A Stroll At Leisure With God

Bronco Fans and Nancy's Funeral

As I am sitting here this morning reflecting on the past several days, I identified a commonality in a couple of experiences I have had.

Before I do this, I want to clarify something. On one very prominent level, I was disgusted at what I saw at the Bronco game Sunday. One of the prominent features of regular season Bronco games is the prominence of tailgaters prior to the game. I would imagine that this happens in every NFL city where the home team is playing PLUS a lot of major college football games as well.

So, nothing unusual there, except for the fact that this was the first Bronco regular season game I had attended in sixteen years. If one goes frequently, I’m sure, like any other experience, it is not all that big of a deal.

But here is where I am heading with all of this: alcohol is very prominent. Very. As Jim and I made our way into the stadium, I was shocked at how many people I saw who were extremely intoxicated.

And, in response to all of that—I just had to thank the Lord, “But for the grace of God, that would be me.” I am just so thankful that the Lord delivered me out of a lifestyle where in absolutely everything one does, alcohol is involved.

I’m sure that the percentages of folks in our population who live this way would be shocking, and I know it occurs pervasively in our culture, not just at football games. One of the most disgusting things I see when I join up with guys at the golf course is the number of golfers who go to the course, not to play golf, but to get drunk on the golf course.

I think this is a total waste of time and money, and I want to tell them, “Just go to the bar. Why mess up someone else’s game, namely mine?”

I don’t know. I have a hard time allowing the love of Christ to come through in those situations. Have you ever tried to share with someone who is drunk? Again, a waste of time.

I’m not trying to elevate drunkenness as a sin that is worse than any other … I am just commenting on how I feel about it and about people who are intoxicated.

I say all of this to say … that I feel no commonality or fellowship with the alcohol crowd and have no aspirations to be accepted in this group. I want to say this upfront.

However, when Jim and I entered the stadium, I did feel commonality with all those Bronco fans, just looking at it purely from a fan standpoint—76,000 folks (give or take a few renegade Redskin fans mixed in, cheering for the same team I was). It was awesome. It was a very rabid atmosphere and I felt totally comfortable being as rabid as the crowd was.

On a much more profound and significant spiritual level, I felt the same way at Nancy’s funeral yesterday—one of the best EVER.

At a lot of funerals, I get a weird vibe mainly because many are populated with folks who don’t give a flip about God and are probably a little irritated that they have to hear a sermon from a Baptist preacher. I usually try to greet folks, but lost people usually have no idea what to say to a “parson.” Many just avoid me looking at me as they walk by on their way out the door.

But I just have to say that I felt totally at home with the family and even with many of the folks who were there yesterday. It was obvious. Many of them were believers. Many of them were visibly sad, and understandably so.

HOWEVER, I have never laughed as much as I did yesterday at any funeral. EVER. It was awesome.

I preached my little combo sermon/eulogy focusing on the Christian attribute of resiliency from that biographical portion of 2 Corinthians 4 where Paul describes the extremes he faced. I read from the Williams translation. I especially love the phrase at the end of verse nine, “always getting a knockdown, but never a knockout.” Love it! This is the epitome of Nancy—her resiliency.

Eleven years ago, she was in a coma, and the doctors gave her no hope, but after two weeks, bing! She came out of it. It blew all of us away!

Well, I mentioned that and said some other things. A little later in the service, we had an open mike for people to come and share. Some great stuff came out then. One lady in our fellowship, Kathy, basically affirmed that she would not be saved and would not be the person she is today without Jack and Nancy. How huge is that?

Towards the end of the “open mike” time, Nancy’s son Mike stepped up. He said, “John’s word ‘resilient’ is exactly the right word for mom.” He then proceeded to tell about some of her other “mishaps,” including driving through the garage door twice—from the outside and from the inside—and nearly getting electrocuted when she tried to vacuum out the stove in her kitchen.

He also cited some of Nancy’s cooking experiences. On one occasion, Nancy tried an unusual combination of ingredients in a recipe. When she and Jack sat down to eat, she said, “I think this is pretty good, don’t you?” Jack replied, “Well, please give me some of the part you are eating because my portion isn’t.”

I didn’t tell that exactly the way Mike did, but I nearly fell on the floor as he told about his mom. It was hilarious. Absolutely hilarious.

Nancy was a real character, but the main thing about her was that she loved Jesus and was a prayer warrior/encourager. And I will never forget her.

The service was off the charts, and I felt such a fellowship, such a commonality with her family.

Now, I want to encourage Jack. It is going to be very difficult to be without her. I can’t imagine.

All of this points out the urgency in drawing the lines we need to draw. Not everything that looks genuine really is, especially when it comes to the truth and true fellowship.

"The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth. They will tell you not to get married. They’ll tell you not to eat this or that food—perfectly good food God created to be eaten heartily and with thanksgiving by believers who know better! Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy" (1 Timothy 4:1-5 MSG).

There is much to comment on in these verses—food for thought, no pun intended. I think I will leave that to another day …

Lord, thank you for the life and ministry of Nancy Beaty. Thank you for that service yesterday—all the sadness and laughter. It was truly a victory celebration—as all funerals for believers should be.

I pray for Jack and the family. Comfort them in their grief. It is a huge loss for us; a huge gain for heaven.

“Heaven came down and glory filled my soul” (BH 2008, 573). Amen.

No Matter What Else is Said … Jesus

The end of chapter three of 1 Timothy must have been a hymn of sort. Most contemporary translations have it set off. I am going to quote the context this morning, but the key for today is the last verse:

"I hope to visit you soon, but just in case I’m delayed, I’m writing this letter so you’ll know how things ought to go in God’s household, this God-alive church, bastion of truth. This Christian life is a great mystery, far exceeding our understanding, but some things are clear enough: He appeared in a human body, was proved right by the invisible Spirit, was seen by angels. He was proclaimed among all kinds of peoples, believed in all over the world, taken up into heavenly glory" (1 Timothy 3:14-16 MSG).

Peterson translates the last part of verse fifteen as the church is the “bastion of truth.” I like that. Webster defines “bastion” as “a place or system in which something like an idea continues to survive.” Oh, man.

Mary Ann and I were visiting a bit yesterday, and both of us commented on the fact that our culture is replete with lies. It is almost generally accepted that people and especially politicians lie. I could say a whole lot more here, but I think I won’t …

Where does one go for the truth? The newspaper? The 5:00 news? A buddy at work? Are you kidding? Since the Watergate in the early seventies (the first of many political scandals) and with the “fall” of many high profile religious leaders, our tendency to place inherent trust in leaders and institutions has taken a huge hit. Honestly, it is difficult to take seriously anything that anyone says.

Again, where does one go for absolute truth? Well, Paul affirms that the church is the place. Wow. What a huge responsibility for those of us who are in leadership and who teach/preach the truth!

I am fully aware of the fact that if I were to blow it (in any number of ways; pick your poison, so to speak), I would cast doubt on every sermon I have ever preached and my enemies would rejoice. I could just see folks saying, “I knew that John was a phony. I knew it!”

I imagine that this is exactly why Paul used these images and metaphors—to drive home how crucial the church is to this young preacher.

But then, Paul goes further. He actually talks about what the essence of that truth is, and of course, it centers on Jesus Christ.

As I read this today, I am once again reminded that the core of the gospel is Jesus, Jesus, always Jesus. We need to be grounded in the truth of who Jesus is and what He came to do. This is our greatest safeguard against false doctrine.

I am convinced that if I can just help the folks in the church I serve to know these truths fully, they will never drift into a cult, no matter how outwardly appealing it seems.

I am also thankful for this reminder today as I prepare to preach the funeral service for Nancy this afternoon.

I met with the family yesterday. Please pray for Nancy’s husband Jack. Of course, he is still visibly shaken. He and Nancy were married for 58 years! You don’t lose someone that significant for that long without it having an impact. I’m worried about him. He has all his family around him, and they are a great family, but still, I think that house is going to get very empty, very soon, as the days and weeks go by.

I am going to put him on a list of folks that I will regularly visit. This reminds me to visit another guy whose wife died recently … I need to go on that.

But back to our meeting—we talked about the service. One of the very encouraging aspects of it was the statement that one of Nancy’s kids made, almost in an off-hand way, “And, of course, John, we want you to share the gospel because there will be a lot of lost folks at this funeral.”

I usually have to take time to explain my approach to funeral sermons to families, and sometimes, I even get a little resistance when I say, “Now, look. I am going to share the gospel at this service. So and so has gone on to be with the Lord (or if the person did not know Jesus, I end my sentence with “on.”). All the rest of us are here. Funerals are for the people who are left behind.” Most folks follow my logic and agree.

But with Nancy’s family—all of this is a given, just assumed, “of course the gospel is going to be shared.” This says a lot about Jack and Nancy. A lot.

Therefore, I am working on a message that will touch on the points of this hymn:

--Jesus appeared in a human body.
--The Holy Spirit validated his ministry.
--The angels witnessed it (an interesting statement).
--All kinds of people preached Jesus (He is the universal Savior)
--All kinds of people believed in Him
--He went back to the place from which He came.

This is the core of the gospel and it encompasses Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as well—off the charts.

This is the way the Lord works in my life. When I read something like this on the day I am preparing to preach a sermon (whatever the occasion), I firmly believe that this is the Lord’s way of telling me, “John, I want this said today.”

Yes, sir, Master!

Father, I pray for this service today. First, I pray for Jack and the family in their grief. Nancy’s departure leaves a big hole. We all miss her very much.

But I lift up this service today. I pray for everyone who will be there. I pray for the message. Give me the words you want me to preach. Thank you for showing me that whatever else is said or not, Jesus will be the main content.

I am thankful for Calla and Tom who have stepped forward to help with the sound (this is always an issue for a service like this in the middle of the afternoon when most folks are working). Take care of the testimonies as well. Make this service something that Nancy would affirm and something that honors You, first, foremost, and always.

“Now, I’ve a hope that will surely endure
After the passing of time” (BH 2008, 575). Amen.

Conduct in God's Household

Before I start talking about the passage I read this morning and how it has impacted me, I have to mention a couple of other things.

First, our dear sister in the Lord, Nancy, passed away yesterday. In the message I received from her son in law, he stated that her husband Jack was “relieved.” This would sound strange to anyone but a believer in Jesus. “Relieved” when his wife of 58 years passed away? Huh?

Well, Jack didn’t want to see her suffer and allow the doctors to poke and prod her, trying to keep her alive with artificial means. He knows her better than that. He just wanted her to be able to go home to be with Jesus. And I think the whole family feels that way.

So do I. I miss her already, but I have no doubt I will see her again.

Well, I have more to say about her. I will say those things in a later post—maybe tomorrow (the day of the funeral) or the next day (after the service).

Second, I had an appointment with the oncologist yesterday. It was unusual because it was in the late afternoon. This occurred because I switched my original appointment when I went to Grand Junction for the state convention. They just squeezed me in yesterday.

It seemed to take forever before I finally got to see the doctor. Humm. I’m trying to describe his demeanor as we talked. It was a little short and straightforward. He asked me how I was doing, but he didn’t really comment on my situation. His assistant had examined me and said I was doing great, but the doctor himself made no comment. I guess I am okay??? He said that he was going to plan another scan in three months.

“PET or CAT?” I asked.

“I guess we will do a CAT. So, let’s plan on early January.” He paused. “So, your wife and mom didn’t come today?”

“Oh, no. That is not my wife. It is my sister. She would probably be insulted to be called my wife.” We both laughed.

“Got ya,” he replied, “Well, let’s just say that she has set the bar high. I have a sister too. You have to be careful.”

We had a good laugh, but that was it. Honestly, I’m kind of underwhelmed, but my family and I did take time to thank the Lord for this report.

Anyway, enough said. I want to quote the passage I read today:

"I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14, 15 NLT).

There are so many metaphors for the church in these verses, but the main one I gravitate to is the church as GOD’S HOUSEHOLD.

That word “household” takes me back to my childhood. There were certain expectations or (better word) rules that pertained to being a part of our household growing up. A couple come to mind. First, I had dishwashing duties. We alternated. One night, my mom and sister did the dishes. Most nights, my dad and I did them. I never could plan because this duty was at the total discretion of my dad.

But when we worked together, he was a real stickler. I would just pour soup in a pan and sort of, kind of, clean it and move toward tossing it in a cabinet. “Ah, wait a minute. That isn’t clean. Look at the spot and that one and that one. Take it out and do it over.” He had an eye for detail, and I didn’t (don’t).

The second “rule” in our household is that I was responsible to keep my room clean. Cleaning day was usually on the worst day of the week as far as I was concerned—Saturday. I was responsible to dust my stereo (there’s an old fashioned word for you—I played “records” as a kid; 8 tracks as a teenager) and vacuum my carpet.

I would usually “whip” through all of that and be done in thirteen seconds, but I had to wait for the “inspector.” Again, it would be my dad, “You haven’t dusted this shelf! Look at this dust here and here and HERE! You have more work to do! Get after it!” Okay.

Those are fond memories, by the way. Interesting that I remember that about my dad. My mom challenged me in a different way—she was always (and still is) an encourager. This is not to say that she didn’t jump down my throat with both feet on multiple occasions for various reasons! (I won’t go into detail here, but I deserved it every time. I will admit that). Her encouragement motivated me to study and seek to excel in my studies at school, but it was always positive and never heavy-handed. Never. And neither was the discipline my dad imposed either—just detailed. Very detailed. Ha.

I’m thankful for both of my parents and our household.

But Paul uses this very graphic word to describe the church. And then he goes on to portray the reason why conduct in God’s household is so important. Because the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth! Wow.

Truthful conduct is very important because the body of Christ has the unique role of proclaiming and teaching and LIVING truth. Where else are we going to find it? Nowhere but the church.

This is why I am so convicted after what happened Sunday with this dear family in our church. The world would blast us for this—people’s private financial affairs are none of the church’s business. How dare you challenge this “poor” family (and I am not using this word in the financial sense but in the sympathy sense). Et cetera, et cetera.

Well, I have to tell you that I didn’t really enjoy washing dishes or cleaning my room and then being told most of the time that I didn’t do it right. Who would?

But in our contemporary church culture, most of us as pastors feel that we have to tip toe around people’s little hurt feelings because if we don’t, they are going to leave the church.

And, frankly, most do.

But here is the issue with that: most leave the church no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try. It just doesn’t seem to matter. That's how I feel, and I know that most pastors share my opinion in this regard.

Well, let’s take this back to my household: let’s say that I got hurt feelings because of what my dad said, and I just decided, “I’m tired of this. I’m going to run away.” Well, I would really be in a world of hurt! Are you kidding me?

But unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in the contemporary church scene. People get their feelings hurt (for whatever reason) and don’t resolve that hurt! Then, some even leave one church only to go to another with those same hurt feelings over unresolved issues and are a hurt waiting to happen, and then they get their feelings hurt in a different place and so forth and so on. This thing just perpetuates itself, but never gets resolved, and therefore, people don’t grow up.

I tell you: what my dad did was not pleasant. I didn’t enjoy it particularly, but his detailed attention to my work has helped me in just about every job and every responsibility I have ever had. Whether I like them or not, details are important! Are you kidding me and I learned this through rebuke and correction.

So, I guess I have just decided that I am tired of tiptoeing around. I’m going to speak truth to folks IN LOVE (this is of course a huge issue) and let the chips fall where they may. This sounds cavalier. I don’t intend it to come across this way. Please understand.

One more thing I feel I need to add: sometimes Christians hurt each other. This is NEVER right, but sometimes people get hurt in spite of our best intentions to the contrary and it is in these situations that folks need to know how to handle those hurts in a biblical and mature way.

The bottom line? Conduct in God’s house is crucial. Someone needs to love folks enough to talk straight. If Christians and pastors can’t do it, who can and who will?

Lord, sometimes in my desire to tiptoe around feelings, I am actually hurting folks more than helping them. Thank you for the discipline and codes of conduct in my family. Thank you for rebuke and correction that I received from both parents!

Lord, show me how to love folks enough to speak truth, hard truth, truth that they (and I) do not want to hear. And always, always, always, in LOVE.

I’m thankful for your loving discipline in my life. I am on a short leash. And I am so glad.

“With my heart rejoicing within,
With my mind focused on Him,
With my hands raised to the heavens,
All I am worshiping Him” (BH 2008, 572). Amen.

Public Exhortation

I have something to share about the service yesterday. I will get to it in a moment.

But here is the news of the day: I actually got to go to the Broncos’ game yesterday! I have NEVER been to a regular season game at Invesco (the previous name) or Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Yes, I can actually hear the gasps of amazement at that admission. Ha.

