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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Trip to Fort Worth

I’ve got a relatively early flight this morning. Marilyn is taking me to the airport. This trip has come together really over the past few days. I just decided to take a trip to one of my old “stomping grounds”—Fort Worth.

I’m going to be spending most of my time there seeing some friends and believe it or not, seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Southwestern Seminary has procured this exhibit and it will be at the seminary until sometime in January, if my memory serves me correctly.

When I first heard that the seminary would have the Dead Sea scrolls, I thought, “I would like to see them.” This may be my only opportunity. I believe they are usually housed somewhere in Israel most of the time. I’ll find out for sure.

Anyway, the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in that cave in Ebla has to be the single-most archeological discovery of all time, especially as it relates to biblical studies. I’ve always been fascinated with the whole story.

I guess I will need to buy a ticket to get into to see them wherever they are on campus. So be it.

Well, anyway, I’m looking forward to spending some time in Fort Worth. That town really grew on me when I was in seminary. It is a polar opposite of Dallas, very laid back and easy going.

There are so many people I would like to see when I am down there. Many of them live in the Dallas area. I just don’t know how many I will get to on this trip. We will see.

I will try to keep up my writing as I am gone. We will see how that goes.

The passage I read today gives a very clear challenge for us all. Let me quote an excerpt from Ezekiel’s message of judgment against Egypt: "All the people of Egypt will know that I am the LORD, for to Israel you were just a staff made of reeds. When Israel leaned on you, you splintered and broke and stabbed her in the armpit. When she put her weight on you, you gave way, and her back was thrown out of joint" (Ezekiel 29:6, 7 NLT).

Here is the lesson: the only one who is lean-worthy is Jesus! Every other person or king or nation is just a staff made of reeds. It won’t hold you up. Don’t even go there.

Lord, thank you for allowing me to go on this trip. I pray for safety in travel. Take care of my mom and sis as well as the church over these next few days. Thank you for Al. Preach through him this Sunday in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Help me, Jesus. My armpit is sore and my back is often out of joint. When will I learn? Help learn to lean.

“Learning to lean, learning to lean.
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.
Finding more power than I’ve ever dreamed.
I’m learning to lean on Jesus” (I just quoted that song from memory. Not sure about the exact title, but I love it). Amen.
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Oops, I Forgot: I Had a Maintenance Treatment Yesterday

What is going on? It hit me early afternoon yesterday. I didn’t even mention in this blog that I had a maintenance treatment! It was certainly on my mind. I prayed about it. I know many of you did and thanks, by the way, but I just didn’t mention it here.

This is just another one of those things that points out the contradictions inherent in long-term illness. Sometimes, it just isn’t on my mind as it used to be. And yet, I, of course cannot totally forget about it AND I don’t want others to forget either. After a while, these kinds of things become more and more routine.

The danger of the routine, however, is that one might get blindsided. You never know with cancer when you are going to hear, “John, I’m sorry to tell you this, but it has returned.”

I was prepared for that yesterday, but thank Jesus, I did NOT hear that message. In fact, Dr. Jotte didn’t even tell me that everything was okay. He just said, “Well, we are almost done with this. Just two more to go. We will have to talk about your port at some point.”

I jumped in, “Oh, I love it. I don’t mind if it stays in forever.”

“Well, we are going to keep it in at least for a year after you have finished your treatment and then we will make decisions because if it stays in, you will still have to come in and get it flushed out every six weeks.”

Don’t care. Fine.

Once again, yesterday, they “fast-tracked” me. Things went well. I got out of the center at about 11:00, way earlier than I have in the past. I was a little more fatigued than a week ago, and of course, last night, I did not sleep that well. I can be pretty specific: I tossed and turned until 2:30 AM and then I must have dropped off until I woke up again at 4:10 AM.

I have a ton of stuff to do today for some reasons I will tell you about. I just pray that I can stay awake through all of them!

Well, enough of that.

I want to go back to my topic of discussion for yesterday for a minute. First, I love hearing from folks who are actually reading this verbiage that spills out of me every day. Again, I appreciate all of you very much.

Second, I always love discussion and interaction with what I write because it means that people are thinking.

Third, as I tell people at church all the time after I have preached something on a peripheral issue that someone disagrees with: “Hey, I am certainly not infallible. I readily admit I could be wrong and it would not be the last time, BUT here is the rule: use scripture, properly interpreted and applied, in your refutation of what I say because that is my standard. If you show me that, I will be glad to reconsider what I have said. If not, then I am just going to assume I am right until the Lord shows me differently through His Word.”

Enough said? I hope so.

This whole matter of the origin of Satan falls in that category. In addition to the verses from Ezekiel that I cited yesterday, some also point to some verses in Isaiah 14 as describing the “fall of Satan as an angel of light.” I’m not going to quote these verses at this point. Look them up. Here is my contention about these verses: they refer to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. This is the clear context of the verses of this chapter. This is a message of judgment against a wicked ruler who vaunted himself up against God. No one who does this, as the record of scripture clearly shows, ends up well.

There is nothing in this text, in my opinion, that says anything about Satan.

There is also a verse in the New Testament that people point to: “I saw Stan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18, NLT). Is this verse about the origin of Satan? I guess it could be, but again, I don’t think so. I believe that Jesus is teaching His disciples about the DEFEAT of Satan. His incarnation forever undid the works of the devil (See 1 John 3:8, NLT). Jesus’ coming alone, I believe, forever removed him from the place of prominence he enjoyed in the presence of God as demonstrated in the book of Job and bound him.

Okay, I guess I am opening up Pandora’s box here (again, I could be wrong—I’ll certainly hear it on this one, for sure), but I believe we are in the millennium now where Satan is bound through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Toward the end, right before Jesus comes back, he will be freed to wreck havoc as things get worse and worse (we are in the tribulation right now; the church does not get “raptured out” because there is no rapture—it is not in the Bible AT ALL. Again, if you believe it is—show me. Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Seminary, believes in the rapture, as do many other very competent New Testament scholars, more competent than I, for sure, but I still remain unconvinced by their arguments).

Ha, ha! Might as well swing for the fences on all of this! Right? Hey, I’ve only had a little over an hour’s sleep, so why not?

Anyway, back to the point, Jesus is teaching His disciples that they have authority over the enemy because he is fallen.

In all of my comments, please do not take them that I believe that Satan is still not active and at work and a very real threat to all of us. I did business with him yesterday and will today. But what I am arguing is that there is a lot more in the Bible (and we can disagree about the millennial views—can you guess what mine is by the comments I have made?) about how Jesus defeated him and I think Luke 10:18 is clearly one such place.

The Bible just assumes this enemy. He shows up in that snake in the Garden. Where he came from is a mystery. We can speculate about it all day long (and I believe it is just that SPECULATION because I cannot find any viable passages that actually do teach us where he came from. Again, show me if I am wrong) but I think we are better served to talk about how Jesus has defeated him and how we can walk in victory over temptation and evil.

Well, as they say, I think I have beaten that horse and the whole stable enough—ha.

Here is the passage I read for today. As we approach Election Day, I sure hope that the United States of America does not fall in the category of nations that God will judge and wipe off the face of the earth. Without a spiritual awakening of epic proportions, that is where we are headed. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. They will live safely in Israel and build homes and plant vineyards. And when I punish the neighboring nations that treated them with contempt, they will now that I am the LORD their God” (Ezekiel 28:25-26, NLT).

One more thing, I have a lot to do because I am leaving town for a few days tomorrow. I will tell you more about this tomorrow.

Lord, I thank you for all the mystery in your Word. There are a lot of things that we don’t know, and you don’t need us to know because you haven’t told us. I’m okay with that.

Thank you for the defeat of Satan—your incarnation unraveled all his works and the cross totally defeated him. He is still “doing his thing” but he is a toothless tiger—all roar and no bite.

Thank you for our country. Please have mercy on us. Send a great revival and let it begin with me!

Here’s how this great hymn describes it:

“O let Him have the things that hold you, and His Spirit like a dove,
Will descend upon your life and make you whole” (“Spirit Song,” BH 2008, 329). Amen.
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Halloween and the "Fall of Satan"

We have experienced a bit of a controversy at church over the past couple of weeks. Surprise, surprise, right? Controversy in a local church! Now, that is unusual! Ha.

A couple of months ago, Calla planned an outreach activity for children during “this time of year.” She called it a “Halloween Carnival.” Some folks have expressed to her (first) and then to me that they don’t even like the name, “Halloween.” They obviously don’t approve.

Calla and I had a conversation about it. Her comment to me was, “If we want to change the name of the event, no problem. But I think we ought to keep it because the people we are trying to reach identify with it.” In my opinion, she made a very good point. After our conversation, I prayed about it, and felt we needed to go ahead with that moniker.

In preparation for the children’s sermon yesterday, I did some brief research about the name “Halloween.” I discovered that there is some dispute about where the holiday comes from, but one opinion is that it derives from the Roman Catholic holiday “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Day” and October 31st is “All Hallow’s Eve.” This was a day set aside to remember and pray for the dead.

Now, before I go further, I want to say a couple of things. First, what I mentioned above is just one theory. Two, whatever theory of origin one chooses, it seems clear to me that this is a pagan holiday. Third, and it seems to get worse every year, certainly our culture tends to celebrate this day in extremely pagan ways that do nothing but honor Satan and demons and witches and death and darkness.

So, what on earth is the church doing getting involved with this at all? Well, I think there is always room for caution on stuff like this. There is a fine line that comes back to heart and motivation, in my opinion.

After the past couple of days and as a result of my reading in LeMay’s book, we always have to be careful that we don’t “sell out” to the world in order to garner the world’s approval and attention. This is first and foremost in my opinion. We are called to holiness. I want to state this firmly and equivocally upfront.

But having said that, I am reminded of Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 9. We quote this verse often at First Southern. Paul asserts, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NLT).

The history of Christianity is replete with examples of the church using a pagan platform to proclaim a Christian message. It started with Paul’s sermon in the Areopagus. Was there ever a more pagan forum than that? Paul’s message cited pagan poets? How about that?

Nancy always jokes with me about the church she attended years ago where the pastor used an article in Reader’s Digest as the text for his sermon. I would certainly never do this in the congregational setting among God’s people in worship, but if I got to preach in a mall …?

Isn’t this what Paul did? He used that pagan platform but didn’t dwell there. He went on to make a case for the one and only God.

Luther’s classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” also falls in this category. My understanding is that the music for this classic song of our faith was a bar tune in Luther’s day. He took this popular song and “Christianized it” to a degree. How about that?

I don’t know. Again, there is a fine line.

Last night, it was great to see all the boys and girls in their costumes. They seemed to have a great time in Christian fellowship and got a lot of candy.

We also had some conversations with folks who came.

One lady told me she had had a biopsy a few days ago, and she was worried that she might have cancer. Her name is Julie Ann. Please pray for her. I handed her my business card and told her to call the church and let us know how her test came out because we would be praying for her.

I believe that last night’s “Halloween Carnival” honored Jesus Christ.

Enough of that.

This morning, I read a passage that has been variously interpreted and applied over the years. Some firmly believe that it describes the origin of Satan—his fall as an angel of God. Let me quote some of the verses about “the king of Tyre”:
"You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone— red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper, blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald— all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. “You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. Your rich commerce led you to violence, and you sinned. So I banished you in disgrace from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire. Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings" (Ezekiel 28:13-17 NLT).

I will grant you that some of these statements are rather curious—in the Garden of Eden, the elaborate multi-jeweled description, and the “mighty angelic guardian.” This merits further study on my part. Stay tuned.

Honestly, however, given the nature of the symbolism of prophetic language, especially in the book of Ezekiel, I believe this interpretation of this passage is unfounded. The Bible does not delve into the origin of the devil. He simply appears as a player in the Garden of Eden. That’s it.

Again, however, I feel I need to do some further study.

I believe this whole issue points out the fact that we need to be careful not to import our agendas and interpretations onto a passage, but rather, we need to let its original grammatico-historical interpretation set the tone for its meaning in our day and time.

I think we are better served teaching how to combat the temptations and influences of Satan, especially this of year, instead of trying to find passages that teach how he came to be.

Lord, thank you for last night. I pray that in this time of year as our culture celebrates a pagan holiday that your light and truth would shine even brighter.

Thanks for all the boys and girls who came last night. I pray for Julie Ann as she awaits the results of her biopsy. I pray that she would come to know you through this whole process if she doesn’t already.

Thank for calling us out of the world to go right back into it to share the gospel in a pagan culture.

“Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived
When we shall leave this place” (“Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” BH 2008, 328). Amen.
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Easy Believe-ism

As I continue to read LeMay’s book, I’m increasingly convicted as I think about all the ways we have compromised as the American church.

I want to quote LeMay as he gives a couple of examples: “Not so fast. Welcome to American Christianity in the 21st century. Life got you down and you feel lost? Just recite this “Sinner’s prayer” and everything will get better. No need for godly sorrow or true repentance, just invite Jesus into your heart. Don’t know this ‘Jesus’? No problem, you just need to ‘believe’ in Him, not know Him.

Having problems making ends meet financially? Would you like the blessings of a big beautiful home or that new boat like your neighbor has? No problem, just ask God for it. Hey, if you have enough faith, the world is at your fingertips. God wants only the best for you and if you think His best means a life of luxury to you, believe and you will receive” (Michael D. LeMay, The Suicide of American Christianity, 109).

I fully concur with his analysis in this regard. His statements in the first paragraph of the quote above agree with Bennett’s assertions in The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers. It seems that we are trying to “formula-ize” becoming a believer—making it easy and simple to get more people in the fold.

Now, before I go on, I want to affirm that becoming a believer is simple in one way. Jesus offers Himself to anyone—man, woman, boy, or girl. It is available to any and all who would come to Him. BUT, salvation is never easy. It involves a response of repentance and faith. Jesus paid a high price for us to be saved AND what He accomplishes in salvation is a radical life change.

I’ve said this before in the pulpit of First Southern. I think many people today look at salvation as they do a utility hook-up. When we move to a new neighborhood or town, we call the local utility and sign-up and pay up. Once we do that relatively easy activity, we are done with the company (except for a monthly bill).

Unfortunately, I think many people regard salvation that way—pray a little prayer and/or walk the aisle of a church—and that’s it! I can go my merry way and run my own life.

This is NOT the Christian life, and I wonder if someone who has prayed a little prayer and walked an aisle years ago with no visible or tangible life change since has ever been saved in the first place!

This is an example of easy believe-ism.

LeMay cites another glaring instance. Turn on the television on Sunday morning and look at what is on television when it comes to religious programming. Of course, there are notable exceptions to this rule. Charles Stanley is one. I deeply appreciate his ministry. There are others as well.

But most of these TV preachers adhere to the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel. They teach that God is one big hoop jumper. Whatever I need, I can just name it and claim it and God will jump through my hoop and give it to me.

Well, of course, if I preach that kind of babble, I am going to attract an audience large enough to be able to afford to be on television or to fill an auditorium with thousands of folks. Of course. It is easy, straightforward, and presents God’s love in a certain kind of way. There is no mystery, no judgment, and no consequences of sin.

Well, I think you get the idea. But here is my point this morning: why has the church in American adopted this “easy believe-ism” posture?

I can tell you. We want to get more people in the seats! Why? Well, we can probe this as well. Most of the time, we want to do it for money. More people means more offering. More offering means more programs and staff and prestige. And if you have more programs and more staff, you are more likely to attract the lovely little young families with two and a half kids.

All of us really want those half kids! Ha.

I’m joking here, of course, but it isn’t funny. This is the real world in the American church of today.

Those that play this game successfully have a “growing” church. Those that don’t are declining and dying.

I have to be honest. All of this hit me yesterday. It is hard not to be depressed. I am preaching this morning from the second half of the eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians as Paul tells about the suffering he experienced in his life. He gives detail.

Every time I read these verses, I am deeply convicted and burdened. But I will tell you: don’t preach this passage if you are an advocate of easy believe-ism (EB). Any EBers who read these verses—especially the 40 lashes save one part--would run in the opposite direction, especially as we go into the first verse of chapter twelve.

There was nothing easy about Paul’s walk with Jesus and his ministry. AND, I always think of 2 Corinthians 12 when I happen to come upon and EB preacher on the TV. Paul prayed three times and God didn’t answer His prayer (well, He did but not in the way Paul wanted). No Hoop Jumper god here.

What to do about all of this? Well, I can tell you that I am not going to change and I am not going to compromise EVER. Even if I am the last person, I guess I will just turn the key on the front door as I walk out and get in my car.

But the main Person I am worried about is God. I have to answer to Him for my own life, of course, but also for the way I led the church I serve.

I am totally dependent on Him for everything I preach. This warning I read in Proverbs today is apropos: "Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. The words of the godly are like sterling silver; the heart of a fool is worthless. The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense" (Proverbs 10:19-21 NLT).

But beyond this, I am praying for spiritual awakening in our land and revival in the church. This is our only hope.

Oh, Lord, the pressure to put people in the seats is huge in local church ministry today—for all the wrong reasons.

