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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Affirmation

As I was leaving the auditorium, I saw Jessica. She and her kids were coming my way. They have been down in the nursery serving there because we had a couple of families with preschoolers visit yesterday.

I said, “It went great. In fact, I’m not sure something like THAT has ever happened before.”

What am I talking about?

Well, among other things that went on, yesterday was the final Sunday of Jeremy’s trial period. Jessica is Jeremy’s wife.

We started doing this with new part-time staff a few years ago—bringing them on for a trial period. It just lets the church get to know them and vice versa. Plus, it just provides an “out” if both sides begin to realize it isn’t going to work out. This may seem to be a little crazy but we have had such bad experiences with staff situations in the past, and they always do such huge damage in the church, that I like this system.

Of course, we have to modify it a bit if we ever call someone to a full-time position, and they have to move their family from another state or something like that, but even then … I think some type of trial period is valid.

But going back to our current situation, we took this approach to all three part-time pastoral staff members we currently have—Calla, Scott, and now Jeremy. And they all did extremely well. It didn’t appear that any of them felt “pressured.” They simply served and were themselves. That is what we wanted.

Anyway, back to Jeremy. He and I had talked on the phone about it before yesterday. I said, “Jeremy, you are doing a great job, and everyone knows it. I’m just going to talk to the church, and I think we can handle it without a formal vote, but if we need that, I am prepared.”

Thus, at the end of the service, I said, “Well, everyone, this is the end of Jeremy’s trial period. Al (who is the lone member of our Human Resources Team for the time being) and I have talked. We think Jeremy has done a great job. He is serving faithfully and has solidified things in our youth ministry. We have seen more of our students become involved. Do we need to have a formal vote? I don’t think so. Or can we just affirm him today?” Several people nodded and raised their hands.

One of the “hand-raisers” was Marvin. Marvin is a dad in our church. He and his wife Joanna have four of the sharpest, most well mannered children you have ever met in your life. He is an awesome dad. By the way, I have known him since he was a teenager back in 1989. That is how long he has been involved in our church.

Anyway, Marvin raised his hand again. He wasn’t simply agreeing that we should move forward. He wanted to say something, “Pastor John, I think Jeremy is a good man. My kids are in the group. I am working with him. I can vouch for him.”

On the heels of that, I said, “So, are we ready to affirm Jeremy? If you do, would you say, ‘Amen’?” Everyone did. “Any opposed? Even though this is not a formal business meeting.” No one.

You could have pushed me over with a feather, NOT because I was surprised about the church’s response to Jeremy. He is an outstanding young man, and everyone in our church knows it. You would have to be blind not to see that.

No, just because our church affirmed him in that way.

I tell you: as someone who has been involved in hundreds of business meetings, I have always had a little nagging problem with the whole concept, just to be honest. They are often very divisive and polarizing.

At one point, a few years ago, a man in our church said, “John, you are not a very good moderator. You should get Roger’s Rulers of Order out and get better acquainted with it.”

Ah, no. It is not that I think there is anything morally wrong with that book and certainly, it does give a guide to conducting meetings, but I am a pastor and my main book is the Bible. That is the only book I need, and the only one a church should need.

I was always more concerned about the body than about proper procedure. And, congregational polity is very delicate. There are times that decisions need to be made when the majority is opposed. Other times, however, seeing that many people are in opposition or hesitant is a good checkpoint. I know the majority isn’t always right. There is good biblical precedent for this statement. Kadesh Barnea is a case in point.

All of that having been said, I still believe it is still the best approach to church government. I know that a lot of churches, especially Baptist, are moving away from it, but I have seen a lot of problems with “elder-led” churches as well. Are you kidding me?

There is no foolproof system out there and as much as any of us pound a pulpit and push for “our system” the New Testament does not present one approach to governing a church. It is rather nebulous and undefined. And that is fine.

But back to yesterday, this is how I believe things should work: the church as a body should affirm decisions or not. No formal votes should be necessary. It was clear that this happened yesterday.

I know, I know. I do live in a dream world. But I can still dream, right?