Oh, man! I cannot believe what a crazy scene it was. Tailgating is a huge part of the whole process for most people. Jim and I parked in a lot by a restaurant, and it was full of people standing around grills near their cars. Of course, the main activity was drinking alcohol.

We made our way into the stadium past security where everyone had to remove all metal objects from his/her pockets. They don’t allow you to take any bags into the stadium except the ones they issue. They are small, translucent bags. That’s it. They inspect everything. Thank you 9/11.

Once inside, I could not believe how into it everyone was—76,000 fanatics, literally—a sea of orange—as loud as any football game I have ever attended. My friend Jim is at the top of the list as a fan. We dialogued throughout the game about everything related to the Broncos and more.

When the Broncos scored to make it 38-21, Jim said, “Are you ready to go?” I said, “Yes, I love to leave games early.” (Of course, only when the game is firmly in hand; I learned this lesson years ago; I will tell the story some other day). We moved through the crowd and out of the gate we entered. A few people (not many) had the same idea, but it was easy sailing back to I-25. I think it is worth it. I don’t mind missing the action, especially because I record every game.

Anyway, it was great. More to say about it, maybe tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the service. We did something that was rather unusual yesterday. We had a public “exhortation” of sorts. I am not going to name any names. But we have a family in our congregation that we love, first and foremost. I have to say this and put it at the top of the list. We love them.

But recently, they have had some financial struggles. Before I go further—I want to stop. They are not the only ones who have financial struggles. As I said to the church yesterday, “All of us could do a better job of stewardship. No one in here is better than anyone else.”

Back to the family. They have had some financial struggles recently due to some circumstances outside their control—health and the loss of a job. And they asked the church for financial help.

One of the things that complicated the matter a bit was that they have asked previously. This made it a little difficult because we have established a policy (nothing is written in stone, however) that we will help only families with one big “help” only once. The reason for this is that we seem to be having a lot of opportunity to help folks in the church these days and we want to be able to help a variety of folks.

However, the Lord impressed me that we needed to help this family this time, but I handled it differently than I have ever approached a situation like this before. Please don’t give me credit for this. Our four deacons—Jim, James, Bernard, and Ray were very helpful in this regard. I appreciate those four guys and their wisdom very much.

Anyway, I met with the family to have a talk about their finances. Their response to these conversations was excellent, by the way. I commend them for this.

So, yesterday, before we took a special offering for them, I had them come up front where I explained to the church that I had had conversations with this family about their finances and that we would be working on this together. We prayed for them and then took the offering. I felt good about this process.

Here is what I learned through all of this. First, I am going to have these types of conversations with folks in the church about their finances before we give money in the future. Sometimes, just giving people money masks the problem. The real issue is stewardship. Once this is addressed, money takes care of itself.

Now, sometimes, things just happen that put us in a financial bind and we need to help folks. I understand this.

Back to what I have learned—the second lesson is that I think there is a lot of value in public accountability before God and the church. This is rare in church life today. I think the key here is love. I certainly don’t advocate hammering folks and condemning them, but I feel that everyone responded in a great way yesterday, all the way around.

I believe this is the process that Paul is urging on Timothy when it comes to deacon leadership in the church. Notice what he says in the following verses:

"Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:10-13 NLT).

This “close examination” should occur with leaders in the church, including and especially pastors. As the old expression goes, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

I believe that the practical outworking of these examinations must be handled with love (again I say) and with careful consideration.

But the reward is great and Paul talks about it. They (the ones who come through the examination) will be rewarded with great respect and increased confidence.

Lord, I thank you for yesterday. Thank you for the body of Christ and our ministry to one another. I lift up this family to you in their financial crisis. I pray for me—help me to be a good steward of everything you have given me.

“This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made;
We will rejoice” (BH 2008, 571). Amen.

Safe Street

There was no way I had any idea of what we were getting into last night. Calla told us about this deal that police officers sponsored at Northglenn High School as a Halloween alternative. We made the decision to go with it as a way to network relationships in the community and get exposure to lost folks.

Typically, our “Harvest Festivals” have been good at appealing to church people, for the most part but we just didn’t get the outreach we were expecting. Thus, as we thought about this year, we chose to take a different tack.

Oh, man …

There were literally thousands of folks at this event! Thousands. At one point in the evening after John (Calla’s husband) arrived, he rolled his eyes a bit, “The kids want to get in line.” I can understand his trepidation. “The line” to get in was clear around the block!

The whole high school was literally full of booths and activities for the kids. It was incredible! We got to meet the officer who organized the whole thing. In fact, he made a point to come to our little area. “Hey, I am really sorry I was so hard to get a hold of. We had a death in the family.” We affirmed him—no problem.

Things started rather slowly as the doors were opened first to folks who had some special relationship to the police department, but it wasn’t long before the “general public” had access. Floods and floods of people and kids in costumes.

As things kind of sifted out, Jeremy and I were on one side of our “booth,” while Calla, Patty, and Anne were on the other side. Both sides had little games for the kids to play, and I was surprised at how many wanted to play the spin game and the “peg” game (this is my moniker; not sure what to call it). After each, we gave kids candy.

We had plenty to give. Calla said we had 87 pounds donated!

Okay, now at this point, I have to defend myself a bit. As the floods of people started coming, Calla urged us just to give one piece as a prize when a child played the game. Jeremy and I continued to give more than that. Why? Humm … I guess we both felt it was the right thing for us to do. We got “caught” a couple of times. We both just looked at each other and continued on.

I have to tell you that for me, my energy level diminished very quickly. There were so many people and so many kids, and in those situations, I feel the urgency to share the love of Christ, if even for a moment.

Believe this or not, Robert Schuler has helped me a lot in these types of situations. Yes, you read that right—Robert Schuler. One of my fellow PhD brothers in seminary did a paper on him in one of our seminars. His story is fascinating, but I will leave it to another day.

One of the things he advocated was his goal each Sunday. He strived to do three things: look people in the eye, speak a word to them, and touch them. He strove to do this with as many people as possible, and I am sure he felt as I did last night. Each Sunday, the Crystal Cathedral was inundated with people, and most of them came to meet him.

Anyway, I have never forgotten those three things, and I always remember them when the Lord gives me a chance to minister to a crowd. But I will have to tell you: it is work and a lot of life goes out. And I was so impressed at our group. They were all doing the same thing.

I’ll tell you what: I was glad to be with Jeremy (for a lot of reasons) but he was great at recognizing the costumes that the kids had on. He kindly corrected me when I commend a couple of girls for being Mrs. Superman instead of Superwoman.

(Come on. Am I the only person in the world who didn’t know about Superwoman? Maybe.)

It was off the charts great, and I feel confident that we will be involved next year. But we will see.

About 7:00, I realized that I was running out of gas, and I said good-bye to the group and left.

I hated to do this, but I knew I had to if I wanted to have anything in the tank for today. I think I am okay, but I will be curious to see what happened after I left. It was overwhelming.

Well, I have more to say about the verses I read in 1 Timothy this morning, but I will reserve those comments for tomorrow. I have to get going.

Lord, thank you for allowing our church to be in the loop last night. I pray that you would use our smiles, our touches, the candy, and the conversations we had last night to make a kingdom impact in our city.

Thank you for James, Anne, Calla, John, Sydney, Dayton, Patty, Jeremy, and Imelda who helped. I appreciate all of them very much. Amen.

Either Way, He Gets You (or Tries)

Our enemy is so crafty. I don’t mean to compliment him. But it is true. He continues to seek ways to get at us.

The verses for today are a primo case in point. Notice, Paul’s counsel to the young pastor in Ephesus:

"An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap" (1 Timothy 3:6, 7 NLT).

Now, first, let me be honest to say that these two references to the devil are rather cryptic. No one in the commentaries can be sure what Paul is saying EXACTLY.

I sure am not, but if I had to hazard a guess and weigh in (you aren’t surprised that I have an opinion, are you?), I would say that these two verses span the scale of how Satan attacks believers, not just elders, but particularly elders.

The scale? You might be asking … what is that?

On one polar end of the scale is the temptation that comes with “success,” and it is pride. Again, I hate that word—SUCCESS. It is so fluffy and fleeting and foamy—the three “f’s.” I am not sure what “foamy” means, but I am a preacher and preachers have to have three alliterated points, don’t they?

This is the proverbial pedestal that we like to put preachers or pastors or church leaders on, and you know what pedestals are for: they are made for falling off!

I have seen it so many times that one could almost set his/her watch by it. When you hear about someone, and he is called a “rising star in SBC life,” you better be careful.

It is kind of “rock star” mentality as it relates to the man who stands up in front of the crowds to preach the sermon and receive the accolades. And the guys that get to preach “the sermon” do so because they are “successful” in some way that is related to another alliteration—the three “b’s:” buildings, budgets, and bodies. More, more, more. Bigger is better, right?

All of this makes me physically ill—not because I care to be regarded that way—but because I can see the devil setting a trap.

You know the statement in Proverbs (I am not going to look up the reference): pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction.

Back to me—I have decided a couple of things. First, if the church I serve experiences revival—and I expect it because I am asking God—and someone from the state paper comes to interview me, I am going to refuse, and I am going to ask that if he/she writes about the church, that my name NOT be included in the article or alluded to AT ALL.

I will refuse the pedestal, and please, don’t think that I am some kind of martyr here. I know the truth. Let’s be honest. If the Lord in His sovereignty chooses us for revival, then it will be in spite of me.

We—preachers—love the spotlight and love to be regarded as experts. This is a croc and it is dangerous.

Am I an expert on revival if the Lord allows it to occur? Come on. But this is what we do to guys.

Several years ago, a church in Texas experienced a movement of God. What happened? Well, the pastor got the spotlight and parlayed a move to a bigger church as a result.

As I was sitting at the State Convention in Grand Junction last week, listening to guys preach, I had a strange thought, “If I ever get asked to preach at one of these things, my demeanor is going to be radically different than it would have been had I been asked at the beginning of the ministry at First Southern.”

At the beginning of the my ministry, I would have stood up to tell those preachers and people in attendance “how the cow ate the cabbage.” I would have thrown advice out there and portrayed myself as a “seasoned veteran of ministry.” What a joke!

But this is why Paul cautions against ordaining new believers too early. The lure of the spotlight is strong.

Now, if I get asked (and I am not holding my breath and that’s okay), I would start out by saying, “Ladies and Gentleman, I know less now than when I started.” True.

The truth is: God is so merciful to me to let me fly under the radar. It is such a huge blessing. I just want to serve the congregation He has given me, making sure that God, first and foremost is pleased, and let someone else have the pedestal and the accolades and the potential temptations that come with it.

Again, we love to give pastors the credit (and we love to receive it) when things are going well, but here is the other side of the coin—we love to blame them and pounce on them, when things are not going well or they sin.

As I write this, I have to admit that when the church struggles (I am talking the church I serve), I take it very personally, and in my mind’s eye, I see people sitting in the pews with their arms folded across their chest saying, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Now, really, I don’t think this is true for a vast majority of the folks in the church, but still … this is what I feel. This is very wrong also, whether it is happening or not.

The church is NOT one person. It is a body. And if things are not going as they should, then the responsibility lies with the collective group, not just the pastor.

But when a pastor sins, oh man! And please understand: I am NOT excusing moral failures or financial malfeasance or whatever preachers do. I guess what I am condemning is how guys are treated when that happens. Sure, they need to step aside. Sure, there is work to be done. But too often, they and their families get kicked to the curb.

THAT is wrong!

And this is, I believe, what Paul is talking about in verse seven. The world loves it when there is a moral failure on the part of a pastor. They laugh and say, “All these guys are phony. They are all sleeping with someone else’s wife.”

This is the way our enemy works, though. When we fall from the pedestal, and we are as low as we can be, he kicks us and tempts us to despair.

I still think of a man who experienced a moral failure who came to visit us at First Southern a few years ago—he was a shell of his former self. He had been kicked so much.

Again, I am not condoning sin; I struggle with how we deal with it when it occurs among leaders. Satan loves to get in on that scenario as well.

Lord, but for your grace, there go I. And, today is a new day with all the traps and temptations that enemy can bring up. Keep me through temptation and deliver me from evil. Help me to be more and more alert as each day goes by.

And Lord, you have burdened me to pray for every guy can think of—men in ministry that I know and don’t. It is not for the faint of heart.

“I’m so glad, Jesus lifted me” (BH 2008, 568). Amen.

The Relation of Family and Ministry

Oh, man. Can I ever write a lot about this!

Let me go ahead and quote the verses for today:

"He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?" (1 Timothy 3:4, 5 NLT)

So much wisdom in all of this—so much.

First, I have to pause and thank the Lord for my singleness right now. I have no idea of God’s future plans are for me. I’m good either way, but right now, I am more than content that I don’t have a wife and kids of my own.

Why? Well, I honestly believe that I would have been divorced now if I had. I was just so unhealthy in my approach to ministry for the first twenty years. I just can’t imagine that I would have given the proper priority to a wife and kids. Who knows? God. So, I am just going to leave it there.

But having said that, I do have a family, and again, as I have indicated on multiple occasions in this blog, I feel that they are a priority right now, and I’m thankful that I am in a position to help. If I were married, I would not be able to help my mom and sis out.

Enough about me.

Second, I have seen many negative examples of how poor family management affects the ministry, and not just with paid staff.

The wife of one staff member we had was totally non-involved in the ministry. I mean--we just didn’t see her that often. She did not develop any relationships with women in the church and seemed rather removed and distant. Not good.

On the other hand, with another staff member, the common word around the church was, “Hey, Sally (not her real name) is a keeper. If push comes to shove, we will keep her over Fred (not his real name).” We all laughed and joked about it, but in reality, this man’s wife was fully engaged in the ministry along with him. It was awesome to see how they worked together.

I just have to say that RIGHT NOW, I have three positive examples of how the family and ministry can work together. It is awesome to see—John, Darla, and Jessica are extremely impressive to me. And of course, the families follow right along. I’ve written about them in this blog. I could not be more impressed and thankful.

Why? Well, here is the third comment I want to make. And somehow, I have seen this over and over. If there is some flaw or issue in the family (especially those who are paid by the church), the enemy exploits it. It very quickly becomes a negative, and no matter how talented a staff person is, this type of thing is like a ball and chain—it just pulls everything down.

But I have to say something at this point—about “PK’s,” or preacher’s kids. This is a pejorative term that is often used to describe the children of any staff member, whether he is the actual Senior Pastor or not. Honestly, there is a lot of pressure and focus there. Sometimes, I think it is excessive.

I understand the responsibilities of leadership and especially what the verse above says—for all the reasons I have just cited. However, it just seems even more difficult for the children of those who get paid by the church. I didn’t used to have this perspective, but the longer I am a pastor (and of course, I don’t have children of my own), I see this more and more.

Fourth, I have three very good friends, who, in the course of ministry, have experienced a separation in their marital relationship. Even as I type these words, my heart breaks for them. One friend often comments, “If I had murdered someone, I would be more likely to have a second chance in ministry than I am now.”

We don’t do well in professional ministry circles and in SBC life with divorce. Once this happens, you are affected (I wanted to say “blacklisted,” maybe not quite that bad, but close) forever.

I’m certainly not advocating or even joking about suicide, but if I were to do something or have something happen to me that closed the door for vocational ministry, I would have a very difficult time. I would be in a bad way. That’s me. I can’t imagine what others feel.

In each of the three instances I am thinking about, my friends are a lot more diversified and skilled in multiple arenas than I am. But that doesn’t alleviate the pain and hurt and feelings of isolation.

All of this further accentuates how vital and important the family unit is.

I feel more burdened than ever to focus on the family unit, because, whether we are talking about families “in the ministry” or not, I certainly believe that the family is under attack.

This is why, and I have told the staff this—we are going to start something. Each week, I am going to single out a family in the church to pray for. I want to bring them forward, have all of us gather around them, and pray for them as they church did for Paul after he was stoned at Lystra.

Even as I start this, I know someone will think, “Humm, I wonder what bad thing is going on in this family?”

My answer is: that is not the issue. We need to pray for each other whether there is a crisis or not. We are so focused on the “fox hole.” Maybe, if we were better at praying for each other in GOOD TIMES, we would avoid more crises OR handle them better.

We have to step up our spiritual warfare to counter Satan’s attacks or we are dead meat.

Lord, I thank you for these teachings in 1 Timothy. I am responsible to heed them as a single adult. Help me manage my family better.

I thank you for families in our church, particularly those of paid staff. Strengthen and encourage them today.

But I lift up families in our church, particular the Beaty’s as they wait by Nancy’s bedside. One other family comes to mind. I lift them up also.

