.

      This has been my goal from the start, and I relate it to the passage I am going to be preaching this Sunday (hopefully—I will get to that in a moment). Paul told the leaders of the church at Ephesus as he met them in the seaport town of Miletus that he did not refrain from sharing the “whole council of God” with them in his three plus years of ministry.

      I wish I had those sermons on tape or CD or scroll or whatever.

      I’ve always been fascinated by that testimony—“the whole council of God.” What does that mean, really? Well, I certainly don’t know for sure, but I am asking the Lord to show me.

      It is easy for a pastor to camp on his favorite passages and little “pet” teachings, not delving into doctrine that is hard or controversial or could get him into trouble.

      I can certainly say that I’ve gotten into trouble on more than one occasion.

      In fact, as Jim and I were visiting a dear brother the other day, one of those “trouble spots” came up. Brent really is a student of the Word. He and I have spent time discussing all sorts of things in the Bible. One day, the subject of the “rapture” came up. And, of course, as any of you who know me will readily acknowledge, I am not shy about sharing my opinion.

      The second he referenced it, I jumped in, “Don't believe the Bible teaches it.”

      There was a hush and a pause on the other end of the line, “You don’t? You are kidding, right?”

      “No, Brent. I am not kidding. Show me where you think the Bible teaches it. Let’s talk specifics.” Well, for some reason, we never got a chance to have that conversation THEN, but in our visit of a couple of days ago, Brent brought it up.

      We bounced some things around and both agreed that neither one of us was going to change his mind and went on seamlessly in the conversation.

      This type of thing, when it comes to controversy, is very unusual. Usually, people get mad and argue or leave the church.

      Anyway, my point is: it is never easy even to attempt to preach the whole council of God.

      Another thing that comes up is that people are often immediately bored when you talk about the Old Testament. Calla mentioned this in a meeting the other day. She said, “Most of the children I minister to have heard all the stories of the Old Testament.” I’m sure she is right. Most adults have as well.

      However, I am fairly confident that they have not studied or been taught from every book in the Old Testament. That is where I make a distinction.

      To me, that is a huge difference and a big challenge. I am going to continue to teach and preach from the Old Testament in spite of the yawns and preconceived notions.

      This, to me, is what preaching “the whole council of God” is about. Where do I find God’s counsel? In a lot of places, but the main locale is the Bible—of course. So, that is why I believe that the flock God gathers at First Southern needs to hear the whole Bible and not just the “exciting” or “pleasant” or “familiar” parts.

      They need to hear sermons from the man who was so grieved that he took rather drastic actions out of his broken heart for the idolatry of His people and the nation of Judah. Notice these words:

      "’So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria a heap of ruins. Her streets will be plowed up for planting vineyards. I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below, exposing her foundations. All her carved images will be smashed. All her sacred treasures will be burned. These things were bought with the money earned by her prostitution, and they will now be carried away to pay prostitutes elsewhere.’ Therefore, I will mourn and lament. I will walk around barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl. For my people’s wound is too deep to heal. It has reached into Judah, even to the gates of Jerusalem" (Micah 1:6-9 NLT).

      Okay, so did I read that right? Micah walked around Jerusalem barefoot and naked, howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl. I wonder how many people in the church today (not just First Southern, any church) could tell me the way the prophet Micah responded to idolatry. How many people know this story?

      Back to Micah—why did he do this? Well, I do know that owls and jackals inhabit desolate places, and I do know that the Israelites were hauled off into captivity naked and barefoot.

      So, what was Micah doing? He was giving his people a vivid image (out of his desperately broken heart) for the ultimate consequence of idolatry—exile.

      His actions bring to mind Derek Wolf—defensive end for the Denver Broncos. Word has it that when he makes a sack, he lets out a sound like a wolf. I could almost see him do it last Sunday when he sacked Philip Rivers.

      Reporters and fans alike have asked Derek to make the sound so everyone could hear it. He has always replied, “Nope. I just save that for the game and for my teammates.” I’m sure he would be a little embarrassed to do it just anywhere.

      But think about Micah. Think about a naked man making an animal sound. I wonder how people responded to THAT.

      Lord, the more I read your Word and read how your spokesmen and women shared the Word, I am so ashamed. I don’t even talk about you in situations with all my clothes on and in intelligible words because I am afraid of what people might think.

      Liberate me from caring about what strangers and close friends and people in the church or wherever might think. Help me to focus on pleasing you and pleasing you only, no matter how humiliating it is for me.

      You were naked in public, moaning also, so that I could be saved.

      “Come into His presence with thanksgiving in your heart and give Him praise, and give Him praise” (BH 2008, 584). Amen.
      Comments

      Talk Show Religion

      Sometimes, the terms we use are our worst enemy. This came out in a meeting I had last night.

      The term “evangelism” came up. Brian said, “I don’t like that term. Reminds me of Billy Graham.” I know for certain that Brian is a huge advocate of Christians sharing their faith. I know he does it. AND, I know he loves Billy Graham.

      I totally hear what he is saying. When most Christians hear that term, they think, “Oh, that is something that some professional Christian or preacher does. I’m not an evangelist and never can be.” It is a remote and “theological” term.

      On the heels of Brian’s comment, Calla chimed in, “I agree. I think of Tammy Faye Bakker.” Oh, boy. Her statement still makes me chuckle. But again, I think she is right.

      This came out in a family discussion the other day. Marilyn got kind of exasperated and said, “Well, if reaching people is what you are after, I know that I for one am a total failure at that.” I think her comment goes back to all the baggage that has been associated with “evangelism” and she just isn’t Tammy Faye. Thank goodness!

      The truth is that Marilyn is one of the best evangelists I know. She is amazing in the way she relates to people.

      There is a sandwich shop that all of us like to go to for lunch on occasion. Marilyn talks to everyone who works there and knows everyone’s personal business! People just tell her what is going on in their lives, and she remembers and asks them the next time she sees them.

      When I go to Subway or out to eat, I don’t even think about the people behind the counter or the wait staff. In fact, I am a little irritated that they don’t get me my food faster.

      But back to Marilyn—the people behind the counter at this shop know Marilyn and she knows them and they know that she cares about them. How huge is that?

      I honestly think that in that setting all those folks would listen to anything Marilyn would tell them because they know she cares about them.

      At that same place, when I go to the counter to order for us, they always say, “Is Marilyn with you today?”

      Anyway, back to the discussion of last night, I think we need a new term. I think we need to get beyond the stereotypes in Christianity and affirm people on occasion. There is only one Billy Graham. There is only one Tammy Faye.

      It is interesting to me that Paul ends his note to Timothy with just such an affirmation. Here is how he put it:

      "And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith. Overwhelming grace keep you!" (1 Timothy 6:20, 21 MSG)

      Guard the treasure you have been given. What is that? Well, Timothy was (like all of us) his own man with his unique personality and gifted-ness. I think Paul was basically telling him to “be himself”—be the special person God made him to be and don’t get intimidated through “talk show religion.”

      Jim and Tammy Faye had a talk show, and things did not work out so well for them. I’m not piling on them at this point. It is just a tragedy.

      Talk-show religion.

      What is that? Well, I do know that there are a lot of people in all realms of Christianity that talk a good game. I have learned to be very skeptical of those types of folks.

      I remember my conversation with Eugene Peterson in Vancouver in 1999 when we ate lunch together. He basically affirmed the same thing. “Give me a few people who quietly serve God in a church any day over those who make a big show of their faith.”

      The Pharisees fit in this category. They loved to stand on the street corners and pray very fluffy and spiritual-sounding prayers. Jesus saw through their hypocrisy. He instead pointed to the man who beat his chest in grief over his own sin and failure.

      Lord, I do acknowledge my failure when it comes to serving you in the way I should. I don’t want to be like anyone else. I don’t want to talk a good game and not live it, not in some forced way but in the natural course of daily life. Live it.

      Give me the grace to be the exact person You made me and re-made me to be. And I pray for an opportunity to share You with someone today, in whatever form you want that sharing to take.

      Help me Lord to be better at avoiding stereotypes in my teaching and preaching, word like “evangelism.” Help me to affirm and people like Brian and Calla and Marilyn to “guard the treasure” the Lord has given them as well.

