A Stroll At Leisure With God

Daystar Plan, Day 153: A Message No One Wants to Hear

Yesterday, I was having a cup of coffee with a couple of friends. They were asking me about the challenges I face as a pastor during this time of year.

I replied, “The holidays are the most difficult time of the year for a lot of people. There is more depression and suicides than you would ever imagine.”

There was a pregnant pause at that point, and one of the guys said, “Well, on that happy note, it is time for me to get going.”

Certainly, no one wants to hear THAT. And of course, I do not relish saying it to anyone, but it is true.

The Christmas lights are starting to come out. The Christmas carols are playing everywhere. The decorations are out all over. But still …

One of the reasons this time of year is challenging for many is that it seems to bring out grief. If you have lost a loved one, you tend to miss him or her more this time of year. For others, it is a reminder of things that you want but have never had. I could go on and on. I think I have said enough.

It is hard really to dwell on all of this, isn’t it?

This is exactly the problem that Ezekiel faced in his ministry and in his personal life.

I’ll tell you: one of the hardest things the Lord asked anyone to do EVER is the following: "Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears" (Ezekiel
24:16 NLT).

Man, I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but the Lord wanted to use Ezekiel’s uncharacteristic response as a platform for a sermon.

As I read the book of Ezekiel, I am impressed with all the ways and means that the Lord used his servant to get people’s attention. The above situation was only one of those ways. I get the idea that not many people paid attention.

It is the same as my friends’ response to some of the dark realities of Christmas. I don’t like to think and talk about them either.

I still remember hearing about the rash of suicides one year about this time at Thornton High School—six teenagers killing themselves. TEENAGERS!

This serves as background for some comments Peter makes about another time period no one wants to talk or hear about: the Second Coming of Jesus. "Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness" (2 Peter 3:11-13).

How about that? Somehow, I feel impressed this year to use the occasion of the celebration of Jesus’ first coming as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem as a platform to remind folks that He is coming again—and very soon. The next time, there will be no manger scenes. Every eye will see Him, and He comes to execute judgment.

Peter’s exhortation is for those who know about the Second Coming. He urges us to look “forward to the day of God and hurry it along.” How does one do it? Not sure, exactly.

What comes to mind is Jesus’ statement in Mark 13 about the fact that, when the whole world hears the gospel, THEN Jesus will return. So, this gives urgency to our missionary task. We are called to talk to people who just don’t want to hear about it—whatever aspect of our message we preach, whether it is the immanence of death for us all, the possibility of the destruction of our nation because of sin, OR the Second Coming.

Lord, give us the grace to continue sharing a gospel in all its implications, a message this season, an aspect of this season that no one wants to hear. So what? They never have. They crucified You. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 152: The Vine Analogy

There is a metaphor that is very prominent in both the Old and New Testaments. I know I have read the book of Ezekiel several times, but this is the first time I have noticed it there.

Let me back up for a moment. The first time it appears is in Isaiah 5. It is a very vivid image of a man planting a vineyard and, of course, hoping it produces something. In addition, he fenced it in and built a watchtower in the middle of it. In other words, he did everything he could to see that it was protected so that it could produce.

But, you know the story. Sadly, tragically, it does not.

And, when the owner of the vineyard realizes this, he just lets that piece of property go. He no longer cares for it or spends any time on it. He is done.

Ezekiel picks up on this imagery. It comes up a few times in the chapters I read this morning on the Daystar Plan. Let me cite a couple of passages:

"And this is what the Sovereign LORD says: The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest. Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned. And I will see to it that if they escape from one fire, they will fall into another. When I turn against them, you will know that I am the LORD" (Ezekiel 15:6-7 NLT).

"Your mother was like a vine planted by the water’s edge. It had lush, green foliage because of the abundant water. Its branches became strong— strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter. It grew very tall, towering above all others. It stood out because of its height and its many lush branches. But the vine was uprooted in fury and thrown down to the ground. The desert wind dried up its fruit and tore off its strong branches, so that it withered and was destroyed by fire" (Ezekiel 19:10-12 NLT).

Both passages allude to God’s ultimate destruction of the vine. He throws them into the fire.

If we just had the Old Testament, then this “vine story” would be a tragic one indeed, but thank goodness for Jesus.

John 15 is the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament tragedy. Once again, in God’s mercy, He starts over. Jesus says, “I am the Vine.” The people of Israel as a nation failed in that role. They were not up to it. The sad truth is that none of us are. None of us are capable of bearing the fruit of God’s character on our own.

The tragic history of Israel confirms this. This is why God sent Jesus.

We function better as branches when we are attached to the Vine. Now there is no excuse. But even then, when the branches don’t produce, Jesus says that God the Gardener throws them into the fire.

This is how I would explain this. First, it is NOT about losing one’s salvation when one is genuinely saved.

However, if a person is saved, he or she WILL bear fruit. It will happen because that person is connected to the Source. But if a person does not bear fruit, he or she proves that they were never saved in the first place.

I believe that John 15 is ultimately about the church, not just individual believers. Churches are called to bear fruit. That is only possible if congregations have the right focus of worship. Otherwise, Jesus comes in discipline to take care of things.

People who are just church members but are not saved don’t make it. They drop away and never go back to church, but for true believers, the discipline of the Lord causes them to get back on the right track.

The Vine Analogy is all about the passionate love and mercy of the Lord.

Without that, Lord, none of us would escape the fire. Have mercy on me, today. Please be patient with the church I serve. Fill us with Your Spirit so that we can indeed bear fruit. Today. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 151: Noah, Daniel, and Job

In Ezekiel 14, the Lord continues to speak to the people about their sin of idolatry and the impending judgment.

He then goes on to list three very prominent Old Testament characters: Noah, Daniel, and Job. Several times in this passage He says, “Even if these three men prayed for you, it would not help.”

I guess what you could call these three men are the top three intercessors in the Old Testament. How about being on THAT list?

I couple these references to some that I read in 1 Peter. "Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God" (1 Peter
5:2 NLT).

One of the things that the Holy Spirit has impressed on my heart is that I have dropped a bit in praying specifically for everyone on the membership roll of the church.

I used to have a directory with me always. I divided the names up and prayed for a certain number each day. When that felt “too mechanical,” I tried several other approaches that I feel are less effective.

My conclusion: sometimes prayer (like other disciplines of the Christian life) FEELS mechanical, but too bad, so sad. DO IT anyway!

On a broader level, I had organized my days into what I prayed for each and every day and what I prayed for once a week or once a month.

Again, at times, it got rather cumbersome, but I find that if I don’t organize myself, I just don’t do it.

Please pray for me in this regard.

Well, just a couple of other things to share. I mentioned Children’s Bibles a few days ago. I did find a couple that I took to Juanita’s granddaughter. One is called the
Adventure Bible. It is the whole Bible geared for children ages 6 to 10. The other Bible, the one Jayla actually chose, is called The Big Picture Bible. It has a lot of pictures, but the additional thing about it is that there is an app that goes with it.

This is very cool, but when one finds a picture with a little code on it, one can link that code with the app (kind of like Qrafter—an app I have that does this) and you get to see an animated story that goes with the picture. Isn’t that incredible?

It is still important for parents and grandparents to help children read the Word and pray for them as they do. This is a crucial component, no matter what type of Bible a parent may choose.

I will add Jayla to my prayer list as I pray for Ray and Juanita.

One more thing—my family and I had a very good day. We went out to eat and upon returning to the house had a very quiet and restful day. It was awesome.

Lord, thank You for a great day yesterday. I pray for Jayla as she begins to read the Bible for herself. I pray for her mom and dad and older sister as well as granddad and grandmother.

Of all the things that I would like to be known for (not among the crowds in pop culture—not THAT kind of notoriety—but the heavenly kind), the top of the list is that YOU could count on me to pray. I confess my wavering discipline in that regard. I turn back to You. Holy Spirit, re-invigorate my prayer life. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 150: Two More Things to be Thankful For

In spite of having a rather abbreviated workday yesterday, I was totally exhausted when I got back to the house. I have not felt that well the past couple of days, but I am thankful for a bit of a reprieve that allows me NOT to be getting chemo yesterday and today.

The doctor moved things back a week because of Thanksgiving. Again, I am grateful for this. I have already begun my preparation for chemo next week. I’m really going to try to do things different and hopefully stave off getting as sick as I have been the first two times. We will see.

Well, I mentioned that I am thankful for NOT having chemo this week. That, however, is not one of the two things I wanted to mention this morning.

In the Daystar Plan, I am continuing reading in the prophecy of Ezekiel. I believe this is one of the forgotten books of the Old Testament. Rarely does one hear sermons preached from this book. Why? Well, God asks the prophet to do some rather strange things AND the message (for the most part) is one of doom and judgment.

I believe that the Lord raised up his servant “Zeke” to do and say some drastic things as the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah were at the end of the rope—one final attempt from the mercy heart of God to get the attention of folks who were steeped in idolatry. Ezekiel 8 is sobering as the Lord lifts Zeke up by the hair (ouch!) and transports him to the city, giving him various glimpses of the idol worship even in the inner sanctum of the Temple and in various places.

In short, it was pervasive in the nation, and God had had enough.

Now, again, before I go on, it is hard for me to believe that we here in the United States have not surpassed the idol worship in Judah by MILES. Why the Lord hasn’t wiped us off the face of the earth is beyond me. It is just his mercy and grace, and we dare not take more advantage of it.

As I read Ezekiel 4-9 this morning, I wonder how thankful all of us would be if an enemy had invaded our land, destroyed all our homes, deprived us of food and water (so that each were very carefully rationed out), and horror of horrors, families were making the decision, not about how much turkey to eat today, but who was going to be the next person in the family to be eaten! How gruesome! Not a very “encouraging” topic, to use Joel Osteen’s term.

Please understand. As we give thanks today, I’m not saying that it is wrong to thank God for our homes, our family, and the food we are all going to eat, but please, don’t forget to thank God for his mercy. Once that is removed, we are done as a nation. DONE.

All of this is background for the two things I discovered in 1 Peter 4 (the New Testament reading in the Daystar Plan for today) to be thankful for.

First, "God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another" (1 Peter
4:10 NLT). The big Give is salvation, but isn’t it wonderful that the Holy Spirit who dwells within us gives each of a spiritual gift. I’m thankful that He gave me the gift of proclaiming His Word, but I would not be able to use that gift without the giftedness of so many others who really keep things going in our church.

I feel led to email those folks and thank them specifically this morning.

Second, notice these words: "But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!" (1 Peter
4:16 NLT) The privilege of being called by his name—WOW! For the folks Peter was writing, the fact of being called “little Christs” (the literal meaning of that originally derogatory term folks in Antioch used for Christians) was a cause of hardship and suffering.

But Peter turns it around and calls it a privilege. I gripe and complain all the time, but any suffering, any difficulty, any insult I experience because of the name of Jesus, is something today that I should and will praise Him for.

Don’t forget to thank Him for all the “tough” things today as well.

Jesus, thank You for saving me through the gift of Yourself on Calvary’s cross. Thank You for calling me and gifting me to preach. Thank You for all the others You have gifted to serve in so many other vital ways in our church and beyond—dear saints that never get noticed and never get praise. Thank You for everything I have ever suffered because of Your name. I am honored, Lord. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 149: A Bible for a Six-Year Old

Yesterday, Juanita called the office. She talked with Betty for a moment. Betty transferred the call to me. Juanita told me she was looking for a Bible for her six-year old.

Okay. That should not be a problem finding such a Bible, right?