I love the final verses of 2 Thessalonians. They give further insight into the way churches should operate—the converse side of affirmation. What should a church do when someone is acting opposite of Jeremy? Paul makes this very clear:

"If anyone refuses to obey our clear command written in this letter, don’t let him get by with it. Point out such a person and refuse to subsidize his freeloading. Maybe then he’ll think twice. But don’t treat him as an enemy. Sit him down and talk about the problem as someone who cares. May the Master of Peace himself give you the gift of getting along with each other at all times, in all ways. May the Master be truly among you” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16 MSG).

Is this some sort of church action that Paul is talking about here? I think so. Or, at least a combination of public and private reproach. We have neglected this dual approach to ministering to people in our day and time. The New Testament is clear that at significant times, the church needs to take action toward individuals (Matthew 18 is a case in point; I Corinthians 5 is an example).

After the “public,” I think in these types of things, the details of the issue can be hammered out in private. Humm. This merits more prayer and exploration on my part.

The bottom line is “getting along with each other at all times.” No Rules of Order book can insure that. Only the Holy Spirit as we obey the Word.

Father, thank you for yesterday. Thank you for the way the church responded. Thank you for Jeremy and his family. Bless him and his ministry.

Keep us on track as a church, Lord, even when it comes to “business,” especially then.

“For Thee all the follies of sin I resign” (BH 2008, 552). Amen.
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A Saturday Night Baptism Service

As many of you know, my famous expression is that I “turn into a pumpkin” on Saturday nights. What does this mean?

Well, I usually don’t do anything on Saturday night except spend some time with the Lord putting the finishing touches on my sermon for the next day. I usually start right after dinner (and we eat early) and I’m done about 7:00 to 7:30.

I’ve just learned over the years that anything else leaves me a little spacey when it comes to preaching the next day. And preaching is the most important role I have. It is the only time in the week when I get a chance to minister to the whole church at one time.

I can’t remember the last time I violated this rule, but last night was one of those times.

Let me back up for a moment. It has truly been amazing to see what has happened in the Hispanic church over the last few months. Pastor Jose departed. The church is without a pastor (at least in the formal, paid sense of that word), but it is thriving.

A few months ago, when I preached the first sermon of this new congregation called Torre Fuerte (Strong Tower), there were only six people in the congregation and five of them were visitors. One couple, in particular, showed up. The man was very encouraging during my message. He nodded his head and even said “amen” a few times. Turns out that Jose and his wife Maria have since emerged as leaders.

I was visiting with Jose and Jorge the other night. Jorge was translating for Jose whose English is not that good (better than my Spanish). Jose was a pastor in Mexico for fourteen years. When he immigrated to the United States, the authorities at the border stopped him. “We cannot let you enter the country because you are a criminal.” Huh? Jose said that they found out there was another man in New Jersey with the same name. They had confused him for this man, but things eventually worked themselves out.

However, Jose and Maria had a difficult time finding a church in Denver until THAT SUNDAY when they showed up for the first service of Torre Fuerte. Since that day, they immediately found a home.

Since then, the Lord has added others, many others. Last Sunday, I believe Jorge told me they had over fifty folks. Plus, another pastor has been attending. I have met this brother. His name is Juan.

He has been working with a small congregation that meets in a building south of First Southern. The Lord is working in this congregation as well.

A few weeks ago, I met Juan, and again, through a translator (one of the guys in Torre Fuerte), Juan said, “Pastor, would it be possible for us to use the bapistry in your church to baptize some folks? We were hoping to do this some Saturday night. Is that okay?”

He was very humble and gracious about it.

But whenever anyone uses the phrase “your church” when they ask about the building, I am careful to correct that.

I replied, “Brother, it is not my church. This building belongs to God, and I cannot think of a better use for it than to baptize some folks on a Saturday night. No problem, brother.”

Juan seemed touched by my response. Again, he was very gracious.

These two churches invited me to come to this baptism service. I thought it was worth violating my “pumpkin rule” to do so. As I entered the parking lot from the back (there is still a lot of construction on Washington street in front of the church so accessing the front lot from that street is nearly impossible. I do believe this work will go on until Jesus comes and beyond that), I noticed a ton of cars!