      “May God alone be lifted high!
      His love endures forever” (BH 2008, 583). Amen.
      Comments

      Full of Themselves

      It is finally dawning on me as I read the final verses of 1 Timothy that money and how one handles it IN MINISTRY is a huge deal.

      In my opinion, sins of money take a back seat in our list of the really bad things that church leaders can do. I’m NOT talking about embezzlement or stealing church funds or anything like that. If you do THAT, your name will be on the front page of the paper and it probably should be.

      Of course, any kind of immorality will get you there as well, and again, it probably should.

      No, that is not what I am talking about. I am referring to the quiet and behind-the-scenes worship of money. And, let me hasten to say that there is a fine line in all of this. We all need money to pay bills and make it in this world. And having more money is not in and of itself wrong. But it is the obsession with money and what it can buy and do. THAT is the problem.

      I have a couple of friends that have made a lot of money in the course of their work careers. They are obviously good at it.

      We joke when we get together. Here is my statement: “So and so, you are good at making money; I am good at spending it.” We laugh, but it is not funny, really.

      So often, those of us who are in ministry (again, this is a generalization; I have another couple of friends IN MINISTRY who are excellent stewards of their finances and help people in this arena) focus on other things. This is not good or bad, necessarily, but just different.

      I do get a little hot under the collar when, as a church we are considering something, and the very first question that someone asks is, “What does it cost?”

      To me, that is NEVER the first and most important issue. I’ve been serving the Lord long enough that I have learned that the first issue is the leadership and direction of the Holy Spirit—“Lord, what do you want me to do?” THAT is the first question. Everything else falls in line with that.

      Now, having said that, cost and money are important. I’m not trying to denigrate that aspect, but they aren’t first. If the Lord wants me to do something, I firmly believe that he is going to provide.

      But in the passage for today, what Paul counsels against is a focus on money and what that does to character. Here is how Peterson translates this in the Message version:

      "Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19 MSG).

      This is Paul telling Timothy how to minister to rich folks. By the way, the church has a responsibility in that regard. We tend to focus on the poor, as well we should. But we should not be intimidated to speak the truth to rich folks.

      I guess we might be a little hesitant at times to do this because we want them to join the church and GIVE. Ha. Is that really too far from the truth?

      Instead of being “full of themselves,” Paul urges Timothy to teach them (and I think learn himself) that we all (whether we have a lot of money or not) should pursue God and true riches.

      This coming Sunday, I am preaching from Acts 20, Paul’s sermon to the elders of the church in Ephesus at Miletus. I will refrain from preaching that message here. By the way, there is a lot about money in those verses as well. But he concludes his message with the only Jesus quote not found in the gospels. Very interesting. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NASB).

      This is exactly Paul’s point to Timothy. If you want to be truly rich, then “do good, help others, and be generous.”

      Here’s what I have discovered is a barrier to that: when I am full of myself and focused on myself and money, then I am a lot less likely to care about giving to others AND, less able to do so, because I am spending it on myself.

      In Jesus’ parable of the soils, when I live that way, I fit in the category of the seed among the weeds. “The weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it” (Matthew 13:22, MSG).

      Again, going back to my earlier statements, this is very dangerous but behind-the-scenes stuff. It won’t get you on the front page of the paper (at least immediately) but it is just as damaging.

      Lord, I thank you for these very cogent warnings. By any stretch of the imagination, in our current world economy, every American is rich. As I think about the folks in the Philippines who are suffering, we have so much in this country.

      Lord, help us to keep wealth and money in its proper perspective. Help me to be sensitive first and foremost to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Beyond that, help me be generous, always ready and able to give. I say “able” because how I spend money for myself affects my ability to be generous to others.

      I love you, Lord. Thanks for everything you have given me and thank you for the bank account in heaven. I want to be rich in my relationship with you, and I chose to pursue You today.

      “Thank You, Lord, for giving to me
      Thy great salvation so rich and free” (BH 2008, 582). Amen.
      Comments

      Don't Slack Off

      In the last few verses of 1 Timothy, this extended admonition from the elder preacher to his young protégé, Paul doesn’t mince words, and I think Peterson brings his instructions out very well in the Message version.

      Notice these instructions:

      "I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes" (1 Timothy 6:13-16 MSG).

      Reading these words takes me back to my final days at Southwestern seminary. I had finished my PhD dissertation and actually turned it in. I can’t tell you how good that felt on one level, but on another, it was rather disconcerting. It marked the end of my academic career and the beginning of … oh, man, I have to get a job and start working! And, oh, yeah, I need to be in a church somewhere.

      I started the process of looking for a ministry position. Well, actually, that is not true. I had been looking all the way through seminary, but nothing had opened up. When I started work on the dissertation, I put my job search on the shelf.

      Why? Well, I had known too many guys who, when they got to that stage, left campus for ministry positions. AND, it suddenly became three times as hard to work on that dissertation and actually finish the degree.

      The actual statistics are startling about how many people start PhD degrees but don’t finish because they never get that paper done. I didn’t want that to be me.

      It was another delay as far as a job was concerned, but as I sit here this morning, I’m so glad I did that and focused on it for two years, got it done, and graduated before I went to the church in Northglenn.

      Anyway, back to that time period. I finished the paper and of course, it had to be read and graded. It was early June when I finished (as I remember) and graduation was in mid-July. I had several weeks in which I was free from all academic responsibilities and had no job. What on earth was I going to do besides goof off? I have multiple advanced degrees in “goofing off.”

      Well, I felt it was a great opportunity actually to prepare for the pastorate, and I felt led to immerse myself in the pastoral epistles—1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.

      Actually, it was one of the most significant times of Bible study in my whole life. I had a lot of time to read through those three books and try to digest everything that Paul instructed Timothy to do.

      I’ll tell you what it was like: it was as if I had a six-week visit with Paul, every day, the venerate missionary sitting in my apartment in Fort Worth, telling me how “the cow ate the cabbage” when it came to being a pastor. Awesome.

      Now, all those impressions and leadings are flooding back in my mind. I think the main thing I took out of those weeks of study is that being a pastor is SERIOUS BUSINESS. It is not to be entered into lightly.

      And, the other thing that came out is: if there is EVER a church that calls you, it should be a place you can go and STAY for the rest of your ministry.

      I knew way too many guys who looked at each pastorate as a stepping stone to a bigger and larger church, the rationale being, “I will take this church while I am in the school, but as I near graduation, I will look for a bigger and better church.” There are those terms again, linked together in a false logic—BIGGER AND BETTER. Not necessarily true!

      I had tried multiple times to find a pastorate, but it was always one thing or another that was a deal breaker, mainly the “single” thing.

      So, I determined if there was a church out there somewhere, anywhere, who would take a chance on me, then I would be ready to go and stay for a long time.

      The other part of this is that, reading the pastoral epistles, I had the impression that to live out these exhortations, actually to be a real shepherd to a congregation (not just in name only, but a real shepherd), it would take YEARS. YEARS.

      But the other thing is, and the verses I quote today from the Message summarize this well. Once I start, I better stick with it and not slack off. EVER.

      I was talking with Scott the other day, and I said something like this, “One of the real temptations of being in a church a long time is just to go on auto-pilot. Trying to lead and encouraging growth is always a battle because growth is change and all of us—me included—are resistant to change. This is why I feel the urgency, the necessity of continuing to challenge the church to reach out beyond our walls to be involved in obeying the great commission—make disciples of every ethnic group.”

      Sometimes, to be honest, I really struggle with this, because I just have to tell you that it is a lot easier to slack off! Not only from a personal standpoint, but from a church standpoint. Just letting the machinery run doesn’t ever ruffle any feathers!

      But challenging folks, encouraging them to reach out, always elicits controversy and reaction.

      A case in point was the special business meeting we had on Sunday. We had two items to discuss. The second one involved an opportunity in overseas missions. I have talked about it before in this blog, but I don’t want to get into the details this morning.

      But suffice it to say that we had a very lively and engaging discussion about it. And, let me hasten to say that it was one of the better ones that we have had on the subject of “evangelism and missions” over the years, but it is never easy. Never.