Ah, no. Wrong.

When I think back fifty years ago (are you kidding? Has it really been that long?) and try to remember what things were like for me, I could not read very well, if at all in the first grade.

I think I have told this story in this blog before. So, I won’t go into a lot of detail. My mom realized this and got one of her former schoolteacher friends to tutor me. Plus, my parents moved me to a new school, and at the recommendation of the principal moved me back a grade.

So, I’ll just go ahead and say it: I flunked second grade!

That is my story, but I have a feeling the both of Juanita’s granddaughters are at the opposite end of the spectrum from me. Juanita told me about the reading prowess of Ava, the older daughter, who is nine. It would seem that her younger sister would fit in that mold as well.

One of the things on my list today is to find a Bible for this six-year old. I have one on hold at a bookstore. I’m going to get it and take it to them.

Juanita thanked me for doing this and said, “This is way beyond the call of duty, Pastor.” I replied, “Juanita, I am glad to do it for your family, but the truth is that I am doing it for the church as well. I want to figure this out.”

As I was investigating this, the weight of this challenge grew heavy. Think about it. This is the first Bible Juanita’s granddaughter will ever read!

The broader question is: how does one introduce the Word of God to a child? As a parent or grandparent, is there a greater responsibility in life that THAT?

One of the major challenges I face is finding a kid’s Bible that includes all the books and all the chapters. Most only excerpt certain prominent stories and have a lot of pictures. This is probably what I am going to end up getting for this little girl.

But somehow, this bothers me. In an effort to reach a child, some editor somewhere is making the decision as to which stories are appropriate for a six-year old and which are not. I get this on one hand, but on the other hand, it bothers me.

As adults, we all have our “favorite” parts of the Bible—sections we enjoy reading more than others. Some parts of God’s Word are hard to understand and downright confounding, such as those sections where God commands military leaders to kill everyone in an enemy village, including women and babies.

But this is why God gave children parents and teachers and pastors. It is our job to explain the Word.

This almost leads me to say that it is irresponsible just to hand a Bible to a child without some counsel and guidance. And I think the primary place where that should come from is parents.

Back to the whole children’s Bible thing: someone needs to come up with an effective way to introduce the WHOLE Bible to children. Humm. Sounds as if that needs to go on my ever-lengthening list of writing projects. Wouldn’t that be funny if the Lord asked me to do this—a pastor with no wife and no kids of his own? Ha.

All of this points out the importance of God’s Word. God told Ezekiel to “eat this scroll” (Ezekiel 3:1, NLT). This is what He intends every believer to do. What we eat becomes a part of us. When we share the Word with children, it is not just a remote book with paper or on an IPad. It is literally a part of us.

"Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness" (1 Peter
2:2-3 NLT).

Lord, give me wisdom as I purchase a Bible for this young girl. I pray that this would be the beginning of a lifetime in which she feeds on and craves the Word of God. We know that it beginnings when you save us and give us a new nature that desire spiritual nourishment. Help me as I take this challenge on, whatever you want me to do. I think of the other boys and girls in our congregation. Save them. Give them a lifetime hunger for Your Word. Me too. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 148: Ferguson

Last summer, a couple visited our fellowship. During prayer time on Sunday morning, the man raised his hand, “We are from St. Louis. Please pray for our city.” This was after the Michael Brown incident. Things were brewing.

Last night, when the verdict was handed down, things exploded. My mom and sis and I watched in horror as people angrily responded. Buildings were burned. Stores windows were broken. Vandals broke into stores and stole merchandise right in front of the cameras.

The news station we watched also showed protests (many of which were no where near as violent) in other cities.

At one point, we turned the channel, looking, searching for any news of protests here in Denver. One station showed a few people standing on street with billboards.

As I watched all of this, my mind went back to the very first memory of a news story on television. My recollection is very vivid of people being hosed down as they protested in the streets of Chicago and Detroit. It was in the late 1960’s and the civil unrest surrounding the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Somehow, this feels the same.

I have no desire to make political comments this morning. I would rather react as a believer who is watching what is going on in our country.

I believe that the racial divide in this country is as wide as it has ever been. Add to all of this the controversy surrounding all the immigration issues. Plus, as we were watching one of the local stations, one news story focused on how to keep pot and pot “products” out of the reach of children here in our state.

Are you kidding me? That is a whole other “can of worms.”

Frankly, things seem to be spinning out of control.

One of the things I love about just reading the Bible through as I am right now on the Daystar Plan is just to see how circumstances intersect with what I happen to be reading in the Word.

The final chapter of Jeremiah and the whole book of Lamentations are all about the total destruction of the city of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians, circa 586 B. C. It effectively signaled the end of the nation of Judah, for all intents and purposes.

A careful reading of Lamentations will curl your hair—to actually learn what the brutality that occurred as this beloved city fell. Boys and girls were either slaughtered in the street or eaten by their parents in the prolonged famine that preceded the ultimate fall of the city.

There is nothing pretty about the judgment of God.

Okay, so putting all of this together: I wonder how far away from total collapse we are as a nation. As I sit here this morning and try to pray about all of this, frankly, my mind just won’t let me think very far.

It is inconceivable that our country could be near its end.

Like Rome, and other great world empires in history, the reason for the collapse was moral. That is certainly the case with the nation of Judah. Their worship of idols led to morality issue that signaled the fall of Jerusalem.

When I was a kid, I had a very vivid dream about a tank rolling down the street in front of our house. It was from an enemy nation.

I think I had just watched a World War II movie and learned about the Nazi’s conquering Paris and taking it over.

I’m certainly not attributing any future prophetic weight to my dream as a kid, but it does make one think. Could that happen someday?

What to do in the meantime? I don’t know… Continue to pray, for one thing. Then, I need to get off this couch and, by the grace of God, live a holy life. Notice these verses in 1 Peter: "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (1 Peter
1:6-7 NLT).

“Times like these” will certainly weed out all the phonies. That is for sure. But I am burdened for the nation. What does this mean?

Lord, what is going on these days is overwhelming. I pray for the community of Ferguson. I lift up the issues we face as a nation. Once again, we understand that Jesus is the answer. Help us to continue to worship Him with fervor and share Him with urgency. Have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 147: Worldliness

First of all, yesterday was a great day. I wish I had thought to take a picture of all the boxes sitting on the stage at church. We collected over 460 boxes. This is an all-time high. I appreciate Betty and all the others who contributed to putting the boxes together and pulling this off.

We also prayed for the four families we are giving Thanksgiving baskets to. Today, Leroy Elementary is coming by to pick them up. I hope this sparks our relationship with this school.

After the service, we got a line going (somehow the proper name escapes me, if there is one!) and we loaded all the boxes in my truck, Calla’s van, and James’ truck. We took them over to North Metro Church—one of the drop off points in our community for Operation Christmas Child.

We got there just as one service was letting out and another service was beginning. And I got to see several folks who used to go to First Southern. In fact, Chris and Jay and his two boys along with JJ and some others helped us unload the boxes. It was great seeing them. We visited a bit, but quite honestly, it was a little bittersweet for me. I miss them. Kind of a bummer. But I am glad they are active and serving in another church, and North Metro is a good church.

What would make me sadder would be that they aren’t going anywhere. That certainly isn’t the case with these three families.

Anyway, after unloading the boxes, the three of us went back to church where we had a potluck meal. I think everyone enjoyed the opportunity just to sit and visit and eat (and we did well with that!).

In one of the prayer meetings I was involved with yesterday, one brother prayed something like this, “Lord, I pray for unity in our fellowship. It just seems as if we all just come and go without much meaningful interaction.” This is a paraphrase of what this brother said. But I totally agreed in my heart.

This is a great challenge to the contemporary church. Everyone is so busy. Our times to be together seem to be decreasing rapidly. When I first started at the church, we had “Training Union” (we didn’t call it that per se, but that is what it was) and an evening service. Plus, we had a lot more folks for prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Both of these service times have diminished greatly.

I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. The Lord is in charge of all of this, BUT a lot of fellowship occurred during those two times during the week. There is no substitute just for being together.

Anyway, here is another challenge that we face in all of this: worldliness.

In the Daystar reading for today, the fourth chapter of James has a lot to say about it.

"You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James
4:4-6 NLT).

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not equating showing up at the church building multiple times per week with a person’s spirituality, necessarily.

On the other side of that coin, however, all of us have exactly the same amount of hours as we did twenty years ago. What has changed? Well, we are working more. There are more demands on time with the family. The list could go on and on.

But the end result is that we are together less, and thus, when people face a crisis or difficulty, there is less of a connection with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ in the church to lean on. AND, I think, when people get dissatisfied with the church for one reason or another, there is less of a reason to stick it out because they have less of a relationship with others in the church.

Just a theory on my part, but of course, there are consequences with every sin, and James is addressing the above comments TO THE CHURCH.

Lord, thank you for the fellowship of the body of Christ. Thank you for yesterday and the boxes and the ministry and the fellowship. Show me. Show us. If there is any hint of worldliness in my life or in the church, show us. I humble myself before you today. Thank you for your jealous love for us and for your unmerited grace. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 146: Plan B

For the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day, it was not a metaphor. Of course, it was a real place, a very viable option in the midst of attack.

Jeremiah spoke in solemn terms to the “remnant,” the folks who were left after the initial “invasion” from the Babylonian. He stated categorically: “whatever you do, do NOT think that escaping to Egypt will solve your problems.”

Now, before I go further, if I had been there, I think I would have concurred with the few who were left: “going there was the only hope for survival.”

And yet, as I read Jeremiah 41 to 44 in the Daystar Plan for today, there was more to it than that.

But let me back up a minute. First, the people disregarded what the Lord had said through Jeremiah and went anyway. Second, and this is more important, when they got there, they started to worship the gods of the Egyptians. This was the tipping point as far as the Lord was concerned.

Do you know what this is all about? We call it, “Plan B.”

On one level, it is always good to have a contingency plan if something doesn’t work out. My mom and sis and I had to follow Plan B the other night. We headed off somewhere to eat. The traffic was horrible. So, we shifted gears and came back a different way. Plan B.

This is all well and good when we talk about Denver traffic, but not good when we talk about the Lord. When it comes to Him, there is only one option—Plan A.

But as I sit here this morning, I think about all the times in the Bible and in my life where we chose Plan B. Why? Well, like Abraham and Sarah, I just got tired of waiting on God. So, I endeavored to “fix things” on my own. So many examples from my personal life come to mind at this point. No need to go into detail. Too embarrassing.

This NEVER works. Just look at the tragic story of Hagar and Ishmael. We are still reaping the consequences of that disobedience TO THIS DAY.

Other times, it is just fear and panic. The remnant left in the land saw the devastation caused as a result of the Babylonians and saw no way out. “We’ve got to get out of here and fast. Egypt is our only hope.” Wrong. The Babylonians destroyed Egypt also in their world conquest. No difference.

I guess the bottom line motivation for choosing Plan B over God’s will is just unbelief. Isn’t that the message and stern warning of Hebrews? The majority of the Jews who came out of Egypt (and kept wanted to go back there) did not make it to the Land of Promise because what it boiled down to is unbelief. The only two who made it—Josh and Caleb—did so because they continued to trust God.

I honestly can’t think of anything more difficult than waiting on God. It is hard. We live in a microwave culture. I get impatient when it takes longer than two minutes to warm up my leftovers! Likewise, it is difficult, especially for “fixers” like me, to wait on God to handle things, rather than get in there to take care of it myself.