Honor yourself today through the ministry of First Southern. Help us reach people with the genuine gospel—not to make us look better but to get more folks in your family and increase your worship in this land.

I’m discouraged, Lord. I admit it. But I affirm my love for you today and I trust you.

If I am leading this church down a wrong path in any way, please show me. Otherwise, Lord, I am going to stay on the narrow and often unpopular path of preaching the truth of your Word from the whole Bible—all the tough passages like 2 Corinthians 11 (bring them on, baby!)--and let the chips fall where they may.

I pray for our Halloween Outreach tonight. I pray that we could see boys and girls and families saved on this holiday that so often magnifies our enemy. Give me an opportunity to share Jesus with someone today—this simple gospel that is anything but easy.

“Jesus Is worthy of glory,
And worthy of honor,
And worthy of power and all praise” (“No Other Name,” BH 2008, 324). Amen.
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America is in Trouble

Even as I write that phrase, there is a part of me that realizes how little I really realize how much.

America IS in trouble, a heap of trouble, and isn’t that what we (preachers and Christians) are supposed to say?

I think these cries, even though we utter them, largely fall on deaf ears. In a sense, it is almost like “chicken little.” “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” It is something we are supposed to say and we give intellectual agreement to it, but it goes in one ear and out the next.

But things are coming together for me, especially this morning, to give me more urgency and more of a burden.

Last night, my mom challenged me. There is just no other way to put it. We were sitting there—the three of us as we were about ready to go to bed. And she challenged me, “Why don’t we pray every day?” I was speechless. No answer. A lot of excuses, but no answer.

Now, we do indeed pray on occasion, but it seems more and more intermittent. Somehow, we have gotten away from doing it on a more consistent and daily basis.

This is my fault.

Somehow, even as I sit here this morning, I feel adrift a bit. And I don’t know exactly why, but I confess it to you, Lord, right now. And I pray that you would bring me back to the place of spiritual leadership in my own family when it comes to prayer.

No one ever talks about this, but I think having a “family altar” is one of the most difficult things that a family does. So many things compete against it and I don’t even have a wife and kids. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be with kids—even on the level of corralling them and sitting them down long enough to pray.

And families today are very rarely if ever together. The family meal is all but a thing of the past.

It is hard for my mom and sis and I. What we had started to do is to pray while we were together in the car. Now, let me jump in and say that my eyes were wide open as I was driving and we were praying! Don’t worry. But we have discovered that there are many times and opportunities for prayer, and it doesn’t have to be a three-hour prayer meeting either.

The other thing that comes to mind this morning is that I need to call the church to a time of special prayer for the election.

If there were any group that needed to be fully engaged at this time, it is the church of Jesus Christ praying that God’s will would be done in this election. I believe it is the most important election of my lifetime.

I was talking with a brother about it yesterday, and I affirmed my approach to all things political. I simply do not believe it is appropriate for me to take political sides and endorse candidates. I’m just not going to do it.

However, I do believe that it is entirely right for me to challenge the sheep in the flock (and I am one of those sheep) to vote, first of all. Every Christian should cast a vote. Second, every Christian should know the candidates and vote on the basis of moral values. In other words, here are two crucial issues: abortion and gay marriage.

There is absolutely no excuse for any Christian to vote for anyone (Republican or Democrat) that believes in either one of those issues. What the Bible teaches about each one is as clear as the nose on our faces.

Third, I did finally figure out how to get LeMay’s book, The Suicide of American Christianity on my IPad. Oh, man. LeMay is the host of a daily radio show, “Stand Up for Truth.” I have just started reading his book, but in the initial chapter he tells about the suicide of his mother. Her death, he argues, actually occurred over a long period of time as she abused alcohol and cigarettes. She killed herself.

This is his analogy for the American church. He contends that she is slowly and deliberating committing suicide, and this death rests at the feet of church leaders and Christians who tolerate compromise.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more about this as I continue to read this book.

Fourth, I thought of our country as I read the 26th and 27th chapters of Ezekiel. They are messages of judgment on the nation of Tyre. I need to do some research about this nation. I don’t know much about it, but just looking at these two chapters shows me that this nation focused on commerce and trade—BIG TIME.

In fact, that is the reason for her downfall. The Lord judged her because, apparently, she made a god out of money. And, as a result, this is the end:
"Now you are a wrecked ship, broken at the bottom of the sea. All your merchandise and crew have gone down with you. All who live along the coastlands are appalled at your terrible fate. Their kings are filled with horror and look on with twisted faces. The merchants among the nations shake their heads at the sight of you, for you have come to a horrible end and will exist no more" (Ezekiel 27:34-36 NLT).

Could this be where the United States is headed also?

Lord, I am deeply convicted this morning about my growing apathy and indifference. Where does this come from? Certainly not from you.

I confess the sin of failing to take the lead to encourage prayer even in my own family.

I pray that you would empower me as a leader of prayer in the church I serve. Oh, Lord, now, more than ever, make our church a house of prayer for all nations.

I lift up the coming election. Help Christians stand up and be counted and vote their Christian convictions.

Save us as a nation before it is too late.

“He’s my Rock,
He’s my Fortress,
He’s my Deliverer,
In Him will I trust” (“Praise the Name of Jesus,” BH 2008, 322). Amen.
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Sell Out

Well, I guess after doing this for over two years, one of these days was bound to happen.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, I had a very good conversation with Bob, the team leader of the Mile High Association. We talked about some “business” stuff, but as always, our conversation drifted into broader issues related to the kingdom and churches.

In the course of our talk, Bob mentioned a book he was reading. The title of it is intriguing. It is The Suicide of American Christianity. As it turns out, it is a Westbow Press publication—the same company that is publishing my book. (Some day, I will share where that process is).

Anyway, this morning, I went into the Westbow Press bookstore online, found this book, and purchased an “e” copy or so I thought. I also assumed that I downloaded a copy of the book on my computer for the purposes of transferring it to my IPad so that I could actually read this book.

Well, for the past half hour or so, I’ve been trying to “find” this book on my computer to download it to my IPad. No success. And, may I add, very frustrating. Part of the reason I am frustrated is that I would like to think this is a rather easy process, but it does not appear to be.

I’m hoping it is easy so many folks will buy my book in the same way!

Okay, so I will have to work on this today. I can’t waste any more time trying to figure this whole thing out right now.

Back to the conversation—I was talking with Bob about where we are as a church.

Not too many weeks ago, I shared, in our Vision service, that the absolute necessity before us is to reach young families. If we don’t, the church will not be here many more years.

This is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned, as obvious as the nose on my face. Of course, there are some folks in our congregation that might not agree with this totally, for one reason or another. I don’t want to get into those “issues” right now.

The challenge is: how does a church do this in our day and time?

Last Sunday, as I was in a meeting with the folks who are serving on our Youth Pastor Search Team and this challenge came up.

Someone mentioned a rather large congregation in our community. He said, “And I will tell you how they do it. They have two separate services going on at the same time. In one building, they have the service for the younger folks. It has ‘smoke’ and really loud music, and then in another building, they have the service for older folks.”

At first, when he said, “smoke,” I was a little unsure of what he was talking about. I didn’t ask him to explain but after I thought about it, I realized I didn’t need to. I think I know. I think it is the smoke that artists use in concerts for special effects.

This person on our team alluded to this approach to ministry at this other church and then said, “And, I think we are probably going to have to do the same to reach younger folks. They aren’t going to come to a service like the one we have. No way.”

Now, please know that I respect this brother in our church very much. We have often discussed the idea of two services. He has been in on many of these discussions. He has a heart to see our church reach younger people. So, please understand that I am not criticizing him, per se.

But I have been thinking about that conversation for several days and mentioned it to Bob. Here is what I said, “Bob, I guess the thing that bothers me is: do we have to have a smoke and mirrors performance to attract younger people? Everything we do in our culture is segmented and divided. Is it a pipe dream to think it is possible for multiple generations to worship together? Am I crazy?”

I’m glad that Bob assured me that I was not and he agreed with me.

We went on to concur that there is no way in the world (especially at the church I serve, and this is no knock against anyone at First Southern) that we could ever put on a good enough “show” to compete with the world.

And, let me go a step further: there is no way in the world that we will ever TRY, as long as I have a say in the matter. NO WAY. How futile! What a waste of time!

I was talking about this very thing with another brother the other day, and I said this, “I will never give up the hymnal and these wonderful songs that have persisted in Christian worship for hundreds of years and with good reason. This is part of our heritage as believers and one of our responsibilities is to pass these songs on to the next generation. And if that is not “hip or cool,” so be it.

Well, obviously, I am getting wound up on all this and I could say a lot more this morning, but I’ve got to get to my sermon prep. That will have to suffice for now.

The bottom line is that I am totally dependent on the Lord and His wisdom. I’m trusting Him to show us the way and I am following the counsel of scripture: "Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer" (Proverbs 9:10-12 NLT).

Oh, Lord, I acknowledge you as a Holy God. Thank you that you have called us not to be like the world, but to be radically different. I’m never going to “sell out” to the world.

However, I confess that I am struggling with how we can reach younger families without compromising the message of truth and the worship of a Holy God—You.

Give us wisdom and direction, Lord.

Thank you that authorities here have apprehended a suspect in the Jessica Ridgeway murder. I pray that justice would be done.

And now—another hymn. Thank you for all types of music that honors you but especially these hymns of our faith:

“Blessed be the name of the Lord,
He is worthy to be praised and adored” (“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” BH 2008, 321). Amen.
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The First Snow--UGH

I can already tell you that I am out of kilter this morning for several reasons. First, I overslept, big time! That never happens to me. I think I slept right through my usual wake-up time at 4:00. I say, “I think” because I am not sure what happened. My brain is not functioning that well this morning. All I know is: I woke up way later than normal.

This is usually what happens to me a couple of days after my maintenance treatment. I don’t sleep that well for a couple nights and then, it is crash and burn time. I guess I just needed the rest.

But it is amazing to me how getting up just a little bit later affects my routine in the morning, especially writing. I just don’t feel as sharp. Oh, well.

Second, to my chagrin, I looked out the window and sure enough—SNOW! UGH. I have never been a fan of the white and cold wet stuff, as anyone who knows me even a little bit would readily know. Why? Well, one of the main reasons is that snow forces me to shift my cardio exercise inside.

I’m trying to figure out a way to keep doing it even in this type of weather. Stay tuned.

But I can’t begin to express how much I appreciate my walks/runs in the morning a couple of days a week. I have a little route I take along with my cell phone and YouVersion—a great Bible application. I spend time reading a passage I am going to preach on and meditating on it as I walk. It is the most creative time of the week, without a doubt.

Then, at a certain point, I stick my phone in my pocket and run a little bit. It gets my blood flowing and really gets me going for the day.

This weather today, however, forces me inside to a stationary bike. This means the walking/meditation element is out the window. It is just exercise and rather boring exercise at that.

Oh, well, I think I’ll live! Don’t you? Ha. That’s enough of my rant about why I don’t like snow.

There are other reasons as well, but I won’t beat this horse any longer this morning.

Now, to the passage for today. I love Proverbs eight. It is an ode or poem to wisdom personified. I cannot but help think that there is a prophetic element to this passage that points directly to Jesus. References to Him in the book of Colossians confirm this, I think. Here is one that comes to mind: "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together" (Colossians 1:15-17 NLT).

In other words, Jesus did not “begin” in the manger in Bethlehem. As God, He has always existed as co-equal with God. In fact, He is the agent of creation: everything that God made, He made through Him and for Him.

This is the New Testament picture of what the writer of Proverbs (Solomon and whoever) depicts in the eighth chapter. This signal portion of God’s Word ends with these words, in the first person: "’I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence. And how happy I was with the world he created; how I rejoiced with the human family!’ And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it. Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home! For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:30-36 NLT).

Since Wisdom was right there at God’s side from the beginning, it seems rather logical that we need to listen to Him and follow Him every day of our lives.

When we refuse, we only “injure” ourselves.

I saw this first-hand yesterday in two specific instances. I had an opportunity to visit with a couple of folks—both of whom were struggling with the consequences of bad decisions. I’m not going to get into too much detail here, but just to see the pain and woundedness and “injury” in their lives. I can relate from personal experience, of course. But both times, I found myself saying, “This is not terminal. God is in the salvation business. He can turn this around, if you will let Him, and make something good out of it.”

I believe this with all my heart. This same Jesus who is the agent of creation is in the redemption business as well.

Lord, thank you for this day. You are the Architect. You created everything (including snow) and I’m grateful that you came to this earth as the Incarnate Word to redeem those who are sinners.

Today, I lift up these two individuals. May they both experience your love and grace today.

Get my motor running today, Lord. Burrrrr. I’m cold!

“We are a moment,
You are forever,
Lord of the ages,
God before time” (“Be Unto Your Name,” BH 2008, 319). Amen.

P. S. Yesterday, I had some problems with this website. I hope things work today. I know—it is the snow’s fault! I’ll blame it on that.
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Ezekiel's Wife

One of my cardinal principles of ministry is that everyone grieves differently.

Several years ago, and somehow my recollection of specifics is a little fuzzy—I was ministering to a family in grief. One member of the family looked at me. She had this horrified expression on her face. She said, “Pastor John, I’m really upset.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have not been able to cry since this death occurred. I must be a horrible person. What is wrong with me?”

I tried to console her. I don’t think I helped a whole lot, but one of the things I said was, “Everyone grieves in different ways. It is a lifetime thing. You will never ‘get over it.’ Don’t worry about it.”

All of this is background to the passage I read this morning in Ezekiel. It is only a few verses in the final half of Ezekiel 24, almost an afterthought. You might miss it completely in a cursory reading of the book, but here is God’s instruction to His prophet: "Then this message came to me from the LORD: ‘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. Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends.’ So I proclaimed this to the people the next morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did everything I had been told to do" (Ezekiel 24:15-18 NLT).

Bang, bang, bang. God gives a word. Zeke shares that word. His wife dies. He responds as the Lord tells him. No outward grief.

Whoa.

This has to be one of the most difficult things the Lord has ever asked anyone to do.

I mean, there is a part of me that would want some time for myself after the death of my spouse. “Lord, give me some time here to deal with this. Give me a few days or weeks or months, and I will be glad to use this tragedy as a sermon, but right now? Are you kidding?”

One of my favorite preachers of all time was Ron Dunn. He had an expression that comes to mind at this point. I don’t know if you know about his story, but one of his sons committed suicide. And I am not sure that the expression I am going to quote came out of that tragedy or not. But after something bad happened in his life, someone said, “Do you still believe in Romans 8:28?”

Here is his answer, and I have never forgotten it, “Yes, I do but don’t ask me to preach a sermon on it right now.”

I can totally understand that answer. I have a lot of sympathy with it.

But, in Ezekiel 24, the prophet had no such latitude or luxury. God took his wife, and immediately, the prophet grieved as the Lord told him. This unusual response elicited a question from the people, “What does all this mean? What are you trying to tell us?” (Verse 19). Zeke had no time to himself.

He launched into an answer that had to do with their response to the events surrounding the Babylonian exile. The temple will be destroyed. The sons and daughter of the exiles will be killed. And the people will not mourn or grieve publicly, but they will do it privately, as Ezekiel did when his wife died.

In other words, Ezekiel’s public response to the death of his wife mirrored that of the people.

There is one final aspect to all of this at the end of Ezekiel 24. A survivor from all this tragedy in Jerusalem will come to Babylon and tell Ezekiel that this has happened, “And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (verse 27).

That last phrase is a common one in Ezekiel and it gets at the theme of the book.

Here is the bottom line: sometimes the Lord asks us to do hard things, and when we do them, we don’t deserve any special glory or credit or praise. It is just a part of the gig. All the glory and credit and praise goes to God.

I am reminded of the passage I am preaching this Sunday—the last half of 2 Corinthians 11—Paul’s litany of suffering. The more I study that list, the more convicted I get. There is some unbelievably difficult stuff there, i. e. the infamous 40 lashes save one of the Jews. Umm. Tough. Real tough.

And yet Paul puts it in the list along with the other stuff as if he is shopping for groceries: milk, butter, 40 lashes save one, bacon, coffee, et cetera.

In other words, it is just another thing (or actually, five things) the Lord asked him to do—just part of the gig.

I don’t know … All of this is very convicting.

Father, I thank you for everything—the good, the bad, the hard, and/or off the charts difficult—you have asked me to do for the sake of the message. I thank you that your message is never just about words. It is about a life that corresponds to words, the backs up words, that demonstrates words. This is the only kind of message that has any impact anyway.

I know this in my head, but my heart is sometimes slow to catch up. I always feel that I need some time—for me, just because I think somehow I deserve a favor or special consideration from you. I’m wrong, Lord. So wrong.

You have already favored me far more than I deserve. You have already broken the bank for me.

Now, I just ask for the grace to be a ready and willing servant no matter what lies ahead—more cancer, more tragedy, whatever.