On a Saturday night, are you kidding me? I love it! This is the goal: to have something going on in God’s building day and night seven days a week.

The Brazilians were having their weekly small group meeting in the fellowship hall and the Hispanics were having a service in the auditorium. Great!

The service was very simple. We worshiped for a while and then Juan got up to preach a short message. Jorge came to back row where I was sitting and translated for me. Juan’s message was excellent. He explained the biblical meaning of baptism and its context in scripture and in the gospel.

What an opportunity that is often lost in the English-speaking service! When we baptize, we do it at the beginning of our service and then move on—business as usual. Not sure this is always a good idea. I still think there are a lot of folks out there who really don’t understand biblical baptism and/or are hesitant to take this step for one reason or another.

After that, Juan gathered some folks and took them out. Soon, he was baptizing one adult man and two women. As he was doing this, people jumped up from all over, especially the kids to stand on the platform and take pictures. We all celebrated! It was awesome. I have attached my photos on my Facebook page.

One of those “moments” I will never forget. I was a part of a baptism service on a Saturday night.

You know. It just seems right to stop there this morning. I will resume with 2 Thessalonians tomorrow.

God, you are awesome. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the family of God and thank you for two new hermanas and one new hermano in the kingdom of God. Bless Juan. Bless the congregation he serves. Bless Jorge, Jose, and Torre Fuerte as well. Amen.
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Pull Your Weight

Apparently, what was going on in the church in Thessalonica had to do with their reaction to the Second Coming.

Some believed that Jesus was going to come back any day. This is a very biblical viewpoint. I really do wonder how many of us actually believe this—that the end of the world as we know it is imminent.

A few years ago, I was talking with someone about this. He said, “Well, I hope Jesus doesn’t come back RIGHT AWAY. I want to get married and have some kids first.” At least he was honest, but still … this is maybe more of a common viewpoint than any of us would like to admit (at least publicly).

But back to Thessalonica—some believed in the imminent return of Jesus … so much so that they just stopped everything and sat there, “bags packed,” so to speak ready to head on to heaven.

And one of the main objectives of Paul in writing this letter was to tell this church that some things have to happen first—the Apostasy and the Anti-Christ must emerge BEFORE Jesus comes back.

In other words, it might be a few more days until His return. Ha.

I don’t hear Paul urging these folks to give up their urgency. I do see that he is talking about what we must do as we wait for His return:

"Our orders—backed up by the Master, Jesus—are to refuse to have anything to do with those among you who are lazy and refuse to work the way we taught you. Don’t permit them to freeload on the rest. We showed you how to pull your weight when we were with you, so get on with it. We didn’t sit around on our hands expecting others to take care of us. In fact, we worked our fingers to the bone, up half the night moonlighting so you wouldn’t be burdened with taking care of us. And it wasn’t because we didn’t have a right to your support; we did. We simply wanted to provide an example of diligence, hoping it would prove contagious" (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9 MSG).

This is quite a challenge. First, he warns against freeloading. Oh, man. I could say so much about this. A few years ago, as I was preparing to preach a sermon about financial stewardship, the Lord convicted me and burdened me to say, “Some of you are freeloaders. You come into this church and sit in this warm building (this was in the winter) and you enjoy the lights. You sit in a Sunday school class where the teacher teaches the Bible, using a quarterly as a tool. And you listen to a sermon from your pastor who is paid by the church. You enjoy all that without contributing a dime to it. You are a freeloader!”

I went on, “And here is another thing that bothers me. Some of you are the first ones to stand up in business meetings and pontificate about what you think we need to do around here. I would like to a ledger of everyone’s giving record, and in business meetings, when someone wants to talk, I would say, ‘Just a minute. Let me look at your giving. Ah, you have not given a dime to the work of God in this church. Therefore, shut up!” I think I shocked some people, as you could well imagine.

By the way, I would NEVER look at anyone’s giving record, but if I did … I’ve actually come close to doing it several times. I just think it is a joke to claim to be a leader and not a giver. This is the ultimate contradiction.