Lord, in a number of personal areas—I list them to you right now—I pray for the grace to wait on You to execute Plan A—the only viable option.

Today we are praying over a large number of Operation Christmas Child boxes to send to boys and girls overseas. We also put together Thanksgiving baskets for four local families. I’m thankful for these two ministries. Lord, glorify yourself through these offerings. I continue to wait on you for revival for your church. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 145: Persevere

The readings in the prophecy of Jeremiah for the Daystar Plan for today chronicle the persecution Jeremiah suffered.

He spent most of the final days of the city in prison. At one point, the officials threw him into a cistern where he sunk in the mud, but the Lord used a man to bring this to the attention of the king, and he rescued the prophet.

Even after the city fell, God continued to look out for Jeremiah. In fact, the Babylonians set him free, telling him that he could stay with the few remaining inhabitants of the destroyed city or go with the exiles to Babylon, his choice.

It is an amazing story.

Couple these narratives with the New Testament readings for today—Hebrews 12 and 13 as well as the first two chapters of James—it is a lesson in perseverance.

Back to Jeremiah’s story: at any point as he faced all these trials and difficulties and persecutions, he could have said, “Forget this. It is just too difficult. I’m done.”

But he didn’t and the Lord took care of him. Why? The Lord was not done with his spokesman. He wanted him to continue to preach.

I don’t know … as I try to put together the Lord’s message for today, I can’t help but think about all the times that the Lord has rescued me.

I’ll have to tell you about one. It came about very early in the ministry at First Southern. It was a deacon’s meeting. In one of my first meetings, I invited both the deacons and their wives to attend. The reason I did this was to share an outreach idea that I had come up with. I still have the material on a shelf in my office. It was called “This Phone’s For You.” It was a plan to make mass telephone calls in our community basically inviting people to church.

The whole thing was based on statistics. If one makes a hundred calls, it is likely that he or she will get ten positive responses. Out of those ten “yeses,” one will come to the church. We planned to use a phone bank at the associational office and make literally thousands of calls.

Okay, so I went into this meeting without one worry. My thought processes went like this, “God commands us to reach lost people. This idea seems like a very good one. No brainer.” Right?

Wrong. Besides one or two couples, the others were adamantly opposed. “Phone calls? Are you kidding? I get calls from Telemarketers all the time. I just hang up. That isn’t going to work.”

One man said, “John, you said when we called you that you were not going to make significant changes for a year or so. This doesn’t fit that.” Huh?

They shot it down. And I have to tell you. I left that meeting totally devastated. Everything in me said, “What have you gotten yourself into? You need to quit. This church doesn’t care about reaching the community. Quit.”

Everything in me said that.

Now, I don’t remember the details at this point, but somehow, the Lord got a hold of me. I talked to a brother who said, “John, don’t be discouraged. If they don’t want to participate, find some people who do and just do it.”

That is what happened. It wasn’t many. Just a few folks. We went down to the Associational office. We made the calls.

Now, please understand. I don’t put this situation on any kind of level with what Jeremiah faced, but isn’t that the point? The enemy continues to use all kinds of things with us.

He wants us to quit. I’m not even talking about a job here. I’m just talking about clamming up and backing away. It is just too hard. Why fight it?

“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12, NLT).

Lord, thank you for that brother who encouraged me. I need to call him today and thank him. Lord, what I have had to deal with pales when compared to the persecutions your servants have faced and continue to face. Help us all to persevere. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 144: Faith and Faithfulness

I can’t believe I would ever write the following words: I am an Oakland Raider fan today! Just for today, mind you. Let’s not get too carried away.

Those of you who know me well and are reading this are probably saying, “Oh, I know why. The Raiders beat the Chiefs last night, putting the Broncos back in first place in the AFC West.” Well, yes, that is part of it … but not the main reason.

I had not been watching the game last night, but I was keeping track of what was going on through an app on my phone. I turned the game on late in the fourth quarter to watch the Raiders score what turned out to be the winning touchdown and the Chiefs fail to score. The Raiders celebrated the first win of their pitiful season (oops, I lapsed a bit there).

After the game, Tracy Wolfson, the CBS sideline reporter, interviewed Derek Carr, the Raider’s rookie QB. Okay. This is why I am a Raider’s fan today. He gave one of the most outspoken Christian testimonies I have ever heard—EVER. First, he mentioned praising Jesus or God three times. Second, he said that he was going to give his game ball to his son. Third, he concluded his remarks in the interview by saying, “I play football for my faith and for my team. I am really looking forward to seeing my teammates smiles in the locker room.”

As the broadcast was ending, the cameras focused on the players in the middle of the field praying. Carr was leading that prayer. You could see it. It was obvious.

I don’t know … it was really refreshing to see.

But these observations lead into some comments I would like to make about the reading today in the Daystar Plan. Here are the passages I read: Jeremiah 30-34 and Hebrews 10-11. These two sections of God’s Word fit together hand in glove. It was awesome to see as I read this morning.

Chapter 30 of Jeremiah signals a transition of sorts in the book. Up to that chapter, the prophet has been sharing the bad news of the destruction of the land because of the idolatry of the people, but in chapter 30 and especially 31 and 33, he speaks of a new day in the future. God promises to bring His people back and let them live in their land again, but He points to greater things than THAT.

Chapter 31 speaks of the New Covenant based on a greater sacrifice and the Word of God inside His people. Chapter 33 speaks of a descendant of David on the throne forever.

God has a permanent fix for the waywardness of Israel and us—Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10 and 11 reinforce this truth. I believe that somewhere in the midst of this section of Hebrews (it may be in chapter nine), the writer quotes from Jeremiah to speak of the New Covenant in the blood of Christ.

This is really NOT something new. It has been God’s way all along—the way of faith. Chapter 11 cites one Old Testament example after another of people who believed God. The purpose for citing this litany of people of faith is to encourage God’s people—all of us—to stay faithful even through intense persecution.

Thus, as I listened to Derek Carr share Jesus on national television, I feel compelled to pray for him. I am reminded of Tim Tebow. He is completely out of pro football now. I know that many just don’t believe he has the talent to pray quarterback in the NFL, and Tebow refuses to play any other position. I know that, but I can’t help but think that part of the reason that he is out is because of his blatant Christian testimony.

I also think of Saeed again today. The last person in his family—his mom—who had the opportunity to visit with him has had to leave the country. So, this hero of the faith—much more than any quarterback of any team—is now going it alone. Well, the Lord is with him.

Father, I acknowledge you as the One and Only, and Your Son Jesus as our Savior and Lord, who secured salvation for us through His own spilled blood—a permanent cure for waywardness—and a call to faithfulness forever. I pray for Derek Carr. I lift up Tim Tebow. I pray for my dear brother Saeed, his wife Nagmeh, and his two children. Strengthen them, help us, to continue to be faithful and to share Jesus at every opportunity. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 143: Two Amazing Stories

Over the past couple of days, I have heard two amazing stories from two men who have immigrated to the United States.

While we are in the midst of all this controversy right now regarding legal/illegal immigration into the United States, it is refreshing to hear two stories that show how much people across the world want to come here and want to do it LEGALLY.

The first man I will call Jay. He grew up in Mexico with his mom and his brother. His father had left the family. When Jay’s mom saw that her two sons were getting in trouble more and more frequently, she decided to leave Mexico and take her family across the border to a small town in Texas. Jay’s mom was a believer.

Here was a mom and two boys moving and living from house to house in a new country. At times, they even lived on the streets.

Eventually, they moved to another city in Texas and from there to Florida. When they arrived in Florida, they found a Southern Baptist Church where Jay and his brother got saved. Through mentoring and encouragement, Jay felt the call to full-time vocational Christian service, and he is continuing to serve God to this day.

Yesterday, I got to hear another story. I will call the man Ku. Ku was a fisherman along with his family in Vietnam. Their daily routine consisted of getting up at 2:00 AM, preparing the nets, paddling out to the ocean, and dropping their nets for hours. They returned to land late in the day to sell their fish while they were still fresh. It was a tough life.

Having been convinced by a friend, Ku decided to leave Vietnam for the United States. His younger brother was already there. But he left his home and family. He was captain of a boat with 46 “passengers.” As they made their way out to the ocean, the boat stalled out completely--TWICE. Both times, other boats stopped to help them as they went on their way. In the course of the trip, one woman died.

Eventually, after 17 days on the open sea and almost no food or water, Ku ended up in Indonesia. He lived there a year before his brother in America was able to sponsor him to come to the United States. He has lived here for 30 years.

I don’t know … both stories are very amazing to me. I was thankful that I got to hear both of them this week.

I’m just thankful that the Lord has allowed me to be born and raised in this country. I know, however, that I will never be able to appreciate it as much as these two gentlemen do.

I just hope that we don’t destroy ourselves as a nation through idolatry and immorality.

In the reading for the Daystar Plan today, God calls the prophet Jeremiah to tell the exiles that they will be living in a foreign land, away from Israel, for a long time. They better just settle down and get ready to be in Babylon a long time.

Of course, the false prophets had exactly the opposite message, “Oh, now, we won’t be here for long. The Lord will bring us back home shortly.” Jeremiah responded, “I hope you are right, but the veracity of any prophecy is proven by the outcome—whether or not it comes true.” Of course, Jeremiah’s message was vindicated again.

How does one read the prophecy of Jeremiah without drawing comparisons to where we are in the United States? We are a nation that immigrants WANT to come to—whether it is legally in the case of the two gentlemen I mentioned or illegally. The appeal is freedom and opportunity. Both of these men are responsible and productive citizens. Praise God!

I love these verses: "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land” (Jeremiah
29:11-14 NLT).

It is clear that the Lord has a plan for both of these men. He led them through difficult, even dangerous circumstances.

But Lord, I affirm the same for me. I’m thankful for the plan. Thank you again for cancer. This is part of the process for me. I know you will take me across this border and through these rough seas. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 142: IF

I continue to be amazed as I read the prophecy of Jeremiah. Here is a man that God used to speak the Word to every aspect of Jewish culture in Jerusalem at a very critical time in history.

The nation was on the threshold of collapse. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army having gained world supremacy after defeating the Egyptians in 605 B. C. in the battle at Carchemish set his sights on the nation of Judah and the capitol city of Jerusalem.

I am reminded of what things were like in England during the 1930’s as Hitler emerged in Germany. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was a pacifist. He tried to broker peace with the Nazi’s even as a precocious and rather portly man stood up in the House of Commons to warn the nation about an impending war.

At first, Winston Churchill was ridiculed as a fanatic, but as the Nazi’s began their conquest, his words and warnings resonated more and more. In the next election, Churchill supplanted Chamberlain. Thank you, Lord.

Jeremiah was Churchill before Churchill but he was more than Churchill. He was a man of God whom God called to be the lone voice of truth.

And it was certainly not easy.

In one of the passages in the Daystar Reading for today, Jeremiah once again pours his heart out to God in ways that seems almost scandalous: "O LORD, you misled me, and I allowed myself to be misled. You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me. Now I am mocked every day; everyone laughs at me. When I speak, the words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” I shout. So these messages from the LORD have made me a household joke" (Jeremiah
20:7-8 NLT).

No one wanted to hear the truth. Instead, they gravitated to the false prophets with their dreams and visions and flimsy promises that “everything is going to be all right. There is nothing to worry about. We are fine and so is our city and our temple. Don’t listen to Jeremiah!”

I just wonder where we are in our nation right now. I wonder where we stand as far as the judgment of God.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a web article. After reading it, I became more and more burdened that, as a nation, we can’t be far from God just deciding that it is over for us.