“Wonderful, wonderful Jesus,
in the heart He implanteth a song:
A song of deliverance, of courage, of strength;
In the heart he implanteth a song” (BH 2008, 568). Amen.

A Paradigm Shift

Last night, in a meeting, Jeremy asked a great question. At first, I didn’t quite grasp it, but I finally did. And I think it is huge and will have gargantuan implications for the church.

Let me back up a minute. First, I have always been an advocate of evangelism, whether it is local or worldwide. I grew up in churches where this was modeled and taught. My examples in the faith were pastors who were evangelists. I can go down a list with Herb, Andy, Harry, and Joel. These are the four pastors I had prior to becoming one myself. Add Ron Dunn and Richard Jackson in that list. I listened to Ron Dunn’s messages on cassette tape. My family and I attended North Phoenix Baptist Church when we were on vacation in Arizona (a frequent occurrence on Spring Break for my family, even after my dad died). Every Sunday at North Phoenix, people professed faith in Jesus AND there was an extensive time of seeing multiple people baptized. It was thrilling.

THAT is what I thought church ought to be.

I grew up just assuming that sharing the gospel, seeing people saved and baptized, and focusing on it were basically “givens,” no brainers. Doesn’t everyone know this?

When I became a pastor, I still had this mindset. I “pushed” one outreach program after another. Some responded. Most didn’t.

Some of my greatest shocks over the years were the increasing revelation that not all people shared my conviction in this regard and were not that motivated to make it a priority. What? Are you kidding? What do you do as a pastor?

I know what I did—I quit pushing.

I think I have grown increasing discouraged over the years with the lack of impetus in this regard AND my diminishing passion and action in evangelism.

Even to this day, there are opportunities galore on a local and international level, but we seem to have little response to these opportunities.

What is going on? Well, Jeremy’s question has clarified some of this for me.

What was his question? I will paraphrase it. It was something like this, “What are we going to focus on—reaching out there—or discipling folks here?” Our discussion clarified his question for me. I finally GOT IT. The light bulb over my head turned on—Duh.

Of course, without the proper heart and motivation and training—no one is going to step forward in evangelism, whether it is across the street or across the world. It is NOT a given. People must be trained!

Plus, just having outreach events and guilt-tripping folks to be involved, is a prescription for burnout and dropout. Why? Because, without the Spirit of God doing it, it is just a work of the flesh. It will not bear fruit. It won’t last. And, we won’t reach anyone, either.

Check, check, check—been there, done that. Got the closet-full of tee shirts.

Again, duh.

What is this? A shift of paradigm for me! It is about time after 24 years in the same place. Don’t you think? I guess you CAN teach an old dog some new tricks. We will see.

So, I definitely am excited to explore the implications of this in the life of the church. It isn’t that we have not been doing discipleship. I can’t say that. We HAVE, but maybe we haven’t been focusing on it in the right way.

Also, I don’t think this means that we don’t provide opportunities and outlets, but our focus is actually on the folks we have, training them to be genuine disciples of Jesus. Genuine disciples will share as a matter of course.

Food for thought and prayer. Good question, Jeremy! Thanks, brother!

Well, on to the passage for today and a prayer request. It is amazing how many significant pastoral moments correspond with passages in 1 Timothy. The whole “husband of one wife” thing was certainly another.

Several years ago, as we were in process with a few men to become deacons, this issue came up because a couple of the men our church affirmed as potential candidates were divorced. Some churches will not ordain men who have been divorced, and invariably, folks who espouse this view point to 1 Timothy 3:2—husband of one wife.

Without going into all the details of my pilgrimage and study at this point—suffice it to say that I have come to the conclusion that this statement is not PRESCRIPTIVE (neither are the rest of the qualifications in these verses, either). In other words, the qualifications for overseer and deacon do not reach back to touch one’s whole life.

I believe they are DESCRIPTIVE. These qualifications sum up where a man is with his family and walk with the Lord right now.

Thus, I concur with the New Living Translation:

"So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2 NLT).

Love it! Looking at a man right now, the question becomes: are you faithful to the spouse you have right now?

Of course, sharing this with the church was not a totally smooth ride. Are you surprised? Ha. Nothing is.

But now, we evaluated men for servant leadership based on where they are in their walk with God and in their marriage and family right now.

I hasten to say that if a man has been divorced, we ask him about it. If he says, “Well, I left my wife because she sneezed wrong one day,” then, Houston, we have a problem. This is a present attitude about something in the past, and thus, in this case, we have to take this into consideration.

But the point is: we deal with each man on an individual basis.

Anyway, not everyone would agree with me on this. That is fine, but this is how our church approaches ordination of deacons. And I have a peace about it.

One final thing: please pray for a dear lady in our fellowship. Her name is Nancy. She is a huge encourager and prayer warrior. I love her and cherish her family. She is not doing well and is in the Intensive Care Unit of Good Samaritan Hospital. The doctors have done everything they can do for her.

Her husband, Jack, and the family have made the courageous decision to take her off all artificial life support. Jim and I were with the family yesterday as they took this course of action. It is hard. We all love Nancy, but we don’t want to see her suffer.

Lord, I thank you for all the varied experiences you allow us to have in the body of Christ. The learning and growing are part of it. But also sharing in and with each other through good times and bad is involved as well. Thank You for this, Lord.

Thank you for teaching me and guiding me and using brothers and sisters in Christ to help me.

I pray for Nancy and her family. I pray that her suffering would not be prolonged. If You are not going to heal her, Lord, I ask you to take her on home. Whatever You decide, comfort the family today.

“Father, I adore You,
Lay my life before you” (BH 2008, 566). Amen.

Husband of One Wife

I’m still a little stuck on the subject for yesterday.

But before I go on, I want to thank two Bobs that took the time to write yesterday. Thank you Bob. Thank you Bob. I appreciate both of these brothers very much.

Looking back over the years, I have deeply appreciated the women God has used—women who have served in key leadership positions that the seven families who left First Southern back in the day would have vehemently disagreed with.

The first is Helen Shelton who led worship at U Hills Baptist Church when my family started going there in the sixties. Oh, man. She did a fantastic job of working with a huge choir. She was a humble servant who certainly wasn’t after Pastor Herb’s job. The legacy of her ministry continues to this day—her son Scott is a friend and helped me (continues to do so) through my cancer stuff as he deals with his own physical challenges. The Lord is taking care of both of us.

Was Helen “teaching and exercising authority over men”? Are you kidding?

The second I will mention here is my Aunt Ann’s pastor in Las Vegas—a woman. My Aunt is a member of a Presbyterian church plant in the suburbs. When my Uncle passed away last year, I flew to Las Vegas to attend the funeral and go to her church. Now, again, I certainly don’t agree with women SENIOR pastors (the passage I read today supports this in no uncertain terms).

However, I am not going to write off the ministry of this church because of it. They continue to minister to my Aunt. They reached out to my family. There are vibrant believers in this church. And, this pastor preaches the Word. I can and did share fellowship with this church and I appreciate it.

Now, if this church or this female pastor taught that Jesus was not the Son of God, we would have a problem …

Oh, well. On to the passage for today. This is another faithful saying in 1 Timothy—the second one in the book:

"This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.’ So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:1, 2 NLT).

The office of overseer, according to scripture, is an honorable position. That is what God’s Word calls it. I have to tell you that sometimes, it doesn’t feel that way. I think pastors are held in less esteem today than they ever have been.

And, there are reasons for this. Some are indeed unscrupulous. Some have had very public scandals and immorality come to light. Many don’t stay long in their places of ministry. Et cetera.

But what my family taught me is that we ought to respect the pastor’s OFFICE regardless of whether or not we agree with absolutely everything he does.

In spite of what I wrote yesterday, most who have come in and out of the doors of the congregation I serve, have had this attitude and demeanor and I appreciate it very much.

For the others, I am the first one to say, “If you don’t respect your pastor (this does not mean agreeing with him 100% of the time), then don’t cause trouble or division, just leave and go to another church.”

But here is my point today (and I said this in my sermon on women in ministry) and this is as much the context of the final verses of 1 Timothy 2 as the ones who go before it—these verses show me very clearly that pastors or elders must be men. Only a man can be “the husband of one wife.”

Anyone who reads this book honestly will have to conclude this, but again (not to beat a dead horse), this, in my mind, does not exclude women from teaching (even if men are present when they do it—look at Beth Moore, another example. Men attend her conferences!) or leading worship or whatever.

Anyway, I wish we could get past all of this. I’m not sure we are.

And while, I am in this neighborhood, I might as well say it: I don’t have any problem ordaining women either, if we understand ordination as the act of setting someone aside for a special task, and I believe that the statement the SBC adopted in 1984 (thanks again, Bob) confirms the correct teaching about what ordination is.

If my memory serves me correctly from the last commissioning service I attended, the International Mission Board ordains families to serve on the field—husbands and wives. I think this is right on target and valid.

Anyway, I am just about done. One more thing to say: I heard that one of the families who left our congregation over this women in ministry issue ended up in a non-SBC church with women deacons!

You think God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

Lord, lost in the shuffle of all of our discussions of gender is the whole issue of CHARACTER. You are a lot more concerned about our character than about anything else.

Lord, the last thing in the world I want to do is bring dishonor to the honorable position you and the folks in First Southern have called me serve. I cry out to you, Lord. Give me the grace to continue to serve through all the ups and downs and conflicts and ins and outs.

I lift up Helen today and her son Scott and the rest of the Shelton family. They mean so much to me. Thank for Aunt Ann’s pastor and the church in Las Vegas. Bless that congregation and its ministry. I'm thankful for the good job they did at that funeral and for the ministry they continue to have with my Aunt.

Thank you for the congregation I serve and for the way they encourage and support me. Thank you again for Bob and Bob. Bless these two brothers today.

“I know I shall see Him, shall look on His face,
For He is so precious to me” (BH 2008, 565). Amen.

A Painful Pastoral Memory

Unfortunately, the passage for today will forever be linked with one of my most painful memories as a pastor. It is one of those things that I will never “get over.” And even as I write those words “get over,” I wonder what they really mean, anyway?

Do we really ever “get over” anything that happens to us, particularly pain and tragedy, in the Christian life? And here is another question: do we WANT to?

Let me go ahead and quote the passage in 1 Timothy:

"Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty" (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NLT).

These verses deal with a touchy subject in church life: the role of women in ministry.

For the first ten plus years of my ministry at First Southern, I would hear comments about this subject and talk to people about it, and somehow, I had the nagging feeling that I needed to come to some resolution in my own mind and heart.

So, I decided to approach it this way: on several Sunday nights years ago (I can’t remember the exact year—I think it was somewhere around 2000), I determined that I would teach on the subject of how to interpret scripture and my final teaching would show an example of how to do it. And I chose the subject of women in ministry as the test case.

As you could well imagine, my first several Sunday nights in which I talked about how to interpret scripture elicited little more than yawns from the small number of people who came—not very exciting. Of course, studying the Bible TO ME is one of the most thrilling adventures there is. But looking back on all of it, I don’t think I did a good job of laying the foundation … who knows?

Anyway, I announced what I was going to be talking about on the last night of the study, and, as you would guess it, the whole auditorium was full of people.

I don’t want to dwell as much this morning on what I taught (I will boil it down) as much as I want to share what happened.

Basically, in the course of my study of the New Testament, I came to conclude that women did have leadership positions in the early church, and therefore, are free to lead in just about every position in the church except that of senior pastor. I tried to defend this by referring to the passage in 1 Timothy (I believe this is what Paul is alluding to when he uses the terms “teaching or exercising authority over men,” using the entire New Testament as context, my point being that when we come to controversial passages and subject, CONTEXT is a crucial matter of biblical interpretation.

One of the biggest things that helped me was an article by Craig Blomberg. He is a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary. That article became the basis for a book that he has written on the subject of women in ministry. The title escapes me now, but it is out there and available. Plus, I referred to a resolution on this subject at a recent SBC convention that basically reinforced all of this.

At the conclusion of my teaching, I made this statement, “If you don’t agree with me, make a decision.” Some took that as an ultimatum. They believed I was saying, “If you don’t agree with me, leave the church.” Of course, I was saying nothing of the sort. I was challenging people to make a decision about what they really believed on this subject.

Why did I say that? Because to this very day, I do not believe that this is a crucial doctrine of the church. If it were, it would be cited in the Baptist Faith and Message, right? But it isn’t. I do not put this whole subject on par with the deity of Christ, for example. And, I have long believed and appreciated the fact that as Baptists, we can agree to disagree on certain non-essential doctrines and still have fellowship with one another.

But apparently, not all people had/have this view. That is fine. Please know that I am not saying that this whole subject is not important and vital.

I do have a problem with women as senior pastors. AND, I fully advocate that men ought to take spiritual leadership roles in the family and in the church. Isn’t that what Paul is saying in the earlier verses of 1 Timothy 2? It is clear.

Well, I could go on here, making my case, but I won’t.

The next Sunday, seven families either mailed me or handed me a letter, telling me that they were leaving the church. I had a conversation with one family. I called the husband in another. The rest did not talk to me face to face. I think this is what hurt more than anything—still does.

With the two families I spoke with, I said, “If you disagree with what I said, regardless of your feelings on the subject, SHOW ME where I am wrong in the Bible and if you can convince me, I will change my view. Please show me.” They did not.

Plus, all these families were affiliated in some way with a retired pastor who was in the church. Some were in the young adult Sunday school class he taught. Some were his friends in the church. I had a close relationship with him and with them all (at least, I thought I did), but they all bailed.

To this day, I believe he was the instigator of this group response. Nothing will ever convince me otherwise.

Well, as you could imagine, this whole thing created quite a stir in the church, so the next Sunday night the week after the seven families left (the week after I taught on this subject) we had a congregational meeting. People were angry. What was going on? What was I doing? What was my “agenda” in teaching on this subject?

Many of them challenged me. I think some folks feared that we were going ordain women (this is another subject) or call a homosexual to be on staff or something like that. In that meeting, I repeated what I said, “Listen, I know this is a controversial subject about which conscientious Christians disagree. That is fine. Just make sure that what you believe corresponds to what the New Testament teaches. I don’t have any agenda here. I’m just trying to teach you how to interpret scripture. But, if I have taught anything that is in error, please show me.”

I put those words out there. No one said anything.

After the silence on that subject, the meeting went on with more questions and accusations. I tried to answer them.

At one point, I was struggling in a response, and my mom raised her hand and tried to clarify what a man was asking me. What she was really doing was defending me. This is the first and only time in all the years she has been in the church that she has spoken in a meeting. The only time! She spoke up when it seemed that no one else in that room would.

Talk about women in ministry—how about that?

Lord, I don’t want anyone who is reading this to feel sorry for me. These types of things are part and parcel of the ministry—fortunately or unfortunately. Along with cancer, I wear this experience was a badge of honor. Others have gone through much worse. But we are still there and still preaching, by the grace of God.

Like Peter and John, I rejoice that you have allowed me the privilege of suffering to some small degree because of the teaching of the Word.

But to this moment—to this very day—if there is anything I have written this morning or taught that is in error, please show me. YOU are the only One who is infallible and your Word is inerrant. Amen.

P. S. Something occurs to me. I am not trying to be cavalier about anything I have written this morning. If anyone in the fellowship of First Southern has a problem with this, before you leave the church, let’s talk—please!

P. P. S. Blomberg’s book is Two Views On Women in Ministry. I would say I espouse certain points (not all) of both views.

Modest Dress

I think it is highly significant that after instructing Timothy to lead the men in the church in Ephesus to pray, he moves to a word of exhortation to women. But the command for them seems a little odd (at first):

"And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do" (1 Timothy 2:9, 10 NLT).

Once again, I think it is important to keep the context in mind. This church was located in Ephesus. And as you know from your study of the book of Acts—there was a pagan temple to a female god located smack in the middle of town. Prostitution was rampant as a part of the whole gig. One can only imagine how ornate and risqué the dress was for the females in and around the temple.

By the way—this is important as one considers what Paul says in the rest of the chapter, by the way. But I will leave that for tomorrow.

Back to verses nine and ten: I think Paul is challenging the women to be holy. This, of course, has to do with their lives of obedience before God, but also, it applies even to their dress and appearance.

Oh, man, I was going to say, “Don’t get me started” on this topic, but I think I already have.

I am speaking this morning from the perspective of a single man who never has had children of his own. But I don’t think that matters AT ALL. Two women are in my family. Over twenty-four years of pastoral ministry, I’ve had plenty of experience with families in the church and all the pressures girls are under these days.

My mom and sister and I talk about this a lot.