“Emmanuel, God is with us, blessed Redeemer, Living Word” (“Jesus, Name Above All Names,” BH 2008, 320). Amen.
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Fast Track

Yesterday, after getting the infusion of Benadryl and the steroid—this always happens at the start—Diane said, “Well, John, do you feel up to fast tracking today?”

“Huh? What is that?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going to check with Kelly (this is Dr. Jotte’s assistant who gave me my checkup yesterday because the doc was out of town) to see if she is okay with it. What is it? Well, we can give you your Rituxan in about 90 minutes.” (parentheses mine)

Usually, these maintenance treatments take just about as long as chemo did—3 to 4 hours total. I was still in shock. “Ninety minutes! Wow, that is great. How come you are doing this, I asked?”

Diane replied, “Well, this is relatively new technology over the past couple of months. Do you notice the size of the bag? It is smaller.”

My appointment was at 9:00. I was out of there yesterday about 11:30. It was fantastic, and I felt better than I ever had after such a treatment. I came back to my mom and sis’ house and worked most of the afternoon. I was fully awake and aware.

In the past, I have come home and dozed on and off the rest of the day.

I did hit a wall about 6:00 when my energy level dropped off the map and then, I really didn’t sleep at all last night.

It still amazes me that I can be totally exhausted and yet not able to sleep. Again, it is that steroid they give me. At one point during the debate last night, I broke into a sweat. It was literally dripping off of me. Weird, weird, weird.

Back to the treatment, a couple more things. First, at one point during the morning, Diane asked me how my fatigue and energy levels were doing. I answered, “I’m doing better but I still get very tired now and again.” She stated, “I’ll tell you. It takes a long time, John, to get back.” Somehow, her words really made me feel better.

I still feel the pressure to be fully back, and I know I am not quite there yet. I’m not sure I ever will. I don’t know.

Second, at one point in the day, a young woman came in. She had a nurse on each arm. She was wobbly and weak and she was crying. She had a scarf on her head and her face had a weird white blotch on it. She was obviously very sick.

In the chemo room at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, there are two rooms on one side with beds in each, and then, there is a bed on the other side of the room with a curtain the nurses pull so that patients can have some privacy. At first, they tried to help this young woman into the one of the rooms, but they discovered that both of them were already occupied. So, they turned and escorted her to the bed in the other part of the room.

This is the sickest person I have seen in this room in all my months of being in there. She could barely move. She seemed to be weeping more and more.

My heart goes out to her. I just can’t get her out of my mind today.

Third, as I was leaving, another woman who had come in spoke to me. At first, I really didn’t understand what she was saying. She was saying something about the Cleveland Browns. I said, “Excuse me.” She went on, “Are you a fan of the Cleveland Browns?” She could see the clueless look on my face. She proceeded, “Your backpack is orange and brown.”

Before my first chemo treatment months ago, Marilyn loaned me her backpack. It is orange and brown. Somehow, when I have a treatment, I always take it with me. I put my computer or a blanket or a book or whatever in there.

Finally, what she was saying clicked with me, but all I could say was, “Oh, no, I’m not.” And I headed out the door.

Even as I was leaving the center, I thought, “She was trying to talk with you, you idiot. Why didn’t you ask her if she was a Cleveland Brown fan.” I blew one there. I pray that I see her again.

I think I have come full circle in my attitude and approach to being in the chemo room, unfortunately. At first, I thought I would be a male version of Florence Nightingale, flitting from person to person in that room, ministering. After yesterday, I am convicted that I have become a hermit instead. Somewhere in the middle, as the Holy Spirit gives opportunity (and I believe he did yesterday) is where I need to be.

I pray that I would respond to Wisdom as she calls out from the hilltop and street corner in the light of day. What a contrast to the immoral woman in Proverbs seven who entices another sap in the shadows of twilight in some back alley. Wisdom is OUT THERE and public and gives her invitation to all who pass by. "All who fear the LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech. Common sense and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine. Because of me, kings reign, and rulers make just decrees. Rulers lead with my help, and nobles make righteous judgments. “I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me" (Proverbs 8:13-17 NLT).

Oh, Lord, thank you for another good day and good report and the advancement of the technology of treatment even in the past couple of months. The glory and the credit for all of those things belong to you.

I confess the sin of retreating into my own little world more and more. Deliver from that selfishness, Lord. Help me to be ready to respond when the time is right as Your Spirit leads.

I lift up that young woman. Oh, Lord, give her some relief. Help her to come know you, if she doesn’t already. Oh, Lord!

“Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like the fragrance after the rain” (“There’s Just Something About That Name,” BH 2008, 317). Amen.
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A Treatment Today and the Immoral Woman

Kind of an interesting combination of topics and pairing of scripture for today...

Yes, I do have a maintenance treatment today. I hope I am figuring this right, but including today—I have four more of these and then, I’m done—one today, one next Monday, and then two more in February. After that, I believe that I will have another PET scan, and then just blood checks every three months until the next PET or CT scan.

This long-term illness thing is so weird. The longer it goes, the more these treatments seem to sneak up on me. I guess it is good that I seem to be thinking less and less about cancer, but I find myself getting a little more frustrated every time I have to go in for another treatment. I found myself going down “that road” until a couple of things occurred.

Last night, I was speaking with Steve. His brother Joel, who used to lead worship at one of the largest SBC churches here in Denver—Riverside Baptist Church—was diagnosed with a brain tumor 1998. Steve was explaining that this particular kind of tumor is not in one spot. It has “feelers” that go out into many parts of his brain. Therefore, it is inoperable. Back in 98, when Joel was first diagnosed, the doctors told him that that he maybe had ten years to live.

All of us in the SBC community in Denver heard about Joel’s cancer and prayed for him. I remember trying to think about what he was going through, and I just couldn’t. I had no frame of reference for it.

Back to Joel--he went through chemotherapy. He took it in the form of a pill. When he concluded that, he started taking and continues to take medicine to manage his symptoms. And there are two extremes. One the one hand, he gets very tired. On the other hand, he experiences seizures. But, all in all, Steve said that his brother was doing well, and the oncologist keeps telling them to be hopeful because of advancements in cancer research. Maybe a day will come when they can take this tumor out or do something that will help Joel more significantly.

All of this was a slap in the face to me. When I think about Joel, I realize that my cancer and treatments have been a walk in the park.

I also read this morning about Indianapolis Colts’ coach Chuck Pagano. There was an article about him in the Denver Post this morning. Apparently, he has finished one phase of his treatment and has two more “cycles” to go. The doctors are quotes as saying that he can stay home and hopefully get back into coaching on a very limited basis. He still has to come into the clinic twice a week for treatment but they will monitor him closely (Jeff Legwold, “Pagano on right track to return to coaching, Denver Post, accessed October 22, 2012).

It sounds as if he still has a rough road to travel in his treatments and recovery.

Again, John, quit your complaining. The Lord has been good to you, O my soul.

I’m convicted this morning that I have drifted away from my gratitude over what the Lord has done in my life, and as a result of that, I feel that my love relationship with Jesus has waned a bit.

This is the stern warning of a couple of passages. Before I discuss them briefly, I have to say that one of the things I love about reading a couple of different passages each day is to see how scripture interprets scripture or is complimentary to itself.

This is certainly one of those days.

On the one hand, there is Ezekiel twenty-three and its very detailed warning to Israel that she has been an adulterous nation as she followed off the “picture” of the Babylonian soldier and sold her soul down the river (literally) to a pagan nation that turned around and destroyed her. The Lord warns the people, "And because you have forgotten me and turned your back on me, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You must bear the consequences of all your lewdness and prostitution” (Ezekiel 23:35 NLT).

Thus, on the one hand, the Lord indicts the people for being prostitutes.

On the other hand, I read Proverbs seven today. As you remember, this is a vivid description of a young man who follows off an adulterous and sleeps with her as her husband is away. This little story is the epitome of making a bad choice, and this chapter concludes, "So listen to me, my sons, and pay attention to my words. Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her. Don’t wander down her wayward path. For she has been the ruin of many; many men have been her victims. Her house is the road to the grave. Her bedroom is the den of death" (Proverbs 7:24-27 NLT).

This is a warning to the people not to give into the appeals of a prostitute.

In short, don’t be a prostitute or listen to one. One is a warning against idolatry; the other is a warning against a lack of wisdom.

Either way—you’re cooked.

Oh, Lord, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you again for cancer, and all the blessings you have brought into my life as a result. Thank you for bringing me to this stage of my treatment. Thank you for Dr. Jotte and all the nurses at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. Thank you for the advancements in technology that have benefitted me. It is all good. ALL GOOD.

I confess the sin of drifting away. Help me never to turn from you and play the adulterous and listen to one. EVER.

I lift up Joel and Coach Pagano and everyone I will see in the chemo room today who is going through a tough time with cancer.

I pray for an opportunity to share with someone today, Lord. I love you.

“He’s the great Shepherd, the Rock of all ages,
Almighty God is He” (“His Name is Wonderful,” BH 2008, 315). Amen.
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Falling in Love with Pictures

Now, that is pathetic, right?

This chapter is a summary of the history of the nations of Israel and Judah (Samaria was the capitol of the Israel and it fell to the Assyrians in 722 B. C. and of course Jerusalem was the capitol of the southern kingdom of Judah and the Babylonians destroyed it essentially in 586 B. C.) personified as two adulterous sisters, Oholah and Oholibah. As I said yesterday, it uses very graphic imagery to describe how these two nations turned from the Lord and loved, yes loved, the very nations who ultimately destroyed them.

Isn’t that the ultimate contradiction? Isn’t that just the way Satan works? He lures us away from the One True God to that which turns around and bites us.

This chapter moves from talking about Oholah’s sins to those of her sister, Oholibah—the city of Jerusalem. Like her sister, she committed adultery also, chasing after the Assyrians. This is an amazing reference. Even though Judah was not destroyed in the Assyrian conquest of Samaria and the northern kingdom in the 700’s B. C., the seeds for destruction were planted.

As the Babylonians emerged a 150 years later, she transferred her lust to them, but it went further than that of her sister. Notice these statements: "Then she carried her prostitution even further. She fell in love with pictures that were painted on a wall—pictures of Babylonian military officers, outfitted in striking red uniforms. Handsome belts encircled their waists, and flowing turbans crowned their heads. They were dressed like chariot officers from the land of Babylonia. When she saw these paintings, she longed to give herself to them, so she sent messengers to Babylonia to invite them to come to her" (Ezekiel 23:14-16 NLT).

If my memory serves me correctly (I’m a little hazy this morning), this is the second reference in the book of Ezekiel to pictures on the wall. The elders and priests in Jerusalem were worship pictures of gods on the walls inside the temple while the people were worshiping pictures of Babylonian soldiers on the walls of their homes—presumably.

I remember my mom telling me years ago that any man in a uniform is more attractive. We had been talking about what it was like to live during World War II and how everyone felt about the boys who signed up and went to war.

Apparently, based on these words from Ezekiel 23, this is not a new phenomenon. It started hundreds of years ago, but in Jerusalem of the sixth century B. C. it involved men and women. Both were guilty of lust as the nation turned away from the Lord. They fell in love with the painting of a man in uniform!

Falling in love with a picture! How pitiful! How illusory! It is not real! I can voice my outrage when it relates to others, but what about all of us?

Even as I write these words, it dawns on me: isn’t this what is going on in contemporary American culture? Are you kidding me?

A friend of mine has Fathead posters plastered on his wall. Do you know what I am talking about? These are larger than life pictures of modern sports heroes that look very real.

Young girls (so I have heard in counseling sessions) take their cues from reed thin super models and thus develop all sorts of eating disorders as a result.

Why is it that pornographic websites far outnumber just about every other type on the web these days? And many people—men and women—are addicted to looking at these pictures? PICTURES!

Like the folks in Jerusalem, we worship pictures!

Oh, Lord, you are more real than anything or anyone I can see, especially a picture! I choose today to worship you in spirit and in truth.

Father, I pray that you would deliver us here in the United States of American from our love of pictures and what is depicted in photos and paintings, whatever it might be.

Lord, I pray that you would deliver us from our hero worship. Shut down the pornography industry here in the United States. You can do it.

Deliver us, Lord, as a nation before it is too late.

“At the name of Jesus bowing,
Falling prostrate at His feet,
King of kings in heav’n we’ll crown Him
When our journey is complete” (“Take the Name of Jesus with You,” BH 2008, 313). Amen.
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Worshiping Dung

Okay, the language in the passage today is graphic in several different ways.

Let me give the context. The chapter starts out with a description of two daughters of the same mother. Their names were Oholah and Oholibah. From their youth, they were prostitutes in Egypt, allowing “men to fondle their breasts” (Ezekiel 23:3, NLT).

In verse four, the Lord makes it clear that he is associating Oholah with Samaria and Oholibah with Jerusalem. Oholah lusted after soldiers in the Assyrian army, attractive men in blue uniforms.

Now, here is the verse for the day:
"And so she prostituted herself with the most desirable men of Assyria, worshiping their idols and defiling herself” (Ezekiel 24:7, NLT). There is a footnote after the word “idol” in the New Living Translation, “The Hebrew team (literally round things) probably alludes to dung, also in 23:30, 37, 39, 49.”

Now, in the context, this is even a stronger word. The Lord is leveling an indictment against his people for worshiping dung!

This sound completely ludicrous when we see it in this context. This appears to be unfathomable. Really? Are you kidding me? Worshiping dung?

This reference reminds me of another significant statement about “dung.” And I’ve gone to this passage and looked at it in several different translations. All the modern translations soften this term a bit, calling it “refuse” and other toned down terms, but I still prefer the King James Version here (I love the language): "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Philippians 3:8 KJV).

Paul’s whole life before he got saved, including everything he worshiped—his heritage, his zeal, and his works—all of it—once he got saved, everything radically shifted. All those precious things became like dung to him compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as Lord.

In Philippians, the contrast is between the life of the flesh with all its works and products versus the new life of running after and pursuing Jesus.

Paul examined that former life and came to the conclusion that what it produces is dung. In other words, ultimately and finally, it is a waste—a smelly, offensive waste.

In other words, what once was beautiful and valuable and desirable to him, became the most vile and offensive waste in the world—dung.

This is very strong language, but I think sometimes we need this kind of terminology to wake us up to the truth.

Here is one of the clearest indicators that someone has been genuinely converted: he or she has a radical change of values. And these passages boil down those values to a very straightforward difference.

The stark reality is: I either worship the Lord God or dung.

Lord, today, in the choice above—I choose you. I value you and the privilege of getting to know you today better and better over every other thing that this world and/or my flesh can produce. The very best I can do and the very worst is dung.

I just can’t get over this hymn I cited yesterday. I’m still there today. Here is another verse:

“Jesus, Your name is holy;
Jesus, Your name brings light.
Jesus, Your name above every other;
Jesus, Your name is light” (“Jesus, Your Name,” BH 2008, 312). Amen.
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The "Nones"

The other day as I was visiting with George, my pastor friend, over lunch at a great little Italian restaurant in Eastlake, he said, “You need to check out my article on the “nones” that is coming out on Thursday.”

At first, when he said it, my mind raced to this thought, “The nuns? Is there another controversy in the Roman Catholic church, this time involving nuns?”

But he was quick to add, “N O N E S—those kind of nones.”

I had not heard this term before, to be honest, so I was fascinated to read his article. You can read it for yourself at www.broomfieldenterprise.com. Once you get to the site, enter the name George McHendry in the search box and you will get to his article that came out yesterday.

He gets his facts and figures from a recent Pew Research Center survey.

The “nones” are a relatively new and emerging category on the religious (or more accurately, non-religious) landscape in America. These are folks who are “religiously unaffiliated” because they are atheists, agnostics, and have no particular religion.

I echo George’s concerns in this article. This is one-fifth of the American population and one third of adults under 30! Astronomical! These percentages translate into multiplied millions of people.

Plus, as George goes on to indicate, these folks are not even looking for a church because they believe that churches are “concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved with politics.”

This adds fuel to the vision we recently voted on as a church—embracing the challenge to reach young families. But the question emerges: how on earth do we do it?

Yesterday, I spent a lot more time and effort on our playground situation. I am very confident that none of us had any idea of what goes into installing one on a plot of land.

We received a bid from the company we are working with. When I got it, I almost choked--$14,000! Now Paul, the president of the company who sent me the bid, was quick to point out that this bottom line represented all the various options totaled up, so the figures were a bit skewed.

We are definitely going to get another bid. Hello, McFly!

But the realization is dawning on us that after paying almost $8,000 for the playground and $2,500 to have it shipped, we are still looking at several thousand dollars just to get it set up properly to provide the most safety and protection for the children who will be using it. What does all this add up to? I would imagine somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars!

Gulp.

The Lord has provided for us, and I am fairly confident that, within reason, we can get it done, but here is the point of what I am saying: will all this expense help us reach any “nones”? Or anyone else, for that matter?

That is certainly one of our goals. We are praying that some opportunities will emerge or at least people driving by the church will see it and think we might have an interest in their children. We hope.