      What is “easy” is doing nothing. Or, maybe a better way of putting it is—status quo.

      And honestly, again, we had some very good discussion, and a good outcome to our discussion. Good.

      But, as I was explaining to my mom and sister, as hard as it is to rock the boat and challenge people in this regard (it is hard because the devil doesn’t want us to reach out whether it is across the street or across the world), I feel that I would be slacking off as pastor if I didn’t do it.

      I haven’t said this, but I need to. Everything I challenge the church with is something I have spent a lot of time praying about. The item we discussed Sunday has been on the burner for two years.

      So, all of that aside—this is a good reminder for a pastor or anyone who has served in the same place for a long time—DON’T SLACK OFF.

      Jesus, I’m glad you never slacked off, especially as you were seated before Pontius Pilate—that little pip squeak leader who had the false idea that he had authority over you. I would have turned him into a toad right then and there. But you didn’t. You didn’t give an inch. You stayed the course all the way to the end, and I am saved as a result.

      I love you for that, Jesus, and thank you that you live in me. This is the only way I or anyone else can stay the course. The only way.

      “And we offer up to You, the sacrifices of joy” (BH 2008, 581). Amen.
      Comments

      Running for Your Life

      I can already see how the ministry can make one HARD if you are not diligent in the matter of character.

      Yesterday, a dear couple visited with us—Tom and Judy. We figured that they were in our church from 1990 to 1995. I was kind of shocked by this, because I had remembered it being later, but I was mistaken.

      During the time that Tom and Judy were in the church, they emerged to become leaders of a home Bible study group.

      When they moved up to Blackhawk and found a church up there, it wasn’t long before that congregation, Christ the King Community Church, asked Tom to serve them as pastor, and he consented. It was evident that the Lord was at work in his life all along.

      After the business meeting after the service, we went out to lunch and had a lot of laughs. At one point in the conversation I said, “It is great to see you guys. One thing I am realizing is that I don’t make friends in the church as readily as I used to. I think I am a lot more guarded.”

      “Guarded” may not be the right word. “Hard” may be. Who knows?

      When I say “hard,” what do I mean?

      The other day, I was listening to some sportscast on the radio (this is not unusual for me). Someone the subject of hits and concussions came up. This seems to be a hot topic these days as the football season is moving along and more and more players are getting injured.

      In the course of the discussion, someone said, “Well, the truth is that these guys learn to take hits through the course of their football career. If a fan were to venture out into a game and take one hit these guys experience, that would be it. But the pro player is hard. He has to be.”

      The pro player is hard. Why? Because he takes a lot of hits and keeps coming back. This is a good thing for a football player. Not so good for someone who is serving the Lord, whether he is a pastor or not.

      Paul uses a sports analogy in the verses the Spirit illuminated this morning. This race metaphor is common in Paul’s writings. Notice what he says:

      "But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:11, 12 MSG).

      So much about these words from the Message version that are interesting.

      First, the admonition is to “run for your life.” An interesting turn of a phrase, but so true. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul warns that we need to stay in the game, lest possibly, after preaching to others, “I myself should become a castaway.” The ultimate tragedy of all is telling others how to live and not living yourself.

      Unfortunately, I have known many guys in ministry who just sour and never get over it. Several come to mind right now. For most of them, I say to myself, “Whatever I have to do, I’m not going to become like THAT.”

      It is one thing to say it; it is another to approach it with intentionality.

      Second, the focus in these verses is on character. Too often in the shuffle to “get things done,” I lose track of the priority of character. What am I actually pursuing today? Good question.

      Notice these character qualities: wonder is at the top of the list. Wow! What a concept! I need to chew on this long and hard. I’m not sure about a technical definition of that term, but the way I would delineate it is—you still get excited about what the Lord shows you and does and could do.

      It is the opposite of (here’s an expression) “old hat.”

      Somehow, in the course of being involved in churches and with church people, the tendency (and this is for self-preservation) is not to let oneself become too excited about anything. It is rather a jaded way to live.

      The other word is courtesy. What an interesting concept for pastors? Again, everyone in the world says whatever he or she wants to say to his/her pastor. And it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. It is amazing how quickly things can turn from a person being your best friend to hating your guts and leaving the church.

      Pastors seem to be the perennial dog that people feel they can kick and get away with it.

      Oh, well. Again, I am not complaining or whining. Everyone faces this type of thing in his/her job.

      But in ministry, the temptation is just to be as rude as others are on occasion. Paul urges against this, and instead counsels his young protégé to pursue and life of faith AND seize eternal life.

      The image is graphic. At the end of life, we seize the trophy of life forever with the Lord. What an awesome day that will be!

      This is a great passage and gut check for me. I have to tell you that the Lord took me to the wood shed after last week. He has shown me so much. I have to fall on my face in gratitude and thank Him for everything He has done.

      Oh, God, You are awesome. I love you. Thank you for the gut check and these verses as a corrective. I need to focus on me and not others. I need to trust you and not allow myself to become hard and rude. I can see it happening as a real possibility.

      I don’t want to do damage to your people or your work. I need you more than ever, right now.

      “And in all things give him thanks” (BH 2008, 580). Amen.
      Comments

      The LOVE of Money is the Root of Evil

      This book touches on all the pitfalls that folks in vocational ministry face. Issues related to money are at the top of the list.

      Sometimes (not all the time) people in churches contribute to this.

      I can’t remember the exact context of the statement I am going to quote but someone in a church made this comment, “It is our job to keep our pastor poor and humble.” Honestly, I can’t believe anyone would actually say this.

      The ethic in this regard is exactly opposite to what I have personally witnessed in African American churches. I had a friend who served a church in North Denver. One day, as we were visiting, I made a comment about a car in the parking lot. “Who drives THAT?” I asked.

      “Oh, that is my car.”

      “Wow, really? It is very nice. I like it.” I think it was a Jaguar or something.

      “Yeah, the church helped me get it. They really take care of me here.”

      I should say so.

      Honestly, I think this type of thing is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the “poor and humble” comment. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes …

      Personally, I would feel very uncomfortable if the church offered to buy me a car. I would rather have them pay me and let me make that choice on my own.

      Anyway, back to the subject, regardless of how the church pays or “takes care” of their pastor, money is an issue.

      This is why, from the start, I’ve tried to stay as far away from it in our church as possible. We have things set up in such a way that it is nearly impossible for me to embezzle funds, even if I wanted to (and I don’t).

      But I think what Paul is getting at is a lot more subtle than stealing from the church. I think it gets at the heart. Being an idolater and loving money is on par with stealing.

      And, whether any of us would admit it or not, a lot of guys change churches frequently because they want to get paid more. I’m not going to sit here and criticize this because families go through things and as men, whether we are pastors or not, we are responsible to take care of our families. So, without disobeying the Lord, pastors do what they have to do.

      But, I have a problem with chasing the dollar. I think it ends up as Paul asserts in these verses:

      "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:9, 10 NLT).

      “Piercing themselves with many sorrows”—I have witnessed this on the part of many guys who chased the dollar. One friend knew he made a mistake shortly after he moved his family to a “bigger and (what he thought would automatically be) a better” place. Another guy moved from here to the Bible belt where he made a lot more money and was miserable.

      I was talking about this with a pastor friend the other day and I made this comment, “The grass on the other side of the fence needs to be mowed as well.”

      He replied, “Maybe the grass on the other side of the fence is greener because of a leaky septic tank!”

      Ha. Good point.

      Lord, this whole issue of contentment and money is huge. I write here today as if I don’t have a struggle myself. But you know I do. Not in wanting to leave where I am, but with “mammon” as a competitor to You in my life. I pray, Lord, that you would give me the grace to keep money in its proper perspective.

      I pray for our men’s teacher—John—who texted me yesterday. He is very sick and can’t be there today. Give John strength and rest. Help me today as I pick up Mitch. I’m glad to be able to spend some time with him.

      “He has made me glad, He has made me glad, I will rejoice for His has made me glad” (BH 2008, 579). Amen.
      Comments

      Viable

      As I was watching a Billy Graham special the other night, a conversation with Jan came to mind.