First, the perception of what is beautiful and attractive when it comes to women has changed over the years. Look at any old movie like “From Here to Eternity” and you will see it.

Second, I think the modeling industry has had a huge effect. These anorexic supermodels on the covers of magazines have caused a lot of trouble. Girls have the feeling that they have to look like THAT in order to be considered attractive.

Third, this focus on the body leads very quickly to pictures that cross a line. I used to subscribe to Sports Illustrated, but I got convicted that it wasn’t appropriate for me to do so any longer. Why? Because of the so-called “swimsuit” issue. It is nothing more than pornography, really.

Fourth, this leads me to talk about pornography. Our focus on the body has gone way over the top and the Internet contributes to it. I can’t remember how many pornographic sites are available online now—multiplied millions. And so many guys struggle with it. So many. It is readily available—too easy. This is another subject for another day.

The reason I am bringing it up here is that this influences perceptions of women and beauty in our culture as well.

There is so much pressure on women to conform. And it begins at an early age. I think of Jon Benet Ramsey, the little girl who was murdered in Boulder. Seeing pictures of this little girl all “dolled up” makes me sick to this day.

But she is not alone. I can’t believe how young girls dress these days. Is it no wonder that so many get pregnant as early teens? This may be bad to say, but it seems as if they are asking for it by the way they dress.

Please understand: I am not excusing behavior in any way AND young men are just as guilty.

Where are the parents in our culture? WHERE ARE THEY?

If I seem rather exercised about all this today—I am. Something happened yesterday at church. I can’t go into detail. But ...

Somewhere, somehow, parents are missing the boat with young girls and young boys. How can our kids be in church and grow up in the church and miss things when it comes to biblical standards of morality. I wish it weren’t common, but in my experience of twenty-four years, unfortunately, it is.

The remedy: men ought to pray. Women ought to focus on obeying God. Parents ought to teach this. Churches ought to enforce it even more, I guess. I say, “I guess,” because I know we do.

Lord, once again, it comes back to you and a vibrant, growing relationship with you.

Please, Lord, use me, use the church, to do our part in all of this. But it comes back to the family. Strengthen and encourage moms and dads in our church to take a stand and rise up and teach their children—boys and girls—what is right.

“More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me” (BH 2008, 564). Amen.

Holy Hands

I’m glad for the reminder this morning: there is no substitute for the leadership men provide in the family (first and foremost) but also in the church. Specifically, it is the job of men to lead out in prayer.

This point was driven home to me on our yearly trips to Phoenix when I was a child. Invariably, we would attend North Phoenix Baptist Church where Richard Jackson was the pastor.

As the service began, hundreds of me came forward to kneel at the altar to pray. I later found out that these men were deacons in the church. I can’t tell you how impressive that was. It set the tone for everything—men on their knees.

When I started at First Southern over twenty years ago, I challenged the deacons in our fellowship to do the same thing, but it did not have quite the same impact. I finally figured out why: if it doesn’t come from the heart, it is only a program or worse, a “show.” This certainly does not honor God. So, it faded away.

Fast forward to these days—three fourths of our deacons are very consistent and regular in our Sunday morning prayer time for men. Granted, we only have four deacons, but still that is a pretty good percentage, and here is the best part: they are there because they have a heart for it.

Bernard is at the top of that list. He has joined me for prayer on Sunday mornings for over a decade. When he is in town, he is there. You can set your clock by it.

I’ve mentioned Jim quite often in this blog as well. Jim is the prayer coordinator for our congregation. He is responsible for the dissemination of prayer requests in our church, and he sends out ALL KINDS, not just the “pray for Aunt Sally’s toe” type requests.

Now, before I go further, I am NOT making fun of Aunt Sally’s toe! I injured my toe a few years ago and asked prayer for it. It is important, just as important as any other prayer request.

However, we tend to focus on those kinds of requests and neglect others. Jim makes sure we don’t do that as a congregation. His full plate of prayer requests keeps us balanced. We also have a plethora of requests relating to missions across the world AND the persecuted church.

So, there is Bernard and Jim—very consistent participants just about every Sunday morning. The third deacon is James. James gets there when he can, and his inconsistency in Sunday morning prayer is not because he is sleeping in on Sunday morning.

By the way, of all the guys I know, I would urge James to do exactly that on occasion. He is busy with work and with serving at church.

James gets to our prayer time when he can because he is now involved with the worship team, and practice on Sunday morning often extends into the time before Sunday school starts—very understandable.

By the way, our fourth deacon, Ray, is often very busy picking up someone or getting ready for the Senior Sunday school class in the mornings as well. So, he gets an “excused absence” as well, although he does not need it from me or anyone else. And I know he has a heart for the Lord and for prayer also.

Therefore, I tell you: I firmly believe that the deacon leadership of our congregation right now fulfills what Paul urges in 1 Timothy 2:

"In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy" (1 Timothy 2:8 NLT). I like how Peterson puts this verse in the Message Version:

"Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray—not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God.”

What is the deal with “holy hands?” I’ve actually heard this verse referred to as a command to lift one’s hands in worship in the neo-Pentecostal style. I don’t have a problem with this unless it is a show to draw attention to an individual OR it is mandated for EVERYONE.

With that having been said, I DON’T think this is a command AT ALL.

The normal posture for Jews in prayer was raising their arms to the Lord—this was the visible part. And I think Paul’s reference to Holy Hands has to do with the heart. If my heart is characterized as being set apart totally for God, then prayer and everything else I do will be all for him.

Interestingly enough, the contrast here is that men are either praying to God or they are fighting. One or the other.

I believe that, as long as men are on their faces to God (again, this is A posture of prayer; not the only one), then they won’t be in each other’s faces!

These days, my burden is that the Lord would add other men to the praying list in our fellowship, but I am not going to program it or badger guys. The guys who will be there this morning are asking the Lord to add more guys.

And, by the way, just because certain guys don’t come on Sunday morning does NOT mean that they are not praying. I know for a fact that others are as well.

What I am after is what Paul urges in 1Timothy 2:8—I want the men in every place (including Northglenn, Colorado) to lift up holy hands to the Lord in prayer.

Make it so, Lord. Make it so. Again, enable me to lead by example. Thank you for the prayer time my family and I enjoyed yesterday. It is my responsibility to lead it. It starts with me personally and spreads to my family FIRST.

I am reminded this morning of a Dallas Holm song, “Here we are, praising Jesus, lifting holy hands to You.” Amen.

First of All, Pray

The passage for today brings me back to one of the two “bullets” I have left in my gun. That may be a poor metaphor, but it is one I will use nonetheless.

Let me back off for a second and explain.

Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was always looking for the newest and best idea to minister to folks and/or reach people. I’d hear about something or read about a program and think, “Yep, that’s it. We are going to do it at First Southern.” Then, I would bring it to the church and share it with them, usually encountering bewilderment or opposition. I noticed this especially when my idea centered on evangelism.

One such idea I tried comes to mind this morning. It was called, “This Phone’s For You.” Dean and his family were in the church at the time, and he got behind it with me. The whole idea was to use a phone bank and call a list of folks in the community to invite them to church. It was a phone blitz, of sorts.

The concept centered on the law of averages: if you make a hundred phone calls, ten percent of the responses will be positive. One percent of those positive responses WILL show up at the church. That was the promise, anyway.

I remember as Dean and I talked about it, we coined a phrase, “Every ‘no’ we receive on the phone brings us that much closer to a ‘yes.’” So, we had everything laid out. The Associational office had a phone bank. We were good there.

The final piece of the puzzle had to do with the deacons. For some reason, I felt as if I needed to present this idea to them for approval. It was one of, if not the first deacon’s meeting EVER for me. I was juiced. I presented “This Phone’s for You” to them in the naïve belief that there was no way they could be anything but totally enthusiastic about it, right? I mean: everyone is FOR reaching lost folks. Aren’t they?

Well … Not everyone.

The response I received to my presentation was mixed to say the least. One person said, “That will never work. I hang up on phone calls from strangers.” One other guy said, “I thought you told us you would wait three years before you made major changes.” Major changes? Reaching lost folks?

I slogged through the meeting. I don’t think I got anyone’s permission but I went ahead. We got some people to go down with Dean and me to the Associational office. We made thousands of calls. I don’t remember that even one person showed up at the church because of them.

Now, before I go further, I think there is real benefit for disciples to put themselves “out there,” whether it is on the phone or in person—to be available to share Jesus whether anyone responds or not. So, in that vein, none of our efforts are “failures.”

However, I think it is incumbent on leaders to choose the most effective ways to reach people. After all, people are limited in time and resources.

Anyway, … that was the first of many experiences. Most of them were like this.

As I sat on this couch going through chemo, I got convicted about all of this and decided that I was done trying to trump up stuff for folks in the church to do. If people do not have a heart for reaching lost folks, all the programs in the world won’t matter.

All of that having been said, I come to the passage for today.

At the end of chapter one, Paul instructs his young disciple to cling to his faith in the Lord and a clear conscience. I believe this challenge relates to Tim’s personal walk with the Lord—an obvious and important priority.

But at the beginning of chapter two, he tells the young pastor to call Nashville and get the most recent outreach idea from the Sunday School Board. Right? Ah, no.

"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NLT).

I think it is highly instructive that Paul urges Tim to pray. Pray for everyone. Pray for leaders. This type of praying pleases God because He wants everyone to be saved.

So, prayer. Sometimes, this becomes just a last resort. I am convicted today that I have flagged a bit when it comes to prayer lately. This passage is an encouragement to step it up, by the grace of God.

Therefore, back to my “two bullet” metaphor—my two bullets are prayer and preaching, and I am going to trust the Lord with the rest. To some, this appears like inactivity. I know it seems like it in contrast to the guy I used to be. I know that, but at this point, I don’t care what people think.

Lord, I thank you again for the reminder that you have called your church to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” I confess the sin of lagging a bit in these recent days and weeks. I am wrong.

Help me to get back to leading my mom and sister in family prayer. Help me to be better to pray for our church and the people in it. And, instead of griping about our country all the time, pray instead.

Make me, Holy Spirit, a man of prayer. Make our church indeed a house of prayer for all nations.

“But how much I love Thee my actions will show” (BH 2008, 563). Amen.


I want to record this officially: we had the first snowstorm of the year last night. I know it has snowed a couple of times this month, sort of, but as far as John’s Official Record is concerned, this is the first.

I know that many folks get excited about snow, especially folks who live in the mountains and near the ski areas—good for them and all power to them. I’m glad to have a bright and sunny day here in the city and hear about it snowing in the mountains—fantastic—as long as it stays up there!

I joke about snow at church a lot, and we always have a good laugh, but can I be honest? For my family and me—we really don’t like the cold and snow, and after living in this state for fifty plus years (my mom has been here since the early 1950’s when she and my dad moved here from Kansas City shortly after they were married), we have just about had it.

It is something we talk about frequently. Yesterday, my mom said, “I wish I had the money to have a home in Arizona and just go there for the winter and miss all the cold and snow.” I agreed with her. Me too.

Our conversations go there, and it always comes back to one little detail: this church in Northglenn the Lord has called me to serve. I don’t know why He has left me there this long … sometimes I wonder.

Please don’t misunderstand: I love the ministry the Lord has given me and the people God has called me to serve. I just don’t like Winter and I wonder what is going on in the church these days. We are in one of “those” times.

Late yesterday afternoon, I went up to the office to get some work done. It wasn’t long before Scott and Calla showed up. We were all there to meet with the guy that installed our sound system a year or two ago. He was going to train Scott on how to use the system, and Calla was there to video the training for the folks who couldn’t make it last night, one of whom was her husband John who took the kids to New Mexico to visit their grandparents.

It was great to hang around with Scott and Calla. They both seemed upbeat as usual. We talked about all sorts of things except church. It was just what the doctor ordered.. Somehow, I have felt a little depressed since my return from Grand Junction. I think a lot of it is just fatigue. But it was good to laugh.

At one point in the evening, I asked Scott about who was coming to choir practice (practice is at 7:00 PM on Thursdays usually). He said, “Well, I have no idea.” Really? Well, things are in a bit of a state of flux because our new pianist, Carol, broke her arm in an accident (please pray for her) and it is a little difficult to practice or prepare for the Christmas musical Scott plans to put on without a pianist. We are kind of stuck.

Anyway, noticing my consternation over the state of affairs, Scott went on, “But I just practice with whomever is here and we just go on.”

As he said that, deep in my heart, I realized, “This is one of those times for us where that is all one can do.”

Here is the deal: just show up (sometimes that is the hardest thing to do); minister with and to the folks that are there (however few that might be); and go on.

That doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it? I’m not sure that much of what I have written this morning does, but it is honest. And it is reality, and I wish that someday, I could be in a position to look some young preachers in the eye and tell them about days and weeks and months LIKE THIS.

Certainly, Paul was in that position as he wrote to his young disciple in the faith who was serving the church in Ephesus. Here are his initial instructions:

"Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God" (1 Timothy 1:18-20 NLT).

This is sobering stuff. First, Paul’s instructions have nothing to do with what others are doing OR NOT in the church. They have to do with Tim’s personal faith in God.

Second, our faith is tied to the whole concept of conscience—maintaining a clear conscience. I think what this means is that we ought to be very careful not to take any missteps that we will regret forever. Sometimes, when times are tough, you are more vulnerable to enemy attacks and are more prone to do things you would never think about doing in “normal” circumstances.

I’m thinking of having an affair or being immoral as examples. How do pastors and church leaders get into these sins? I think they violate their conscience and it just takes them to the cliffs.

Third (and I am certainly no nautical expert; I get seasick on elevators), but shipwrecks occur when circumstances arise that pull our boat so far off course that we get too close the rocky shore and end up wrecking. No Captain aims for the cliff, but things get off course (gradually, over the course of months and years, perhaps), and all of sudden, WHAM!

Does “shipwreck” mean a loss of salvation? I don’t think so. But no wrecks are pretty. That is for sure. Why would anyone want to finish as a wreck? That certainly doesn’t honor God.

But what exactly is Paul talking about? We can’t be sure.

Paul uses two examples: Hymenaeus and Alexander. He doesn’t go into detail. My opinion is that these two guys fall into the same category as Ananias and Sapphira and the man living in sin in 1 Corinthians 5. I believe all five of these people dropped dead on the spot as they were handed over to Satan.

This is chilling: neglect the faith and violate your conscience, and the danger is that you will wreck your life and God will take you out. Maybe for good.

Lord, these extremely difficult days in which we live are a test. Will I cling to faith? Will I maintain a clear conscience? Only You can help me in that regard. I cry out to you today, on behalf of my family, my church family, and myself.

Keep us in the middle of your harbor, far away from the rocks and cliffs all around and yet, firmly anchored to Jesus.

“My anchor holds and grips the solid rock.
This rock is Jesus,
Yes, He’s the one” (BH 2008, 455). Amen.

Worthy of All Acceptation

There are some verses that just have to be quoted in the King James Version. It still remains one of the most beautiful translations ever penned in the English language. I think some of that is lost in the newer translations. But here is this famous verse:

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15 KJV).

I am reminded of a commentary I have that focuses on the “faithful sayings” of the Pastoral Epistles. Somehow, Paul coined this phrase as he shares pearls of wisdom with his young disciple in the faith, Timothy.

The first one is in this verse. After having talked about the law of God—designed for sinners (and he lists some sins)—he goes on to give some personal testimony.

In his previous life, Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious (to use KJV terms once again). These are certainly graphic terms that correspond to the actions that the historian, Dr. Luke, talks about in Acts. Paul stood there as a witness, consenting to the martyrdom of Stephen. And then, he went on a rampage, seeking and destroying (or trying to) Christians wherever he could find them.

And, it was on one of the “seek and destroy” missions that God arrested him on the road to Damascus.

Here was a religious man, a Pharisee, a zealot for the way of the Jews, earnestly living out his faith.

All of this makes the final phrase of this first faithful saying even more incredible. Paul considered himself “chief” of sinners.

Every time I come across this verse, this thought goes through my mind, “If Paul is chief, I am president.”

Chief of Sinners. I like how Peterson translates this phrase, “Public Sinner Number One.” Love it!

I couldn’t resist this morning. I had to use my Bible software, Logos, to look up the word that the KJV translates “chief.” It is the Greek word “protos,” the word from which we get “prototype.”

Paul is not saying that he is the worst sinner of all time (I’m sure like me he felt that way), but he is making an assertion that he is the prototype sinner, just the kind of sinner that Jesus came to save.

In short, his faithful saying is, “If Jesus can save me, then He can save anybody that comes after me.”

This is why this faithful saying is “worthy of all acceptation”—worthy for anyone to accept, no matter who he or she is. Now THAT is awesome! And a good reminder as I get back in the swing of things today.