As I sit here this morning, I hesitate even to describe the incident that this article talks about. The gist of it is that two lesbians in the military are suing their commanding officer. That is about all I want to say.

After reading the full story, I felt more and more of a burden that we as the church of Jesus Christ need to make our mission of reaching lost people the number one priority in our church. We give lip service to this, but I really don’t think we believe it.

These messages I am preaching from chapters two and three of Revelation convince me that most churches have at least one idol that they worship.

Does that sound shocking? Someone would say, “John, are you crazy? Churches are places for the worship of God!” Precisely. And yet, idols are what Jesus addresses in his seven messages.

Stop and think about it. People who don’t worship God or care one wit about Him don’t have a problem with idolatry. They are already in Satan’s camp! But the enemy attacks the church. It is his desire to divert us from the reason we exist. I go back to Dawson Trotman (founder of the Navigators) motto: “to know God and to make Him known.”

If we don’t get our worship right, then Jesus promises to come and discipline His church. If the church isn’t right, the nation can’t be. And Jesus will judge the nation. And, added to all of that, Jesus promises to come back soon. Three reasons why we need to get with it.

Lord, as I sit here this morning, give me grace to preach the Gospel and live the Gospel and lead the church to do so as we rivet our attention on You and You alone. Have mercy on us, Lord. Please don’t wipe us off the face of the earth. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves … “ IF. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 141: An Unusual Day

Sometimes, I don’t know if what I am experiencing is just about getting older or a result of cancer or some kind of combination of both. But, yesterday was an unusual day in several ways.

Let me see if I can explain.

When I was in seminary, especially in the doctoral program, I could study for six or seven hours STRAIGHT with full attention.

I remember one Christmas vacation. I came back to Denver for the holidays and hauled my gigantic KPro “portable” computer with me. This was just the beginning of the personal computer era with floppies.

Man, does that seem as if it is a long time ago! Hauling that computer around felt as if I were carrying a small suitcase. It was kind of awkward on the plane as well.

Anyway, I digress … but I brought my computer home with me because I had to work on a paper for one of my preaching seminars. It was due along with the presentation right after the holidays.

I had compiled most of my research. It was just a matter of putting things together and actually writing the paper. I worked on it for two weeks solid six to seven hours per day. Crazy, I know! Who does that? I guess you do what you have to do. And the Lord enabled me to do it. He gets the glory.

Okay, so I say all of that to say: I was able to continue with that type of focus through most of my first twenty years as a pastor. However, I never really had that long. When I first started as pastor, I went to the office and holed up for most of the morning—3 to 4 hours or so.

Then, after talking with the deacons and asking them if I could study at home, I was able to continue this practice. I started going into the office about 10:30 or so each day. It was still only a couple of hours per day and Thursday afternoons at the library at Denver Seminary.

But in recent years, especially after I was diagnosed with cancer, I have noticed a fairly significant drop in my attention span. This is particularly evident during chemotherapy. I just can’t keep my focus on anything for very long. Sometimes, I’m just sleepy, so I get up from my desk, sit in a chair, take a nap (I never used to do this), and return to the desk.

Other days, when I am struggling with focus, I get up and move around for a few minutes (let the dog out, for example) and then come back to the desk, and I have to do this several times. My schedule now allows me more extended time for study (I’m grateful for this) and I still put in the time, but I take more breaks than I ever did before. Some days, it is very difficult. It feels as if it is a battle.

Okay, so that is way more detail than anyone wanted. Ha. But all of that to say—yesterday, I had a good long and focused time of relatively uninterrupted (by drowsiness or lack of attention span) study. Humm. It was awesome.

What is the explanation for this? I have no idea. I just thank God. And I pray that I could have more of those kinds of days but they are very rare.

In the reading today in Jeremiah, there is more about the private life of the prophet—his personal struggles and his prayer life. This is one of, if not the main reasons that I love the book of Jeremiah. As he or she reads, one gets glimpses of what goes on behind the scenes.

Let me give an example. Here is a cry of the prophet to God: "Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry” (Jeremiah
15:18 NLT).

This is just a human being honest with God! He cries out to God, but sometimes, it FEELS AS IF God is either indifferent to his prayers or far away.

Can anyone relate? This almost seems blasphemous, but it isn’t. It is not wrong to be honest with God. Jeremiah proves this. I’m so relieved. It doesn’t make it any easier or frustrating, though.

In the New Testament reading for today in Hebrews, this verse stood out to me:
"Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered" (Hebrews
5:8 NLT). Even Jesus LEARNED obedience.

I still remember Andy Hornbaker Sr.’s message on this passage years ago. It made an impact on my life.

Here I am—once again—in the place of crying out to God and learning to obey.

So back to this daily struggle with drowsiness and focus—even as I write and think about it, I have to be honest that it is a huge struggle for me. Here is my frustration: in these days when I am going through chemo and so often just have to SIT, even then, I want to do something, to be productive, to study, AND I can’t really even do THAT without a huge struggle.

What is going on, God? I don’t get it, don’t get any of it, really. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 140: Surgeon's Scalpel

Our attendance was a little down yesterday. My mom and sis were among those who just couldn’t make it. But I felt this leading from the Holy Spirit to commend those who did make it.

One thing was slightly different. Ha. As a result of me winning the candy contest for Safe Street, it was my prerogative to choose Calla’s “punishment.” Not sure that is exactly the right term here. Anyway, I pull a costume out of a trunk in the attic. It was one that I had used in Vacation Bible School years ago—15 to 20 years ago.

It was a Sumo wrestler. Kind of an ingenious costume. At the side, there is a little pocket where one places a little portable fan. When you turn it on, the costume inflates.

Calla got into it. She went with it the whole way even as she led worship. I had a hard time not cracking up. It was great. We laughed, and I believe that humor is part of our reverent worship of God as well. He made us!

Anyway, enough said about that. On to the reading for today. The book of Jeremiah, one of my favorites, is just one sermon after another (some of the messages take the form of an enacted parable. For example, the Lord asks the prophet to bury a loincloth and come back to retrieve it after many days). The prophet hammers the same message over and over, and it is not very popular. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

"Then the LORD told me about the plots my enemies were making against me. I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! ‘Let’s destroy this man and all his words,’ they said. ‘Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.’ … So this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says about them: ‘I will punish them! Their young men will die in battle, and their boys and girls will starve to death. Not one of these plotters from Anathoth will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes’” (Jeremiah
11:18-19, 22-23 NLT).

Jeremiah was far from being popular, but the Lord protected him and sent him back out to preach. He urged the people to turn from idols to serve God, or face the consequences—the destruction of their property and the loss of the nation.

As one read this book, there is no evidence that anyone ever responded positively to his sermons. No one.

The book of Hebrews—the New Testament reading and the text for our study in Community Groups on Sunday morning at First Southern—takes a broader view of the history of Israel. From the very beginning, in the wilderness wanderings, the people turned away from God to the worship of idols. This persisted through their history—through the judges, through the divided kingdom, and finally in the southern kingdom of Judah before the Lord allowed the Babylonians to destroy the city of Jerusalem and deport Israelites to Babylon.

The only thing that “cured” them was the total destruction of their land—very drastic measures.

What about us? What will it take? As I asked in a sermon yesterday, what type of alarm will it take to wake us up as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.

Two verses in Hebrews 4 stand out today: "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable" (Hebrews
4:12-13 NLT).

The Word is like a surgeon’s scalpel. We are talking very precise work here. No dull blades. No guestimates. When I had my biopsy for cancer, the surgeon took out one lymph node in my lower abdomen. He didn’t take a bone or a nerve or chop off my leg. Just one lymph node.

In character development, sometimes it takes surgery. The precision work of the Word of God to get at the “heart” of the issue. He exposes sin, and like the surgeon, wants to go further—cut it out. It is often painful, but it is necessary for progress. If only the people would have obeyed the Word—all the way from Moses to Jeremiah—if only …

If only I would …

Lord, thank you for all the opportunities for surgery. Help me to go ahead and get on the table. Let’s get everything cut out that does not please you. I confess the sin of failing to spend the amount of time I need to in the Word of God. Help me with that today, Lord. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 139: Dante's Inferno

I ask the Lord for opportunities to share Him. Why am I surprised when the Lord answers prayer?

Before I get into this story, I just have to say that our men’s fellowship went very well yesterday. We had a good number of guys show up plus two boys and two teenagers. One of the boys came by himself. Ethan’s mom brought him. He did very well and seemed to enjoy himself.

We had a potluck meal. We had more than enough. Bernard came in a little late. I was visiting with Marvin, his son, “Where is your dad?” Marvin said, “I don’t know. I know he doesn’t have to work today.”

Just then Bernard walked in. “Well, guys, I am a little late because Gladys didn’t like the first batch of biscuits she made. They were a little hard on the bottom. So, she made more.” He put them down on the table. I had two. Worth the wait.

Most of the time, we just visited with one another. I took a few minutes to challenge the guys, and then we opened things up for prayer requests and we prayed. When we said the final “Amen,” I think that the guys were ready to go. At that point, we had been together a little over an hour.

Larry and I were determined not to keep them there an inordinate amount of time. It was just right. It was a huge encouragement for me. I’m thankful for each one of those men and boys. I’m going to list them as I thank God for each one and pray for them: Bernard, Jim, Kobe, Savon, Duane, Larry, Gary, Mike, Clayton, Ethan, Paul, James, and Marvin. I love these guys, Lord.

Well, back to my story. Yesterday afternoon, I got to visit with a friend of mine. He is NOT a believer. He said, “Have you ever read Dante’s
Inferno?” I replied, “As a matter of fact, no, I haven’t, but I have heard about it.”

I would have to say that it ranks right up there with
Pilgrim’s Progress as one of the most famous religious books ever written. I say “religious” because, what I know about Dante, makes me wonder a bit, but it has been a long time since Church History class at Southwestern Seminary. I need to get a copy and read it, especially after yesterday.

My friend said, “Wow, it paints a bleak and dark picture. It describes hell as a place where people are in torment and pain 24 hours a day for eternity. What do you think?”

Talk about a pitch right over the middle of the plate!

“Well,” I said, stammering a bit, “I believe it is a real place that shows that God is a God of love and justice. His love for us won’t allow Him not to be just as well. Hell is real, but so is heaven. We don’t have to go to that place. We can trust Jesus and go to heaven.”

He interjected, “I have another friend who has been talking to me. He says that if a person believes in Jesus but has murdered someone, he can go to heaven, but if a good person does not believe in Jesus, he can go to hell.”

By then, my head really was spinning, “Well, I believe that a person’s life show what he truly believes, but it all goes back to Jesus and believing in Him.”

Then, I had a “brainstorm.” I called him by name and said, “Years ago, I remember someone saying, ‘If there is only a one percent chance that hell is real, am I willing to bank eternity on it? Why not just believe in Jesus and then you are covered.”

“Humph,” he muttered. And that was it.

This whole conversation takes me back to the sermons of the prophet Jeremiah. This is a book wet with the tears of the broken heart of God. He pleads with the people of Jerusalem to repent: "O Israel,” says the LORD, “if you wanted to return to me, you could. You could throw away your detestable idols and stray away no more" (Jeremiah
4:1 NLT).

Some of these messages are to the “general public” in Jerusalem (I don’t know how else to say it), but chapter seven is a stern message to people as they are entering the temple to worship.

My readings today in Hebrews echo this plea, referencing the broader history of Israel. "So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it…. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?" (Hebrews
2:1, 3 NLT).