      I think I have alluded to this conversation a few blogs ago. It occurred at Nancy’s funeral. Jan, who leads worship at North Metro and has done so for twenty-six years (and very well, I might add), was able to catch up a bit. As we visited, the term “viable” came up.

      When it did, it struck a cord with me.

      One of my greatest concerns these days is viability. This morning, I searched for a definition of the term in Google and what I came up with was, “capable of living, capable of being used or being useful.” Every parent expecting the delivery of a child prays that the little baby, as he or she comes out of the womb, is viable.

      And, everyone who has worked in the same place for a long time prays that he or she is viable—still capable of being useful to the organization he serves. And, more specifically and importantly in MINISTRY, being capable of being used by God.

      I hope all of you who are reading this get to see Billy Graham’s special. I believe my mom and sis and I were able to see the debut on the Fox network. As we were watching it, Marilyn said that a DVD is available. I think she said you can find it on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website. I’m going to secure a copy for sure.

      But back to viability. Is Billy Graham STILL viable? He is in his mid-90’s now. On this special, he sat in a chair. His voice is weaker. But the passion is there and the message still comes out loud and clear. In my humble (but accurate—ha) opinion, he is definitely still viable.

      I wonder about me.

      Oftentimes, as we watch television, one of us in our family will make a comment about the younger generation—whatever they are called—Gen X or Millenials or whatever (and I realize that Gen Xers and Millenials may indeed be different generations but my point is that they are YOUNGER). And we invariably say that we all feel very out of touch.

      I felt that way at Northglenn High School as Jeremy and I walked the halls with Kerry. It felt so different than high school for me back in the Dark Ages.

      And so, I wonder: can I still be viable to serve a church that absolutely has to reach the younger generations? This is crucial to the survival of the church. Are you kidding me? First Southern is no exception to this rule.

      But I am very limited and stuck and caught in my own generation.

      Plus, like Jan but not as long as she has served, I have been at this church for almost twenty-five years! Hard to believe, really.

      There are a lot of great things about longevity in a certain place when it comes to pastoral ministry. Sometime, I will enunciate those.

      However, there are also challenges. Staying viable is at the top of the list.

      I was visiting with Scott about some of this the other day. There is a real temptation in pastoral work just to take the road of least resistance. Change is hard and painful and often brings conflict. People don’t like to change. I don’t like it. I’m probably the most regimented and routinized person in the church! I don’t like anything to change.

      But what we are talking about when we refer to viability is the essence of change. Our world is constantly shifting. High school and high school students are not anything like students in my era. WAY BACK then, we had no cell phones, no computers, and no Ipads. And, dare I say, you had to dial a phone number! Actually dial.

      How is it possible for a guy who went to high school before the wheel was invented (except on telephones) to relate to younger people today? And, more importantly, lead a church full of people his age or older to do the same or even care about it?

      That is the crucial question, and I will say upfront that if I knew that in any way I was some sort of barrier and obstacle to this, I would resign immediately.

      So back to the bottom line: how does one stay viable like Billy Graham? Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with keeping up with the most recent trends and getting my ears pierced. (Tattoos and ear or wherever else piercings were not very common way back in the day, either. A guy with an earring would need to fear for his life!). Nope. I think it has to do with one’s relationship with the Lord.

      It has to with being more in love with Him today than the day before AND following Him, relentlessly.

      Yesterday, I received an email from a dear brother. He is one of the pastors from Oklahoma whom I met a few weeks ago. Since that meeting, we have stayed in touch. He sent me a message telling me that the Lord laid me on his heart to pray for.

      I responded, telling him that his message could not have been more timely.

      But as he closed his email, he made a comment about “staying focused on the Son.” Amen.

      As we do that, all the other “stuff” of life fades. The Bible word for it is contentment. Here are Paul’s cogent comments in 1 Timothy 6:

      "These people (talking about false teachers) always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content" (1 Timothy 6:5-8 NLT, parentheses mine).

      I believe that contentment was the way Paul stayed viable. Looking at the Graham special, I am reminded that Billy still leads a very simple life in his home in North Carolina.

      Oh, Lord. You are the key to viability. I just turn this whole “issue” over to you. I choose to focus on You. I choose to love You. I choose to follow You relentlessly, proclaiming the gospel to the day I die, whether I am a pastor or not. And, I will let You take care of the rest.

      Lord, I thank you for Graydon. Bless him today and encourage him in his ministry. Thank you for all the ways over these past few days that You have encouraged me—other emails and other contacts. Thank You, Jesus.

      “Rejoice, ye pure in heart;
      Rejoice, give thanks and sing” (BH 2008, 578). Amen.
      Comments

      A Little Bit of a Scare

      For a few minutes yesterday, it all came back—everything.

      For the past few weeks, my back has felt itchy and a little uncomfortable. And I hadn’t thought that much about it as I scratched my back through my clothes. But yesterday, I scratched back there while I was in the shower, and I felt something—this rather large and pronounced lump.

      The second I felt it, my mind started racing. “Oh, no. What on earth is that?”

      I went back to that Sunday morning in July of 2010 when I felt “the bulge” in my lower abdomen, and it was hard not to panic a bit.

      I also flashed back to a conversation I had had just a few days ago with a friend. He rebuked me a bit, “John, the Lord has healed you of cancer. Why don’t you trust Him? And why do you keep talking about it? It is over and done with.”

      I tried to explain thing to him. I think he remained rather unconvinced.

      Here’s how I feel: I have a problem with any “over and done with” theology about anything! The truth is (and this goes back to Matthew 6:34, the verse God gave me in the early stages of my cancer diagnosis) that we are called to trust the Lord and walk with Him TODAY. Tomorrow has enough worries of its own. Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (I won’t look up the reference to this verse this morning.)

      But here is another thing about it. Someone that has never had cancer doesn’t understand, and I certainly don’t blame him/her. I didn’t either, but there is no way that I am done with cancer and yesterday was one of the huge reasons why. I am always going to be on the lookout, always aware of weird things with my body because I want to be proactive about dealing with it. I’ve learned that catching cancer early is absolutely critical.

      But it isn’t just about cancer. It is about trusting God and being vigilant every single day, even if one hasn’t had cancer. This is the stewardship of health to which the Lord has called each of us.

      So, I was worried a little bit. I have to be honest, but there was no way I was going to let yesterday pass without some doctor somewhere looking at that lump.

      I called my oncologist. His assistant called back, “Well, John, Dr. Jotte says that if it itches, I can’t be a lymphoma. He counsels you to go to your primary care doctor and get the lump checked out.” Huge relief there, but I still didn’t want to take any chances.

      Thus, I called my doctor’s office. Actually, my family and I go to a clinic that has a bunch of doctors. Since our former primary care moved to Cleveland, we are all rather twixt and tween right now.

      Heather, the receptionist, heard what was going on with me and recommended that I go to the dermatologist at the clinic. Okey dokey.

      Dr. Ho (this is the phonetic pronunciation of his name—not sure how it is spelled) examined my back. “Well, John, you have what is called a benign fatty tumor (the use of that word set me back a bit). They are fairly common. If it gets worse, let me know, but many people live with them and do fine.” Turns out my mom has the same thing.

      The doctor went on to explain that if it does get worse, surgery is the only solution.

      He examined me further. “One other thing. I’m noticing some pre-cancerous spots on your face. There is two ways to handle these. We can freeze them or you can use lotion. The lotion tactic takes a little longer.”

      I chose the “freezing” option, and he performed the procedure right then and there. It was and still is a little painful today. I look as if I have been through the wars, but it should be okay in a few days.

      This is how my mind works: the Lord used that lump on my back—something that turned out to be harmless to get me into a doctor who could take care of something that could potentially be very harmful. Praise His Holy Name!

      Therefore, back to my original point as a response to my friend, I am not done with cancer. The truth is no one is! Even if they have never been diagnosed! To say that in no way reflects unbelief. It is just a wide-eyed faith that lives in the real world.

      AND, can I add. I don’t ever want to be done with cancer! How can I forget what the Lord has done for me through cancer—one of the greatest gifts of my life apart from salvation!