Whoa. Yesterday, when I finally got home, I was beat. I can’t remember the last time I was THAT exhausted.

The past five days, including the trip to Grand Junction and back, were exhausting, wall-to-wall. I got a message on Facebook from a younger brother who used to attend First Southern. Not long after Wayne got married, he and his family moved to “Junction,” as the locals call it. I had every intention of calling him and trying to get together, but it just didn’t work out. I was on the dead run all the time I was there, and when I left yesterday, I just felt I needed to “high tail” it home.

There was some construction along I-70 on the way back. This just seemed to make this already long trip, even longer. But the weather was clear and so were the roads. I was glad. I got to see Glenwood, Avon, Eagle, Vail, Frisco, Breckinridge, Silverthorne, and all towns in between on a bright and sunny Fall day.

They all seemed rather sedate. I just wonder what would be like to live in the mountains and to deal with the drastic fluctuation in population that occurs during ski season.

I don’t know … I don’t think I could do it. I’m too much of a city flatlander. Anyway …

When I finally got home, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely navigate. I’m glad I had told folks I couldn’t go last night, because there is no way I could have done it.

I’m glad to have a couple of days to rest. I need it. I’m going up to the church this afternoon for a little while to meet with Scott and the guy who installed our sound system. He is coming back to tweak the system and to train us. We need to get some kinks ironed out a bit. Other than that, I will be glad to sit around and get some studying done.

As for the upshot of the trip to “Junction,” I think I need a few days to absorb everything that happened, but the bottom line is that the church needs to think outside the box just to survive.

That is exactly where we are at First Southern--something, anything, for us to be in a position to allow Christ Jesus to save more sinners, of whom Paul was a prototype.

Lord, thank you for getting me to Grand Junction and back safely. Thank you for everything that occurred there. Let me learn the lessons and live the lessons you taught me.

In the meantime, I can’t thank you enough, Jesus, for saving a sinner like me.

“I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see” (BH 2008, 104). Amen.

Out of the Box of 'Bigger is Better'

I have no doubt that the Lord wanted me to come to this convention. No doubt. As I sit here praying this morning, these past few days have been a wonderful combination of encouragement and challenge. I love how the Lord puts those two things together as only He can.

Eric Swanson, the main speaker for this convention, is a fascinating guy. I am interested to learn more about him and get his four books. Someone at Lifeway missed the boat when they did not have plenty of copies of his books available for sale at this convention. I would have bought all four.

Anyway, Eric made a comment on Monday night that was worth the trip (I alluded to this yesterday in this blog). The title for today is IT. “We need to get out of the box of ‘bigger is better.’” Amen. Glory, hallelujah!

Everything, absolutely everything in our culture and especially in church life, embraces the “bigger is better” philosophy. I even heard it at this convention! As someone was making a nomination of a guy to be the president of the Colorado Convention, he alluded to the size of this guy’s church! Are you kidding me? I almost laughed out loud.

If that is any kind of criterion, then I am out as a leader in our state. That is for sure, and (don’t take this wrong), I am glad ANYWAY. I really have no interest in denominational politics or positions. I’d rather focus on my own congregation, and if I ever have any “spare time,” I think I would rather visit “the Green family.”

But the blatant contradictions are out there and are inescapable. I was talking with my pastor friend Bart last night. We had a good long talk and shared a lot as brothers (another great thing about these two days). I stated, “If someone were to introduce me, what would they say, ‘Yes, I would like to nominate John. He has been pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn for 24 years; he got cancer; and the church he serves has plateaued and is declining! He is a great guy!’” Ha!

Now, all of that totally misses the point and does not reflect what I believe AT ALL. Let me just comment on it. First, I am honored to have served this one congregation for 24 years. Not many guys can say that, and it is no commendation for me. It is a testament to the grace of God and the patience of the church.

Second, I wear cancer as a badge of honor! The Lord has allowed me to experience it, and it still remains as one of the greatest gifts the Lord has ever given me. It is not a sign of weakness or failure.

Third, yes, we are not growing numerically and we haven’t for a few years, but that is only one indicator of church growth, and it can be a box (as Eric explained).

HOWEVER, I believe the Lord is pruning us to get us into a position to grow. How about that? Sure, that involves some folks having to leave or step aside. All of that is painful, and it will certainly not get me any accolades from folks who speak at conventions, but I don’t care. The Lord is in charge of this, right? He knows better than I. He is the Gardener. I’m just a branch! And not a smart one at that!

So, the Lord has affirmed the ministry and used Eric to do so. He has focused on two themes that I have heard over and over. I’m just going to mention them without much elaboration: we need to expand our view of what evangelism is and how it can impact folks. AND, we need to focus on kingdom impact rather than numbers of folks sitting in pews on Sunday morning.

There is so much more to those two statements I will unpack in the upcoming days. HUGE. Large. Gargantuan. Thank you, Lord.

Anyway, back to yesterday and my conversation with Bart as we were discussing all of this. We both concluded that we are not built to serve mega-churches. We like relationships and interaction with folks in the church too much. And it isn’t just “like” and “preferences.” We both believe that serving as a pastor demands those kinds of close relationships.

And, we both thank God for hands-on involvement in encouraging folks to serve and minister.

Bart told the story of a guy from a mega church in Aurora who came to talk with him about ministry. In the course of the conversation, this gentleman admitted, “Indifference is the major thing we fight in our church. We have a lot of people and a lot of money, but if we want to get something done, we have to hire someone and pay them to do it—whether it is a nursery worker or someone on the praise team. We just have to hire folks.”

Okay, so here is the point of all of this: from outward appearances—buildings, bodies, and budgets (the old 3 “B’s), this is a successful church with a successful pastor who gets to have these figures touted as he is introduced for a denominational job, but is this a “successful” ministry as God counts success?

I’ll tell you what: I’d rather be in the trenches struggling with ten people who are disciples of Jesus than serve in the largest church in the world where I have to pay folks to get things done, ANY DAY.

I echo what Paul said in 1 Timothy about the ministry, one brief statement in the text:

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him" (1 Timothy 1:12 NLT).

This is everything!

I love you, Lord. And I thank you for the place of service you have given me. It is hard. It has been and continues to be struggle all these years from a variety of standpoints, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for a million dollars and a big church and a picture on the front page of a Baptist paper. Let someone else have all that and all power to him. Let me serve you today as your servant. That is all.

And, Lord, I pray for the congregation I serve today and for a safe trip back over the mountains home today. Amen.

Any Kind of Terrain or Weather You Want (or Don't)

As I was motoring west on I-70 yesterday, I kept trying to figure out when I had made this trip last.

It has been years …

And I don’t know if I have ever made it during this time of the year. That is sad to say, especially because this may be the best time of year to do it.

When I left Denver, it was cloudy, dark almost, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in a driving rainstorm, buckets of water pouring from the sky. But, as I left town and started up the highway into the mountains, the rain stopped. I could literally feel the temperatures drop, and suddenly, there it was snow. It was the wet kind of big flakes floating down and dotting my windshield.

It seemed to get progressively heavy as I drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel.

One curious thing is that I noticed on two separate occasions, two truck drivers sitting beside the highway. They were just waiting for some knucklehead like me to have an accident. Each time I saw the trucks, I slowed down. I was determined not to be the knucklehead I normally am!

I think the worst of the snow was in Vail, and it seemed to abate as I turned a corner at Eagle Vail. Oh, yeah. I remember this place. Shortly after I learned to drive, my golf buddies—Gary and Dave—along with another guy, Joe, came up to this area for a golf outing. Gary’s family owned a home in Breckinridge (not far from Vail) so it was very convenient for us. We played Vail Municipal Golf Course. (It is right by the highway—very visible as one travels on I-70. And it was covered with snow yesterday).

Then, the next day we played the municipal course in Eagle Vail. My distinct memory is four guys sauntering into the pro shop and declaring that we wanted to walk. The two guys behind the counter looked at each other. “Well, are you guys sure you want to do that?”

“Oh, yeah, piece of cake. What is the big deal?”

Well, after nine holes, we crawled into the pro shop, out of breath, exhausted, and asked if we could take electric carts on the back nine. These same pros laughed and replied, “Sure, we knew you’d be in here. We have never had anyone walk this course before you guys asked.” We were too tired to laugh. It felt like miles between green and tee for each hole plus significant elevation changes.

You get the idea.

But those memories came back to me on the drive yesterday. Plus others … I won’t lay all of those on you at this point.

But back to the journey, still heading west, coming down the mountain, the snow turned to rain as I entered Glenwood Canyon. Even with the rain, I was able to notice the colors of Fall—spectacular shades of yellow and red and orange. This has got to be one of the most beautiful canyons in the state.

I slowed down to the speed limit (50 miles an hour) through this canyon.

Ah, oops, my statement above might indicate that I tend to drive above the speed limit. Well, er, that tends to be true at times (I think I will leave it at that), but the speeds vary greatly on this mountain highway with the open stretches at 75 MPH and the tight curves and canyons dropping lower.

But somehow, yesterday, I tried to enjoy the journey.

The Canyon drive ended at Glenwood Springs, but for the first time in my life, I kept on going west—unchartered territory.

I’ll have to be honest at this point—the terrain west of Glenwood Springs seems to be rather bleak—hard scrabble flat land—not as spectacular as the drive through the mountains, for sure.

The further west I drove, the more the temperature rose and the skies cleared! When I finally arrived in Grand Junction, it was 52 degrees and the sun was out.

Through the rest of the afternoon, the clouds came in, and it rained a little bit, and then cleared up with bright sunshine. Then, it clouded up again and got downright cold.

Get the picture?

One of the common statements that I heard in the years I was going to college and seminary in Texas was, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, and it will change.” As my friend Bart and I were discussing the weather, I brought up this statement. Bart has lived in Texas, served churches there, and attended Southwestern Seminary.

He jumped in, “Yeah, and when they say that, it means that a 95 degree day dips down to 92.”

Right! I think Colorado (especially this time of year) wrote the book on “wait five minutes and the weather will change.” I was an eyewitness of that yesterday.

Well, there is so much more to say about the pastor’s conference and the fellowship I enjoyed. It was a good day, and I know it will continue today with the convention meeting this morning and the golf tournament this afternoon. Rest assured: I will be prepared for all kinds of weather this afternoon. Mark it down.

It is this same dexterity that Paul applies to the whole issue of the proper use of the law. Apparently, some folks in Timothy’s church in Ephesus were using it as the basis for some ivory tower debates.

Paul tells his young disciple to avoid all that, and he instructs him about the proper use of the law:

"It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God" (1 Timothy 1:8-11 MSG).

Somehow, I think we have gotten away from the preaching of law and gospel—the methodology of Wesley, Whitfield, and Edwards in the Evangelical Revival in England and the Great Awakening in America in the eighteenth century. I think the reason for this is that we are too concerned about political correctness even in the church.

How can people see how far short they fall unless they are confronted with God’s law—God’s standard?

Lord, thanks for the journey yesterday and the incredible variety of terrain and weather you allowed me to experience yesterday. I have to make sure I have the proper and appropriate clothing for each setting. Help me to more concerned properly to teach and apply your Word, the Law of God, in each setting.

In other words, the more some things change, the more other things, especially the Lord and His Word, do NOT change.

I don’t have my hymnal with me (can’t believe I forgot it), but this hymn comes to mind,

“How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word” (, accessed October 15, 2013). Amen.

Trip to Grand Junction

In an email response to Bob, our Director of Missions for the Mile High Association, I said something like, “Well, after being a pastor for 24 years in this state, I figure it is time for me actually to attend a State Convention.”

He wrote back, “Why not?”

When I told my mom and sister, they were a little surprised. Marilyn said, “I know why you are going—golf.” Well, … That is a part of it, of course. Ha.

I am going to attend the pastor’s conference that starts this evening, but tomorrow, after the morning session, there is a tournament—a two-man scramble. Bart and I are going to play together. The gig is scheduled at a course in Fruita. It should be a lot of fun.

Bart was telling me that the usual procedure for these conventions is to have Tuesday afternoons off to allow people to rest or go sightseeing or … play golf. Ah, I choose option #3.

Anyway, I am sure I sound rather cavalier about all of this, but actually, I am rather convicted that I have been so uninvolved in stuff like this over the years. Again, I think it is just another symptom of the kind of truncated, narrow focus I have had through the years. I just haven’t gone or felt that these conventions were something I had time for.

Somehow, golf aside, I feel that I need to go this year. I’m actually looking forward to it.

That having been said, I need to get moving. Gotta throw some things in a bag and get ready to head out. I’m leaving early this morning just for the leisure of getting there and hanging out a bit before things start up tonight.

The other part of this is that I have never been to Grand Junction, EVER. How many years have I lived in this state? My whole life—except for college and seminary! I’m looking forward to seeing it.

The passage for today is interesting, especially with the graphic language that Peterson uses:

"The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love —love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence" (1 Timothy 1:5-7 MSG).

“Cul-de-sacs of gossip”—how about that? One of Paul’s main goals in writing Timothy was to warn him personally and thus urge him to teach the church about all the ways believers in churches tend to sidetrack themselves. Gossip is certainly one such way. Living a gossip lifestyle is a dead end street—a cul-de-sac! It goes nowhere.

This is a good reminder as I head to a meeting with a bunch of preachers. I’m sorry to say that these conventions tend to be a hotbed of gossip. Preachers are the worst.

God, thank you for allowing me to go on this trip. I pray for a safe journey. Take care of Mother and Marilyn while I am gone. Take care of the church as well. Heal Betty up as she recovers from her fall a couple of days ago.

Keep me and all the preachers at this convention from the dead end street of gossip. Amen.

A Meaningful Purpose

Back to the New Testament today—I have arrived at the book of 1 Timothy, and as I do, I am reminded about a comment that Brian made in one of our Wednesday night Bible studies a couple of weeks ago.

I had posed a question to the few in the room. We had been talking about evangelism and what we could do as a church to move us beyond just talk to action. What would it take?

And Brian piped in, “Traditionally, the church’s answer to this dilemma has been to start another program. I’m so tired of this. What we need is to mentor people.” I am paraphrasing his comments. But I can’t get what he said out of my mind.

I believe he is 100 percent accurate.

This is the essence of what Paul did with this young disciple in the faith, Timothy, isn’t it?

If memory serves, the book of Acts tells us that Timothy was circumcised and traveled with Paul for years. At some point, Paul “let him go” and urged him to serve in Ephesus. The book of 1 Timothy gives his instructions to him as he serves the church in Ephesus.

And of course, Timothy’s first duties relate to the whole arena of doctrine.

"Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God. The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith" (1 Timothy 1:4, 5 NLT).

Timothy’s first order of business is to stop the spread of false teaching and what it leads to—“meaningless speculations.”

Somehow, when I read that phrase, what comes to mind is all of these teachers who make a living in the field of “prophecy.” They come up with these elaborate schemes in order to predict what is going to happen in the end times. I think it is all, for the most part, a bunch of drivel.

It gets an audience, but I have never once observed that this kind of thing produces disciples, just “experts.”

Certainly, this is not the only example of meaningless speculation in our day and time, but it certainly is one.

Anyway, Paul’s instruction to his young disciple is to stay away from this kind of thing and warn the congregation to avoid it as well.

Instead, he urges Tim to follow his example of teaching with the goal of encouraging folks to LOVE. This God-love flows from three sources: a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.

A pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.

Now, those three things are something to hang one’s hat on, for sure. And none of them have to do with “knowledge” or “church programs.” These are biblical sources for the ACTION of love.

If I as a pastor want to teach folks to love God and love their neighbor, I must focus on the heart. Doesn’t “heart” summarize what Paul is talking about here?

If my heart is right, then all my actions will be as well.

That is why I think the message I am preaching today is so crucial. The text for my sermon is Acts 5—the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The more I study this passage, the more “scared” I get.

In spite of everything that churches face in our culture today (do I need to list all of our enemies?), I believe that our greatest obstacles come from within. We are our own worst enemy. If we could just overcome internal barriers, we might be able to do something.

Defeating those is certainly high on God’s list. This story confirms that.

I am resisting making further comments at this point. We will see how things play out today.

Lord, thank you for truth and the opportunity to live it and teach it. I pray that the ministry of the church I serve would have meaning and purpose, meaningful purpose. I pray that what is taught today in Sunday school and in worship moves people to love you with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as they love themselves.

“Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true” (BH 2008, 529). Amen.

A Harsh Reply to An Angry Sulk

Like many good stories, the book of Jonah ends with a lot more questions than answers.

Jonah preaches a stark and simple message of judgment. The people of Ninevah repent. God “changes His mind” and relents from the judgment He has planned for this city.