Lord, thank You again for the fellowship of the body of Christ. I lift up my friend. It is so hard actually to think about hell. We don’t like to. As preachers and pastors, we are so afraid of being labeled a “hellfire and brimstone preacher.” Help me to preach the truth no matter what the label. Use me to point people—my friend included—to the One who can save them from the “inferno.” Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 138: The "Nod"

I’m a little pressed for time this morning. We are having a men’s breakfast at church. Even though I got some stuff yesterday, I still need to make another stop at the grocery store before meeting Larry at the church at 6:30.

I hesitate even to mention movies in this blog or in sermons. Very few of them are appropriate for families to see. Less and less.

But last night, my mom and sis watched a movie that I am glad to recommend. It is called “Million Dollar Arm”—actually a true story. I won’t give away the plot, but the thing I love about this movie is that much of it is actually shot in India.

Seeing the scenes from various cities brought back memories of my trip last March: honking horns, constantly; hordes of people in the streets and everywhere; cows everywhere; and last but not least, the West Bengal “nod.”

I don’t even know if I can explain this or not, but all of us joked about it on the trip. I understood that this idiosyncrasy was unique to folks from the state of West Bengal. I still believe I am right about this, but the producers of the movie, had a couple of the actors in the movie “do it.”

It is a rather distinct “nod” of the head—kind of in a figure eight motion—very subtle.

People in Kolkata use it as a way of acknowledging something that was said or agreeing with something they hear. I say that, but I am not totally sure about why people do it.

Isn’t that interesting? One of the main things I remember about the people I met in India from friends to total strangers driving a taxi—that little nod.

The day that Bob and I toured parts of Kolkata with Soapa, I was trying to fit a token in a turn-style in the subway station. I could not get it to work. A total stranger stopped and showed me how to do it. When I thanked him, he gave me the “West Bengal nod.”

Anyway, India continues to be a fascinating and intriguing place to me. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to go and look forward to the next time He allows me to go again.

Well, I’d better get going. Please pray that the fellowship of men at First Southern would truly be just that—a fellowship—in the truest biblical sense of that word.

I’ve been writing about character in this blog. I know that my character cannot be fully formed without “help” from the body of Christ. No “Lone Ranger Christians” allowed.

Lord, thanks again for the trip to India. I pray right now for the people I met there. I list them, one by one. I lift up the men at this breakfast. I acknowledge You as Savior and Lord. I give You, Lord, the “West Bengal nod.” Ha. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 137: Over the Hill?

I was so thankful for yesterday. I got to spend a majority of the day inside, for one thing. It was still a day in which temperatures hovered in the single digits below and above zero for most of the day. Besides a doctor’s appointment, I did not leave the house. I had no desire to do so.

I was able to spend a good amount of time on my sermon for Sunday as well as catch up on some phone calls.

One call was to a pastor buddy of mine. He had called to find out how I am doing. He and his wife pray for me regularly. She reads the blog and gives him the gist of what I say. Ha. That sounds very efficient.

As we talked, our conversation inevitably moved toward the challenges and frustrations of ministry.

At one point, he said (paraphrasing his words), “I wonder if I can do this ministry job any longer or if I am just too old.” The colloquial expression is “over the hill.” I had another pastor friend say the same thing as we visited in my office a couple of months ago. All of us are about the same age.

I felt this very same thing Sunday as I was with a group of guys in our discipleship group. George (I mentioned him a couple of days ago. He is the Asian young man, student at DU, who Seth referred me to) reminded me of how old I really am. We were talking about the best way to reach and disciple young people in this day and time.

Up to that point in our study, George had been silent, but he was the first to answer this question. He stated, “I think if you are going to reach people my age, you must use social media.”

When he said that, all the guys and I affirmed his answer, but our conversation morphed rather quickly to all the deficiencies and frustrations and limitations there are with social media. One guy asserted, “People don’t even talk to each other anymore. Even sitting next to each other, they text.” He is right. I agree, but still … that is the way it is. Will the church adjust to reach the next generation or not?

As the guys were discussing George’s assertion, I thought, “Oh, man. I can barely turn my computer on. I’m just too old.”

The truth is that at least three pastors in this town are looking at the diminishing numbers of folks in their churches and taking the blame for it. We are looking at the state of the church and wondering if things have passed us by.

I know I am not the same guy I was when I started at the church at the age of 31. Add cancer to that equation, and it really makes me think.

I mean honestly. Even if I could, I would not go back to being 31 again. I don’t want to have to learn all the stuff I have learned, most of it the hard way, over again.

I think all three of us are at the age where we all might be on the verge of really being mature enough to be pastors, and yet, it seems we are more and more out of touch.

I’m not fishing for compliments here. But I think all of us need affirmation. And it needs to be at a deep level. We can talk all we want about the church being the body of Christ. It is. But still, the reality is that pastors get the blame whenever there are problems or deficiencies in the church. Most of the people who have left our church recently left because of me or so I heard.

We also get the credit when “things are going well,” whatever that means. This is even more dangerous. We love to put people on pedestals and make them “experts” whenever God sovereignly chooses to work in a church. Give me a break!

Back to the conversation yesterday, I said to my friend, “I do NOT think you are over the hill. I think you are doing a great job in a tough place with little or no help. Hang in there. Even though some people don’t like you, they could not find a better guy than you.” I wonder how long it has been since anyone said that to him.

What I come back to is a prayer I often voice to the Lord. “Lord, I am serving this church. I want to be here as long as you want me here. I am 56. I have cancer. This is Your doing. I am who I am. If I ever become an obstacle or barrier to this church, move me out of here. The second that happens, I’m gone, and help me know it. Until then, I offer you my 56 year-old, cancer, computer and social media illiterate self. I’m not hip. Sometimes my hips hurt! I’m not much but use me!”

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” (Isaiah 64:4, NLT)

Oh, Lord, I feel for my friend yesterday and my other friend I talked to months ago. These are difficult days for the church and pastors are taking the brunt of the load. I’m not whining here. You called us. You never promised us a rose garden. Other people have tough jobs as well. But help us. I’m praying for the profession. For all of us. I choose today to continue to wait on You. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 136: "No Man is An Island"

Yesterday, a friend recommended a song to me. I’m not really much of a contemporary Christian music aficionado. But the title intrigued me. The group is “Tenth Avenue North” and the song is “No man is An Island.” I found it on ITunes after listening to a segment of it. Later today, I’m going to listen to the whole song.

Anyway, out of curiosity, I searched on Google because I am sure that this well-known phrase did not originate with Tenth Avenue North. Sure enough, I was right. The very first time this statement was made was in a sermon! John Donne coined it in a sermon in 1624:

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" (John Donne, Devotions upon emergent occasions and seuerall steps in my sicknes - Meditation XVII).

I am curious to know more about John Donne and the “sickness” to which he alludes. But the words I cited above are very powerful. No one lives to himself alone; no one dies alone. No man is an island.

This sermon contains another famous phrase. Did you notice it? It is “for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Again, we all share the death experience.

Very interesting. All of this confirms something I wrote a few days ago when I was talking about character and how the Lord develops it in our lives.

Again, I assert: God did not design us to walk with Him or grow in our relationship with Him ALONE.

I believe that Satan’s desire is to isolate us OR make us feel isolated.

I still remember that young woman who attended our fellowship a few years ago. She was very consistent in her attendance for months and months. Then, all of a sudden, she dropped out. Someone told me that she had contracted cancer and this individual went on to say that she did not want anyone to know this. Why?

I called her anyway. She was angry. “I did not give her permission to share this and I do not appreciate it. I don’t want you or anyone else at the church to contact me. I want no public announcements to ask people to pray. I would appreciate it if you would respect my wishes.” Whoa.

What is the deal? I think she was playing right into Satan’s hands. I realize that I am probably on the extreme other end of that spectrum. I find myself telling just about everyone I know about my cancer. Sometimes, after sharing, I think, “Well, THAT clerk in the store did not need to know all of that.”

Maybe so. Maybe not. I guess I figure “the more the merrier.” The more people I share with, the more potential there is for more prayer.

But I think the whole “no man is an island” principle goes way beyond all of that.

This Saturday, we are having a men’s breakfast. I encouraged the men to bring their sons. Several are going to do it. It is my desire that we develop a true fellowship among the men in our church. I define that as a group with whom men can be vulnerable and share struggles without being afraid of being condemned or put down.

All of us need that. What better place to find it than at church?

This is reinforced in my readings today. I am seeing these verses in Isaiah 55 in a different light: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11, NLT).

I’ve always associated these words with preaching. Certainly, there is an application there, for sure, but in the context of Isaiah 55, the Lord gives these words as an incentive for obedience to God. One never knows where things will lead if he/she obeys God. Idolatry leads to a truncated and narrow existence; obedience opens up unlimited possibilities.

Titus 2 reflects the importance of this “no man is an island” lifestyle. Older men and women have a responsibility in the congregation: “Teach the older me to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience” (Titus 2:2, NLT).

Lord, thank You for all the various ways and means You are using to call me out of an island existence and to lead others to do so. Thank You for using sickness in my life just as you used it in the life of John Donne four hundred years ago. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 135: Ready to Die

Last night, when I got home from church, my mom and sister were watching a special on one of the cable channels—an exclusive interview with Robert O’Neill—the Navy Seal who actually shot and killed Osama Bin Laden.

I just caught the tail end of this extensive interview. Part one aired last night. Part two is on tonight.

O’Neill talked about his training. I am still in awe of everything that soldiers go through as they train for service—multiply this by ten for this elite group.

But then, the preparation that O’Neill and his fellow soldiers went through to prepare for the Bin Laden mission.

Here is what captured my attention: O’Neill said that he was absolutely prepared to die and honored to do it. He wrote letters to his family and his children, basically telling them good-bye. At one point in the interview he stated, “Everyone is going to die sometime. What a way to go!”

I am intrigued by the type of mindset a soldier on such a mission would have to have just to get on the chopper in the first place.

Honestly, my mind gravitated to some of the folks I met in India who continue to serve and to preach under the threat of death. I think of Saeed and others in that Iranian prison.

In the Daystar reading for today, I read these verses in Isaiah: "When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels" (Isaiah
53:11-12 NLT).

How about that phrase, “I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier”? Jesus was on a mission. His whole life was geared toward death. He died, not just for one nation but also for all nations, past, present, and future.

At the core of our faith as Christians is the death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross.

This passage is not in the reading for today, but I am reminded of the statement in Luke that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, NLT). It was as if He got on the chopper headed for the actual battlefield itself—the city of Jerusalem.

When you read the prophets (especially the prophet Isaiah), you see how significant that “battlefield” really is. The Babylonians destroyed this city. God brought his people back to it. It was the center of Jewish worship (still is), but still, in spite of all of that, the Jewish nation had turned away from God.

God sent His Son on a mission to redeem His people and indeed the whole human race.

Likewise, as followers of Jesus, we are called to deny ourselves, take up the cross daily, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).

This is clearly what is going on in 2 Timothy 4. I believe that this is the last written words of Paul. And clearly he views himself as a soldier—“I have fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7)—and he is ready to go home.

I believe this is the mindset we need as believers—especially in these days, when it just seems more and more difficult to follow Jesus.

I mean, really, is the worst thing that could happen to me is death? I don’t mean to be cavalier about it. Certainly, none of us wants to go through the pain of death. We do not want to be separated from our loved ones. But still … food for thought.