      Everything, I mean absolutely everything, has consequences and ramifications and we need to learn from them. This is what Paul is getting at in the final two verses of 1 Timothy 5, verses that are rather intriguing, by the way:

      "Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light" (1 Timothy 5:24, 25 NLT).

      “Others whose sins will not be revealed until later.” Humm. That scares the daylights out of me. Again, it reinforces the fact that I better stay on the straight and narrow, TODAY, as if I needed another reason to do so.

      Lord, thank you for what You did yesterday. Thank you that the lump on my back was not cancer. Thank you that I could get to a dermatologist who could help me with it and with other issues.

      The bottom line is that today, I trust you. If and when cancer emerges (and I certainly hope it does not ever again), I know you will take care of it then, too. In the meantime, I rejoice TODAY. Have I used that word enough?? Today, today, today. THIS is the day.

      “This is the day, this is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.
      Comments

      Purity

      I’m a little dazed this morning. I had a very good but late night at church in a couple of meetings. Somehow, I just zonked out and woke up much later than I normally do. Weird. But my body must have needed the rest.

      But right now, it feels as if it is 2:00 in the afternoon. I just feel that I miss out on the best part of the day when I wake up later.

      Oh, well. I think I will survive. Ha.

      Yesterday, I had a good visit with a brother in Jesus and fellow pastor in our city. His name is Samuel. He serves a church in Globeville—a rather tough, blue-collar community near central Denver. He is originally from Venezuela where he worked for years as an attorney before the Lord moved him to the United States and he sensed the call to ministry.

      He is very involved with the Hispanic pastors fellowship in our city, and on one level, I have been asking him about potential candidates that he might know of who would be available to serve the Hispanic congregation that meets in the building where First Southern worships.

      Not that there is any hurry. I continue to be amazed at what the Lord is doing in our Hispanic congregation. They have no “official” pastor, but they are not short on leadership. Jorge preaches on occasion, but one of the main teachers is a brother named Jose.

      He and his family recently immigrated to the United States from Mexico where he served as a pastor. The Lord led him and his family to Torre Fuerte (the name of the Hispanic congregation, our sister church, at FSBC). In fact, the first Sunday after the former pastor left, Jose and his wife were there. It was clear from day one that the Lord was leading them our way, and they have jumped in with both feet.

      Jose preaches a lot for the church and leads the Wednesday night Bible study.

      Last Sunday, as we were ending our service and as the Hispanic service was starting, Jose said, “Pastor, I need to talk with you.” His English is still a little broken (His English is still much better than my Spanish). When Jorge saw him approach me, he joined us as a translator.

      Basically, what Jose was asking is permission for his congregation to build a little Christmas village in the back lot of the church as an outreach tool to reach the community. I know that sounds almost crazy, but that was his proposal. And I like it. It will take a lot to pull it together but I am hoping that all four congregations who use our building can participate. We will see how the Lord brings all of this together.

      But this is typical of Jose and Torre Fuerte. They are excited about Jesus and about reaching people and the church is adding folks almost weekly.

      Anyway, I diverted there a bit. Back to Samuel, we had a good talk about pastoral ministry, and we share some common struggles. I know also that the two of us are not alone.

      Sure, there are probably some mega churches somewhere that might be doing okay (based on the 3 B’s or some worldly standard), but I am convinced that it is just a tough time for the church in general.

      In the course of our conversation, Samuel interjected, “Well, I met with some of the leaders of our church the other day. I told them that they were not doing a good job, and I laid out the expectations for leaders in our church.”

      He went on to mention giving, attendance, and a few other things. He then said, “And I added this. I told them that they must share their faith with at least one person each and every day—seven days a week.”

      Now, I know for a fact that Samuel doesn’t say this from some ivory tower. He lives this HIMSELF. Every time we go out to lunch he visits with someone at the restaurant, and it is clear that he knows him/her, and they know him. It is obvious.

      All of this is deeply convicting for me in a couple of areas. First, I don’t share my faith each and every day. Why not? How about a list of excuses that I get frustrated about when I hear them from others?

      Second, as we were driving along, I got convicted about my prayer life in a certain area. It was as if the Lord was backing me in a corner even as I was driving my truck. It was blatant.

      Third, and this is the most important thing: I think it is time to raise the bar for leaders in the church I serve.

      One of the temptations that pastors experience in times of struggle is to lower the bar. I mean, after all, aren’t we just glad for anyone who will do anything? This doesn’t seem to be the biblical standard. Notice what Paul says:

      "I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the highest angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone. Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader. Do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure" (1 Timothy 5:21, 22 NLT).

      NEVER be in a hurry about appointing a leader. Oh, man. I could write a book on that one. It is much easier to deal with problems on the front end than the back end.

      Once an improper leader is in place, it is much more difficult to get rid of him or her. It is a lot better to take a lot of time at first and find things out.

      But beyond all of that, here is the standard: keep yourself pure. Purity. That is a significant word that gets at one’s private life and heart. It deals with the essence of character. As the old expression goes, “who you are when no one is looking is who you are.”

      Food for thought. I could say more, but I need to get moving on my sermon for Sunday.

      Lord, thank you for brother Samuel and his ministry in Globeville. Bless this brother and his ministry. Thank you that he practices what he preaches. Help him as he challenges leaders in his congregation.

      Lord, the spotlight is on me. Thank you for using this brother to challenge me. Help me heed what You showed me yesterday and by your grace and the Holy Spirit who lives in me, keep myself pure.

      “How can I say thanks for the things
      You have done for me
      Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me?” (BH 2008, 577). Amen. I love this Andre Crouch song!
      Comments

      Northglenn High School

      Okay, I have to admit that I went into yesterday with some fairly strong preconceived notions about public high school in Northglenn. I will admit it.

      I will also acknowledge that I haven’t been in a high school where classes are actually going on for twenty years or more. In the mid-1990’s, I went to a high school with our youth pastor during lunch hour to chat with some students in our youth group. Prior to that, it had been 18 years.

      So, I hope you see from that that basically, it has been a long time! Hello!

      I will go further to say that my prejudices were very negative. I just had no idea what Jeremy and I were in for as we walked in that high school yesterday.

      Wow, I am very glad to say that I was way wrong!

      We had not been standing in the office very long until Cody came to greet us along with Terrell. Cody is actually affiliated with Goodwill. Turns out that this charity has folks that work with High Schools all over the city. Humm. Didn’t know that. He teaches a class at the school that helps students find employment if they choose to go that route after high school.

      It also helps students find jobs if they drop out of high school. Apparently, the dropout rate at Northglenn High is about twenty-five percent.

      Terrell is a principal in charge of attendance and discipline.

      These two men walked us down a hallway or two to a brand new part of the school. It used to be the swimming pool, but school officials had the area remodeled to house the STEM section. I hope I get this right, but STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

      We got the grand tour of all the very impressive classrooms in this section of the school. When we finished and after we had a very interesting conversation with Cody and Terrell, Kerry met up with us. He was our original contact. I don’t have his business card handy, so I won’t give his job title correctly, but he is in charge of community involvement with the school.

      He actually took us into three classrooms as classes were going on. In each class, a pre-designated student came up to us to greet us and explain what was going on in the classroom. Each class has one of these greeters or hosts. (I can’t remember the “official” name). Jeremy and I were very impressed.

      Our visit culminated with a conversation with the principal. She took the time to visit with us and tell us more about the school. Her name is Sherry.

      Kerry and Sherry made it clear that they are seeking out partners from the community to be involved with the school. Sherry used the term “give and take.” They were just asking us to come in and help them out. She made it clear that they wanted to help us as well. I nearly fell out of my chair!

      The philosophy of education is very interesting. This is true in the STEM section, but I learned it is pervasive throughout the school as well. Students in classes are given a problem to solve and through collaboration are asked to address it and solve it.

      For example, one group of students is examining the problem of eating disorders and how to help people who are struggling with them.

      The city of Northglenn has actually approached the school to help them with some issues.

      The students work on the problem and then present their solution in some sort of public forum with a panel of people. As the students are working on a problem, the school invites mentors from the community to come in and consult with them.