And … Jonah is none too happy about it.

One of Peterson’s excellent terms comes up at this point, describing Jonah as one who is immersed in an “angry sulk” on a hill or prominent spot where he flops down to watch what happens to the city and people he loathes.

And, as I said yesterday, God uses His own creation to teach Jonah a lesson. A shade tree emerges to shelter Jonah from the sun, and he loves it.

But just as quickly as the tree grows up around him, it withers and dies because God sent a worm to eat it.

Let me stop at this point. One of the best sermons I ever heard in my life happened when I was in college at Baylor. I can’t remember the preacher’s name but he preached a message on this aspect of the story of Jonah—how God sent a worm! And the upshot of the message was: if God could send a worm, don’t you think he can use you? Awesome message. I need to try to dig up details about that sermon. I will do that.

Anyway, back to the story. God did indeed send that worm, and the worm ate the tree so that it withered just as quickly as it had grown in the first place. In addition, God sent a scorching wind. The result of all of this was that Jonah was very uncomfortable and his “angry sulk” intensified.

It is at this point that the Lord repeats a question He had asked earlier in the story. I will site the original question and then skip a few verses to get to the end of chapter four:

"The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’… Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’ ‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’ Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’” (Jonah 4:4, 9-11 NLT).

Jonah was angry when God relented and did not destroy the city. Likewise, Jonah was angry when the plant withered and the hot winds came. The retort from the Almighty in both instances was, “Do you have a right to be angry?”

Jonah must have been the first American! I’m only half kidding. He was very good at protesting His rights and assigning blame to everything and everyone, especially God.

So are we, by the way, especially in the church.

Our response to the sins of others tells us a lot about our view of the mercy and forgiveness of God toward us. We expect it when it comes to us, but we seem to have very little tolerance and patience when it comes to others.

Didn’t Jesus tell a story or two about this?

Our lives truncate when we focus on our rights. Our faith expands when we focus on God and His character and yes, HIS RIGHTS.

God has rights! How about that? And He protests them right back to this pouty baby prophet. Here is one of God’s rights: He has the right to show compassion and mercy to anyone He chooses.

Of course, Romans 9 comes to mind at this point. Paul states the converse of this as He explains God’s sovereignty, and we don’t like to hear this. But the other side of the coin is true as well: God chooses NOT to have mercy on others, like Pharoah. And that raises all sorts of questions and protests like the false question of, “Why would God send someone to hell?”

The short answer to that question is, “God doesn’t send anyone to hell. They choose to go there on their own.”

Yesterday, I was visiting with a guy who made a joke about hell. He said something like, “Well, I’d better be nice to you if I want to stay out of hell.” I said, “If you are really serious about staying out of hell, I’d be glad to tell you how.”

He replied, “Well, I think I will be okay. I’m a pretty good guy.”

My final retort was, “Are you sure?” He didn’t answer and moved on to something else.

I am praying for this guy to get saved, but if He doesn’t, it isn’t God’s fault?

For everyone who anguishes over why God would send someone to hell, I always wonder why no one struggles over a much more profound question, “Why on earth would God allow me to go to heaven?”

God has the right to save people and send them to heaven.

And on that note, with no recorded answer from Jonah—we have no idea what happened in the story from there—the saga ends.

It is almost as if God is saying, “Every single person who reads this must choose to finish the story himself/herself.”

God, I am overwhelmed this morning by your grace and mercy. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I’ll never comprehend how or why you would or could save me, but I am so grateful and thankful. And I pray for guys like P. J. who need you desperately. Amen.

God's Arrangements

Before I get started this morning, I have a prayer request. My secretary, Betty, had a rather nasty fall on the stairs in our church building on Wednesday. I was at lunch when it happened, but I am so thankful that our Seniors who came for their weekly Bible study found her and were able to minister to her.

A couple of them called me, and I raced back to the church, only to find Betty seated in her chair at her desk. Debbie was there. She had already convinced Betty to go to the doctor. We found a wheelchair to help Betty because she said her back was bothering her. I wanted to make sure that she did not injure it further by walking.

Anyway, Debbie took her to the doctor who examined her and found no broken bones, but as I visited with her on the phone yesterday, she was hurting, BIG TIME. Of course.

My mind went back to my mom’s fall a couple of years ago. We took her to the doctor who examined her and found “no problems.” But, as all of you know, down the road, an MRI revealed that indeed she had broken some bones.

I reminded Betty of this yesterday. She said that she would get further tests if she is not better today. We will see, but in the meantime, please pray for her.

She is not the first and probably won’t be the last to fall on that particular staircase at church. Add my mom and me to the list of those who have preceded her.

I’m honestly kind of frustrated that no one in our church seems very motivated to push us do something about these stairs. I’ve tried, especially after my mom fell on those same stairs and broke her ankle. People just shrug their shoulders. I hope we don’t get sued some day, and I wonder then if anyone will get that concerned. We may find out.

Oh, well. I’ve learned on stuff like this just to turn it over to the Lord. I certainly don’t know how it could be done. I’m sure that it would cost money. They are steep stairs with small steps. But still …

My main point was not to get into that but to ask all of you who are reading this to pray for Betty.

Back to Jonah—something jumped out at me today in the text of Jonah 4. I wonder if you see it:

"And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. ‘Death is certainly better than living like this!’ he exclaimed" (Jonah 4:6-8 NLT).

There is a lot in this book about God’s arrangements. This is the word that the translators of the New Living Translation used. I like it. The first time you see it in Jonah is the last verse of chapter one: “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah” (Jonah 1:17, NLT).

When you add that verse to those I cited above, you get this litany:

The Lord arranged a big fish
The Lord arranged a leafy plant
The Lord arranged a worm
The Lord arranged a scorching wind.

How about that? What can one conclude about that list? Well, I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that the Lord arrangements in Jonah show that He is firmly in charge of the world He created.

The Lord made all types of critters, including these two cats that are sitting on me and lying next to me right now. Max lays beside me. Gus lays on me. They both seem to like this quilt that Jim and Frieda gave me. I use it every day and love it. So do they, apparently. See my photos on Facebook.

The Lord made these cats, the Big Fish, the plant, the worm, and the wind, but He is in charge of them as well. This means that He can use His creation in our lives in any way He chooses, including and especially to get our attention in discipline.

This means that nothing in our world, including some very poorly constructed stairs in a fifty year old plus church building, are outside His plan and purpose in our lives.

Sometimes, this is hard to take. But today, I choose to believe it.

Lord, thank you for being the Creator of the universe. Thank you for making everything and everyone. Thank you for animals and plants. Thank you that you are in charge of the wind and the waves.

I pray for Betty today. I pray for comfort and strengthening and encouragement for her. Heal her injuries.

Lord, I affirm that everything in my life, including cancer and these two crazy cats, falls under your sovereignty as well.

Oh, and yesterday, I heard about another dear brother who was diagnosed with cancer. I lift him and his family up to you.

“He is my Lord and my Savior;
Dying He set me free” (BH 2008, 561). Amen.

The Essence of Prejudice

If anyone thinks that the “ministry” is place of sweetness and light and love and joy and peace, think again. Sometimes, it is the most ugly place in the world. I ought to know. I know myself.

Without going into detail, the Holy Spirit exposed some stuff in my life yesterday, and it wasn’t pretty. So, I have first-hand very recent experience with what I am writing about.

The early chapters of Jonah raise more questions than they answer about why Jonah runs from God and God’s commission in chapter one. Sure, one can speculate. But we really don’t KNOW why he did what he did until we get to chapter four.

Let me back up a minute. In chapter three, when Jonah finally got on track with God and went to Ninevah, he preached his message over the course of three days as he walked the length and breadth of the city. We really don’t know how he did it, but I doubt it was standing behind a pulpit in some building.

I think he was some sort of precursor to Paul Revere without the horse. I believe he just walked and shouted out his message of impending judgment to people at work or in their homes or ambling down the street. Who knows?

But whatever the methodology, the Holy Spirit used it to get a hold of a vast majority of folks in Ninevah, from the lower echelons to the upper crust of society all the way to the king who himself made a proclamation that everyone was to worship the God of Jonah.

Now, I have talked about all the various earmarks of “success” in Christian ministry. They are boil down to external criteria like the three B’s: buildings, budgets, and bodies. I have waxed long and verbose about the reasons those can’t be measures of success.

But what happened as a result of the Lord using a reluctant servant cannot be placed in those categories. It was remarkable! God transformed an entire city! What an amazing success story in the truest sense of the word!

Everyone is happy, right? Wrong. Not Jonah! WHY ON EARTH is he not happy? Wouldn’t any believer in his or her right mind, especially a prophet or a preacher love to see this once and be a part of it once in his/her lifetime? Are you kidding me?

Not Jonah, and so in chapter four, we finally get some answers as to what is going on with him under the veneer, in his heart of hearts.

"This change of plans (God’s mercy on Ninevah) greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’ The Lord replied, 'Is it right for you to be angry about this?’” (Jonah 4:1-4 NLT, parentheses mine)

I remember hearing a sermon in chapel at Southwestern seminary that really helped me at this point about the motivation of Jonah. It was prejudice.

We throw that word around a lot, but I am not sure we understand what it really means. Very simply, it means to “judge in advance,”—pre-judge.

God told Jonah to go minister to a group of people he uttered despised. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, and the rivalry was heated. Of course. That’s the way it is with enemies.

I’m trying to think of an analogy in our day and time, and I think the equivalent would be if God told one of us to go to Iran and preach. I know that there would be a lot of obstacles surrounding just setting foot in Iran. I doubt you could even do it. I think of those three hikers that mistakenly crossed a border and the authorities arrested them and incarcerated them, and it was a federal case (literally) to get them out of there.

But let’s put that all aside—if I could get into the country, would I even want to do it? No.

The other night, I was watching a newscast and I saw some type of riot or violent gathering depicted on TV. I don’t even remember the context or circumstances, and I made this statement to my mom and sister: “I am so sick of that part of the world.”

What is that? Well, among many things, it is prejudice. I admit it.

I would just rather not deal with Arabic people, and thus, I have judged them in advance—they are not worth my time or God’s! In essence, with that attitude, I am saying, “They can just go to hell.”

Now, all of this is ugly, but that’s what sin is, right?

So, back to Jonah, he finally went to Ninevah and preached and was glad to do so. Why? Because he could hardly wait for God to wipe out the whole city with fire and brimstone, but when that didn’t happen, he was mad and went off the corner to pout like a little two-year old.

Why? Well, this is part two of the ugliness. Here it is: because Jonah promised destruction, and it didn’t happen (thus he failed as a prophet), it mad him look bad.

That is stark, but it is true.

For most of us, ministry is more about us than it is about the people we serve.

I wonder today, two things: would I go minister in the Near East of God called me to do so? (Again, I realize that, in a lot of those countries, I wouldn’t even be able to enter even if I wanted to, but the question is a crucial nonetheless).

Second, am I ready to look bad if God looks good and saves a lot of people?

Lord, it is so easy criticize what other people are doing or not and like many in our culture today BLAME someone else.

I am wrong, Lord. Deeply wrong. Turn me around and point me in right direction with my issues.

Lord, I am ready to go and ready to “fail” for you.

“It tells of one whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe” (BH 2008, 560). Amen.

God Changed His Mind

That’s what the last verse of chapter three of Jonah says:

"When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened" (Jonah 3:10 NLT).

Let me back up a second and give some context to this verse.

In the mercy of God, He gave Jonah a second chance to be obedient. He told him once again to go to Ninevah. This time, Jonah obeyed. He went to this huge city that took three full days to walk through with a simple message, “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed” (verse 4). I don’t know if that was all he said, but that was the message.

The result was very surprising. All the people began to grieve over their sins. And even the king repented and commanded people to do the same. He issued a decree to that effect.

The language of chapter three of Jonah describes a total national spiritual awakening. Kind of incredible, really.

Then, the Lord responds to what the people did. He “changed his mind.”

What an incredible phrase! I just can’t get over it.

It has been several months. Marilyn and I were talking about prayer. We both commiserated that sometimes, it seems as if prayer is rather superfluous.
Why? Well, it seems as if God is going to do what He is going to do, regardless of what I think or want. So, why bother?

That is brutally honest, I know. But (I won’t speak for Marilyn here) that is how I feel at times. And, I think my prayer life over time seems to reflect that.

In my pastoral work, I have met a lot of folks that don’t pray much if at all. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for prayerlessness. But I think one of them is: why bother? I’ve been praying about something for years, and it hasn’t happened. So, who cares?

Is prayer like trying to wrench something out of God’s hands that He really doesn’t want to give? And the only way He gives it is that He finally gets tired and releases His grip on a blessing or something I want? He, in effect, changes His mind?

No. I don’t believe that. But sometimes, it feels that way and seems that way.

I think all of this goes back to the whole God’s sovereignty/human responsibility debate. No matter how long we debate it or wrestle with it in our finite human minds, we are never going to resolve it.

As I sit here this morning, I feel led to reaffirm what I believe about God. From the bottom of my heart, I believe that, from the foundation of the world, He is totally in charge of His plan and purpose for creation. Jesus was crucified from the foundation of the world. He has always been part and parcel of God’s plan and scheme.

And, that plan (again from the foundation of the world) has included me. I am predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ, and really, there is nothing that is going to stop God from completing His purpose.

I could say a lot more on the sovereignty side, but that will suffice for now. And, I want to be clear: salvation is ALL God. I didn’t do anything to earn it or deserve it. And, I certainly can’t do anything to lose it. But those two statements do NOT mean that I can’t do anything.

Still, now and always, repentance and faith are crucially vital. Without repentance, no one is saved. These people in Ninevah who were lost without God turned to Him in repentance and thus the path of destruction they were on diverted in a different direction. This still happens today with anyone who repents and believes. When someone does that, God still changes His mind about that person even though, from the God perspective, a person who gets saved has always been saved.

I’m not saved until I get saved, but when I get saved, I have always been saved. That sounds crazy, but I believe it is true. This is the human responsibility side of salvation, and as Spurgeon taught his congregation, these are two rails of a railroad track that go side by side into eternity, never coming together from a human perspective (again, we will never be able to figure it out) but they do come together in the mind and purpose of God.

Back to prayer—why do it? Well, I don’t like the image of trying to wrestle a blessing out of the hand of a reluctant God, nor do I see believers as nags—trying to get God to change His mind somehow … that doesn’t track.

It is clear, especially in the gospels that Jesus invites His disciples to pray. He urges us to do it, over and over.

The more I pray, the more I realize it is not about a laundry list of prayer requests. It is about me communing with Jesus. It is about me spending time with Jesus, not first of all to get anything out of Him, but just to be with Him.

I believe this fits in the same category as financial stewardship. God doesn’t need my money, but He invites me to give FOR ME.

Likewise, God doesn’t need my prayers in the sense of garnering information from me or convincing from me to do something He is reluctant to do. He has invited me to commune with Him in prayer FOR ME.

This is why in our Sunday morning prayer time with the guys, I feel more and more of a necessity to lead out first with praise and thanksgiving. We are so quick to move to ask God for things. Nothing wrong with this, but mainly, primarily, it is about just sitting at the feet of Jesus, enjoying Him now and forever.

Oh, Jesus, thank you for these wonderful times in the morning where I can just sit here, with an open Bible and an open heart. I love you. I worship you. I praise you as a compassionate and merciful God. Thank you for your patience with Job and with me. Thank you for sparing the Ninevites and many Gentiles, including sinful Americans, through the course of time and history. You are awesome.

“More love, O Christ, to Thee
Move love to Thee,
More love to Thee” (BH 2008, 559). Amen.

A HUGE Example of Mercy

Today, I am reminded once again about why it is so vital to read the Word of God, over and over. One reading, fifty readings—are just not enough.

For most of my life as a pastor, I have preached the passage I am going to cite today as an example of the sin of man.

Why is it that it takes us so long to get on track with God?

I will not re-preach the sermon I shared in the Hispanic church on Sunday, but it was from Jonah, chapter one. As I was preparing, I remembered two things.

First, when I was a child, my dad and mom made sure I had some household duties that were my responsibility to perform. One of them was taking out the garbage. Another one was helping my dad do the dishes.

Back to the garbage—I never really thought about it until I heard one of my parents say, “John, please take out the garbage.” Yeah, yeah, I will get right on that.

A little later—“Ah, John, take out the garbage.” No “please” in the second request. You bet. Sure. I’m on top of it.

Silence. They were waiting and watching.

The third time: “John, I am not going to tell you again. TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE.” The third time was NOT the charm for me. I began to realize that I didn’t want to push things that far.