But somehow, by itself, I don’t think “it” will.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of the playground. I voted for it myself, but as Blackaby asserts in his study of Experiencing God, we have to be very careful NOT to say “it” works—no matter what “it” is—whether it is a program or a certain ministry or an expensive playground set.

“It” doesn’t work; we pray HE does.

This brings me to the passage I read today in Ezekiel. This is perhaps one of the most well-known verses in the book. The prophet has spent a lot of time in leveling multiple indictments against the people for a litany of sins: extortion, robbery, abuse, and injustice are only a few of the sins. Then, the Lord makes this comment through His servant: "I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn't have to destroy it. I couldn't find anyone. Not one. So I'll empty out my wrath on them, burn them to a crisp with my hot anger, serve them with the consequences of all they've done. Decree of God, the Master” (Ezekiel 22:30 MSG).

What does all of this mean? Well, I think the perennial temptation in times like these is to compromise our biblical standards in order to reach the “nones” and people like them. I see churches all over the place doing this.

Can I give you an example of one I heard about? I can’t remember who told me about a staff meeting where the pastor took all of his staff to a bar for beers and cigars.

Even in Christian circles, one is perceived as being a bit of prude if he states that drinking alcohol and smoking cigars at a bar may not be appropriate activities for believers in Jesus, let alone church leaders.

We wouldn’t want to offend the cocktail crowd! Heaven forbid!

Back to Ezekiel, the Lord is looking for folks who will rebuild the walls of righteousness. In other words, God’s standards of righteousness are actually ramparts that guard cities and nations. Without those “rules” that the “nones” stay away from the church because of, we open our culture to all sorts of excesses of evil.

In the meantime, the Lord calls His people to stand in the gap on behalf of the nation.

What does this mean? I think this is a renewed call to prayer and obedience on the part of God’s people.

I’m glad for the Welcome Center and the playground and the new sound system in our church building. I’m all for it. Praise God! But it still boils down to believers in Jesus taking a stand, as Edward said the other—the heart and a burden for people who need Jesus.

If we don’t stand, who will?

Oh, Lord, I pray for spiritual awakening in our land and revival in the church.

Our efforts seem so meager and small. Even the biggest and best mega-church in our country cannot depend on its building or resources.

Things are urgent and desperate.

Oh, Lord, we are more dependent on you than ever before. Use US, Lord. We are available to you. Do through us what we cannot possibly do ourselves.

Save some “nones” today. Stem the tide. Turn the hearts of people in this nation back to you before it is too late and this nation comes to an end.

P. S. Dan came through his surgery well--four by-passes. Thank you, Lord.

“Jesus, Your name is power;
Jesus, Your name is might.
Jesus, Your name will break ev’ry stronghold;
Jesus, Your name is life” (“Jesus, Your Name,” BH 2008, 312). Amen.
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Dan's Open-Heart Surgery

I’m a little pushed for time this morning. I have to be downtown at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 6:30 to 6:45. Dan has his surgery today. I have not spoken with him for several days, but the last time I did, he was very thankful.

Why? Doctors discovered the blockages in his heart without Dan having to experience the damage that is caused by a heart attack.

Kay (Dan’s wife) and his son Danny (who is a pastor in Houston) came by the office the other day. I wasn’t there, but Betty told me that the doctors are planned four to six bypasses today. So, this is pretty major stuff.

I want to just spend a little time with Dan and pray with the family before this surgery today.

I’ll tell you what: Dan tops the list as a character. “Danny boy” as I call him has come a long way in the years I have known him. The better way of putting it is that the Lord has brought him a long way.

Dan has a lot of physical challenges, not the least of which is the injuries he sustained by a forty-foot fall off a mountain! Yikes! In one of our earliest conversations in my office, Dan had a hard time putting words together and sustaining a train of thought. He has since told me that he really had to focus on my mouth when I preached just to be able to pick up the words of a sermon.

But, once Dan and Kay got involved in the fellowship of the church, the Lord got a hold of him and called him to minister in nursing homes. Before Dan got saved, he was a bar singer, so he had some sort of background to prepare him for this ministry. He would take his guitar and sing. At first, most of the songs he sang were secular, but over the years, as he has learned Christian music, he now sings classic Christian hymns and music almost exclusively.

Not long ago, he started asking me questions about how to preach. He takes ideas from my sermons and sometimes uses my sermons. When he asked if he could do this, I gave the same answer Rick Warren uses when people ask him if they can use his stuff: “Go ahead. Steal anything you want from me. I probably got it from someone else myself.”

Here is the bottom line of all of this: Dan absolutely packs the place out when he ministers! Not long ago, he was going to multiple nursing homes all over the north end of town! Most of the time, he wears all black with a black cowboy hat. He is kind of the Northglenn version of Johnny Cash, only better, because he is serving Jesus. (Hey, I’m not knocking Johnny Cash. I know he was a believer as well AND I am related to him--very distantly of course!) He is a local Rock star.

He has since had to cut back his schedule a bit. He still deals with some health challenges and now this, but as Dr. Jesus brings him through this, it won’t be long before he is back on the “circuit” again.

The verses I read today have nothing to do with “Danny boy,” but I quote them anyway. A vivid, stark warning from Proverbs: "Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 6:27-29 NLT).

This is an example of a way to take a dangerous detour. Dan is a positive example of what the Lord does when we follow Him.

Lord, I thank you for allowing me to meet Dan and Kay. I thank you for the blessing this couple has been to our church and to me. Thank you for Danny’s ministry in the Nursing Homes—all the folks you have impacted through his ministry.

Take care of him today, Dr. Jesus. I place him in your very capable hands. Amen.
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The Refiner's Fire: The Playground Test

Yesterday didn’t go as I had planned, but what is new, right?

Plan A was for me to head down to Colorado Springs fairly early in the morning to attend the morning session of the Colorado Baptist General Convention meeting at Vista Grande Baptist Church.

As it turned out, I didn’t get down there until noon. I was still able to share fellowship with some of the guys and had some good visits, but it wasn’t all I had wanted it to be.

Why? Well, it boils down to a test I had to “take” from the Lord.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I woke up in a panic. A couple of months ago, we voted to put a fancy new playground set on our property. Calla had found a good company and a good set for us. I contacted them and in addition to making the actual purchase of the playground, I made it clear to them that we wanted THEM to actually build it on our property. I THOUGHT I had made these arrangements, but when I called the company a couple of days ago, they said that, indeed, we had NOT made any arrangements. Huh?

Added to that issue was that fact that Debbie from a delivery company had called the church. They were ready to bring the 3500 pound crate containing the parts of the new playground to the church and deliver it, but there was one little problem: they did not have a forklift to take the crate off their trailer! So, unless we could figure this out, they would just leave the crate and the trailer in our lot for a couple of days! And of course, at some point, we were going to have to figure out how to get that crate off the trailer.

And then, once it was off, what were we going to do? As Betty and I were talking about this on Monday, she rightly said, “It is not going to be good to leave that crate out in our parking lot for an extended period of time. Someone will steal it.” I thought the same thing.

As all of this started to dawn on me, I got in a panic. A lot of it was guilt that somehow I had goofed up in not making firm some type of arrangement to get that playground set built. And now, it appeared that we were stuck.

All of this came to a head just about the time I was preparing to leave for the Springs in the morning.

I had a couple of conversations with both Betty and Bill. Both of them were a lot calmer about all of it than I was. In fact, Bill, after quietly listening to my rant about all of this, stated, “It will all work out, Pastor.” Bill never resorts to platitudes. He is just not that sort of guy. To hear HIM say something like that—really helped me.

The other thing about it was--He was right.

I contacted the playground company again. They assured me that there were playground installers here in metro Denver. After waiting for over an hour, I finally received the names of a couple of those companies. I contacted both of them. After more waiting, one of the installers said they could do it but later in October.

I talked to the president of the other company. In a very calm and reassuring voice, he informed me that his company could take care of everything. “John, we can send one of our trailers over the company that is going to deliver it to the church. We can put it on one of our trailers and take it to a secured place while we make arrangements to install it. Then, when everything is ready, we can transport it over to the church and install it. No problem.” I am going to meet this gentleman later on this morning at the church so that he can see our property (where we want to install the playground) and we can go from there.

By the time I had talked with the president of the second company and had felt relief, it was about noon. I was in the Springs by then, but I felt as if I had run a marathon race.

What was all of that? Just another test. I wish I could learn not to get in panic mode so easily. Why do I do that?

What has to happen in my life before I learn actually to believe Bill’s statement? You would think that cancer would have taken care of all of that. I guess the jury is still out.

But this morning’s passage in Ezekiel has put things in perspective a bit. The Lord gave Zeke another message to share with the people. Here it is: "Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, the people of Israel are the worthless slag that remains after silver is smelted. They are the dross that is left over—a useless mixture of copper, tin, iron, and lead. So tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you are all worthless slag, I will bring you to my crucible in Jerusalem. Just as copper, iron, lead, and tin are melted down in a furnace, I will melt you down in the heat of my fury. I will gather you together and blow the fire of my anger upon you, and you will melt like silver in fierce heat. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have poured out my fury on you’” (Ezekiel 22:17-22 NLT).

This concept of a refiner’s fire is common in scripture. Peter uses it in his epistle.

The refiner’s fire has two basic purposes. First, as precious metals go through a very hot oven, all the impurities are burned away, and that “gunk” is called slag. I’m not an expert on smelting by any means, but that slag is just garbage that is somehow thrown out. It is worthless.

In the passage above, the Lord compares his people to slag. The refining process is a sifter, a separator. It divides the sheep from the goats.

Second, the refining process strengthens the metal or in the case of Ezekiel’s analogy above, melts it down so that it can be usable.

I’m just praying that somehow, yesterday’s “playground test” will have that effect in my life.

Yesterday, I was visiting with a brother named Dave. He was admiring the length of my tenure as pastor of First Southern. At one point in the conversation, he asked, “What is one thing you have learned after being pastor in the same congregation for all these years?” I had to laugh as he asked me this, especially in light of everything that had just happened yesterday morning.

I appreciated it. He appealed to me as some sort of expert. Little does he know! Ha. I’m a scared kid still needing to learn that my Heavenly Father will take care of things. It took me a while to answer him. Kind of weird, but maybe not. Finally, I responded, “Well, Dave, I guess what I’ve learned is that I know less now than when I started.” We both laughed.

I had to laugh to keep from crying.

Lord, all these lessons are painful. They exact blood and sweat and tears. I just thank you that once again, you have proven yourself faithful to take care of idiots like me. At times, I still feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to serve one of your churches as pastor.

Help me, Lord, to be more on top of things, to be the best leader you want me to be.

Continue to guide us through this process and bottom line, use this installed playground as further testimony to our community.

“In your hearts enthrone Him;
There let Him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true” (“At the Name of Jesus,” BH 2008, 309). Amen.
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God Claps His Hands

And it isn’t applause …

There is an interesting phrase in the message of judgment I read in Ezekiel today. Chapter twenty-two of this prophecy is rather ominous as it outlines God’s charges against the city of Jerusalem. God calls it a “city of murderers” (Ezekiel 22:2, NLT).

Even though it is possible, I am sure, I don’t think this reference means that absolutely everyone in this city has actually taken the life of someone else. I believe that the Lord is using this term as He does in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes it clear that if you hate someone, you are essentially a murderer because you have killed him or her in your heart.

But “murder” sums up God’s judgment of the actions of His people on a horizontal level; idolatry sums it up on a vertical level.

It just occurs to me that the people WERE actual murderers in the sense that Americans are involved in abortion—they actually offered human sacrifices—their sons and daughters—to pagan gods.

Regardless of how it actually manifested itself, these “city folk” were guilty of breaking God’s law in all sorts of ways.

These indictments lead to the following verses in chapter twenty-two: "’There are hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners everywhere. They never even think of me and my commands,’ says the Sovereign LORD. ‘But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. How strong and courageous will you be in my day of reckoning? I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do what I said. I will scatter you among the nations and purge you of your wickedness. And when I have been dishonored among the nations because of you, you will know that I am the LORD’” (Ezekiel 22:12-16 NLT).

God has had his fill of the sins of His people and in this climactic part of the chapter, He claps His hands. What is this?

Well, I took a second and actually did some research on this phrase in verse 13. It literally means that God smote his hand. It doesn’t appear as if this is a repeated action as we might do when we are clapping for the Broncos in their huge comeback win over the Chargers (you know I had to slip that in somewhere this morning). Clapping in the sense of applause is a “plural” activity.

But not here.

You know what this reminds me of? At my mom’s house, when a cat and the dog get into a fight, and this occurs rather frequently. Both think they run the place. Invariably, either my mom or sister will clap their hands together once. It usually works where yelling and screaming (my primary tactic) don’t.

What does this action mean? It means STOP RIGHT NOW.

It seems to work more often than not. Both critters separate and head in opposite directions.

But here in Ezekiel, God claps His hands at the actions of an entire city. He is, I believe, saying the same thing: STOP RIGHT NOW. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH.

As I am sitting here this morning, it dawns on me that God has clapped several times over my life. This is going to sound strange. I guess it wouldn’t be the first or last time I will come across that way. So be it. But, I remember one significant time I was struggling with something, and I read a verse. I recall quite clearly that it was a verse in Daniel. And the Holy Spirit brought it to my attention, and the power went out at that time. After a few minutes, it came back on.

Okay, now, before I go further, I realize that there are a lot of reasons for power failures. No magic going on here, BUT, I have to tell you that the reading of that verse and the lights going out were a very powerful confluence of events, and I believe to this day, that it was God’s love reaching out to get my attention.

I now realize that He clapped.

Lord, I thank you for the drastic measures you take to get my attention. I thank you for all the ways you demonstrate your love and patience and the times when your patience has run out.

I hear your clap this morning.

Help me to heed your warnings in the same way the cat and the dog—immediately.

“Thou are mighty,
Thou art holy,
Glorious is thy matchless name” (“Glorious is Thy Name,” BH 2008, 308). Amen.
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Foyers and Crises

So, I am sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat this morning. You probably lost some sleep thinking, “I wonder what John was talking about yesterday when he made a comment about something he was going to do and he hoped he would still have his job when it was over?” Ha. Yeah, right.

Well, it may not have been as off-the-wall as I originally had thought.

Anyway, here is what I did: I closed the doors to the auditorium from both foyers in our church. When people got out of Sunday School, they were standing in the foyers. Betty helped me with corralling people in the east foyer, Bernard in the west by the front door.

I started with the group in the front. This is basically what I said: “I bet you are wondering why you are standing out here. Well, last Sunday morning at 6:30, I was honored to be a part of a worship service for pastors and church leaders. It was one of the best worship times I have ever been a part of. Do you want to know where it was? It was in the foyer of Crossroads Church. That’s right—the foyer. Do you think you can worship God in a foyer?”

At this point, in both situations, people were very responsive, “Of course.”

“Right,” I continued, “because it isn’t about a particular room, what is up front or what isn’t or who is up front or who isn’t or what we sing or don’t sing.”

People once again affirmed my statements.

I went on, “In fact, do you realize that there are people all over the world who would give their right arm to be able to worship in this foyer. They usually sit on the ground or stand under a tree or … “ and before I could finish in the front foyer, Mary jumped in, “Or, they don’t have the freedom to do it at all.”

On my second presentation, someone said, “Or they are looking down the barrel of a gun.” Amen to both additions.

I concluded, “So, we have a great privilege today. Let’s worship God!” And we opened the doors and let the folks in.

That’s it.

I’m grateful for the leadership of the Lord in this regard because we had some “issues” yesterday with the sound system. I could tell that it really affected Jorge.

Plus, Cindy and her friend Michelle stood up to sing and Cindy admitted, “I left my music out in the car.” At that point, I just thought that she was going to sit down, but she didn’t! She and Michelle did a great job as they sang from the heart a song that was very appropriate to the message and where we are as a church, “Undivided.”

Another major aspect of yesterday was all the crises that the Lord brought to our attention as a congregation. In addition to praying for Jessica’s family, we also found out about another horrible tragedy. Actually, we had gotten word of it earlier in the week, but Wendy brought the issue home.

When I saw her early that morning, she was crying, “Pastor John, I need to talk to you. A friend of mine named Sterling hung himself and his twin brother found him! We had the funeral Friday. It has been very hard.”

I could tell that she was visibly shaken. Of course. How tragic—a young man with his whole life in front of him chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem—whatever it was. I am not making light of what happened. Please understand. But suicide is just so imminently senseless.

If anyone is searching for another indication of just how bad things are—look at the increase of teens killing themselves.

Here are the other needs that we prayed for:

Dan is going to have open-heart surgery this week, either Wednesday or Friday.

Dawn’s severe headaches are a little better but she still needs relief.

Sam’s brother in Mississippi is critically ill. He is returning this week to be with him.

And, last but not least, Calla’s dad had had a major heart attack on Saturday night and was in critical condition. Calla was there at church yesterday. I told her to go and be with her dad, but she refused. She said she needed to be at church and would go see him later. (Just an update on this one: his condition has stabilized somewhat but he will still be in the hospital for several more days. But, I praise God for this news!).