      As Kerry explained this, he said, “As we start to work on another problem, we get in touch with our partners. Maybe there is someone in the church who is an expert in this area who would be available to help us out.”

      Sherry jumped in, “There are so many ways our community partners can jump in. For example, we help families with food and clothing. I just brought some clothes today that we are going to give to a family.”

      When I finally picked myself off the floor, I said, “Well, we are very interested in being a partner with Northglenn High School and we are honored to do so. I guess I have to tell you both that this is a little shocking because we are used to suspicion and an adversarial attitude when it comes to public school and church. You both have to know that we would not be here to proselyte. We would be here to serve.”

      This is when Sherry said, “Well, we are not just expecting you to help us. We are available to help you.”

      I went on to mention that I would like someone from the school to come and tell our church about this. Sherry and Kerry jumped in. Both said the same thing. “We would be glad to come, but it would not be an adult school official or teacher, but we have students who could come and tell about the school.”

      As the conversation was winding down, I just began to feel that my head was going to explode (in a good way—if an exploding head can be good!?!).

      The sky is the limit, but I have to tell you that the Lord used all of this to encourage me. Is it possible for lost folks to encourage believers?

      Let me back up a minute. As we left, Kerry told Jeremy and me that he had been a youth pastor in a church in our community.

      Thus, I can see all of this as one brother’s way of opening the door for the gospel to be shared in a huge mission field, but it is clear that he is making a huge difference in this high school.

      Again, as I sit here this morning, I am still so deeply impressed and encouraged. This is, as Henry Blackaby puts it in Experiencing God, an invitation to join the Lord in His work!

      There is so much more to say, but I won’t at this point. Now, the ball is in the court of the church as to how we respond to this awesome opportunity.

      On one of our visits to one of the classes, as “luck” would have it (just a joke; I don’t believe in luck), we got to see Tom—one of our youth. I think he was a little shocked and speechless when we walked in the class! I think I am going to encourage Tom to stand up and tell about the opportunities at his school.

      See, I did learn something from Sherry and Kerry! Ha.

      Lord, thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you are doing and what you allowed Jeremy and me to be a part of yesterday. This is a huge open door of ministry. Give us the grace and boldness and love to go through it.

      There are other schools in the area as well …

      “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong;’
      Let the poor say, ‘I am rich’” (BH 2008, 576). Amen.
      Comments

      Worse Than an Unbeliever

      How can someone be worse than an unbeliever? Well, I want to get to the verse for today, but first I need to share some things.

      First, thanks for your prayers for me. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate them.

      One of the things I decided when I started writing this blog over three years ago was that I was going to be honest. I was going to tell how I really feel, just as I did in my journal all the years I have had one. Why not? God knows anyway, right? I’m certainly not giving Him any new information!

      This is the essence of biblical confession. The Greek word is “homologeo.” It means to say the same the same thing. In short, “tell it like it is.” I love this about my Lord. He operates in the real world He created.

      But I think it is important to carry this further. I think “confession” ought to be the rule in our peer relationships in the church. I would like to see this type of thing happen when we meet in the worship gathering. We are very ready to pray about illnesses and crises but only certain kinds. Other “types” of needs, we aren’t. And I will hasten to say that some may not be appropriate for the larger congregational setting.

      However, I would like to be in a church where someone could say, “I am really discouraged.” Or, “I am depressed. Please pray for me.”

      And here is what I would consider to be the proper response to that. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Indeed, I will pray for you.”

      And, by the way, I got that response from several people, and it means so much. Thanks. But the good response is not what happens all the time.

      Instead, what often occurs is one of these responses. “Big deal. I have a lot bigger problems than THAT.” Or, “Well, what are you depressed about? Let’s fix it.” Or, “You shouldn’t be depressed. That isn’t spiritual.” OR, and here is our culture, “Well, you need to go to a doctor and get an anti-depressant.”

      The truth is that discouragement and depression (now I am not referring to the clinical type. This may require medication at times and that is okay) is a complicated matter. There are real physical, emotional, spiritual, and circumstantial issues involved. Plus, we are human! Our emotions vacillate and that is okay!

      I for one believe that the Lord allows depression and discouragement to teach us some things. I don’t enjoy it, but I’m learning not to freak out, but just to wait. This is the mode I am in right now.

      There are tangible issues out there, and I’m praying and waiting for God—not quick artificial fixes. And, honestly, I am really questioning the Lord on some things in my life and in the church right now. I’ve also learned from my reading of the Psalms that God can handle tough questions also. He hasn’t pulled a “Fred G. Sanford” and fallen off His throne in shock yet!

      Back to yesterday and your prayers—again, I really appreciate them. The Lord just walked me through the day. There were no lightning bolts or dramatic interventions. I think I am still processing what is going on with me, and I still am not ruling out some type of physical issue.

      In the meantime, the beat goes on. And that’s okay.

      Let me quote the verse for today in 1 Timothy. It is stark and blatant:

      "But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers" (1 Timothy 5:8 NLT). In this final chapter, Paul is giving Tim some instructions about who qualifies for church benevolence, and he shares the very good principle that if someone has family, it is the family’s responsibility to help them.

      This is a very good cardinal principle that we use (most of the time) at First Southern. When someone asks for money (someone who is a member), I always inquire about his/her family. On rare occasions, family help may not be available, but for the most part, it is their responsibility.

      For family that does not take responsibility for their own, they are worse than unbelievers! Wow. How can that be possible? Well, I think that, as believers, we have more responsibility than lost folks do. Once we get saved, the Lord’s first and immediate work is to show us the priority of loving our families as the second priority. It is the top obligation next to our relationship with the Lord.

      Those who don’t live this priority will face stiff discipline from God. I’ve seen it. Just to type this gives me chills.

      So, this is a good gut check and reminder for individual believers and for the church in ministry.

      One more thing: please pray for Jeremy and me today. We have an appointment at Northglenn High School. We are going there today to talk with a guy about a special program at the school called STEM in which they invite people from the community to be involved. I will give more details after tomorrow.

      After this first meeting, we will be meeting with the Assistant Principal. She is the wife of a church planter friend in Stapleton, and she has a heart for ministry (just as her husband does). We are just going to seek ways to share Jesus at the school and minister to folks there.

      By the way, I consider this opportunity as a way the Lord uses to minister to me when I get down. It seems rather counter-intuitive that God’s solution to discouragement in ministry is more opportunities to minister. Humm. I can’t figure that one out, but I do know that if we wait until we feel like it, we would never serve God.

      In the loving and gentle way that only Jesus has, He just nudges us back out on the field for the next play.

      Lord, I still don’t know what is going on with me. I may never. But I thank you for a new day and a new opportunity to commune with you and wait on you and serve you.

      Help us to help people in the way you desire.

      I pray for this opportunity today as Jeremy and I develop relationships at this school. It is incredible that we have this open door. Only You can do that.

      Take care of everyone who is reading this today that feels depressed or discouraged or “under the gun” right now.

      “Give thanks with a grateful heart;
      Give thanks to the Holy One.
      Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son” (BH 2008, 576). The rest of the words of this song really minister to me … Thank you, Gentle Savior. Amen.
      Comments

      Hit Bottom

      As I sit here this morning, I still do not have a lot of answers about what happened to me yesterday.

      It didn’t take Betty and Calla a long time to notice it. I appreciate both of them.

      As I started my day at church, I just started to feel bad. It wasn’t an illness or virus, just a feeling as if the bottom had dropped out and I was in a free fall.

      One explanation (from a physical standpoint) is that I ate a lot of sugar on Saturday night. Marilyn made these chocolate/peanut butter cupcakes that are to die for. Over the past several months, we all have tried to wean off sugar for the most part, but she just decided to make them. I was glad, and I enjoyed one Saturday night.

      And, I might as well fess up here. I find myself dabbling in sugar a little bit more frequently these days. Please pray that I will tighten up in that area of discipline. I don’t want to gain all my weight back. I can honestly see that happening, and now I know how it works. One loses weight, but then it is easy to reward yourself and get back into previous lifestyle habits.