So, here is the progression: I learned that the first time my parents asked, I needed to obey.

Second, there was a great family in our church several years ago. I still see them on occasion. Kris, the wife and mom, taught in our preschool and children’s ministries. She was teaching the boys and girls about obedience to God. I will never forget this. She taught the kids to obey God “the first time.”

That little phrase resonated with me because of my own experiences. And anyone who is a parent certainly can relate to that. When a parent tells a child to do something, he or she wants it done NOW. The first time.

Back to my situation with the trash, I learned to respond the first time because I learned through hard and often painful experience (the board of education or the hand of education meets the seat of knowledge) that it was just easier all the way around if I just did what they asked.

But then, I carried it a step further. In order to please them more, my head started working. I realized, “Humm, they usually ask me to take the trash out on Thursdays because that is when the trash truck comes to pick it up. Humm, why don’t I just remember it is that day and do it, and that way they won’t even have to ask me.” Hello, McFly!

Once I started doing that, I expected my parents to get all gleeful and lavish praise on me. Guess what? They didn’t do that. Why? Well, really, I didn’t deserve any prizes because I was just doing instinctively what they had asked me to do in the first place. I was just carrying my weight in the family. No big deal.

I have been around enough families to know that this is a pretty typical process for most. We have to learn obedience because we are human. That is one of the reasons God made parents.

But that is the human side, and when I have approached Jonah in the past I have focused on THAT. Jonah blew it, and he had to face a lot of negative consequences including getting spit up on the beach in the vomit of a big fish. All of that is true.

When that happened, God was ready to meet Jonah at the point of obedience:

"Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.’ This time Jonah obeyed the Lord ’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all" (Jonah 3:1-3 NLT).

What hits me today is that God gave Jonah a second chance! Wow. Think about THAT. God is God. We like to say that He is in charge and in control. Right? Well, doesn’t that also mean that He is in charge of the orders He gives us. What about God telling us to do something ONCE? He has that right. He is Lord!

What about God saying, “John, I want you to take out the garbage,” and I don’t do it, and then God says, “All right. Since you didn’t obey me, I’m done with you. It is over. I’m going to find someone else. He has the right to do it.

The fact that He is patient, so patient, and merciful to command Jonah twice and (let’s be very honest here) us fifty-eight times is a HUGE example of mercy.

Oh, Lord, I praise you for your patience and mercy. I am overwhelmed this morning. Thank you for the patience my mom and dad displayed as they taught me. Thank YOU for your grace and mercy and love.

“More love, more power,
More of you in my life” (BH 2008, 558). Amen.

Big Fish Spit

I wonder what it is like. I hope I never have to find out …

Before I get to that, I just have to say that yesterday was a great day. I preached my two different sermons. There was an enthusiastic response in the Hispanic church. Wow, what a vibrant and “happening” congregation. It was awesome to be with them and see them.

As a matter of fact, a couple was there—Ernesto and Marta. I haven’t seen them for a few years. They just showed up yesterday!

I have some great memories with this couple. A few years ago, at one of our four-congregation Christmas parties, Ernesto took a video of a prank that Jose played on me. I mentioned that to him yesterday as Jorge translated. His eyes sparkled, “Oh, yes. I remember that. I think Marta still has that video.” Great. Now, how much do you want for it?

Jorge expressed my greatest fear. He interjected, “I’ll just tell him to post it on Facebook.” Ah, no. Please.

I think I have already told about it in a previous post. If not, maybe I will share again … Who knows? Ha.

Anyway, Marta was a huge encourager to help me speak Spanish. Every time I saw her when they were in the church before, she would just stop in front of me as we greeted one another as if to say, “Okay, John, let’s have it. Speak to me in Spanish.” She was always there to encourage and correct me when I needed it (most of the time).

Anyway, it was great.

Back to the English-speaking service—as I was closing things out, Jim hopped up. “One more thing to do today.” As he was speaking, a couple of guys emerged from behind the platform carrying some type of painting covered by a cloth.

I never remember this date because I have in my mind that the second Sunday in September is my anniversary, but that isn’t technically true. It is the first Sunday in October. Even as I write that, I can’t tell you why. Sounds crazy, huh?

As I remember, I started on September 10, 1989, but I was ordained the first Sunday of October in 1989. So, my ministry formally began then… I guess.

Anyway, I would just prefer that no one recognize any date, but I appreciate folks remembering and recognizing it. It was very nice, and the painting is off the charts. I hope I can find a picture of it on the web and attach it to my Facebook page. I’ll see if I can do it today.

Well, all of that to say—it was an encouraging day, but something happened that is kind of sticking with me this morning. When I got home, Marilyn said, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that we saw Lisa when we were out to lunch today. She said that Owen’s cancer had returned, but he is taking chemo and doing well.”

Let me give you a little background. Owen and Ruth Ann were huge leaders at Calvary of Englewood years ago. They had four kids: Susan, Lisa, Mike, and Erica. We were friends with each one. This family is just a hoot. Every single one of these folks has a great since of humor.

For example, Mike was ten years younger than I am (at least). One time, he came up to me and said, “Hey John, let’s have a soft hitting contest.”

“Okay,” I answered.

“You start,” he replied.

I tapped him on the upper arm. He reared back and belted me on the arm! Ouch!

“You win,” he quipped.

Just stuff like that. Still makes me laugh.

Anyway, we still see this family now and again. They are members at Ken Caryl Church in Littleton.

Anyway, shortly after I was diagnosed, I heard that Owen had contracted cancer as well. Turns out it was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (just like me), and he has the same doctor—Dr. Jotte. I saw Owen at a Baptist state meeting. He was so upbeat as he said that his cancer was in remission, and he is doing great.

Can I be honest? It just sets me back a bit to hear that his cancer has returned. Please pray for him. I have no doubt that he is doing great and will get through it. This is selfish—I just hope the same thing doesn’t happen to me.

But whatever … the Lord will take care of it.

The fact is that he can use anything or anyone to accomplish his purposes—even a big fish.

All the folklore about Jonah has a whale swallowing him, but the Bible does not call the critter a whale. It is a big fish.

And this creature is referenced at the end of chapters one and two: "Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights… Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach" (Jonah 1:17 and 2:10, NLT).

The Lord assigned a big fish to swallow Jonah and then, after Jonah had spent three days and three nights there (I bet that was fun), the Lord ordered this same fish to spit him up on the shore. Some versions use a more graphic term—VOMIT.

Again, I can’t imagine that was very pleasant, but the Lord had plans and purposes. He used very unusual means to put Jonah back on the same land where He had originally told him, “I want you to go to Ninevah and preach.”

The Lord has ways of working to get us to the point of obedience. He can use anything or anyone—a Big Fish or cancer. Whatever.

Lord, I thank you for unusual circumstances and situations and critters and diseases that you use as tools. You are indeed Lord of creation. Lord of Heaven, but also Lord of Earth and everyone and everything on it.

Lord, I pray for Owen and for Don—both of whom are going through chemo. Encourage both of them today. Heal both of them.

Again, Lord, I affirm: whatever is in the plan for me—another bout with cancer or not—I choose to serve you and follow you.

“Lord, you are more precious than silver” (BH 2008, 557). Amen.

Seaweed Around My Head

Yesterday afternoon, I attended my very first wedding shower. It was awesome! In fact, I won a prize. How about that?

Fernando and Jennifer are having their first child. Jennifer is my Spanish “maestro” (teacher in Spanish). We have been working together for years. She does an excellent job. As I tell her quite often, one of the many things I love about our class is that it feels like a brain workout. That sounds kind of crazy, I know, but I always feel invigorated and encouraged after class.

Recently, Lucinda has joined us. She is an excellent student. She was at the shower yesterday as well. We were talking about her two daughters—both very accomplished linguists in their own right, but this was no accident, as Lucinda was telling me. She and her husband Larry encouraged it, and it was all centered on missions.

I tell you: there is so much one can learn about a culture when one learns a language and begins to speak it. My ultimate goal in all this learning is to be able to preach a full sermon in Spanish. Many folks in the Hispanic church know this. They are encouraging me as well.

I am not quite there yet, but one of these days …

Speaking of which—I am preaching in the Hispanic church today.

At the Operation Christmas Child Banquet last Wednesday, Jorge asked me, “So, Pastor, is your sermon going to be totally in Spanish Sunday or do I need to help translate a little bit?” We both laughed. Ah, yes, Jorge, I need you to translate.

By the by, I am looking forward to preaching in this congregation today. The first Sunday of Torre Fuerte, there were six people in the congregation including me. All the members of the church were in the worship team.

But things have been growing like a weed recently. Again, numbers aren’t everything, but there were about fifty in the service last week. How about that? The most exciting thing is that these people for the most part are young families with children who are fired up. Can’t beat that!

But back to yesterday—I had a lot of fun. One of the games we played started with an index card and pen. Our instructions were to write on one side of the card a question that a new mom might ask. Here was mine: “what do I do when I feel like throwing up and I am holding the baby?”

Don’t laugh. I think this would be a very important question for a young mom! Ha. I just laughed.

I wrote this question out. Then, I passed the card to the right. The person I passed the card to was to write out the answer to the question HE or SHE wrote. The answer on the back of my card was something like: “When this happens it looks like daddy Fernando” or something close to that.

Jennifer read those cards and as her sister Melanie explained, “The question and answer that gets the biggest laugh wins.” Guess who? Yep. MOI.

We all had a big laugh and a lot of fun. I’m so happy for Fernando and Jennifer. The baby is due in late October/early November. They will make EXCELLENT parents to little Luis Fernando who will himself be raised in a bi-lingual home.

I wonder if Jonah thought he was ever going to be raised … raised up out of the depths of the ocean as he was sinking down. Here are his thoughts as he prays them to the Lord from the belly of a big fish:

"I sank beneath the waves, and the waters closed over me. Seaweed wrapped itself around my head. I sank down to the very roots of the mountains. I was imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut forever. But you, O Lord my God, snatched me from the jaws of death! As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone” (Jonah 2:5-9, NLT).

“Seaweed wrapped around his head”—that must have been quite a harrowing experience. The truth of what happened is that he was sinking down, down, down, and he cried out to the Lord.

Think about this: Jonah cried out to the very God he was trying to run from! Good thing that the Lord didn’t run from him!

The truth is that we love our little delusions until we get into trouble, when we are near the point of death. That is when we want the Lord and we cry out to him. And that is when the Lord steps in.

Kind of an amazing rescue—don’t you think? The Lord provides a fish to swallow him, but Jonah doesn’t focus on the fish. He praises God.

As I mentioned yesterday, this experience is analogous to what happened to Jesus. He alludes to it in Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

We all know how THAT turned out! Neither the depths of the sea or the darkness of the grave can stop God. He is relentless in His work in our lives, overcoming every obstacle and barrier.

Lord, you are awesome. Thank for the resurrection of Jesus! Thank you for saving me from my own delusions. Thank you for your sustained discipline.

Thank you for Fernando and Jennifer and their families. Bless Jennifer in her pregnancy. Thank you for her ministry to me.

Lord, I pray for help on these two different sermons today. Help me to keep them straight in my tiny brain and honor yourself today.

“We fall down, we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus” (BH 2008, 556). Amen.

A Masculine Faith and A Big Fish

A blast of winter—that is about the only way I can describe yesterday. It was a polar opposite of the beautiful day we had on Thursday, but in very typical Colorado fashion, the snow melted and today promises to be warmer. We will be back up in the 70’s in no time. Hooray!

I did have the opportunity to get some work done—not as much as I wanted. So, more work today. Plus, I am going to a baby shower this afternoon and I am looking forward to it. A young couple in our church is having their first child in a few weeks…. I don’t usually go to this type of thing, but it is such a huge blessing that I want to celebrate with them.

Anyway, back to yesterday, I took some time to read my new biography of Alexander McLaren. I have a lot of respect for him and have had since my PhD days when someone in our History of Preaching seminar did a paper on him. He was very well known in England and was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon. He probably ranks second to Spurgeon in the number of published sermons that are out there. I have them. It is a ten-volume series or so (I can’t remember exactly). That is a lot of sermons.

Of course, that number of volumes pales a bit to that of Spurgeon—62. But still, not bad.

He is noteworthy in my mind for two very important reasons. First, he preached expository sermons and is known for that—maybe one of the greatest of all time in that regard. Second, he stayed at his church in Manchester for over forty-five years. Now THAT is impressive.

In the story of his life, I am up to the time he made the transition from his first pastorate to the church in Manchester. His niece’s biography is noteworthy because it contains many letters he wrote. In one of them, he puts forth his philosophy of ministry and hopes for the future: “I would rather serve out slops for people to live upon than lumps of stone cut into the form of loaves. It is my ambition gradually to lead my hearers to some broader and more masculine type of Christian life and thought than they have had” (McLaren, Dr. McLaren of Manchester, 62).

That phrase “more masculine type of Christian life and thought” struck me. I’m not sure I have ever seen the word “masculine” used quite that way. Certainly, McLaren’s use of words would not be politically correct today.

But I went to Google to find a definition. Here are some synonyms of “masculine:” virile, macho, manly, muscular, strong, strapping et cetera. You get the idea.

For men and women, through the preaching of the Word, it was McLaren’s goal as a pastor to help his congregation, both men and women, to have a muscular and strapping faith in God.

The Word and this kind of faith go hand in hand—of course. I don’t know … that quote is a keeper.

But the life and ministry of Alexander McLaren seems to be a polar opposite to that of Jonah—at least in Jonah’s early years. I would characterize them as trying to live on lumps of stone and living out a “feminine” type of faith. In the modern vernacular, we would call him a wimp.

Disobedience to God and disregard for His Word leads to “wimp-dom.”

So, here we have Jonah on the boat. The storm has arisen. The captain and sailors have attached the blame to him. But still, they try to make it. Finally, however, they give up.

"Then they prayed to God, ‘O God! Don’t let us drown because of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for his death. You are God. Do what you think is best.’ They took Jonah and threw him overboard. Immediately the sea was quieted down. The sailors were impressed, no longer terrified by the sea, but in awe of God. They worshiped God, offered a sacrifice, and made vows. Then God assigned a huge fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights" (Jonah 1:14-17 MSG).

So, here is Jonah floating in the sea, wondering, I am sure (among many other things), “How did I get here?” At this point in his life, I would compare him to the younger son sitting in the pigpen wishing that he could eat pig slop and thinking about his life back home.

I’m not sure Jonah really had the luxury or time to get that detailed in his thinking. He was just trying to survive until suddenly, a big fish swallowed him. Can you imagine what THAT must have been like? I’m sure it wasn’t that pleasant.

But God assigned that big fish to consume him and there he was, for three days and three nights. A rather famous measurement of time, don’t you think? This sets the stage for another comparison I will get to later.

In the meantime, the choice is clear for today: masculine or feminine.

Lord, I have tremendous respect for brothers and sisters in Christ who stay the course for long periods of time. Thank you for the example of this preacher who lived and ministered over 100 years ago. Thank you for books and the Internet, both of which allow me a window into the heart of a man who loved your Word and preached it.

Thank you also for the negative example of Jonah. Let me learn from Him and follow you, first and foremost. A life of obedience is always difficult but it is a lot easier in the long run than enduring the consequences of sin—sitting in the stomach of a big fish. UGH.

“Take joy, my King, in what You hear;
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear” (BH 2008, 555). Amen.

Christmas 1911

I will get to an explanation of that title in a moment.

Yesterday was one of “those” days.

One of the lessons I have learned from cancer (and this is one of the great things about the calling of pastor—I am in control of my schedule to a large degree) is that I want to be ready to divert if I need to. So, that is what I did yesterday. I just took some time for myself. It was an absolutely beautiful October day.

Now, today, I’ve got a ton of work to do—mainly sermon preparation. I will be preaching two sermons Sunday—one in the Anglo church and one in the Hispanic church. I need to get to work because the video folks in both churches need my sermon slides early.

John and Calla will be out Sunday. I will miss them, but I’ve got to get my slides to John so that he can put the presentation together.

Anyway, all of this work will keep me inside, and the weather forecast for today tells me that inside is a good place to be. It is actually supposed to snow today. UGH.

Anyway, back to the title. I was so excited to receive a long-awaited package in the mail yesterday. Let me give you a little background.

The book I am working on involves some historical sections, and in the course of my research, I ran across an out-of-print biography. No libraries around here have it.

Next step: I called some used bookstores in various places in the United States. No one had it. But a lady at one of the stores recommended that I refer to a website I had never heard of before. It is called

When I accessed this site a few weeks ago, I found the book I was looking for—a first edition copy in some remote bookstore in England. What did this book cost? Two hundred dollars! What? Are you kidding me? When I first saw this information, I said, “Oh, man. No way.”