Lord, I thank You again so much for Jesus and His sacrificial and substitionary death for me and He willingly chose to die. Thank You also for servants of God through the centuries from Paul to Saeed and others who served You and faced death. I lift up the persecuted church and I pray for us here in the States. “Ready to go, ready to serve.”

I lift up Jim and his shoulder replacement surgery this morning. I pray that You would get him through this operation and heal his shoulder and take care of His recovery. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 134: Option B

The Daystar reading today included chapters 44 to 48 of Isaiah, as well as 2 Timothy 3.

As I was reading Isaiah 44, my mind went back to an excursion that I took one day in Kolkata along with Soapa (this is the phonetic spelling of this brother’s name) and Bob (a brother who was in the seminar we attended each day). We jumped in a cab and headed to an industrial part of the city. The industry was making idols.

Of course, many of you realize that there are literally millions of gods in Hinduism. Soapa explained that to Bob and me. A devoted Hindu worships a plethora of gods in the course of one year—almost one per season. And the folks we saw manufacturing them are all to glad to make whatever anyone needs, I am sure.

As we walked along, we saw the whole process from beginning—the clay figures form with hay to hold the plaster together—all the way to the garish paint jobs on these idols.

It is hard for me to imagine how anyone could worship these figures, but they are literally all over the city and country. It is a booming business, I am sure.

How pitiful. How desperately sad and empty!

To walk through that part of town, I felt both demonic oppression and a deep sadness for the folks who make these gods and for the customers who will worship them.

The prophet Isaiah points out the folly of idolatry in chapter 44. It makes perfect sense to me: I burn some wood in a fire over which I cook a meal with part of the wood; with the other part, I make a god and worship it. Crazy!

But in the abstract, idolatry always sounds crazy until I start thinking about the idols I worship.

I’ll tell you: in this period where the Lord is working on my character, He always starts with idols. Unless and until I am willing to deal a deathblow to them and rid them from my life FOREVER, I’ll never make any progress.

This is the hard work of repentance that the resurrected Christ, standing in the midst of his lampstands, demands of his churches. And it is just so easy to limp them along and tolerate them. It is much more difficult to “come clean” and let the Lord remove them.

It is interesting a significant that Isaiah the prophet, in railing against idolatry, advocates for the worship of the One and Only God. This God, the One we ought to worship, is so powerful that He can use anything or anyone to accomplish his purposes. The primary example of this is Cyrus, King of the Persians.

The Lord mentions him in chapter 45 and again in 48: "Have any of your idols ever told you this? Come, all of you, and listen: The LORD has chosen Cyrus as his ally. He will use him to put an end to the empire of Babylon and to destroy the Babylonian armies. ‘I have said it: I am calling Cyrus! I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed’” (Isaiah
48:14-15 NLT).

Okay, so let me take a second and unpack a few things. God sent His people into captivity in Babylonian precisely because of idolatry. They languished in the Babylonian desert as a nation for forty years. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians to assume the role as the world’s dominant power, Cyrus was the king of the Persians. What did he do? He issued an edict sending the Jews back to their homeland.

The end result of all of this: the nation of Israel NEVER dealt with idolatry again!

I believe the contrast finally dawned on most of the people: idols versus the One True God who is so powerful that He can use a pagan king to accomplish His purposes.

Humm. Let’s see. Who will I choose? I think I will choose option B.

Here is the question I have been wrestling with these past few days: what would it take literally to be done with idolatry forever in my life?

Lord, I need to pray about this, but I am pretty sure that cancer is part of the answer to that question—FOR ME. It is different for everyone, but it involves some type of suffering.

This disease is my Cyrus. Let me learn. Grant me repentance. Give me grace to live wholeheartedly and unreservedly for you—Option B. The only real choice. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 133: The Adventure Continues

Yesterday, the Lord brought two men our way—both of whom just happened to be Asians—for ministry.

I am reminded of Forrest Gump as this point, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” That is a clever line in a movie, but it applies in spades to the Christian life.

A couple of months ago, I got a call from a pastor friend in Iowa. Seth tracked me down to ask me if I could recommend a church for a young man who moved from Ames to go to Denver University. I replied, “Well, Seth, I drive right by DU every Sunday on my way up I-25 to Northglenn. I would be glad to pick him up and take him to church.”

Long story short at this point … yesterday morning was the first time that happened. The young man’s name is George. His family came to the United States so that his dad could pursue higher education. He ended up at Iowa State to pursue a PhD. Now, as a matter of fact, George’s family is back in China but he is here studying computer science on a full scholarship at DU.

He is a very interesting teenager. We got to visit all the way up to church. George sat in on the discipleship group I lead early Sunday morning and stayed through all the rest of our morning services. It is actually a long day. I took him out to eat after the service and then drove back south to drop him off at the dorm.

Please pray for George. Next week is finals week. A friend from Ames is coming to get him. He is returning to Iowa for the holidays and coming back to school in January.

That is one opportunity. The other came through the front door of the church right in the middle of the sermon. As I was preaching, I noticed that Bernard was speaking with him. I wondered what was going on.

Turns out that Bo is Vietnamese. His fiancée, a believer who lives in Vietnam now, said that if he wanted to marry her, he must first get saved! How about that?

So, as we were visiting, Bo said, “Pastor, I would like to get in a class to learn how to become a Christian. When does this class begin?”

I answered, “Well, Bo, the class begins just as soon as you and I can work out a time to get together. You will be the only student in this new class.”

Even as I write this, I still find it a little incredible. Please pray for me as I talk with Bo as well. I want to make sure to explain to him his need for the Lord and his need to get saved, not because his fiancée wants it, but because God wants it. We will see what happens.

As I reflect on these two opportunities and these two men—George and Bo—these famous verses I came across in the Daystar Plan have even more meaning:

"Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT).

To be honest, yesterday, I was a little shaky. I went through the day well. The Lord helped me in that regard, but I am still not totally 100 percent, and yet, the Lord continues to bring opportunities. I’m glad it doesn’t depend on me. None of it. As I wait on Him, He is the One who gives APPROPRIATE strength for each and every occasion.

After what happened to me a week ago on Sunday night, the whole idea of “walk and not faint” means a more to me than ever. That is where I am.

Lord, thank you for yesterday. Thank you for George. Help him as he goes to school in a strange town with his family thousands of miles away. I also pray for Bo to get saved for all the right reasons. The adventure continues … Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 132: An Act of Trust

I love the narratives at the end of the first half of the book of Isaiah. Most scholars divide the book in two—chapters 1-40 and 41-66. Some even contend that two different human authors penned these two sections. I don’t buy that, but even if two or three or an entire Baptist committee wrote them, what difference does it make? The Holy Spirit is the real author.

Be that as it may, I do adhere to this general division of the book. Beginning with chapter 36, the Holy Spirit tells the story of Hezekiah and his interaction with the pagan and powerful Sennacherib of Assyria. I’m going to call him Sam from now on. Less to type this morning. Ha.

You know the story. The city of Jerusalem is under siege. Sam is defiant. He cries out to anyone who will listen. He tells them that they have no shot. The basis of his appeal is the no god of any enemy has been able to help his army defeat them. Why should the God of Israel be any different?

In chapter 37, Hezekiah receives a letter from Sam. Same song, different verse. Here is what I like about what the king of Judah did at this point.

"After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the LORD’s Temple and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the LORD: ‘O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O LORD, and listen! Open your eyes, O LORD, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God’” (Isaiah
37:14-17 NLT).

Hezekiah took that letter and spread it out before the Lord!

In other words, he gave it to Him. Even though the words were directed against the king—he was the recipient of the letter—they were in effect from then on (as they always had been; Hezekiah’s act just acknowledged reality) God’s responsibility.

Preachers like me often talk about committing things to the Lord. The truth is that no human ever really does that. From the foundations of eternity, before Adam, before Hezekiah, and before Sam were even born, God owned that letter. It was written to Him. It was His and His responsibility.

Our “commitments” simply recognize what has been true all along. In that regard, they are very similar to confession. When I confess my sin to Him, He is not shocked.

But that does not alleviate the responsibility. We need to confess. We need to commit FOR US.

This responsibility involves not only crises, but also absolutely everything that we are and everything that we own. “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17, NLT).

One more thing: please pray for a dear friend in Waco. My adopted parents at Beverly Hills were the Barbers. I knew them only as Mr. and Mrs. Barber. Mr. Barber passed away a few years ago. Now, Mrs. Barber—“Billie”—is not expected to live very much longer. Please pray that her suffering would not be prolonged. She and her husband ministered to me. I’ll never forget them.

Lord, I put “the letter” on that altar of reality, as well as myself, my cancer, my family, every penny, everything I take care of temporarily, ALL to Thee. “I give me all to Thee. All to Thee, thine only will I be. All to Thee, O Lamb of Calvary.” Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 131: How does one work on his/her character?

I am genuinely asking that question this morning?

I want to go back to the blog yesterday and my comments about alcohol. I don’t retract anything I said, but I do want to elaborate a little further. First, the whole subject is very sensitive for me. A drunk driver killed my Grandfather (on my dad’s side). But in spite of this alcohol was a prominent feature in our home before my mom and dad got saved.

My dad entertained clients in his surety bond and insurance company in our home. Every time, they served alcohol.

Even my mom’s dad—we called him Leo (he didn’t like to be called grandfather or granddad or some other “old fogey” name) drank. One of my prominent memories was a meal we were sharing as a family—my dad, my mom, Leo, grandma (my mom’s mom), Marilyn, and me. Leo ordered alcohol in front of us all. My mom and grandma were not pleased.

One more thing to be said: I have no doubt today that if the Lord had not saved me, I would be an alcoholic. No doubt.

But all of that having been said, if only THAT were my issue! Yesterday, after I railed against it, the words of Jesus came to mind (I am paraphrasing here): You (speaking to the Jewish religious leadership) focus on what comes in and is eliminated, but you ought to focus on what comes out of the heart.”

B—the second part—is my focus.

But the question is: if the Lord points out an issue of your character, how do you deal with it?

Well, of course, some of the obvious things come to mind: acknowledge exactly what it is; confess it to the Lord; and repent. All those things are good, but what if you realize that it is an area in which you have struggled for years. In the past, you have done 1, 2, and 3 and the “issue” is still there. What do you do?

One of the things that is dawning on me as I read and reread the prophetic books of the Old Testament is that the prophets were tasked with pointing out the sins of the people, but also, these books, starting with Isaiah, give concrete answers to the question that is the title of the blog for today. They really do.

And it makes sense, right? The Lord not only points out our sin through the person of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, but also through that selfsame Spirit gives us direction and resources for change.

So, the first answer I am discovering is that character change does not occur in isolation or in secret. We would like it to happen that way, wouldn’t we? None of us likes “our dirty laundry” aired. Our families see it, of course, but we care a lot (maybe more) about what “other” people think of us.

The people of Isaiah’s day were no exception: "What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their evil deeds in the dark! ‘The LORD can’t see us,’ they say. ‘He doesn’t know what’s going on!’ How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?" (Isaiah
29:15-16 NLT).

In short, we can’t, as the expression goes, “pull the wool over God’s eyes,” as much as we would like to, as much as we would like to sweep things under the rug. Heaven’s throne has no rugs!

How about this exhortation from Paul to Timothy? "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
4:16 NLT).

Thus, this is another answer: attention to one’s character demands very close and CONSTANT scrutiny. It takes only one little diversion or innocent decision and time passes and you look back and you are far from God. Far.

I’ve given only two answers today. They are certainly not exhaustive, but again do any of us have any more important work to do—whether it involves what I put in myself or what comes out. Whatever.