      Anyway, one thing I will say is that when you develop a lifestyle of avoiding processed sugar, when you do dabble (or gobble—ha), you feel terrible when you do it. This is another deterrent that is out there when you are tempted or at least, IT SHOULD BE.

      Maybe this is an explanation of what happened on a physical level, but when I got home, my cascade to the bottom continued.

      The truth is that I am very discouraged on many levels and deeply frustrated.

      I don’t want to go into detail at this point. Suffice it to say that I just would appreciate your prayers.

      Pray also for my mom and sis. I know it is hard for them when I get “this way.” That is more often these days.

      I’m kind of dancing here … just because I don’t want to go into detail. But what to do?

      Lord, what do I do?

      Even as I prayed that, the passage for today came to mind. Let me go ahead and quote it here:

      "Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters" (1 Timothy 5:1, 2 NLT).

      I am making a case for this as we are in the process of reevaluating the ministry in our church. Again, I don’t want to elaborate on this process in the blog AT THIS POINT.

      But one thing that I am learning is that God has built the church to operate on a familial level. Scripture uses “family” terms to describe the relationships we have in the body of Christ. Older men are “fathers.” Older women are “mothers.” Younger men are brothers, younger women sisters.

      He is urging Timothy to regard these folks as he would members of his own family.

      I think one of my main jobs is to teach these family relationships in the church. Too often, in our contemporary church culture, we segment people off in age group categories. I understand the educational reasons for this. It makes sense that a preschool child does not learn in the same way as a teenager or senior adult would. I get all that.

      However, when we separate and divide folks, we miss out on a very important opportunity—multi-generational interaction. We need to access the wealth of experience that seniors have. Seniors need to see their role as mentors AND younger folks need to learn to respect and value the wisdom that comes with maturity. How about that?

      What does this mean for me today? I need to call a couple of older men I respect and ask for advice and help. These relationships are a resource that the Lord provides.

      We need to teach people how to cultivate relationships in the church and the kingdom and use them as a provision of the Lord.

      Physician, heal yourself. Practice what you preach.

      If I don’t, I think I am going to continue to tank.

      Stay tuned. Come back to tomorrow to see how the Lord works. I have every confidence He will, and I will have a story to tell. He hasn’t let me down yet.

      No clichés. No formulas. No little ditties.

      Lord, “here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” Amen.
      Comments

      Pay Attention to Yourself

      That sounds selfish, doesn’t it? I wish someone had given me this advice and I had listened to it long ago.

      Here is the quote for the day:

      "Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:15, 16 NLT).

      The actual words in the NLT are “keep a close watch on how you live.”

      I just got the news that Coach John Fox of the Broncos has to have heart surgery. Earlier in the year, doctors told him about a condition with his aorta, but he opted to delay the surgery until after the season. However, after an “incident” on the golf course in North Carolina yesterday, delay is no longer an option.

      He now is forced to take care of himself.

      This is the only way some of us will listen—if we are forced.

      Of course, as all of you know who have read this blog over the past three years, that is EXACTLY what happened to me—I was forced.

      These verses today are a good reminder, a good gut check on where the progress of my learning has taken me. I have a few thoughts on all of this.

      First, I feel more productive as a pastor than I have ever been. My workdays not in the office have contributed to this greatly. I’m much more able to give extended time to my studies and prayer time. This is a major part of my job.

      Second, I still feel the pressure from some in regard to this schedule. I’m not going to name any names. Who they are is not the main issue anyway. It still goes back to my tendency to be a people-pleaser and to want everyone to “like” me.

      I continue to be reminded that this is absolutely impossible. I know. I really tried, and still people got mad and left the church. More often than not, these were folks that I really tried to keep happy, maybe more than the others. Still …

      This is just something I have to deal with on an emotional level. How does one do that? I really don’t have any profound answers except prayer. I just turn these things over to Jesus.

      Third, I think taking care of oneself is broader, much broader than rest or more effective work habits. It has to do with the emotional aspect of the work we do.

      After Nancy’s funeral last Wednesday, I was totally exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I got that tired—maybe during chemo. Sure, there was some physical involved in the fatigue, but most of it, I am convinced was emotional. And emotional fatigue takes longer than physical, but it is more urgent to address. Why? Well, I think, if not address, it leads to carelessness and bad decisions, both of which can be dangerous or even deadly.

      This is a weird thing to say but it is true. When I am emotionally fatigued, I don’t pay as much attention to the road when driving as I do otherwise. Just stuff like that. Details (which I am not good at even in my best days) fall by the wayside more readily.

      In the past, I just kept pushing, kept going and it caused damage in relationships when I would forget or miss appointments and fail to remember to do things I promised people.

      All these explanations are well and good, but Paul gives a much larger reason to pay attention to how one lives and one’s doctrine. This focus assures that you will be saved first and foremost.

      The longer I go, the more convicted I am that I can never take salvation flippantly or lightly.

      Of course, I am patently NOT saying that one can lose his/her salvation, but too often as Baptists, this doctrine of “once saved, always saved” leads to passivity and laziness. This is never the proper response from a biblical standpoint.

      My relationship with Jesus ought to receive the greatest attention, urgent attention of anything in my life.

      The issue is not whether or not I am going to hell. That’s already taken care of in the blood of Christ. Praise God! The issue is: will I continue to please him and be viable.

      “Viable” is a word that Jan used the other day. She leads worship at North Metro. She was at the funeral last Wednesday. We got a chance to visit and catch up. I respect her a lot. She has been serving Jesus faithfully for 26 years. We commiserated a bit as she shared, “I often wonder if I am still viable in what I do in ministry.”

      I didn’t get a chance to respond to her in that regard, but I concur. Amen, Jan. Right there with you.

      I believe that this is what Paul is talking about here. As I pay attention to myself (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) and my teaching, I stay viable in my salvation relationship and thus, put myself in a better spot to allow Him to use me to lead others to faith in Jesus.

      That’s the goal.

      Lord, I thank you again for cancer. I’m still reaping the benefits of this—one of the greatest gifts of my life.

      I pray for Coach Fox today, not just because I am a Bronco’s fan, but also because you have used him in conjunction with this passage, as a blatant reminder that I needed today.

      I choose to take care of myself today and thus be better suited for you to use me, if You so choose. Up to You, Jesus. It is all up to you.

      “My heart is filled with thankfulness to Him who bore my pain” (BH 2008, 575). Amen.
      Comments

      A Lost Art in Worship Today

      A few years ago, I read the verses I am going to quote this morning, and the Holy Spirit convicted me about one particular part of the passage and brought to mind another.

      "Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them" (1 Timothy 4:12, 13 NLT).

      The part that GOT me was the first specific instruction and it kind of struck me as strange. I get the “encouraging the believers” and the “teaching” part, but “focus on reading the Scriptures to the church”? Huh? What is the big deal?

      When I visit other churches, now, I have a keen ear to this, and it is shameful. Most pastors, if they read the scriptures at all, just gloss over them, smearing and mispronouncing words almost as if the activity were an afterthought.

      This is God’s Word we are talking about here!

      The Lord started to work on me in this regard in my first trip to England in 1985. One of the most impressive aspects of most of the services I attended was the reading of the Scriptures. Most of the time, it was not the pastor/preacher who read them. Someone from the church was charged with reading and he/she (yes, some women read) would stand at a podium, many holding the Bible in front of them with reverence, and reading with a loud and distinct voice, with emphasis on the key terms, in British English (of course). It was a thing of beauty, but more than that, it was extremely powerful.

      I will tell you: it takes time and study to read the Bible in THAT way, and done properly, one does not need a sermon. Did I just say that? I’d better be careful here. Folks from church might read this and say, “Yeah, right.” No, they wouldn’t. Well … Ha!

      Anyway, it is very powerful and done right can be very worshipful.

      Well, it took me a few years as pastor at First Southern to give the reading of the Word of God the emphasis it deserves in the worship services at the church. And, even as I write this today, I am challenged to continue to give it attention and effort and focus in the following ways.