Can you tell where this is headed?

Right. I ended up buying this book! I can’t believe I paid that much for it, but I pulled the trigger, and yesterday, it came in.

I have to be honest. I have a weak spot for old books. I love them. Just to the left of the couch I sit on each day to read the Word, pray, and write this blog is a bookshelf that contains the most valuable books I own—valuable not necessarily in price (well, this book I received yesterday is one of the exceptions to that rule) but valuable to ME.

One of the first things I like to do is look inside the front cover of old books. Invariably, there is an inscription.

This book I bought recently is no exception. I just snapped a picture of it. I will post the picture on Facebook. At the top of that first page (I think the formal name is the “fly leaf”) there is a name, “J. M. Berth.” Under the name, either J. M. or someone else wrote “Christmas 1911.” Think about that!

The first printing of this book was in 1911. Shortly after that, someone gave this book to J. M. Berth or he bought it or received it 102 years ago in England!

102 years ago in England! Are you kidding me?

As you can see in the photo, there is also a price tag under the top inscription—“16.50 pounds.” That must have been what it sold for at some point. I’m not too up on currency rates across the world, but I don’t think 16 pounds is the equivalent of $200.00, so this must be the price it sold for a few years ago. Who knows?

But that is not all. Underneath that, there is another name: “David Fyfe Anderson” along with a date, “22nd September, 1944.”

David may have been the second owner of the book. I can only speculate, but think about that: J. M. owned it for a period of time, maybe 33 years. Then, David Anderson owned it for 60 years or so. It ends up in some bookstore sitting on a shelf—too overpriced for any prudent frugal British person to buy it, just waiting for some crazy American preacher who throws money away on books to snap it up from a website.

I have to be honest. I am tempted to write this under the inscriptions that are already there: “John D. Talbert, 3 October, 2013.” If Jesus tarries, I am going to own this book for a few years, and then someone else will come along and open this cover and read it, just as I have.

If I have anything to say about it, this book will eventually find a home in a library somewhere. Someday, I am going to donate all my books to a seminary somewhere.

This book has traveled far and wide. It needs to end up somewhere where many folks can read it and appreciate it.

Oh, by the way, what is the book? Is it about some popular figure? Some well- known political leader or sports figure? Nope. It is a biography of a pastor. His name is Alexander McLaren. The author of the book is McLaren’s niece, E. T. McLaren. The title is, Dr. McLaren of Manchester.

All of this is fascinating to me. Now, I am glad I paid two hundred dollars for this book. It is worth every cent.

I also grabbed two other books off the shelf this morning to tell you about. Each has a long story attached to them as well. One book by H. C. Brown—A Quest for Reformation in Preaching—is a book I tried to find for years. I discovered it ultimately in Blackwells—a bookstore in Oxford—when I was there in the summer of 1985. It was just sitting on a shelf waiting for me! I snapped it up.

The other book I am looking at the first in a two-volume history of preaching by E. C. Dargan. I looked for these volumes for years. This was back in my seminary days before personal computers and the internet. I just called bookstores and kept calling them. One day, a lady at one of these stores, said, “This is your lucky day. Yes, we have them.”

As you can see, the books I have purchased were never on anyone’s bestseller list, but they are treasures nonetheless.

Oh, and one more book comes to mind. It is in the same category. It is a commentary on the book of Zechariah. I bought it on Amazon a couple of years ago. This is a rare book, out of print (as are all of the books I have alluded to). I think I paid one hundred dollars for it. It was in a public library in Massachusetts. It still has all the library markings on it. It was obvious it had never been opened, so someone at the library probably said, “We need to get rid of this commentary on Zechariah. No one will ever read it. It is just taking up space on our shelves. Let’s sell it.”

Are you bored to tears yet? I realize that this may not sound very exciting but I am deeply convicted that in our pop and internet culture, books are getting pushed more and more to the background, and the fact is: fewer and fewer people read anything! Let alone write their name in a book they received for Christmas.

Now, I know that the internet age we live in produces ebooks and affords folks opportunity have books instantly available. I like this. I have a lot of books on my Ipad, but somehow, it isn’t the same as having a book to hold in my hand. Not the same.

Father, thank you for books and those you have used to write them and keep them and pass them along to others.

This is highly motivating to me, Lord. Keep me on task with my writing, so that, whether it is an ebook or printed on paper, it might help someone a hundred plus years from now, if You tarry.

It is SNOWING. There is actually SNOW on the ground. Peachy. But hey, more time to read today.

Back to Old Jonah tomorrow. Amen.

Asleep in the Back of the Boat

One of the more fascinating studies for me has always been the relation between the Old and New Testaments.

Of course, this is the bottom line of my PhD dissertation as I studied how one famous pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “did it” in his preaching. Unfortunately, I was rather critical of him in that regard, but I learned a lot.

I’m sure if the tails were turned and Spurgeon evaluated my preaching, he would find enough to criticize for three dissertations. So, it doesn’t make me think less of the man. I still have a world of respect for him.

By the way, there is a new biography of Spurgeon that is out. I just got my copy the other day. It is written by a church historian, Tom Nettles, who is now at Southern Seminary. Years ago, he was at Southwestern when I was a student there back in the Dark Ages.

I can hardly wait to read this new book about this amazing man of God.

Anyway, I digress. My goal (as I know it was Spurgeon’s) is just to be true to the text and to preach the “whole council of God.” I have often said this to the congregation I serve: one of my main goals when I am done is to be able to say that I preached from every book of the Bible, and not in a superficial way.

But back to Jonah—as I was reading this amazing story yesterday, something struck me. Let me go ahead and cite the pertinent part of the text:

"But God sent a huge storm at sea, the waves towering. The ship was about to break into pieces. The sailors were terrified. They called out in desperation to their gods. They threw everything they were carrying overboard to lighten the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship to take a nap. He was sound asleep. The captain came to him and said, ‘What’s this? Sleeping! Get up! Pray to your god! Maybe your god will see we’re in trouble and rescue us’” (Jonah 1:4-6 MSG).

I commented on this yesterday, but it is quite amazing that in the midst of this storm at sea, Jonah could be snoozing away, and we can only speculate as to how and why he could do this. Whatever we come up with, it probably doesn’t shed any favorable light on God’s prophet who thought he could run away from God.

And the captain rebuked him for this.

Well, as I read this, my mind gravitated to another example of someone who was asleep in a boat in the midst of the storm. Remember? You got it—Jesus.

"And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep” (Matthew 8:24 NASB).

The comparison and contrasts here are palpable. The one thing these stories have in common is that both “sleepers” were rebuked. The disciples woke Jesus up, “Master, we are all about to die here. Ah, don’t you care? HELP us!”

This is about the only similarity between the two stories. The contrasts are HUGE.

Why was Jesus asleep? I think it was for a radically different reason than that of Jonah. Jonah was running from God and living a delusion. Jesus was asleep exactly because He is God and totally in control of the situation! He actually knew better than these experienced sailors! Think about that.

Back to Jonah, and you know the story, the captain and the other sailors on the boat woke Jonah up to help them and then they somehow came to the conclusion (by casting lots) that he was the CAUSE of the storm. Again, I’m not sure about this theology, but that is what they believed.

Well, when the disciples woke Jesus up, they knew He was in charge of the storm AND knew He could actually do something about it. This is the monumental difference.

The story of Jesus is a fulfillment of the Jonah story, if you think about it. It tells the full story of who and why behind storms. Jesus is the engineer. He allows these storms to occur, and they have a didactic point. In both situations, He uses them. They are a tool in His hand—to teach others.

Yesterday, in the course of my pastoral work, I was reminded about the challenges and difficulties that people in the church are facing, in so many different ways. And I am right there with them, facing them myself.

Jesus, sometimes it does seem as if your sleep resembles that of Jonah. Do you care? These storms for many of us seem severe. They have been going on for a while. Wake up and help us.

Even as I pray that, I know you never sleep in the way you do. Even as you rested in the back of that boat, you were totally cognizant of everything that was going on, more than all of us who are “awake.” There is not one detail of our lives about which you are not aware.

So, as I think about myself and my family, I cry out, “Help!”

“You alone are my strength, my shield;
To you alone may my spirit yield” (BH 2008, 554). Amen.

Is it THAT Obvious?

I have always been intrigued by how this story in Jonah unfolds.

Okay, so here is a man living under the illusion that he can run away from God and escape what the Lord told him to do. This is, as I discussed yesterday, pure fantasy. Again, there is nowhere to hide when it comes to God.

I may try to push Him away, and it may seem as if I have done it, but He is always, relentlessly there.

So, back to Jonah. He gets on a boat under this illusion. A storm arises.

I have never been on a boat in the midst of a storm, but I can’t imagine that it is a whole lot of fun.

Years ago, my family took a trip to Hawaii, and we got on a little boat along with some other tourists to go to the Arizona monument in Pearl Harbor. I kind of hate to share this, but I got seasick! This little boat could not have been going more than five miles per hour. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. The waters were relatively calm, I suppose. But the up and down, to and fro—I got so sick I could barely hold my head up.

Of course, everyone in my family was a little disgusted, “Come on, John. Are you kidding me?” We made it through. I still feel bad about it.

Anyway, I got sick on a tourist boat on a calm and sunny day! I can’t imagine how I would fare on any kind of boat in a storm.

But here is this boat. It is rocking up and down violently as boats tend to do in storms. And Jonah is asleep!

This is NOT a good sleep. This is the sleep of living an illusion. I have to believe this.

As he snores away, the captain wakes him up, “Hey Jonah! A little help here, please! We are sinking. Could you pray to your god for us?”

After this requests, the sailors take things into their own hands. It is kind of curious that all of them have the idea that this disaster at sea is the result of the actions of someone on board that ship. I think this is erroneous. Disasters of any kind—like the flooding in our state in recent days—are just part and parcel of the fallen world we live, right?

No one “causes” storms and these sailors must have faced them before…. This is just kind of curious. Maybe this storm was so unusual for the time of year or the place. Who knows?

But somehow, some way, these sailors sensed that something was up, and they strove to get to the bottom of it. And they cast lots. And, you know the story: the lot fell on Jonah. Again, this is a little primitive—certainly not the way the Lord works (in spite of the fact that some people still judge God’s will by “circumstances” lining up in an unusual way) as a general rule.

But the Lord can use anything or anyone. He was moving in on His servant who thought for a while that He had pulled a fast one on God.

Nobody does that!

The sailors backed Jonah into a corner and asked him to tell them what is going on. By then, McFly was starting to get a clue:

"He told them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship God, the God of heaven who made sea and land.” At that, the men were frightened, really frightened, and said, “What on earth have you done!” As Jonah talked, the sailors realized that he was running away from God" (Jonah 1:9, 10 MSG).

Jonah was starting to realize that the God from whom he was running was God of the sea as well. But even then, he did not confess what was going on.

Isn’t it interesting and significant that AT THAT POINT, Jonah did not have to tell these pagan sailors what was going on. They knew it. They saw it. It was written all over Jonah’s face that he was running away from God.

As preachers, we like to challenge people with the fact that, if we are right with God, everyone will see it.

How about the converse of that? If we are not right with God … will no one see it? Are you kidding me?

This story reinforces the fact that, if we are not right with God, EVERYONE will see it. It is obvious.

And somehow, I think the world has an eagle eye out for folks that make a claim to be Christians and yet, there is inconsistency in their walk with Jesus. They are scrutinizing everything.

As I ponder this, two people come to mind that lived under that scrutiny. One was Ken Starr—the prosecutor in the Monica Lewinski case involving Bill Clinton. He is now the president of my alma mater, Baylor University. Can you imagine all the scrutiny he faced from those who attempted to discredit him? Oh, man. But no one could find anything against this man of God.

Tim Tebow is another. I think he has handled himself in an exemplary way through the trials he has faced as a player. The Patriots cut him. No team picked him up. I wish he would just give in and play tight end for someone! But that is another story. He has maintained his integrity and continues to follow Jesus.

I pray that, no matter what happens to me, I will do the same.

Lord, I affirm that my walk and relationship with you do matter. As much as I try to think I can hide it, I cannot hide the status of my relationship with you—either way. I pray that THIS FACT would keep me on track and honest with you and others.

“Let the world around me fade away,
Jesus draw me close” (BH 2008, 553). Amen.

Running Away from God

Back to the Old Testament today … and the next book on the slate is Jonah—one of my absolute favorites, probably because I can relate to it on so many levels. Unfortunately.

Here is how the book starts:

"One day long ago, God ’s Word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: ‘Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.’ But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get" (Jonah 1:1-3 MSG).

This is about as graphic as it gets.

If my memory serves me correctly, the Ninevites were enemies to Israel and not very sophisticated folks to boot. (A reference about them later in the book bears this out; we will get to it). This may explain Jonah’s reaction a bit, but the bottom line is that God told him to go preach and Jonah didn’t do it. And that would be bad enough—just being stationary, sitting there, and telling God, “No.”

But Jonah went further than that, and this is the intriguing part of this story. Peterson brings this out so well in his translation. If Ninevah was east of where Jonah was when the Lord called him (I need to check the geography here; but I am speaking hypothetically), then Jonah went west.

And he did not go slowly. He RAN away from God!

In addition, as if that weren’t enough, as the Lord had spoken to Jonah on land, he went to the port of Joppa to find a boat to go on the sea, ostensibly to find a place where God wasn’t.

Jonah’s theology needed a little correcting here. He thought if he could just get on a boat he could escape God. Surely, the Lord is not at sea also, but even if He were, He certainly would not bother Jonah there, would He?

The final comment of Peterson’s translation tells it all—Jonah was trying to get “as far away from God as he could get.”

I wonder how many times this story has repeated itself among those I preach to each week. I wonder about me …

It is possible to do this today. Maybe we are not as blatant about it as Jonah, but we all have ways of running away from God.

My mind is racing at this point. We say we want God, but I am not sure we do.

Jonah not only refused to do what the Lord told him to do, but he did not want the God who gave him the commandment either. And so, he tried to escape.

But is it possible to escape from the Lord? Is there any place I could go on this planet—land, sea, or air—to get away from God?

The truth is that wherever I would go, God would already be there.

This is the point that Jesus was making with the woman at the well. In another diversionary tactic, she told Jesus that the Jews believed that God resided in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus corrected her false theology. He asserted that God is not human or limited as humans are to time and space restrictions.

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NASB).

In other words, God is everywhere at all times! Thus, I can worship Him in Jerusalem but I can also worship Him at a well in Samaria at noon on a day other than the Sabbath as well, even if I am a Samaritan or an American.

So, back to Jonah—he was running away from God, but neither he nor anyone else can do it.

I get convicted that there are times when I feel as if I am pushing God away. I know what He wants, but I don’t want to hear it AND it is hard to be NEAR God when you are not obeying Him.

Jesus is in us; we are in Him. We say we believe those dual truths, but sometimes, the last thing we want is to live out the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus. For someone who is so close, sometimes we don’t want Him.

How does the Lord respond in these situations? My experience is that He is patient with us. He works with us. He allows us to go our way for a while, but at some point, something happens to get us back on track.

Something. Like cancer.

Honestly, I am still exploring and the Lord is still revealing ways that He has used this disease in my life.

I will tell you: without the prayers of God’s people, I would not be alive, nor would I still be in ministry.

I can’t tell you how incredibly convicting it is to think that there are folks in Susheel’s church in Hyderabad and folks in Moses’ church in Myanmar who are still praying for me. Susheel told me that I am at the top of the list for prayer. Why? Why me? Those folks don’t even know me.

My church family here prayed for me as well and they still do. I can’t tell you how many folks tell me this. It is just in passing—a conversation like this:

John: “Joe and Sally, I will pray for you in that regard.”

Joe and Sally; “Thanks pastor. We pray for you every day.” They say this as they walk off.

My reaction? And I know this sounds crazy—I want to run. Oh, Lord, I can’t handle this responsibility. Who am I?

Can I be honest at this point? I know the Lord is dealing with me again. And I want to make sure I don’t run, but something is going on …

Oh, Lord. You are everywhere at all times. Even if I wanted to run like Jonah, I couldn’t. And I won’t.

Lord, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for everyone who is praying for me. I lift up Susheel and Moses and the churches they serve.

I pray that I will be ready when you speak and call. In the meantime, give me the grace to continue on where I am right now, and never run. Instead, I want to be instantly obedient to you.

“Ready to go, ready to stay
Ready my place to fill
Ready for service, lowly or great,
Ready to do Thy will” (“Ready,”, accessed October 1, 2013). Amen.