Anyway, needless to say: this was a little overwhelming but we took time to pray in groups yesterday morning, and I could see people really engaged and involved in prayer.

Crises are crises, no matter what shape or form they come in.

This holds true for sin as well, as the writer to Proverbs asserts: "There are six things the LORD hates— no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction" (Proverbs 6:16-20 NLT).

We like to categorize things, but the Lord doesn’t. The murder of Jessica Ridgeway, an innocent little girl, is a horrific thing, as the above verses indicate, but the Lord hates THAT as much as someone who sows discord in his/her family. No difference.

Lord, refocus our priorities on what is really important—worship. This seems more urgent now than ever before.

Forgive us for grading sins just as we tend to grade crises.

These are very difficult days for us all for various reasons.

Help us to hate what you hate and to love you, and love what you love.

Going back to Cindy and Michelle’s song: “In our hearts, we’re undivided, worshiping one Savior, one Lord.” Amen.
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On God's Bad Side

Let me complete the title above: “… is a place you DON’T want to be.”

Let me quote some verses from the first part of chapter twenty-one of Ezekiel: "Tell her, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am your enemy, O Israel, and I am about to unsheath my sword to destroy your people—the righteous and the wicked alike…. Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart. When they ask why you are groaning, tell them, ‘I groan because of the terrifying news I have heard. When it comes true, the boldest heart will melt with fear; all strength will disappear. Every spirit will faint; strong knees will become as weak as water. And the Sovereign LORD says: It is coming! It’s on its way!” (Ezekiel 21:3, 6, 7 NLT)

Did you notice what the Lord says? “I am about to unsheath my sword to destroy your people—the righteous and the wicked alike,” (emphasis is mine). Huh? Destroy the righteous? Certainly, this cannot mean ultimate destruction or hell. I can’t buy that.

But still, these words are very disturbing.

As I read them, I was reminded of a similar passage in James: "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" (James 4:4, NLT).

Okay. Maybe these verses help a bit. Those times when I am prideful, when I compromise my allegiance to the Lord, I have a bigger problem than the devil. A couple of verses later, James quotes from Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble,” (James 4:6, NLT). God sets himself in military array against pride. So, I had better be careful NOT to get on His bad side.

Maybe that is what the passage in Ezekiel is all about—the discipline of the Lord for His people. It isn’t that God is mad at us. Some people really struggle with that feeling. I don’t believe that is EVER the case with His kids—we are forgiven and because of the blood stand before Him totally righteous in Christ.

But our pride and arrogance and idolatry and compromise with the world pull us out of fellowship with God. Once the Spirit convicts us, we must confess our sin and turn back to Him.

On the other hand, maybe that is not what the passage in Ezekiel is about at all. I also acknowledge that when God judges a nation, it affects both the wicked and the righteous alike. Didn’t Jesus say, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust”? Just because we are saved, it does not mean that we are immune from the consequences of God’s judgment against sin and evil.

Righteous folks, godly people who worshiped the Lord only, faced battle against the invading Babylonian armies and the eventual deportation out of their homeland—just as the wicked did.

Well, anyway, I can live with both of those explanations of this passage, but what does it all mean for me today?

First of all, it means that I had better get my act together, or better stated, allow the Lord to get my act together.

In spite of all my talk about a burden for lost people yesterday, I realized that I let another day go by without sharing Jesus with anyone. I had the chance to visit with this guy that I see every now again at a store I frequent. We caught up about a lot of things, but the subject of Jesus never even occurred to me.

I need to add Toby to my list and pray that he gets saved. Will you join me in praying for him?

Second, the judgment of God against nations is still a very definite reality. I’m not sure we allow ourselves to think about this often in our very comfortable American culture, but the fastest growing religion in the world is Islam. I have mentioned this before, but this religion is growing simply through out-populating other groups. This is the vivid reality in Western Europe. It is happening right before our eyes.

And, I don’t need to take any time to mention how our culture just keeps moving away from God.

What is an example of this (as if I need to give you any)? Well, this may seem to be a minor thing, but it is another thing that stood out at the school the other night. There we were—Mary Ann and I—sitting at a table with water and cookies and brochures and us—that’s it. People would come up to get a cookie or some water and both. Some picked up the brochure and started reading it right in front of us. And, I can’t tell you how many got a quizzical look on their faces, “Now, where are you guys?”

I’m sort of developing a sensitivity (a negative one) to people who live in Northglenn and who probably drive by the church building twice a day who have no idea that our building is there. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to over the years, who, when I mention the church, say, “Humm. Is there a church there?”

Ah, yes.

Sometimes, even with our fancy illuminated sign out front and new steeple, it seems that we are invisible, even in our own community.

What is the reason for this? Well, I am sure there are many, but I’m convinced that one of the reasons is that, for many people, God and especially the church are totally irrelevant, a fly buzzing around the head that you whisk away—maybe not even THAT relevant.

What do we need to do to garner more attention? Get flashing neon lights? Get a big inflatable Jesus and put him out in front? Ah, no.

This goes back to spiritual awakening in the community and revival in the church. When we get out of the way and let God work, Katy bar the door. I actually pray for the day that the parking lot is so full that people have to park up the street and walk to the building—just because they want to get in on a work of God.

Oh, Lord, to echo the hymn I cited yesterday, “Send a great revival in MY soul.” Let it begin with me.

Have mercy on us here in the United States of America. Forgive me for failing to share you as another day went by. I pray for Toby and his salvation. Wake me up!

Today, as I try something different to start the worship service, I pray that you would get your people’s attention and that I would still be employed after I do it.

“Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
And He’s just the same as His lovely name” (“Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Know,” BH 2008, 307). Amen.
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Not a Parade, But a Burden

Last night, I had a conversation with a guy who has been visiting our church for months. I want to talk about that conversation in a moment.

But first, I just read the news that the dismembered body investigators found in a field in Westminster is indeed Jessica Ridgeway. I don’t know if this whole thing has made national news or not, but for those of you who are reading this who live outside our state, here is the scoop. Several days ago, Jessica (a ten year old girl who lives in Westminster—a northern suburb across I-25 from Northglenn) was kidnapped on her way to school. She has been missing ever since.

A couple of days ago, the police discovered a body in a field sort of near her home. It was so dismembered that it took them a day to figure it out—but indeed, it was Jessica.

I cannot imagine anything more horrible than this. What kind of person does something like this?

Please pray for the family and the community. Understandably, people are outraged and frightened that someone who would do such a thing is still at large. Pray that he is apprehended and brought to justice.

Somehow, I cannot get this horrific event out of my head.

Back to the conversation from last night—I had a good talk with Edward. We have been trying to get together for a few weeks but somehow, it has just not worked out with our schedules. We did get an opportunity to visit over the phone for a while, and he made a rather striking comment. Actually, it was not the first time I encountered it. After the vote on the vision and the organ last Sunday, he wrote something similar on the back of his response card.

In both instances, he said something like, “Vision is not a matter of a ‘parade’ but a burden.” I asked him to elaborate a bit. This is a paraphrase of what I heard him say. “Well, John, I’ve been involved in churches for over forty years. I’ve seen many congregations in your situation, and what many of them do is opt for an entertainment mentality just to get folks in the seats. This usually means a louder band, and they throw out all the hymns and run off all the seniors, and somehow, a lot gets lost.”

He went on, “It is not about bands and fancy programs and buildings. It is about the heart. It is about folks having a burden to reach lost people. Without that, all the other stuff doesn’t matter. You know, I have been attending your church for months and not once has anyone asked me about my relationship with the Lord. We want more to reach more people and wonder why we aren’t. Well, maybe it is because we aren’t good stewards with the folks who do come.”

Ouch. Those words still sting. “No one has asked him about his relationship to Jesus.” You know, as I sit here today, I wonder how many people have come in and out of our building over the years (I’m not talking about folks that COFU ministers to) for various reasons—repairmen, fireman on their yearly inspection, Barry, the dry wall guy who has done a lot of work for us, et cetera.

Granted, there are times when spiritual conversations with folks like that may not be appropriate. I readily concede that, but we have gone way overboard on the other side of that equation to the mark that says, “Never.” I often pass these folks on my way to minister to someone else.

Humm. Does this remind anyone of a story Jesus told?

For those of us who talk about the necessity of reaching the next generation (and Edward mentioned this on the phone last night) how many younger folks am I talking to? How many have I shared the gospel with?

As I sat there in that Middle School with Mary Ann on Thursday night, I just felt so out of touch, so distant, so removed from the folks who came in and out of that building on Parent’s Night. I have no clue about Junior High students. I barely survived that age myself! I am not a parent and may never be one. It is hard to relate to those folks, but they live in the community our church serves. They are OUR constituency.

How does one make the transition from caring about himself and his “stuff” to actually having a burden for people who are in very different circumstances that he is in? THAT is the question.

How does a pastor get a burden for lost people? How does a congregation get a burden?

The only answer I have is that it has to be God. Only God can give folks such a burden. Is this revival?

I am reminded of something John Knox prayed. “Give me Scotland, or I die.” How about that?

It is hard to type those words. I am so convicted about my apathy and indifference.

I certainly don’t want to find myself in the situation the writer of the Proverbs expresses. Throughout these first seven chapters, the unwise person is personified as a man who has sexual relations outside the bond of marriage. I’m going to quote some verses that describe the consequence of such foolery (whether it applies to a lack of wisdom or the actual act of immorality: "If you do, you will lose your honor and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved. Strangers will consume your wealth, and someone else will enjoy the fruit of your labor. In the end you will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace’” (Proverbs 5:9-14 NLT).

I wonder if it would be too much of a stretch to apply these words to a congregation? Again, I know the church is not a building, but if we don’t allow the Lord to get a hold of us, someday, driving by the property on Washington, we might see a 7-11 sitting there.

Oh, God, have mercy on us! What are we doing? Can the church be more irrelevant than it is right now?

I confess the sin of being pre-occupied with my stuff.

Are we just a parade, Lord? Give us a burden, first to honor you, and then to reach our community.

These are desperately evil times as we think about someone kidnapping a ten year old girl, taking her out to a field, and dismembering her body. I pray for Jessica’s family and the community. I pray for all those students who were walking home to an empty house on Thursday as I headed there to get things set up for our Parent’s Night ministry. Protect all those kids from the predators who may be lurking in the shadows and ready to kidnap one of these students.

I’m not John Knox. I can’t hold a candle to this mighty servant of God, but Lord, give me his heart and his burden. If I pray this prayer, make it real in my heart, “Give me Northglenn, or I die.”

“Send a great revival in my soul.” Amen.
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A Cup of Cold Water

I’ll have to say that I felt that the time at the school last night was extremely well spent.

There are so many challenges in reaching lost folks these days. It seems almost impossible from several different standpoints. First, the old-fashioned ways are simply not effective.

I know I have mentioned this rather frequently in this blog, but it bears repeating again: the summer I was diagnosed with cancer—2010—I bet we passed out 7,000 to 10,000 fliers in our immediate church community. I can still see the Stevensons in their van with all the doors open and William along with Omero, Eduardo, and Eric, literally on the run up and down each street! They had it down to a science. They would drop each boy off in shifts and cover both sides of a street in nothing flat.

As I was watching this and helping them, I could not help but laugh, and the thought occurred to me: “this procedure needs to go into some kind of manual somewhere to help churches learn how to do this.”

But, in spite of all that work, we only had one response, and it was an email to our church. The message was, “Don’t ever put another flier from your church in my door again.”

Nothing is wasted when it comes to working for the Lord. I truly believe that. But … I just don’t think it is good stewardship to pay for fliers (and they are NOT cheap if you want to make them half-way attractive) and get no response. So, that is one ineffective method, for sure.

The other thing we have done is volunteer service projects in the city of Northglenn. This is another way to get folks involved, and we had a good turnout for our last project—cleaning out the creek beside our church property and beyond. We got some very good work done for the city. I’m sure it helped them out. That is all well and good. BUT, those of us who scoured around in that creek knew how close we all were to serious injury. It was very dicey. We found a shopping cart at the bottom of that creek, and were it not for Anne who jumped in and got us over the top, we would still be wrestling with it!

When we got through last Spring, I vowed that it was the last time for such a project (we have volunteered to clean out that creek bed the last couple of years on “Volunteer Day” in Northglenn). It is just too dangerous. AND, here is the bigger reason: we don’t get a chance to talk with anyone who needs the Lord!. Thus, mark that down as another ineffective method.

Before I go further, when I say “ineffective,” I’m not totally discounting them, but part of my ministry as pastor, is making “allocation” choices. I’m responsible for leading our congregation with its limited resources in the best way to fulfill the Great Commission.

So, what to do? How do we get out in the community to have even the opportunity with contact and possibly conversations with people who do not know Jesus? Well, last night gave me hope that there is one way, at least. And it is through the schools.

Of course! Duh!?! This is the avenue that the Lord has used to help us start reaching folks in Federal Heights. Why not Northglenn?

I arrived at Northglenn Middle School to notice that Mary Ann was already there, sitting in her car talking on the phone. I finish poking some food in my mouth, and we both headed into the school. A lady greeted us who knew we would be coming. She directed us to some tables in a common area near the entrance.

We then took a few moments to set up. Here is what we had—four things: 96 bottles of water with a tag attached that simply quoted five words from Matthew 10:42, “a cup of cold water”; a bunch of cookies, 100 church brochures, and two people—Mary Ann and me. Fairly simple, right?

I tell you: I have not been around Junior High students—well, at least a whole lot of them—for a very long time. I have forgotten some things about them! Humm. How shall I say this? They do not lack for energy. Let me put it that way.

But we had a chance to visit with many of them. Mary Ann knew a lot of them because of her work as a substitute. And as a matter of fact, this was HUGE. It is obvious that Mary Ann knows a bunch of folks at this school—not only students, but also teachers and parents. I learned last night that her two boys went to school there. They are both married now and are in their twenties. That was a long time ago, but she still has a lot of connections.

You cannot measure the value of this. As a result of these connections, we got to talk to a lot of people—students and parents and teachers.

The cookies and especially the water were huge draws. As a matter of fact, we ran out of water! I wish we had had another case of twenty-four bottles. We could have given them away.

I also got a chance to visit with some of the other folks who had tables set up in our area: a credit union, an organization called “Link,” and an Adams County health care organization. We made some good connections there as well.

I also noticed that it was almost a reflex. Some people and students just reached down and picked up a brochure as they were getting a cookie or water. We didn’t have to say a whole lot about the church. Some people asked where we were located.

I don’t know … again, we made contact and got to have some conversations. In my book—that beats a lot of what we have done as “outreach” over the years.

The only thing that bothered me a bit was the fact than not more people from our congregation could have participated. This ministry was pulled together rather last minute. That is probably the main reason, but believe me, I’m going to share about last night and encourage more involvement in the future. We will see what happens.

The other thing I have to add about last night is that, as I was sitting at that table watching all those students and parents and teachers walk by, I felt incredibly out of touch with the whole “family” thing. It was actually quite stark. It is just far from the world I live in these days. I’m not sure what else to say. I think I need to process this more, and I will make further comments down the road.

All I can say is that I identify once again with Ezekiel. There is an interesting statement at the end of chapter twenty. Let me back up a bit. The Lord gives his servant a message for people in the “south” of Israel—in an area called the Negev. Here it is: "Then this message came to me from the LORD: ‘Son of man, turn and face the south and speak out against it; prophesy against the brushlands of the Negev. Tell the southern wilderness, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Hear the word of the LORD! I will set you on fire, and every tree, both green and dry, will be burned. The terrible flames will not be quenched and will scorch everything from south to north. And everyone in the world will see that I, the LORD, have set this fire. It will not be put out.”’ Then I said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, they are saying of me, “He only talks in riddles!”’” (Ezekiel 20:45-49 NLT).

The part of this passage that is striking to me is the last verse. Zeke cries out to the Lord. He is totally misunderstood. People accuse him of speaking in riddles. Of course, our human tendency is to blame the messenger when we don’t understand the message.

But on the other side of the coin, it is difficult for the messenger when he preaches and no one “gets it.” It often feels as if you are an alien on a different planet. After all, Ezekiel was human and the Lord asked him to do some rather strange things.

I can relate. Last night was not a “strange” thing, per se. But I felt like an alien on another planet last night. Weird.

Lord, I thank you for the opportunity for ministry you gave our church last night. Thank you for Mary Ann and the years she has been associated with that Middle School and the relationships you have used her to develop.

Lord, I pray that you would use those conversations and that water and those cookies and those brochures and the love of Christ to expand your kingdom in our city.

I also pray that the message that goes out would be clear. Use me as a “resident alien” to reach families with Junior High kids! Whoa, Nelly!

“For Christ count ev’rything but loss!
And to crown Him King, toil and sing ‘Neath the banner of the cross” (“The Banner of the Cross,” BH 2008, 306). Amen.
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The Rationale Behind Idolatry

Last night, we had the second class in Bill’s Old Testament survey. What is fascinating to me is the way he is approaching it. It is NOT your typical class, for sure. I do think that one of the reasons we don’t get a lot of involvement or participation in these types of classes is that they are boring.