But all of this goes beyond money. It involves action on many levels. As I was talking with Hank at Community of Faith United a few weeks ago, he urged me to challenge the church to take the simple step of urging folks to take a week, ten minutes a day, simply to meet their neighbors. He added, “You will find out real quick whether people are serious or not. This is not asking them to witness or even invite their neighbors. It is just meeting them. That’s it. And if someone can’t do even that, you have to wonder.” Excellent point. Put up or shut up.

It isn’t about just coming and sitting in pew as a freeloader. This is the negative side of what Paul says.

The positive side, in the second place, is the challenge for everyone to pull his/her weight. What does this mean? Well, I think it goes back to the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. It involves helping people see their role, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and taking action.

AND, here is an additional point that Paul is making—doing whatever it takes to be able to serve God.

Paul was bi-vocational. His “outside job” was that of a tent-maker. He did this in order to support himself in ministry, but beyond that, he had pastoral motivations. He did it for the church. He did it so that no one would think he was in it “for the money.” And, as he states in the verses above, he did it to be an example to the flock.

Now, I hasten to say at this point that Paul did not do this in every place—just here and in Corinth and maybe in Ephesus (my memory fails me at this point). In other locales, he depended on the support of the church.

What does this mean? Christians ought to be the hardest workers out there, especially those of us who are honored and blessed to have a church actually pay us.

I remember sitting in my office the first days of my ministry at First Southern thinking, “I can’t believe this. This church is actually paying me to serve. Wow.” I have a vivid recollection of the day this thought occurred to me. It was a Saturday morning. And I got up. Got in my car and headed out to knock on some doors.

Lord, I confess that I have lost that same edge and vim and vigor a bit over the years. Restore me. Help me to set an example of work (not in the imbalanced way I did before my cancer diagnosis), with all priorities firmly in place.

It is Saturday. Time to get to work. Amen.
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Groundswell of Response

This is what we are after, for sure. I am fairly confident that I have never seen what Paul is praying for here. But he witnessed it—in the church at Thessalonica. I love Peterson’s translation in the verses for today. Let me go ahead and quote them:

"One more thing, friends: Pray for us. Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you. And pray that we’ll be rescued from these scoundrels who are trying to do us in. I’m finding that not all “believers” are believers. But the Master never lets us down. He’ll stick by you and protect you from evil" (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 MSG).

What is this “groundswell of response” that Paul is talking about?

Before I get to it, I want to comment about another part of his prayer and warning. “I’m finding that not all ‘believers’ are believers. Oh, man.

I’ve alluded to it in this blog before—Billy Graham is purportedly to have said that half the members of every church are lost. This statement is not to be found in any of his published works. However, whether he actually said it or not, whoever said it—is not far from the truth.

It is interesting that this fact has been reinforced in my life recently in a couple of significant ways. First, in our Wednesday study of Oscar Thompson’s famous book, Concentric Circles of Concern, he talks about three barriers to evangelism. The first one is a lack of a personal relationship with Jesus.

This seems rather obvious at face value: someone who has never been saved in the first place won’t and can’t share Jesus with others. We discussed this the other night.

Since then, I have been wondering and praying about what the church (and specifically, First Southern) needs to do about this.

Well, I do think we assume a lot. A few years ago, I attended a mega-church here in town. I was impressed by the fact that the pastor in the course of his message spoke to everyone as if all of the congregation were already converted.

I wonder how often I do that? Let me hasten to say that I don’t want to go to the other extreme either—trying to talk people out of their salvation experience and hammer away until doubt creeps in. This is not what I am talking about.

However, I think I tend to go so far away from that approach that I err on the other side.

I wonder how many people who are sitting there every Sunday in our church have never been genuinely saved. And then, I struggle with the fact that we are not reaching lost folks the way we need to be. Humm.

Second, I have been reading Richard Baxter’s famous book, The Reformed Pastor. I have never sat down and actually read through it before. This is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written on pastoral ministry. I can’t believe I haven’t read it from cover to cover. Now, I am.

It is interesting that in one of the initial chapters, Baxter addresses the whole issue of personal salvation as a key for pastors. Hello, McFly! I would certainly contend that this is vital and foundational—that the pastor is saved!