      First, I think it is crucial for people to “hear” the text themselves and the best way for this to occur is for them to read it THEMSELVES. I can’t remember where I heard this, but in an evangelism training I received somewhere several years ago, the teacher encouraged us to use a Bible in sharing (a novel concept), but when we cite a verse, actually to turn the Bible for the person to whom you are sharing so that he/she can read the verse out loud. Then, they see it, hear it, and speak it themselves. This is better. And I wholeheartedly agree.

      This is the same principle in operation as people read the scriptures out loud.

      Second, as in music, I think people need to be conducted as they read, varying the pace and emphasizing words and pausing, just as worship leaders lead people to sing. I do this, and it is not always smooth. This often gets a little jumbled up, but it is amazing to see how folks in the church learn to follow when you do this every week.

      Third, I think it is crucial actually to have people look up the passage and read it from an actual book. This is why I always preach out of the version that we have in the pews—the exact same book with the same page numbers. I learned a long time ago that to assume people can readily find books of the Bible without a long search starting with the Table of Contents is a dream world.

      I still have a vivid memory of a lady I visited a few years ago. She said, “Pastor, I was a little confused Sunday. You told us to take the Bible and then you mentioned the book of John. Was that another book in addition to the Bible? I didn’t have that book.”

      She did not know that the Bible is literally a book of books.

      But we assume so much in our biblically illiterate culture, and it is getting more so each day.

      Back to this third point, on occasion, John (who operates the video aspect of our worship service) makes slides of the scriptures. I like this as well because it get people’s heads up and allows them to participate more readily.

      But either way has its benefits—actually reading from a book or from a screen. Just so that it occurs.

      Fourth, one thing that convicts me as I write this today is that when one comes to proper names in the Bible, it is incumbent on the lead “reader” to have researched the correct pronunciation of those names. I have done this, I admit. But I think it is a cop-out just to gloss over them or change them to English names. This does a disservice to the scriptures, I believe.

      With the Internet, there are ways to find out the correct pronunciation of difficult names or terms. Do the work. Don’t be lazy.

      Again, this is God’s Word we are talking about!

      One of the things that occurs to me is that all these books of the Bible were read to churches “back in the day.” When Paul wrote his letters, he fully intended for them to be shared orally. There were no Xerox copiers quite yet.

      And, how about this statement in the book of Revelation: "God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3, NLT). How about that?

      One of these days, I would like to do a reading of this whole book. Close the book when I am done and give an invitation. How about that?

      God’s Word can speak for itself, and we need to give it the best opportunity to do just that. This helps me understand why Paul urged his young preacher disciple to put it at the top of the list.

      Lord, thank you for your Word. As each day goes by and I read it, it is more alive and relevant and powerful than ever.

      I pray that I would give it the place it deserves in public worship. We do not worship the Bible; we worship You, but we worship You as our scriptures present You to us.

      Help me read the Word effectively and powerfully tomorrow—the text is only three verses. All the more reason to do a good job.

      “Happy day, happy day,
      When Jesus washed my sins away” (BH 2008, 574). Amen.
      Comments

      Training for Godliness

      As I sit here this morning, I’m trying to figure out how long it has been. I think it is about seven years. Seven! Wow.

      What am I talking about?

      Well, let me back up for a moment. For some reason, as I started as pastor of First Southern in 1989, I realized fairly quickly that if I didn’t exercise regularly, I would be in big trouble. The stress of the job impacted me immediately. I was living on my own, and of course, I was not eating properly. I started gaining weight, whereas, before, up to that time in my life, I never had a problem with it before, and I ate just about anything I wanted.

      So, my family and I found Healthmark and Rob Gleser. Dr. Gleser’s story was interesting. He had had cancer, and through his experiences, realized that he needed a healthier way to live, so he developed a nutrition and exercise program combined. My mom, sister, and I all went through his program and ended up with a notebook full of information. All well and good.

      As a result, I bought a Lifecycle stationary bike and started pedaling away four to five mornings a week. It was okay at first, but I very quickly became bored with it, and more sporadic. I started to use a stair climber as well (for variety). Again, it was okay, but I still didn’t feel as if I was getting anywhere. And, I noticed that I was continuing to gain weight, just like most Americans. A pound here and there over the course of the years really adds up. Hello, McFly!

      My frustration mounted as I continued to try to exercise on my own. I found a personal trainer at the Margaret Carpenter Recreation Center in Thornton, and asked if she could help me. Her first question, I now, realize was something that got me started in the right direction. She asked, “What are your goals for working out?” Humm. I had never really thought about THAT before.

      And, looking back, I am not sure I gave her a good answer. But she gave me a program of weight lifting and cardio stuff and sent me on my way. What do you think happened? You got it. The same old story—I lagged in my discipline and got sporadic and eventually stopped. Same old, some old.

      Then, in late 2006, I came across an interesting advertisement somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where it was) about a GOLF personal trainer. The ad gave a phone number. I called it and Dee answered the phone. Turns out that he is a believer and had a heart for ministering to folks as well as getting them in shape.

      He asked me what my goals were and pressed me to be specific about what I wanted to accomplish and urged me to sign up for “Bootcamp.” This was essentially a class that met early in the morning a couple of days a week.

      I always had an aversion to exercise classes. This only intensified (during the time I was searching for something I could do to work out) as a friend got me involved in Hot Yoga. Oh, man. I have never sweated as much as I did when taking those classes. It was hard. But I didn’t continue for some reasons (not just laziness). I will talk about that some other time.

      Anyway, I got started with Dee late in the Fall of 2006 (if my memory serves correctly) and, to make a long story less long, I have continued to this very day, and I cannot begin to tell you how the Lord has used this in my life, not only on a physical level but also in many other areas.

      I give all the glory to the Lord for the way He has helped me through my cancer experiences. He has done it, but I honestly believe that, from a human standpoint, physical conditioning has played a role in my recovery.

      But also, late last Fall, Dee started (for lack of a better term) a fat loss class. He brought in experts in nutrition and challenged all of us in the class. We actually had two classes. This was the avenue the Lord used to help me lose 30 pounds and basically maintain my weight to this day.

      There are many other things I could share, but that is enough for now. All of this came to mind, and I thank God for every step of this “physical training” journey the Lord has led me on, as I read the verses for this morning:

      "Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’ This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it" (1 Timothy 4:7-9 NLT).

      Here is the statement that impacts me: physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better.” Wow. Amen. But as I read that, I am deeply convicted that many believers are floundering as I was trying to exercise and keep at it on my own. And they struggle for the same reasons I was.

      I am burdened that it is the responsibility of the church to help folks get in excellent shape “spiritually.” How does this occur? Well, I want to relate it to some of the things I have just shared.

      First, why is it that we hand people a notebook full of information (just like Dr. Gleser did for my family) and send them off? This guarantees nothing! How many times have I done this, to my shame?

      Second, I have typically resisted goal setting because I don’t think they are spiritual. My goals often shoot too low.

      However, I do believe that we need to give folks godly targets to shoot at (to use another metaphor), and as I sit here this morning, I believe that the Bible gives us some of those targets.

      Why is this important? Because, without a target, one is sure to hit it—nothing.

      Third, there is no substitute for accountability and a group. Trying to wing it on your own is a prescription for disaster and not continuing.

      When I go to the gym and I see folks trying to lift weights, my heart goes out to them. Most have no idea what they are doing, and they could get injured as a result. It is a joke.

      And I am not trying to sound like some kind of expert. After seven years, I realize that I still don’t know what I am doing. That’s why I appreciate having a coach and a mentor when it comes to working out—he sees that I do the exercises properly so that I can reach a goal.

      This all goes back to a comment that Brian made in one of our Wednesday night studies—too often we formalize ministry by creating a program for it when we need is coaching and mentoring. We never have enough of that. Amen.

      Well, food for thought, but I am convicted on a personal level as well this morning. For the past seven years, I have focused on physical fitness and feel that I am in the best shape I have ever been in my life. And I thank God for it. Now, though, the challenge for me personally is spiritual fitness …

      Lord, thank you for Dee as a brother in Jesus (first of all) and as a fitness coach. I pray that you would help me to do a better job of equipping the saints to be spiritually fit. My mind is literally racing with this today, Lord. Thank you for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.
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