Bill’s class is anything but that. He brings out interesting historical facts and data. Last night, he gave us an historical overview of the book of Exodus while touching on some background points. It was excellent. There were several things that came out of the study that have provoked thought on my part. I think this is a sign of a good class whether it is in church or in a local college down the street—it makes you think.

Case in point: Bill was talking about Moses on Mt Sinai receiving God’s law. The discussion moved to what happened in the valley below while he was up there. The people of Israel made a golden calf and worshiped it.

Here was Bill’s question: why a calf? I have always wondered about this but in all my years of studying Exodus including the survey classes I took at seminary, I never heard an answer for that question.

Last night, Bill explained it. He said, “There are two reasons they made a calf. It is a young animal and it was a sign of fertility in Egyptian worship. These folks had not been out of Egypt that long so this is the god they chose.” Humm. Makes a lot of sense.

So, let me see if I can dissect that a bit. Here were the people in the valley. They were waiting on Moses. If my memory serves correctly, he was up on the mountain for a while, and they grew impatient. This is the very first indicator of the potential for idolatry. Since we can’t actually see the Lord and touch Him with the physical senses, it is often the case that the enemy can convince us that since so much time has passed, the Lord has abandoned us in one way or another.

The second step of this process is that we revert to something or someone that is familiar and known. In the minds of the people in that valley, their recent memory of course was focused on Egypt and Egypt’s gods. And of course, what is young and shiny and appeals to the appetite is most attractive.

Third, worship always leads to practice. As they built their shiny new god—the god of fertility—their practice matched their worship. The scriptures use the word “dance” to describe what they were doing. Most believe, again if my memory serves me correctly, that this is a moniker for profligate sexual behavior. They basically were having an orgy. It was not a pretty sight, and of course, we all remember what Moses did when he came down from the mountain!

But the bottom line is that if our worship is not right, nothing else is—our practice will be off as well.

Anyway, Bill’s explanations have really helped me put some things together.

And, I hasten to say that I can be very analytical when it comes to the idolatry of other people in the past. I need to be more surgical when it comes to my own tendency to fabricate gods and worship them. I regularly identify with the impatience/reversion/false practice scenario I outlined above.

But back to the Bible. It is significant that these same issues and same results were prevalent in Ezekiel’s day and in the latter half of chapter twenty, the Lord even alludes to the former idolatry of Israel in the wilderness: "For when you offer gifts to them and give your little children to be burned as sacrifices, you continue to pollute yourselves with idols to this day. Should I allow you to ask for a message from me, O people of Israel? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I will tell you nothing. You say, ‘We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.’ But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I will rule over you with an iron fist in great anger and with awesome power. And in anger I will reach out with my strong hand and powerful arm, and I will bring you back from the lands where you are scattered. I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations, and there I will judge you face to face. I will judge you there just as I did your ancestors in the wilderness after bringing them out of Egypt, says the Sovereign LORD" (Ezekiel 20:31-36 NLT)

This passage gives more insight into the rationale of idolatry. No matter how old we are, we never quite get beyond the Junior High mentality of wanting to be like everyone else. I think this has to be part of why the Jews fabricated that golden calf. They wanted to be like the folks they were so glad to leave!

They wanted idols of wood and stone, like everyone else. But the Lord’s response to their hardness of heart? He was going to be “harder.” He promised to come down on them with an “iron fist.”

He took his people into “the wilderness of the nations.” Isn’t that an interesting phrase—a very significant one? This is Ezekiel’s description of the exile that occurred with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B. C. It ushered in a time of testing in the “wilderness.”

The wilderness is always where our idols are exposed, isn’t it? When we face unmet needs and the challenge of patience, how we respond in those situations reveals our gods or our God.

I think about Jesus’ temptation. Where did that occur? The wilderness! And the bottom line is that Satan wanted the Son of God to engage in false worship in order to meet a need—hunger and to see immediate and tangible results. He was going to give Him all the kingdoms of the earth.

Lord, unlike me, I’m so thankful that you did not give into Satan’s lies and deceptions. I acknowledge you this morning at the One and Only, the one true God.

I confess my impatience and tendency to gravitate to what I can see and taste and touch and feel.

Today, I choose to believe in you, even though I can’t see you.

I pray that you would give us opportunities to share as we go to Northglenn Middle School today. I’ll share what happened tomorrow.

“I’m alive and well,
Your Spirit is within me because you died and rose again” (“You Are My King (Amazing Love),” BH 2008, 305). Amen.
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The Whole Concept of Sabbath

The twentieth chapter of Ezekiel is a very interesting retelling of the history of Israel, specifically focused on the Exodus and wilderness wanderings. It gives another perspective on that very familiar story.

As I was reading Ezekiel twenty this morning, I noticed a word that appeared over and over. See if you catch it: "And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy… For they had rejected my regulations, refused to follow my decrees, and violated my Sabbath days. Their hearts were given to their idols… and keep my Sabbath days holy, for they are a sign to remind you that I am the LORD your God.’ But their children, too, rebelled against me. They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days. So again I threatened to pour out my fury on them in the wilderness… because they did not obey my regulations. They scorned my decrees by violating my Sabbath days and longing for the idols of their ancestors" (Ezekiel 20:12, 16, 20, 21, 24 NLT).

Did you see it? Five times in this chapter the Lord mentions “Sabbath.”

One of the evidences of idolatry for the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt and began their trek in the wilderness is that they forsook the Sabbath. The Lord says this over and over.

I’ll have to go back and read the Exodus accounts, but I don’t remember noticing this as a big deal in the Pentateuch narratives. It certainly is mentioned among the laws in those books, but I am talking about it mentioned in the stories of what happened to the people.

All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with some leaders in our church over ten years ago. Somehow, the subject of Sabbath came up. I was talking with our leaders about it, and I said something like this: “I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the concept of Sabbath among Christians. We have limited it to the fact that, because of the resurrection, we don’t worship on Saturday but Sunday. This is a very minor issue, as a matter of fact. The bigger part of the discussion is the whole idea of rest and renewal. Of course, Hebrews tells us that every day is a day of rest for the believer. This is true in the overall sense of our salvation, but somehow, in our busy American culture, a day set aside for actual rest does not compute.”

As I was talking about this, I could see the wheels turning in the heads of the folks sitting around the table.

Finally, someone said, “I’ll tell you what: Sundays around here are anything but a day of rest.”

Is that ever the truth! My last Sunday was a case in point. I was on the dead run from 5:45 AM to 1:30 PM in the afternoon!

Back to that discussion among leaders—it moved to ways we could encourage the concept of Sabbath in our fellowship. We tossed around some ideas, but we resolved nothing. Finally, I just told people, “We need to pray about this. Maybe this isn’t a church schedule issue. Maybe all of us may just need to make personal decisions about Sabbath and do it on our own.”

Even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew they were a cop-out. Especially for me. I certainly haven’t observed a Sabbath, that is, until I was forced to.

Sitting on this couch as I went through chemo and still respond to treatment, UNABLE to keep up my feverish, anti-Sabbath lifestyle was/is maybe God’s way of getting that time back.

Isn’t that what the exile was all about? I’m a little hazy on exact references here. I will have to look this up. But do I remember that one of the reasons for the exile is that the people of Israel did not observe the Sabbath, so the Lord “took” that time back for his land? He took forty years of days to allow his land to rest.

Therefore, Sabbath in the Old Testament was not just a command that the Lord wanted His people to obey, but it was a principal for land as well. Every seven years, farmland needed a Sabbath, but of course, the people did not follow that statute.

Humm. A lot of food for thought here.

Yesterday, I had an extended visit with Ilamarques, the pastor of the Brazilian congregation. We were sharing some things. He mentioned Psalm 127, and it reminded me of the fact that there is only One who is able to be on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week—God. He is at work (and maybe more so and better) when we are out of the way and sound asleep.

I have a sense today that one of the things that Sabbath is about is our regard for the holiness of God. He is NOT like us. We are NOT like him. We need to pull away and rest as a testimony that we are depending on God to act.

Somehow, I think my feverish pace is often an act of idolatry because I think the God of the universe needs my help or the church and Christianity, as we know it will cease to exist.

Here is a Baptist credo. It should be written over the front door of every church. “We say we believe we are saved by grace, but our actions demonstrate that what we really believe is that we have to work our way to heaven.”

Lord, I thank you for this stark reminder of Sabbath. Thank you for the Sabbath rest of the people of God. You have made this possible through the finished work of your Son on the cross.

But thank you also for the concept, the principal.

I confess the sin of being so ready to rationalize it away. God, help me. Help our church. Help everyone who is reading this today.

I’m thankful for Bill’s statement at his funeral on Tuesday. I am going to attach the document to my Facebook page and hopefully at some point to my blog at www.pastorjohnsblog.com.

“All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For thou hast died for me:
Thy praise and glory shall not fail
Throughout eternity” (“Crown Him with Many Crowns,” BH 2008, 304). Amen.
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Bill Price's Funeral and Staying in the Race Until the End

I can’t remember the last time I was more fatigued than I was yesterday afternoon. It was kind of scary because the bottom just dropped out. When I got home, I sat down, and I was OUT. I got up and changed my clothes, thinking I was going to get to the study desk, but as I sat down again, I dropped off to sleep basically for the rest of the afternoon.

This is very unusual for me. I NEVER do this, but apparently, I needed it. I don’t think I fully resuscitated even into the evening when I did get a chance to do some work.

Anyway, I am just trying to be more sensitive to this type of thing than I was before I got cancer, and instead of just pushing myself on, stop and rest. This is going to be an extremely busy week. I want to continue to be aware of how my fatigue level so that I can pull back here and there.

This is one of the lessons I hope I have learned from cancer. We will see.

Back to the service yesterday—we had a good representation of folks from the church to support Donna (Bill’s widow) and the family.

This was very obviously a Christian funeral. I could see visible grief. Don’t get me wrong, but the overall tenor of everything was a celebration of Bill’s life and beyond that, a praise of His Lord.

After I led an opening prayer, Bill’s son John, his daughter Carolyn, his granddaughter Jenny, and his first wife Marion stood up to sing. John prefaced their things by saying that his family spent a lot of time singing, especially on trips. It was obviously a very important ingredient in the Price family. Then, they sang two classics, “Precious Memories” and “I’ll Fly Away.” The second song was particularly appropriate. I will tell you why in a moment.

After those two songs, we opened things up for people to say a word or two about Bill. Several responded, including his grandson Steve, a former Marine, and his granddaughter Jenny. I was particular interested in what these two twenty year olds had to say about their granddad, Bill. They both indicated that he spent a lot of time with them and had a huge impact on their lives.

When the eulogy time concluded, I led a congregational song—“It is Well.” We made it through that!?!

After that, I preached a brief message as I always do in funeral services.

A few days ago, as I was visiting with Donna about the funeral, she handed me several typed pages. One stack was entitled “About your Dad.” Bill wrote out his life story for John and Carolyn. He actually was a very avid writer. I told this yesterday, but in my first visit in the Price home a few years ago, Bill took me to his basement and showed me all the books he had written.

I don’t think any of them were published. They were simply typed pages in notebook binders, and there were a lot of them. To be honest, when he handed me one of the books, I was a little skeptical, but as I started to read the “book” he handed me, I could not put it down. It was very well written and interesting.

But his life story was the most compelling read of all. Bill had an extremely varied and adventurous life. His primary love was airplanes. Bill was a pilot. He served as a Navy pilot for several years during World War II, but after the war, he continued to fly in the jungles of Brazil as a missionary pilot.

The novel Bill gave me was about a missionary pilot in Brazil, and it dawned on me that he had drawn from his own life experiences in writing that book.

At the funeral, more than one person indicated that Bill was very ready to tell stories about his experiences as a pilot. I wish I could have heard all of them. He tells some of those stories in his little autobiography, but I can tell that there are many more left on the table.

What an adventure! As I read Bill’s life story and prepared for the funeral, these verses came to mind: "Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!" (Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG)

Jesus lived the ultimate adventure. It led him through the cross, the grave, and the resurrection. After that, he soared off to heaven to sit as Lord at the right hand of the throne of God. From there, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers, He calls each of us to our own unique adventures. For Bill, that adventure included shuttling missionaries around in the jungles of Brazil in little single engine prop planes—not always the safest of ventures, to be sure.

But for each of us—we have a similar adventure, but we know we are going to end up in a good place because Jesus has already forged a trail for us. He is the “author and perfecter” (NIV84) of our faith. He made it, and so can we, just as Bill did.

Here is the point I want to emphasize from yesterday. Bill wrote out a statement to be read at his funeral. I read it yesterday. It was fantastic. I would love to share it with you.

Unfortunately, I left those two typed pages at the church. So, I will do it tomorrow.

Someday, maybe sooner than later, I want to do the same. I want to write out something to be read at my funeral service.

As I was explaining to one of Bill’s family members yesterday, I don’t think I have ever seen that—someone writing something to be read at his/her funeral. It may be fairly common. I just haven’t seen it before yesterday.

Here is the deal: to me, what Bill was doing was an affirmation of His faith in the Lord. He was proclaiming that, even though he was not at the end of his pilgrimage (at the time of the writing of his statement), he was confident that the Lord would get him there and be faithful even in death. It was profound.

I can only hope and pray that I will finish the race with a testimony just as Bill did.

And now, he is with Jesus. Can’t get any better than that!

Lord, I’m thankful for the perspective you give me, as I am able to minister in funeral services. Thank you for all the services I’ve been a part of in my years in ministry but especially those since I was diagnosed with cancer. They seem to be more special.

Take care of Donna and the rest of Bill’s family. Thank you for all the folks in our congregation who came to be there on Columbus Day.

“Let every creature rise and bring Honor and glory to our King” (“Jesus Shall Reign,” BH 2008, 303). Amen.
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A Simple and Quiet Prayer Meeting

There is a lot to tell about yesterday.

First, I just have to say that I am beat. I am more tired than I have been in a long time, and I know this means that I have to make some adjustments, but unfortunately, they won’t be today.

Bill’s funeral is today at 11:00, and the seniors are doing a meal for the family after the service. I know I will need to stay for that, but afterwards, I’m going to try to get some rest as I continue my sermon work. At least, I will try not to be on the move for the rest of the day after this service and lunch. That is the goal, anyway.

The other day, Marilyn said, “Mother and I are worried about you. We see you headed back to what you were before you got cancer.” Yeah, I do too. Please pray that the Lord would give me wisdom in all of this. I feel very good, but there are days like today where I really feel it. Plus, just in case I could forget, I’ve got more treatments coming up two weeks from today, that week and the next.

Second, the vote on the organ ended up: 38 voted to move it out; 18 voted to move it back in. We passed out paper ballots. We asked people to vote on the Vision (in that vote, it was 60 for; 3 against). Then, there was the vote on the organ. Finally, we asked people to indicate where they felt the Lord was leading them to serve.

As I told the church before we heard the results of the vote, “Congregation, I know ‘voting’ is a part of our polity. This is how we make decisions. I understand that, but sometimes, as in this situation, I’m not always sure it is the best solution to everything because it does tend to cause division just by its very nature.” Then, I shared the results of the vote and told people that I would pray about what to do with the organ next.

I think we ought to try to sell it, and if we can’t do that, give it to someone who wants it. I think I would just prefer that someone or some organization or some church have it that is going to use it.

But back to my comment about voting causing division—let me explain that a bit. Jim caught me after the service. He said, “John, I think there may be a better way of handling stuff like this in the future. On situations like the organ, maybe we ought to have a box to check that says (and I can’t remember his exact term) ‘doesn’t matter.’ A vote sort of forces everyone into one camp or another. As for me, that is how I feel about this. Either way, it doesn’t matter.” I hear what Jim is saying.

Over the course of the last few days or weeks, honestly, as I wrestled with things, I came to that place myself--whatever. Again, I have nothing against organs! But just to have one sitting in the front of our church never used seems to be poor stewardship to me. I won’t hash it over again …

But back to the whole “vote” thing, on the other side of Jim’s statements, I think if we had had that category and a lot of people would have voted “it doesn’t matter,” then I don’t think this would have been resolved!

To me, this way—we had the vote and now, I want to stand on the roof of the church building and scream at the top of my lungs, “CAN WE MOVE ON NOW?”

We have a lot bigger fish to fry than what to do with the organ.

People are dying and going to hell.

People in the church, sitting there yesterday, are dealing with HUGE ISSUES!

Case in point: a lady made this passing comment to my mom yesterday. I say “passing” because that is exactly what she did. She did not pause, but as she was heading down the aisle at church, she whispered, “My husband and I are getting a divorce.”

So, anyway, that is some of what happened yesterday. We had our koinonia time. That was very good.

One last thing that sticks in my mind a bit: a family of five entered our auditorium when the service started. They sat in a pew. Their body language was not that great. Before the end of the service, they got up and left. It was rather strange. I’m not sure anyone greeted them because they slid in as the service had already begun and slid out before it was over. Weird.