Lord, this is the reason I often thank You for cancer. It is a gift that You are using to force me to deal with some things. I wish I didn’t have to be “forced,” but so be it. I embrace the hand of the Potter who is shaping me and knows me and loves me. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 130: Time to Think and Pray about what Really Matters

Here I am again.

It is weird to say that it just occurred to me a few minutes ago as I read the final two chapters of the Daystar reading for today. Those two chapters are Isaiah 28 and 1 Timothy 3.

Again, I love reading scripture and to see Old and New Testament passages paired I never would have conceived would be put together.

Isaiah 28 is another in a sequence of pronouncements of judgment in the early chapters of this monumental prophecy. The initial judgments are against enemy nations. We understand that. We get that. But the hard pill to swallow is God’s judgment against His own people—the capitol city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel—Samaria.

Just a little recap of Old Testament history here—the northern kingdom of Israel and its capitol city fell in 726 B. C. to the Assyrians, and for all intents and purposes, it was gone forever. Less than 150 years later, Jerusalem also fell, but the conquering world power at the time was the Babylonians. However, as you know, I am sure, some of those folks actually did return to the land to rebuild Jerusalem.

But Samaria, once destroyed, was gone—poof!

What was the cause of its destruction? Well, many of these early chapters of Isaiah give the reasons. I won’t go into all of that now, but Isaiah 28 gives a big one. Here are some pertinent verses: "Now, however, Israel is led by drunks who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol. The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol and lose themselves in wine. They reel when they see visions and stagger as they render decisions. Their tables are covered with vomit; filth is everywhere. ‘Who does the LORD think we are?’ they ask. ‘Why does he speak to us like this? Are we little children, just recently weaned?’” (Isaiah
28:7-9 NLT)

These verses remind me of a story that Larry told me recently. Years ago, he drove tour buses in the state of Louisiana. He relayed a story about driving a busload of Roman Catholic priests to a convention for a weekend and back—they consumed alcohol from the beginning of the trip to the end. They were drunk the whole time.

Now, I am just telling that story. I am not bashing Catholics or priests.

But here is the point: when the so-called religious leaders of a nation are drunk all the time, that nation is in a heap of trouble.

One of the reasons for the destruction of the nation of Israel was the corruption of the priesthood.

Contrast this to 1 Timothy 3 that gives the list of character qualifications for the overseer. I firmly believe that this is not a list to be consulted once and never referred to again. I think that it is a touchstone. It is a constant frame of reference, not only for pastors, but also for leaders in God’s church and everyone. Yes, leaders have a bigger responsibility because we teach God’s Word, but does God have double standards?

I always say this about alcohol in our permissive church culture: if you would have a problem seeing your pastor drink alcohol, then you shouldn’t do it either—whether it is in private (what? We don’t care about God or our family who sees in secret?) or in public.

I’m sick and tired of the pseudo-sophistication of some contemporary Christians who try to waffle on scripture and on our witness on the subject of alcohol. Just do it and say you want to, but don’t try to twist the Bible around to make it promote what you want to do. Give me a break. But I digress …

Anyway, here is my point: I am now in a position where I have a lot of time to sit around and think and pray. To be honest, much of my time is spent sleeping and I don’t fight it. I sleep as long as I feel like it, wake up, study, think, pray, and go back to sleep.

I’ve also been able to listen to some sermons. I got to hear Al’s. He preached for me at First Southern last week and did a great job.

But here is the deal: instead of getting frustrated with this lifestyle, I want to take advantage of it. When my mind clears and I am awake, I hear the Lord speaking to me about my character, and I want to be in a position to listen.

Given these passages, is anything more important?

LET ME ASK A QUESTION TO EVERYONE READING THIS TODAY: how much time do you allow the Lord to speak to you about your character? Don’t wait until you have cancer and you are flat on your back for this to occur. Do it NOW. Tell me what is more important!

I wonder how many will take me up on this. I dare you.

Lord, give me ears to hear and the grace to obey what you tell me—these very valuable days. Thank You for them. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 129: Ancillary Not Auxilary

Before I headed to the church office yesterday morning, Marilyn said, “Try to learn to gauge how you are doing so that you leave before your energy is totally gone.”

Marilyn gets a little embarrassed sometimes when I write about her or quote her. One time, she said, “Sometimes, in your blog, I come across as a ‘know-it-all.’” For those of you who really know her, you understand that she is exactly the opposite of that. She cares, and she is just trying to help me because she witnessed first-hand how far down I got on Monday. And she knows that I am stubborn.

Others would hit me in the head with a baseball bat. I’m sure there at times she wants to do that, but she has to be direct. I appreciate it.

So, I did go to the church, visited with Betty to catch up on what was going on, and made a few phone calls. Sure enough, about 2:00, I did sense a little drop in energy. Thus, I shut myself down and headed home. For the rest of the day, I did very little. I notice this morning that I had some calls to return for the day and some other things to do. I’ll just make them and do them today. People will understand.

One of the other very encouraging things that is going on is the response from folks at the church—to the very last person, they are all saying the same thing: “No problem, John. Get some rest.” This side of eternity, they will never know how much I appreciate and NEED that affirmation.

I have not had even a hint of, “What? You are still down. You need to get back on your feet and get back into the office! Come on!” No one has said that. However, the little voice in me says it a lot. “John, get up and get moving. Come on!” But I am learning how to respond to that voice.

This goes back to something my doctor said on Monday. I can’t remember if I quoted it yesterday in the blog or not. If I did, please bear with me. Maybe repeating it will solidify it in my head. “John, there is no formula here. It is day by day. If you have energy, you can do some things within reason; if not, you have to pull back and rest.” It is as simple and as difficult as that.

I’ve been taught (preached myself) all my life that excessive thoughts about myself were sinful. “Don’t think about yourself; think about the Lord and others first.” That has a spiritual ring to it, doesn’t it?

I’m learning that it is dangerous and wrong. Let me make sure to frame this correctly.

Taking care of oneself is a stewardship issue that allows me fully to be able to worship God and love others. Oh, and by the way, the command is, “Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF” (Matthew 22:39, NLT, emphasis mine).

Another passage that comes to mind is Ephesians 5. I will not quote here. A husband ought to love his own wife in the same way he loves and takes care of his own body. This sacrificial marital love assumes self-love! Right?

Well, I think I have “beaten this horse” enough, but in the Daystar Reading for today, I am reminded that the Lord often asks his prophets/preachers/pastors to live the message they articulate in words.

Did you know this about Isaiah? "Then the LORD said, “My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years. This is a sign—a symbol of the terrible troubles I will bring upon Egypt and Ethiopia" (Isaiah
20:3 NLT). The Lord asked Isaiah to be a living, walking-around example of the message of judgment he was called to proclaim. Naked and barefoot three years!

Here is what Paul says about himself, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16, NLT).

Even as I write these words, I realize that these very mundane, nitty-gritty, daily, and “selfish” decisions are not auxiliary but ancillary to the ministry. They are part and parcel of the message God is calling me to preach. He NEVER separates lifestyle from words. NEVER.

Lord, “taking vigilant care of myself” (or whatever I need to call it) is literally one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Give me wisdom and grace. And thank you for the response of friends and the body of Christ. Both/and. You are awesome. Okay, another day—the adventure continues. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 128: Idleness

When I am with believers, it is always interesting to me to spend some time talking about church and their experiences with it.

In Waco, last Friday night, I had just such an opportunity with Eddie and Kay and Mom. I was really curious to hear about the history of Beverly Hills Baptist Church after Marilyn and I left to go to seminary.

Of course, they have had several pastors in thirty years, but it was interesting to hear how Eddie and Kay talked about them. One guy, who only served the church for a year or so, never visited. He stayed home taking care of his new baby while his wife worked, and then, when he resigned, he wanted the church to pay his salary until he found a new job!

Are you kidding me?

In one of the larger churches in the Waco area, Eddie and Kay went on to tell me that the pastor of this congregation NEVER visited during his long and illustrious tenure with the church.

Now, before I go further, I realize that our perspectives about church are limited. We certainly don’t know the full story. When we say that a pastor NEVER did one thing or another, we certainly can’t be sure, but I do think that people in church are pretty observant. It is hard to pull the wool over their eyes. They know.

When Eddie was receiving his kidney transplant (he and Kay now belong to one of those mega-churches), not one person from the church, not the pastor, not a pastor, not a deacon—no one visited him. It bothered them a bit, and I don’t blame them.

As we were talking and as I was listening to these stories, I said, “Well, guys, I am probably on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to all of this. I try to make all the visits. When I got cancer, I had to let some other people help me. I’ve got a good group of deacons and some other men in the church who are always available, but I still believe that pastoral ministry is my responsibility. I don’t think I would last very long if I didn’t visit AND I don’t think I should. Plus, here is one thing I have learned: when you visit someone in the hospital or in crisis, there is such a bond that develops and it enhances the relationship because people appreciate it.”

Eddie and Kay agreed, but it still bothers me that their church did not minister to them when they needed her.

Of course, no church is perfect, and I am certainly not setting myself up in that category either, for crying out loud.

But when I hear these types of stories, it bothers me deeply. Why? I think there is so much opportunity in the vocation of pastor to blow off and be idle.

I think about the pastor of Beverly Hills Baptist Church right now. Can’t he find someone to put a message on the church sign? Can’t they at least try to spruce up the outside a bit? The outside of the building looks as if no one cares. Of course, this type of thing is NOT just the pastor’s responsibility, but does any one care.

Paul jumps on this issue with both feet at the end of 2 Thessalonians. Apparently, there were some in the church who just quit their jobs and became couch potatoes because they believed that Jesus was going to come back any time soon. Paul argues vehemently against this and FOR WORK: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat’” (2 Thessalonians
3:6-10 NLT).

Pretty stark language, wouldn’t you say?

I am looking forward to going to work today. I don’t feel up to a full day, but I will be glad to get back in the saddle at least for a little while.

Lord, thank you for the ministry responsibility You have given. Let me always be an example of work and working hard up to the second You return. I pray that I could teach the church the same principle. I lift up these congregations Eddie, Kay, and I talked about. I lift up First Southern. Give me a productive day for your kingdom today, Lord. This cancer stuff is no barrier. It is an opportunity and platform. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 127: One of the Toughest Days EVER

After finishing this blog yesterday, I started to feel worse and worse. I have to say that yesterday was one of the longest days of my life. I cannot begin to describe how bad I felt. The closest analogy I can draw was I felt as if I had the flu, but it was worse than that.

Mother and Marilyn did everything they could do to help me, but I could tell that seeing me that sick weighed on them and concerned them greatly, of course.

As we sat in this room talking, all of us determined that the next time—for the next chemo treatment I have in early December—things are going to be radically different in my preparation and in the days following.

In retrospect, I should not have taken the trip to Texas, but I don’t regret it. I’m glad I went. Had a great time. But in the future, I must guard those three days after chemo and not exert myself so much as I have these past two times.

Hopefully, I can avoid or at least diminish this kind of day in the future. Honestly, I hope and pray that I don’t have too many more days like yesterday in my future. But God is in charge of THAT arena. I can’t dwell on it, but I can do a better job of trying to prepare and take care of myself.

The truth is that chemotherapy is the act of putting a lot of poison in your system, and people react to that differently. This is just the way it is. The doctor gave me pills for pain, for sleep, and for nausea. Beyond that, I think you just gut it out.