Well, anyway, put all of that up against the prayer service I attended yesterday morning at 6:30. It was a relatively small group, about 8 to 10 of us. James from North Metro was there. It was good to see him. Of course, Pastor Kim from Crossroads was there, but prior to yesterday (and to my shame, I might add), I did not know anyone else, but I met some of the guys and gals.

We met in the foyer of this rather large church. They had some tables and chair set up at a little coffee bar.

Steve was the worship leader. He had a guitar. The first song we sang was the doxology! He invited someone to read Isaiah 42:1-7 on his IPad. I did that. We had a brief time of prayer where we voiced the names of lost people and people in need in our churches out loud. Kim read a passage from John. We also sang “It is Well with My Soul.”

At one point, in the service, Steve led us to pray for ourselves. He said, “Bow your heads. Take everything out of your hands and just open them before God. Some of us need to let things go. Let something go right now.” He paused. “Keep your hands open. Be ready to receive from the Lord as well.”

I let something go yesterday morning, and had this overwhelming sense of peace as I did, and as we were praying, I asked the Lord to fill me with His spirit.

This very simple prayer exercise had a profound effect on one of the worshipers there—me.

The whole thing was so simple. So quiet. So uncomplicated. So un-political and un-convoluted.

Isn’t that what worship is—at its root? Sometimes, I just feel we have twisted God’s simple things into a knot.

This is part of the reason I am so tired this morning.

It is just about communion with our Savior. If we are ready, He is always ready. If not … the first verses of Ezekiel 20 give us some insight: "On August 14, during the seventh year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, some of the leaders of Israel came to request a message from the LORD. They sat down in front of me to wait for his reply. Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, tell the leaders of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I will tell you nothing!’" (Ezekiel 20:1-3 NLT).

Why should the Lord bother with us if we don’t care enough to bother with Him?

Oh, Lord, this morning, my hands are still open before you. There are other things in them I need to let go of this morning. Once again, I am so glad and so ready to receive a fresh filling of your Spirit for this new day.

Thank you for all the folks at that prayer meeting yesterday. I pray for Jimmy in particular as he leads worship at Discovery Church that meets at Legacy High School. Bless that church, Lord.

I pray for First Southern. Bring us back to the simplicity of worship and communion with you.

I pray for Donna and her family today. Comfort them in their grief.

‘Rejoice, the Lord is King;
Your Lord and King adore!” (“Rejoice, the Lord is King,” BH 2008, 302). Amen.
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A Worship Service for Pastors

Unfortunately, I’m a little on the run this morning. I don’t really like to be that way in my time with Jesus on Sunday morning. I tell you. I relished leisure last Sunday. I was just able to sit at Jesus’ feet for over a half an hour.

Oh, well, maybe next week.

This morning, I feel led to be a part of something. I got a note from a pastor on the north side of town. He has a burden to see all the evangelical churches come together in a unified prayer for revival. One of the obstacles to this is pastors’ schedules. It is just so difficult to find a time when all of us can get together.

I certainly concur with this. When I get with the other SBC pastors on the north side, we usually meet for lunch, but the larger pastor’s prayer time—one that I have never been involved with in all the years I have served on this end of town—meets early in the morning on Wednesdays.

I’ve struggled with this, but I just can’t make that. There is too much going on for me in the mornings with my time with Jesus and writing this blog and exercise and making a segue into study.

Back to this pastor, he acknowledged all these scheduling challenged and proposed a Sunday morning worship service for all of us to get together. It will meet this morning at Crossroads—the American Baptist church on our end of town. It will only last a half an hour with “no chatting (I’ll have to see that one to believe it—with a group of pastors—are you kidding me? Ha), no food, just worship—from 6:30 to 7:00. It will convene only on the first Sunday of each month.

I think this is a good idea. I want to support it. I feel led to go. Hopefully, I can get myself together to do it without just being in a rush.

Today is a big day with our Koinonia format and the vote today on the vision and the organ with a Youth Pastor Search Team meeting after the service. Whew! I’m already tired, but it will be a “good” tired.

I’m grateful for the assurance that these three verses from Proverbs give: "For the LORD sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes. An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his great foolishness" (Proverbs 5:21-23 NLT).

Lord, examine me through and through. Bring us together, Lord—all the believers at First Southern—but the larger church community as well. Thank you for the brother who is pulling this service together today.

“Crown Him King of Kings, Crown Him Lord of Lords” (“Crown Him King of Kings,” BH 2008, 301). Love this song! Amen.
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A Perspective of Cancer After Two Plus Years

Yesterday was kind of a downer. As anyone who knows me will testify, I’m not a fan of snow or cold weather. It felt like winter around here. Burrrrrr.

I fought my attitude as I do every year about this time, but I have to tell you: I have made a decision that I want to be a better steward of days like yesterday and today where I’m not able to be outside as much.

Here’s what I have decided: I am going to focus on making big strides with my writing. As book number one is just about ready to be published (I praise God for this. I’ll say more about this later), I’m already working on book number two. I’m about three chapters into it.

I’m so thankful that the Lord enabled the words to flow. I got a lot done.

I’m not going to go into detail about what book number two is all about at this point, but in the process of writing yesterday, I found a fairly significant plastic bag full of greeting cards.

Before I tell you what those cards were, I need to say that it is hard for me not to keep every card that people send me or give me. Every single one—and I mean that—is significant to me. I still get a card weekly from Jack and Nancy. It has a brief written note inside, something like, “This is your weekly note of encouragement. We hope you are doing well. We look forward to Sunday.” Something like that.

But also, Nancy usually inserts a small, folded page from her daily devotional. It has a very of scripture printed on it along with Nancy’s notes. She has obviously looked up some cross references to the printed verse and jotted down those references along with some additional brief notes. I am always careful to take time to read the printed verse and Nancy’s notes. Then, I put the card in a special file box in my house.

I realize it gets a little twisted when you think about trying to keep every card people have given over a period of twenty-three years. I agree. Believe me. Just so you know I haven’t totally flipped out, I do weed through all my cards at some point and throw many (not all) of them away.

But back to yesterday, I found the plastic bag that has all the greeting cards the congregation gave me the Sunday I preached after telling everyone I was diagnosed with cancer. That was August 15, 2010.

My memories of that service are still pretty clear. But, that Sunday, before the end of the service, Duane stood up. He had a small basket in his hand. One thing I will always remember was that he was emotional. He handed me the basket. It was full of greeting cards—a “card shower,” as we call it in our fellowship. I’ve had the privilege of having several of those “showers” over the years. They are always a blessing and of course, I keep many of the cards people give me on that occasion.

Well, anyway, yesterday, on a frigid and cold Friday, I pulled those cards out and looked at all of them again. A lot of memories came flooding back into my mind and heart.

I remember the looks on people’s faces in that service on that day. It was a combination of fear and love. People shared things in their notes with me as if I had been given a death sentence. And, I don’t blame them.

On that August Sunday in 2010, I wasn’t sure myself what was going to happen! I was scared also. I wasn’t scared of death or the future. I was scared of chemotherapy. I had seen how sick my dad was; I just didn’t want to have to go through that.

I was also worried about my job and the church. We had just finished our 50th Anniversary not to many weeks before. Things were on an upswing. What was going to happen? There were a lot of unknowns, of course.

All of those memories and more … and here I sit today. It is weird. This is going to sound strange, but a big part of me doesn’t want even to think about all of that. It is difficult just to keep my mind on any of it.

Back then, cancer was so all consuming. It chewed up huge chunks of my thoughts and days. All I felt like doing at first was to sit on my mom’s back porch and just stare off into space. For brief moments, my mind would drift into something else and then the reality of “I have cancer” would come crashing down on me.

Even as I started chemo and I would be sitting on this couch, I would be thinking about it. I would try to work on sermon preparation or something else related to my work at the church, and my mind would not let me. It was just this big Cookie Monster called Cancer that filled every room and every space.

Now, I just don’t have the capacity to think that much about it, and even if I did, I just don’t think I could or want to.

This is frustrating because I don’t want to drift away from the lessons God taught me through cancer, but I can see how easy that would be. I can discern that it is easy just to go back into some of the habits and lifestyles and modes in which I lived before cancer. I think I am already doing it in some ways.

And yet, having said all of that, I am very sensitive to others who want to treat me as if I had never had the disease. Somehow, it seems that some don’t even remember it. I can’t stomach this.

The strange thing is that, even though I have a hard time thinking about it and want to put it out of my mind when I do, I still don’t want others to forget. And many have not. I still get very concerned questions from folks. They say things like, “So, how are you doing these days?” That is a “I haven’t forgotten about cancer” question, and I appreciate it a lot.

I think the bottom line of all of this is that most of us (yours truly at the top of the list) don’t do well with long-term illness. We just want it wrapped up and sewed up and let’s move on.

I’ll never be able totally to move on from cancer, even if I want to. Every time I go to the doctor or every weird physical symptom I have from now on, I will wonder, “What is going on? Is it cancer AGAIN?”

Plus, I still haven’t finished treatments. And another thing, I think I am going to keep this port. I don’t think I’m going to have it removed when I finish maintenance treatments. Dr. Jotte’s assistant, Kelly, told me that a lot of people keep it forever. The only thing is that I will have to keep going to the cancer center every six weeks to have my port flushed out. Oh, well. Right now, I’m willing to do this. We will see if I keep it up.

Does any of this make sense? I wonder, but I am trying to describe how I feel and other cancer/long term illness folks must feel the same way. At least, I will have more understanding of all of this when it comes to ministering to others.

Here is one lesson: I still think people appreciate being asked even if they don’t want to talk about it all that much. How about that?

Lord, I’m grateful that you have brought me this far in the pilgrimage. Thank you for the good reports I have received up to this point.

Help me never to forget or sway away from what you have taught me and are continuing to teach me through cancer, even if I want to put those memories out of my mind.

Thank you for the love and concern and prayers of my church family.

“Jesus, Jesus, Lord to me,
Master, Savior, Prince of Peace!
Ruler of my heart today,
Jesus, Lord to me” (“Jesus, Lord to Me,” BH 2008, 300). Amen.
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Unusual Circumstances and God's Direction

My mom and sister and I had a good conversation last night, and as we were talking, some things started to crystallize in my brain.

I continue to be amazed at how Christians make decisions, especially about the big stuff in life, particularly—marriage.

It is no wonder that the divorce rate is sixty percent right now, and that statistic holds true across the board whether it is in the church or out of it. Somehow, that is even more tragic than anything. One would think that knowing Jesus would drastically reduce those percentages, but I guess not.

Back to my point: somehow, we have missed the boat as parents and churches in the arena of teaching our children the proper way to make decisions in life—whether it has to do with marriage (arguably, the biggest decision aside from repentance/faith in salvation that there is) or buying a car or moving or whatever.

But there is a philosophy that is out there that I continue to encounter, and yesterday, it finally hit me what it is. For lack of a better way of putting it, I would call it “the unusual circumstance” view of interpreting God’s direction.

Let me see if I can explain it, and I will use marriage as the forum for explaining this.

Before I do, I need to say two things. First, I don’t know why (well, maybe I do) but one of the first things I have to hear when I visit with anyone is their “how I met my spouse” story. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to learn about people and hear their stories, but over the years, it has given me insight into how people make this once-in-a-lifetime decision. And I know the Lord can do anything. Everyone’s situation is unique. I understand all of that, but just to be honest, deep in my heart, I am thinking, “Are you kidding me? You decided to marry so and so for THAT reason?”

Second, I know that many might discount what I am saying at this point, particularly as it relates to marriage. I am the poster child for NOT being married. Someone might quote the biblical phrase, “Physician, heal yourself.” If I am such an expert about all of this, then where is my spouse? Ha.

Well, the fact that I am not married does not disqualify me from having an opinion, right? I still am a Baptist preacher, after all!

Back to the topic—here is what I see very frequently. Someone is wrestling with an unmet need in life—i.e. they want to get married. There is nothing wrong with this. But they are ready, very ready to take this step. So, some start praying. Or, and this is unfortunate but more common, they DON’T pray. Either way.

Soon after this process intensifies, some unusual circumstance occurs and immediately, they label it—God. And because they believe God engineered this unusual circumstance, then that must be His way of indicating that the person they met through this unusual circumstance MUST be their future spouse.

In short, they automatically link an unusual circumstance with God. This must be God--they rationalize.

Now again, I need to say that I am speaking in generalities here. I know some great couples that have a fantastic marriage because they met EXACTLY this way and they are together still and everything is fine. But, they are the exception to the rule.

Most who meet this way and marry don’t have a good ultimate result.

The corollary to all of this—and I have seen this many times—is: if for some reason, things don’t work out, then it is God’s fault. The reasoning goes something like this, “God, you engineered these circumstances and now things have changed. You let me down.” Thus, not only do they have a divorce on their hands (that is tough enough), but also, they are mad at God.

I realize that the more I write here, the more I need to preface. Divorce can occur in situation where people met and did everything the right way. People can change and other factors can negatively influence a very strong marriage.

But let me get back to the point: I am not doing an analysis this morning of why marriages break up, but I am talking about the factors that people use for making important decisions. And what I am saying is that this “unusual circumstance” approach is flawed.

Satan is also known to engineer circumstances. He is not more powerful than God. I’m not saying that, but still, the evidence is clear. Look at the creation narratives of Genesis, the story of Job, and Jesus’ temptation. Each one of these stories shows that the Lord used the enemy to test His people. Satan tempts; God tests.

Having said all of this, I turn around and state that circumstances are one way that the Lord guides us. But my point is this: circumstances are not the ONLY way. If we just rely on our perception of circumstances, we can be wrong. Dead wrong.

I believe there are three other factors that should go into determining God’s direction. As I was pontificating about all of this last night to my mom and sister, Marilyn asked, “Can you show me the passage of scripture that support your contentions?”

Her question reminded me of a statement that one of my preaching professors at Southwestern seminary made on occasion, tongue in cheek. He said, “Some preachers don’t let the Bible get in the way of a good sermon!” Ha. I certainly don’t want to fall in that category, especially in this discussion.

But I reference Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God at this point. He argues convincingly that there are four factors in decision-making for the believer:

    Each one must receive due consideration when making any type of decision, large or small.

    The next time I am at the church office (which may be today), I am going to pick up my Experiencing God workbook and browse through it in order to help me with scripture that reinforces this point. Stay tuned.

    The passage I read today in Proverbs helps me with all of this. It is one of my favorites in the whole book. "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil" (Proverbs 4:23-27 NLT).

    The more I read these verses, the more I realize that there is a lot in here that helps with this topic. First, my heart determines the course of my life. Second, when I am living in obedience to the Lord, He keeps me on the safe path. What an awesome challenge!

    I hasten to say in all of this that these verses are NOT teaching that calamity and difficulty and marriage problems won’t occur, but we are less likely to get off the “safe path” when following the Lord.

    One more thing. There is snow on the ground here this morning! Are you kidding me?

    Hey, what is the Lord telling me through this sort of, kind of, unusual circumstance?? Humm. I’ll just leave it at that!

    Lord, I thank you that you are in charge of my life. I thank you for your Word. I thank you for the privilege of talking to you in prayer. I thank you that indeed, you are actively engineering circumstances in my life. Thank you also for the resource of counsel—other believers and my family—who care about me.

    Obviously, I have some folks on my mind and heart as I share all of this today. I lift them up to you. This is not some academic, angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussion. This is real life.

    Help me to live by these principles and teach them.

    “Majesty, worship His majesty,
    Unto Jesus be all glory, honor, and praise” (“Majesty,” BH 2008, 297). Amen.
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    "Lord, Give me a Lazarus!"

    Before I elaborate on that quote, I want to say a word about last night. It was off-the-charts great! It was our first Missions Banquet, but we started off with a brief service. All of this revolved around the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (OCC).

    I was talking with Betty about this the other day. I can’t even remember when we started this, but it wasn’t that many years ago. I certainly wasn’t familiar with this ministry that is part of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s ministry.

    Last year, we had a fairly good response. I need to get the exact figures from Betty. It was well over fifty boxes. Not bad. But nothing could have prepared any of us for the response we got this year.

    I said this to the church last night, but the Lord has used Betty to be the impetus for all of this. She really has a heart for this ministry. This is wonderful confirmation of something that I have known for years: people need to be serving the Lord in the area of their passion. The word is PASSION. Once that occurs, Katy bar the door! Get back, Jack. This is certainly the case with Betty.

    Lettie was also a major mover in all of this as she was the vehicle for God’s brilliant idea of having competition between the Sunday school classes. Sharon, one of our seniors, a fellow cancer survivor and huge encourager, also contributed to thirty boxes on her own. Betty recognized both of these women last night and rightfully so.

    Anyway, the “winning” class put together 82 boxes! All in all, we added things up. I figure that we had 258 boxes!

    My sermon Sunday is on Paul’s “bragging” in 2 Corinthians 10. In that vein, I want to “brag” a little bit. I can’t imagine that there are many churches in the United States that did a better PER CAPITA job of putting together boxes.

    Those of you who read this blog regularly have certainly picked up on my discouragement and frustration with some of the “stuff” that is going on in our fellowship right now, but I want to be categorical about this: this is a huge encouragement to me. I thank God for what He has done.

    One more thing about last night—Kathy, from the Church Division of Operation Christmas Child—was there. She told about a man who had received a box in an orphanage in Russia. Apparently, he was adopted by a Christian family in the States and is available to speak in churches. We are going to invite him to share sometime this year.

    Anyway, Kathy told us a little bit of his story. As I have already said, he was in an orphanage. He had never even heard of Christmas and certainly had never received any present at any time until he got an OCC box. The greatest thing in the box he received was a washrag. Why? Because in this orphanage, all the children used the same washrag! This young man was happy because he finally had his own! Of course, the Lord used this whole thing to bring him to Jesus.

    But I just can’t get over that washrag.

    Last night, at the close of the service, we prayed over the boxes we are contributing, asking the Lord to use every single item in each box for His glory. Then, we head downstairs for a meal and time of fellowship together. Can’t beat that!

    Great night, but back to the title of the post for today. Last Sunday, as the men gathered to pray in my office, one of Bill’s petitions to the Lord was, “Give us a Lazarus.” I remember making a mental note of that prayer.

    Yesterday, earlier in the day before our OCC service and banquet, Bill and I were talking. He said, “Do you remember what I prayed Sunday: ‘Lord, give us a Lazarus’? Do you want to know where I got that?” Yes, yes.

    This prayer request came from the life and ministry of Samuel Chadwick. Warren Wiersbe chronicles his story in the book, 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Bill brought the book last night. I was able this morning to read the chapter on Chadwick, who lived and served the Lord as an evangelist and teacher in England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Anyway, the Lord laid a burden on Chadwick as a young circuit preacher. First of all, the Holy Spirit convicted him of pride and then led him to pray for revival. After reading John 11 and 12, he felt compelled to ask the Lord, as he went to each place, “give me a Lazarus.”

    Translation: Wiersbe quotes Chadwick as saying, “If God is at work week by week raising men from the dead, there will always be people coming to see how it is done. You cannot find an empty church that has conversion for its leading feature. Do you want to know how to fill empty chapels? Here is the answer: Get your Lazarus” (Wiersbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know, 248).

    I certainly concur with this sentiment. Certainly, conversion is God’s work. No preacher can “save” anyone. God is the one who saves, but somehow, I think we have totally de-emphasized prayer for conversion. We just don’t see it all that often anymore, and I think, to our shame, we just don’t expect God to save people. And it probably isn’t a very high priority for many of us—I put myself at the top of that list.

    But it always has been high on God’s list. I’m glad. Aren’t you? We see the Lord’s heart for it even in, especially in, the Old Testament. Notice these words from Ezekiel 18. I quote some verses from the beginning of the chapter and then, from the end: "Then another message came to me from the LORD: ‘Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste”? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel’… Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign LORD. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live!" (Ezekiel 18:1-3, 30-32 NLT)

    If my memory serves me correctly, the prophet Jeremiah refutes this proverb as well. It is all about the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. And it gives further impetus to our mission of seeing people converted to faith in Jesus Christ, whether they live here in the States or in an orphanage in Russia.

    I echo Bill’s prayer, Samuel Chadwick’s heart petition, “Give us a Lazarus!”

    This is the hymn we sang last night:

    “So send I you,
    My victory to win” (“So Send I You,” BH 2008, 362). Amen.
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    Out of Death, New Life--A Second Chance

    Every morning, as I eat my breakfast (and eating is the first thing I do when I get up at 4:00 AM), I turn on the little television that sits on the kitchen table to watch Sportscenter.

    This morning, I noticed that they were making a big deal about a guy named Adam Greenberg and his one at-bat in the Marlins game against the Mets last night. He looked at a first-pitch strike from Cy Young candidate R. A. Dickey. Then, he swung at the next two pitches and he was out. His experience at the plate last all of thirty-three seconds, but as he returned to the dugout, his teammates rallied around him.

    I’m watching this and thinking, “What is the big deal here? Who is this guy?”

    Well, after some research, I found out. Apparently, Adam is only the second player in Major League history who got hit in the head in his first major league at bat and up to last night, never played again. He got beaned in 2005 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. It has taken him this long just to get back to the point where he could be on the field and play again. He had signed a one-day contract with the Marlins.

    It was interesting that last night, at the game, the only other guy who had this happen to him was there to greet Adam. His name is Fred Van Dusen. He was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1955.

    Manager Ozzie Guillen had an interesting comment as he reflected on Greenberg’s at-bat: “You know what went through my mind? I said how lucky I was to get 10,000 at-bats in the big leagues” (“Greenberg gets special K in second chance,” USA Today, accessed October 3, 2012).

    A second chance—how many of us really get that?

    Well, I would jump in and say, “Every believer! And not just one—multiple chances.”

    Salvation is the ultimate second chance at-bat. Jesus came back from the dead. That is one HUGE reality. But once we are saved and the whole issue of sin becomes even more evident to us—in the grace and forgiveness that Jesus extends to us, we get multiple, multiple second at-bats.

    The Old Testament lays the groundwork for all of this. I honestly think that Ezekiel 17 is a resurrection chapter.

    It starts with a “riddle” that the Lord shares through the prophet about two eagles. It is really the story of how Israel made a treaty with Babylon as they were being carried into captivity (this is the first eagle) only to break that treaty to try to appeal to Egypt (the second eagle) for help.

    Well, of course (and you know the story), none of this works out. It only compounds the problem, just as all of our “fixes” do.

    Read the riddle and its explanation for yourself. It ends up that the tree replanted in Babylon dies. All of this is very tragic.

    But the chapter ends in a very encouraging way. Notice these words: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the LORD, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” (Ezekiel 17:22-24 NLT)

    This is all about the remnant of God’s people. It is all about salvation, true salvation, coming out of this disaster and extending to Gentiles—“birds of every sort.” This is just the way God works.

    He brings life out of death. The short tree planted on the mountaintop will overtake the tall tree.

    This is another graphic encouragement to trust God and stay on track with Him, no matter what. Here’s how the Proverbs puts it: "Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving" (Proverbs 4:14, 15 NLT).

    Lord, watching Adam up at the plate and learning his story as well as reading these words in your Word today, are a huge reminder of your grace and mercy.

    Sin is a fastball to the head. It beaned mes. It always does, but I thank you for all the times you have lifted me up off the field and put me back in the game. I’m grateful. Deeply grateful, Lord.

    Thank you that Jesus came back from the dead, and because of Him, I’m able to come back over and over.

    “He is exalted, the King is exalted on High,
    I will praise Him” (“He is Exalted,” BH 2008, 296). Amen.
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    The Death of a Spouse

    Last Sunday, in our Family Service, Jorge had asked some people to give testimonies.

    Before I go further, I have to say that I love testimonies. I think the contemporary American church is too focused on having one “expert” talk every Sunday. As a pastor, I can see the reasoning behind this. Many of us are so focused on an order of worship and a schedule that it is hard to fit this in.

    Plus, it is a little scary because you never quite know what someone is going to say and how long he or she is going to take to say it. In short, it is a bit of a risk.

    But as I was sitting there last Sunday, the Lord convicted me that we need to provide opportunity for this if not every week, at least more than we have over the past couple of years.

    My timeframes may be a little off, but I have a distinct memory of thinking that the Lord was doing a work in our church and that the Holy Spirit was moving. We were encouraging and seeing people give testimonies each week, and for some reason, maybe the reasons listed above, we just shut that down.

    It is rather delicate because, right or wrong, good or bad, I can actually see people’s attention span and patience dwindling in worship services. As a matter of fact, I saw it last Sunday. Our service starts at 10:05 and I got up to preach at 11:00! I just had this intuitive sense that I was going to have to do some major cutting and editing on the fly because folks were nearly spent.

    So, I did. My sermon lasted a little over ten minutes or so. Was I offended? NO! Absolutely not.

    In fact, I believe that the way things went was EXACTLY what the Lord wanted. We had four testimonies: Jim did a great job of sharing about his pilgrimage. Bill did not come forward to the platform. He just stood up right where he was. Calla shared about her call to ministry and heart for children. Finally, Jorge gave a testimony about the struggle to have children and how the Lord rewarded Vida and him with three children! All of the testimonies were fantastic!

    Thus, “cutting” my sermon down was a privilege.

    Back to the testimonies, I want to go into more detail about what Bill said. He told about his life as a truck driver and how he allowed this life to take priority over his family. He went to talk about his conversion experience and subsequent marriage to Jerri.

    Not too many years after they got married, the Lord convicted them that they needed to be in church. They joined First Southern in 2009, I believe.

    I tell you that they were a great couple. They were very obviously taken with one another. Jerri was a real character. She was one of those kinds of people that did not talk a lot, but when she did, it was worth listening.

    Sometimes, even her facial expressions wrote a book.

    I’ll never forget the Sunday that the church recognized my twentieth anniversary. They had asked Bill to make me a cedar chest, and they presented it to me in the service. It was beautiful. I’m telling you. I had seen one in Bill and Jerri’s home when I had visited with them, and I told them, “Wow, someday, I want to pay you to make one of these for me. How much would that cost you to build one for me?” “Oh, about $800.00,” Bill replied. Gulp. I told him I would save up and do it someday.

    Well, people in the church donated the money to pay Bill to build one for me. I was thrilled. I still am.

    Anyway, after the service, Rob and Bill and Jerri brought my cedar chest to my house. When they pulled up, Jerri had one of those “looks” on her face. I noticed it and said, “What is going on?”

    Jerri answered, “Well, he isn’t happy.” She nodded in Bill’s direction. “Why?” I asked. “Well, the plate on the inside of the lid to the box is not centered, and he recognized this after he glued it into place. And he is not happy.”

    Okay, now, first of all, I never would have noticed this had Jerri not said anything, and (and I’ve told Bill this), I don’t care. In fact, I like it a little off-center. It just makes it better.

    But that incident is one of my memories of Jerri.

    That was in September of 2009. She passed away in December.

    Last Sunday, as Bill started to talk about Jerri, he started to weep. On a couple of occasions, it took him a long time to compose himself. All of us just waited with him. It was deeply moving. I wanted to cry with him. I know that many did cry.

    Yesterday, I was visiting with Donna and she mentioned Bill’s testimony. She said, “I guess he still isn’t over Jerri’s death. I wonder how long it will take me to get over Bill’s passing.”

    I knew the answer to her question, but I hesitated before I spoke. “Donna, never. You never get over the death of someone you love but particularly a spouse. I’m sorry to have to tell you this.”

    I don’t think Donna full grasped what I said, and I don’t blame her. I think she is still in shock.

    I don’t know anyone who is still not deeply affected with the death of a spouse.
    I know my mom is not over my dad’s death. He died in 1973. She has often said that, when he died, she felt as if she were sawn in two.

    You don’t “get over” that.

    As we continued to talk yesterday, Donna said, “As we were visiting before Sunday school in the senior class, some of the ladies said, ‘It is strange to go to bed one night as a married woman and wake up the next day as a widow.’ I guess I am a part of that group now. I am a widow, but I just have to believe that the Lord has some things for me to do, things I haven’t been able to do my whole life.” I’m glad she added that last part, but I’m still concerned for her.

    I’m praying that the Lord will continue to comfort her and take care of her in her grief.

    He is great at that, especially toward rebels bent on turning away from him. The whole 16th chapter of Ezekiel is about the way God’s people turned against him and became spiritual (and in some cases actual) prostitutes as they worshiped other gods. The Lord’s response was severe, but in the end, the Lord asserts: "Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember with shame all the evil you have done. I will make your sisters, Samaria and Sodom, to be your daughters, even though they are not part of our covenant. And I will reaffirm my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD. You will remember your sins and cover your mouth in silent shame when I forgive you of all that you have done. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!” (Ezekiel 16:60-63 NLT)

    Lord, I’m thankful for all the ways you show mercy and kindness to us. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for forgiveness. Where would I be today with that? Where would my family be without your everlasting covenant?

    Please comfort Bill and Donna and everyone else who have lost a spouse. Even though we have the assurance of heaven, there is still grief and that “sawn in two” reality. Strengthen and encourage them today.

    “Thank you for the cross Lord,
    Thank you for the price You paid,
    Bearing all my sin and shame
    In love You came
    And gave amazing grace” (“Worthy is the Lamb,”
    www.tsrocks.com, accessed October 2, 2012). Amen.
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    Bryan and His Truck

    There is really no way to get the full significance of what I want to share without some history, and even then, it is tough.

    I have known Bryan since the first day I started as pastor back in 1989. He was just a little tike back then. I saw him progress through the children’s and youth ministries of our church. One of those summers, when we were twixt and tween youth pastors (this has happened frequently), Marilyn stepped in one summer to lead our youth ministry. She did a great job.

    Sometime, in those years, Bryan indicated that he felt called to full time vocational youth ministry. He went to college. He was the first in his family to do so. And he graduated.

    He returned back to our church and has served on and off with our youth ministry ever since.

    Bryan faces some handicaps but he navigates them very well, all except one significant hurdle. He just didn’t feel confident to drive. His dad, Paul, is in the car business as a matter of fact, but Bryan didn’t drive.

    And, it sort of became an issue because he always needed rides, to everything the youth group did, and it became rather burdensome to the folks who had to keep picking him up. What made it more difficult is that he and his parents moved to Commerce City a few years ago—a rather long way from the church.

    Bryan and I had several talks over the years. At one point, I said, “Bryan, if you believe the Lord is calling you to be a youth pastor, then you must go ahead and get your license. You are thirty years old! Why don’t you get it?” Bryan always hesitated when I asked him that question. I think he was just apprehensive. In one conversation, he told me that he was afraid of driving on the highway. I just responded, “Well, then, don’t drive there!”

    The years passed. I could see that Bryan was getting a little discouraged. He works at McDonalds but his heart is in youth ministry.

    Then, not too many months ago, Bryan came up to me one Sunday. He was beaming, “John, I got my driver’s license!” Huh? Really? I was in shock. Bryan finally did it!

    One Sunday, I shared this information with the church, and everyone cheered. We cheered even louder the Sunday Bryan came forward to tell me, “John, I drove to church today. My truck is in the parking lot.” It was a rather old clunker-looking truck. His dad found it for him. They got a good deal on it. But for Bryan, it might as well have been a Mercedes-Benz.

    We cheered again, louder this time.

    One of the greatest things about being a pastor is seeing how, at times (and this is rare), the Lord helps people to do heroic things, like climbing Everest.

    I put Bryan in this category. I think he is a hero. The Lord helped him overcome a huge fear and beat it. How many folks actually do that?

    I think Bryan was motivated to do it because he wants to be able to serve God and teenagers, and driving is an important aspect of being a leader. That is kind of weird to say that, but it is true. Bryan realized it, and the Lord helped him over that hump.

    Everything was motoring along (no pun intended) until last Saturday. Bryan’s dad Paul told me some of the story as I was greeting the guys in the Men’s class. Here it is: Bryan had an accident and totaled his truck!

    Apparently, he was driving on the highway and had to stop rather quickly. Paul said, “Bryan’s truck is not good at quick stops. He had to make one and he couldn’t. The other car was not damaged. But Bryan’s truck was totaled.”

    Before I could respond, Bernard took the words out of my mouth, “How could the other car NOT be totaled when Bryan hit him with that huge hunk of metal?” Paul shook his head, “I don’t know.”

    But that was good news. In addition, no one was injured.

    Bryan, however, is devastated.

    He came forward in the invitation, asking us to pray for him. Standing up at the front of our auditorium, he looked at me with tears in his eyes, “John, I can’t get it out of my mind. I keep thinking about all I did wrong, and how it should have been different.”

    We prayed for him.

    As he was leaving, I looked him in the eye, “Bryan, I’m so sorry about your accident, but accidents happen. I have had several, and they make you feel bad, but cars are just hunks of metal. They can be fixed or replaced. People do it all the time. No one was injured. You were not hurt. The Lord took care of you. It could have been worse. Just turn it over to the Lord.” I didn’t mean that to be dismissive or cavalier. I just wanted to encourage him.

    Somehow, Bryan seemed to perk up a bit. I don’t think anyone had told him that even though he had wrecked his truck, everything is still okay.

    I feel as if I need to call him this week and take him to lunch.

    Lord, I love Bryan. I’m thankful for the example of heroism that he is to many others and me.

    I pray that you would lift him up right now. Comfort him and encourage him.

    Oh, and also, Bill passed away on Saturday night. Comfort Donna in this loss as well. I’m glad she was at church yesterday. Help us as a congregation to encourage her.

    This morning, one of the verses I preached from in our family service comes to mind. I’ll get back to Zeke tomorrow.

    “[My goal] is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, HCSB).

    I remember first singing this hymn at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. I still love it. It is one of my favorites.

    “Jesus is Savior and Lord of my life,
    My hope, my glory, my all” (“Jesus is Lord of All,” BH 2008, 294). Jesus, Be who you are in my life, in Bryan’s, and in Donna’s. Amen.
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