I am going to the doctor today just to find out if there is anything I can do different next time and to talk about the fainting incident. When I called Dr. Jotte yesterday to tell his assistant about fainting, Maureen said, “Well, John, if that happens again, go to the emergency room immediately and get checked out.” Humm. I guess it was kind of serious incident.

I think it was my body just telling me again, “I am done.” But I certainly don’t want to GO THERE again.

Cancer is a forced exercise in self-management. People keep telling me to take care of myself. God does too. I guess for stubborn people like me, the only way we truly learn is the hard way.

In the Daystar reading for today, a metaphor in Isaiah caught my attention: "My care for the people of Judah is like the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, but they have rejected it. They are rejoicing over what will happen to King Rezin and King Pekah" (Isaiah
8:6 NLT).

The truth is that the Lord does care for us. This has been true all along and will be true even in the final days as the Man of Lawlessness emerges before the Second Coming of Jesus. "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say" (2 Thessalonians
2:16-17 NLT).

Lord, thank you for getting me through “the longest day.” Thank you for my mom and sis who were here with me. Thank you for everyone who was praying. Lord, I need your grace and strength and HELP dealing with this round of chemo. It is much more difficult than the first. Give me wisdom and show me how to handle things and MYSELF differently. Your gently flowing care is available always. Help me avail myself of it. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 126: A Weird Happenstance

Okay, before I share this, I want all of you to know that I am going to call the doctor about this, AND I seem to be doing a little better this morning.

When I got back home from Texas yesterday, I started to feel worse and worse as the night progressed.

I went to bed and seemed to sleep well at first, but then I woke up with a tremendously overwhelming feeling of both nausea and sweats. As I tried to make my way to the bathroom, it just seemed to get worse.

It is at this point that I think I fainted or something. I really have no idea. All I remember at that point is that I kind of “woke up” and had to orient myself a bit. I looked up and noticed a coat hanging above me. To my right was a doorway. And then I felt under me—carpet. Somehow, either on my way to the bathroom or coming out of it, I had just collapsed or something.

I know this sounds fairly serious on one hand, but on the other, it is kind of funny. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh. But somehow, I can’t help it! It took me a long time lying there actually to figure out where I was.

I was still very nauseated when all of this “figuring” was going on. It was all kind of blur. So, I just stayed there, and things seemed to pass enough for me to crawl over to the bed and get in it. From there, I slept okay the rest of the night, but I still don’t feel that well right now.

So, again, in addition to telling the doc about this, I’m going to take it easy today.

Overall, I felt good on the trip, but it was wall-to-wall activity, and I am sure that I need to take a step back for a couple of days.

My mom and sis both asked me my impressions of the trip. It was great being back in my old Alma Mater and seeing it again. Just the passage of time …

When I think about myself as a Baylor student and then now as a 56 year-old guy with cancer … it seems like light years’ difference.

Cancer was very much on my mind as I walked around campus. One never knows what the future will hold, but when you are twenty, you don’t think about it.

As I have chronicled in the two previous posts that I will also put up today—in some way, things have not changed all that much. I felt that way with Eddie and Kay. In other ways, things have changed a lot at Baylor. That new stadium and all the new buildings—wow.

Other things have changed as well. On my way to the game on Saturday, I turned right off of Valley Mills toward the VA Hospital and the community of Beverly Hills. I wanted to go see my college church building.

Mom Carlile still goes there when she can make it. She said that things have declined fairly dramatically. Now, there are only 30 to 40 folks who attend.

The building seemed larger than I had remembered, but it was sad, seeing it again and knowing that it is almost to the point of closing its doors.

I had some really great memories there, including the Friday night when I told the church I had been called to full-time vocational service. I remember the buses that used to be parked over to the side. On and on …

I took several pictures, but the one I include on Facebook of the church sign struck me the most. “Prayer Meeting Tuesdays at 10:00” is a sure give away that the congregation is older and smaller. Only people who are retired can make a Tuesday morning prayer meeting.

There are lessons to be learned there, I know, but for now, I just have a burden to pray for Beverly Hills Baptist Church. Should I pray that it survives? Should I pray that it dies with dignity and the ministry continues? There is a Hispanic church that uses the building as well. Who knows? Only God.

In the Daystar reading for today, the Old Testament readings are in the early chapters of Isaiah—some famous chapters: the Song of the Vineyard in chapter five; the call experience of the prophet (this was the passage evangelist Allen Buchanek was preaching at Beverly Hills in the final night of the revival service where the Lord compelled me to tell the church I had been called to preach) in chapter six; and the Emmanuel passage in chapter seven.

As the people struggled with an invasion from a coalition army (the odds appeared to be overwhelmingly against them), God said: "But this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘This invasion will never happen; it will never take place; for Syria is no stronger than its capital, Damascus, and Damascus is no stronger than its king, Rezin. As for Israel, within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed. Israel is no stronger than its capital, Samaria, and Samaria is no stronger than its king, Pekah son of Remaliah. Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm’” (Isaiah 7:7-9 NLT).

The story of Beverly Hills Baptist Church is that of multiplied thousands of churches across our country. It is time for those of us who serve to lay aside nostalgia, and fight. Fight the fight of faith and take the God side. He still beats the odds.

Lord, thank you for my college church. I lift her up. You are still in charge of her, of me, and of all the churches in the world. Thanks for taking care of me, whatever happened last night. Thanks for the trip. I love you, Lord. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 125: Huge Changes

The passage of time is weird. That is the only way I can describe it.

On Friday night, I got to spend time with Eddie and Kay, and in some ways, it felt exactly the same way things did 30+ years ago when I was in college. We laughed that we were all older. Eddie has faced and with the Lord's help overcome heart and kidney issues. He just got a transplant not long ago. Of course, I've got my cancer stuff. Eddie and Kay faced cancer with their son Jeffrey's wife Heather. I mentioned this yesterday, but STILL, it did not seem as if things had changed ALL THAT MUCH.

However, I had just the opposite impression yesterday. Oh, man!

In the "former world" of football at Baylor, everyone jumped in their cars and headed to the stadium a couple miles away off Valley Mills. Floyd Casey Stadium is just your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill football venue. Parking was fairly easy. One of the reasons was that going to games was just not that big of a deal.

I remember one homecoming game my sophomore year. We played Arkansas. We got beat something like 27-0.

Fast forward to 2014: I parked downtown, off of 5th Street and Austin Avenue. I took a shuttle to a street corner northwest of the stadium. I was a little over two hours early.

I could not believe all the activity. Tents dotted the landscape as hundreds of folks were already there tailgating. Boats pulled up in the little harbor on the east side of the stadium. Then, the BRIDGE.

Crowds of folks decked out in green and gold swept into the area.

I went against the crowd, took some pictures of the stadium and the Brazos River, and went over to the other side to discover a "world" I had never seen before.

When I went to Baylor, there was literally nothing except some run-down student housing between the library and the river.

Not so now. Dozens of new residence halls and new buildings along with Truett Seminary. All new stuff! As I continued to walk toward campus, the crowds of folks kept passing me, heading to the stadium.

It was a rather chilly (for this time of year in Texas) morning, but by the time I was taking my walk back toward campus, it had warmed nicely. Everyone was out and about.

One hour prior to kickoff, I turned to head back toward the stadium. By then, the crowds had multiplied. So many people and groups were gathered under tents and along the path to the stadium. People were throwing footballs and eating hamburgers and sitting in the sun.

When I got back to the stadium, I diverted off the path a bit to a grassy area with cement steps. Obviously, some smart designer had created this area along with several others outside the stadium just for people to sit on a nice day. I stretched out on the grass for a brief rest.

Then, I decided to go into the stadium. When I found my seat, a young man greeted me, "Are you John?" Yes! Anthony, Steve's friend was there with his wife Sherry and one of his daughters, Amanda. Anthony works at Baylor in the business office. We visited about the school and the stadium and the team. He told me how to download an app that allows one to see stats and video highlights of the game.

That's when the words of the old Virginia Slims cigarette ad hit me, "We've come a long way, baby!"

The Bears blew out the Jayhawks. I left early so that I could start my trip northward. My flight leaves at 1:00 this afternoon. I'm heading to the airport here after a bit. I had plans to go to church this morning. I honestly think that I am just going to rest before I head out.

I'm still trying to process everything I've seen and done the past couple of days. More later.

Lord, thank you for allowing me to go on this trip. Thank you for giving me the strength to do everything I've done. I pray for a safe trip home. I pray for my mom and sis as they come to pick me. I pray for First Southern and the services and Al as he preaches for me. No matter how many things change, I'm glad YOU don't. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 124: Relationships

Late yesterday afternoon, after I had arrived, stopped at the Baylor Bookstore to buy the right colored shirt (I'll explain that in a moment), and found Steve and Jenny's place, Eddie and Kay came to pick me up. It was great to see them both. I hadn't seen them in over 30 years. We laughed a lot just as we did when we first met at Beverly Hills Baptist Church back in the late 1970's.

Waaaaay back then, all of us were a lot younger. Ha.

Kay's dad Herb Carlile was one of the leaders in the church's bus ministry. I became a bus captain, just like he was, but there was no way I could ever keep up with Herb. His bus always had the most kids, every Sunday.

Eddie and Kay's oldest son Jeffrey was in the children's church I led. In fact, one day, when I gave the invitation, Jeffrey professed faith in Jesus. I will never forget the look on Kay's face when I took him to her that Sunday and told her. She reminded me of that day last night.

"Mom" Carlile was exactly that to many of us. I can't begin to count the number of times I "happened" to show up at her house right about dinner time (what a coincidence). She "forced" me to sit down and eat.

I got to see Mom last night. She is 89, turning 90 soon. We gave each other a big hug. I will post pictures when I get back to Denver.

Eddie and Kay also took me to Jeffrey's house. He and his wife Heather along with their two kids live in a beautiful little countryside neighborhood. Jason, Jeffrey's brother along with his wife Katy and children Payton, Riley, and Carly, live right around the corner. I met Jason and said, "Hi Jason, I'm John. You probably don't remember me. You were only two years old the last time I saw you."

I had such a great evening with Eddie and Kay. We talked a lot about the Beverly Hills Baptist Church days. Unfortunately, the church is WAY down these days--only a few senior adults still go there. Eddie and Kay got to First Baptist Church of Woodway. We actually drove by the church as they took me back to Steve's--a huge church plant. It was a church on the rise when I was in college. Now, it is a mega-church.

My whole wonderful evening with Eddie and Kay and their family along with the readings for today point out how valuable relationships really are.

The Old Testament readings in the Daystar Plan move from the final chapter in Ecclesiastes to the first few chapters of the Song of Songs. I believe Song of Songs is an ode to the physical love that a man and his wife share. The language of this book is actually pretty explicit in the Hebrew. But what a beautiful description of marital love!

Again, I love the pairing with the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians. In the chapters, I read today, Paul likens himself to both a father and mother to this precious church. And in chapter three, he calls them "brothers and sisters."

One of the greatest gifts in our relationship with Jesus is our relationships in the body of Christ. It is so cool to be able to pick up right where I left off 30 years ago with a young son in the faith, Jeffrey; with a brother and sister like Eddie and Kay along with Heather, Jeffrey's wife, who has had her own bout with cancer (more on that story later); and Mom Carlile.

Lord, I'm so thankful for my years here in Waco and the relationships You gave me. All of this is totally apart from the friends I made in college--just an added bonus. Please bless Eddie and Kay and their wonderful family. It was awesome to see them. Thank you, Lord, for this great gift. Love you guys! Love you Jesus. Amen.