I just heard from someone the other day about a pastor who shared with his congregation that he just got saved! I bet that created quite a stir.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I feel a burden to focus on this more than I have instead of constantly hammering away at what we need to do, do, do. I need to challenge folks more strongly than ever about their relationship with the Lord or lack thereof

In Paul’s statements above, he argues that those who are “believers” but really aren’t, are a barrier to the work of God. Of course! I always find this to be true when we venture out into any outreach arena. There is always opposition. In the past, I have labeled that as a satanic attack. BUT, he uses folks as the front for this attack. And who are these people? (And I am not thinking of anyone specifically at this point). Well perhaps, they are folks who are lost, or at least, not where they need to be with Jesus (I still keep trying to give folks the benefit of the doubt).

All of this is heavily on my heart this morning. I am burdened to start adding to my prayers for folks in the church, “Lord, I pray that so and so would be saved if he or she is not.”

Okay, so back to groundswell. This is a very interesting term I have never investigated before. It is actually a nautical term, according to www.surfline.com that describes a wave generated by a significant wind far out in the ocean. Apparently, in this situation, the strength of the waves sustains itself for a very long period of time.

What a metaphor for a movement of God? Wow. Can you imagine? Wouldn’t it be great to see the Word being shared in a high frequency to see hundreds of folks crowding into churches all over town because they heard the Word of God; the Holy Spirit convicted them; and they ran to the Lord to get saved?

What is that? Spiritual awakening and revival.

Oh, Lord. Make it so and let it begin with me. Here and now. A triumph of the Word of God in our lives, shared with others, many others.

“Love of Christ so freely given,
Grace of God beyond degree” (BH 2008, 551). Amen.
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A Pause

As Betty and I were talking yesterday, the Lord began to work on me.

I was griping and complaining to her about stuff that is going on in the church. There is nothing unusual about this. I do it quite often. She patiently listens. I appreciate that.

As the words dribbled out of my mouth, I realized a couple of things about me. First, I am quick to make snap judgments about “how things are going in the church.” Like every preacher ever born, I evaluate things based on numbers. I don’t know if I will EVER get over this or past it, but numbers are not the ONLY criterion. They are important because they represent people, but they are not the only thing.

Two passages come to mind in that regard. When Israel sent out twelve spies, only two came back with a faithful perspective; ten were unbelieving. Let’s see—the numbers don’t add up there, do they?

Jesus talked about the wide path that leads to destruction; there are only a few on the narrow path that leads to life. Again, judging by numbers, one looks “unsuccessful,” as Baptist preachers count things.

The other day, as I was visiting with Ken Hemphill, he asked me, “How many do you have in Sunday School?” I said, “75.” He then went on to ask, “How many in worship?” I answered, “125.” Not sure that number is really accurate, now that I think about it in retrospect. We probably have less. Who knows? Because we don’t count any longer. Why? Well, I’m trying to change the “scorecard” (this is a Reggie McNeal term I love) for the church. I’m not sure it has changed for me, however.

Back to these questions, and I don’t blame Ken, but once again, he asked about numbers. When I gave them to him, he commented further, “So, you have a pretty wide disparity between Sunday School and worship?” Yep. Whatever the exact number, he is right about the difference.

I don’t know … I do affirm again that numbers can tell us some things but they aren’t the end all, be all. So, that was the first thing the Lord impressed on me yesterday.

Second, I think we all suffer from a very narrow and short-term perspective of church as it relates to the broader kingdom of God. I share with someone. I invite someone, and they don’t come. I have failed. That is the viewpoint of many.

The other day at the bank, I had a conversation with a young Hispanic woman, and gave her a card from the Hispanic church. She took it. Will she ever attend? I don’t know, but if not, does that mean that I have failed? NO. Who knows what she will do with that card?

But beyond what we do, how about the broader church community? Our role is to seek first the numerical growth of our congregation, right? Isn’t that what Jesus said? Ah, no. He urged us to seek first THE KINGDOM. As long as the kingdom is expanding and I am part of that kingdom, shouldn’t I rejoice?

You might be saying, “Well, all these lessons are well and good but how do they apply to First Southern?” I was wondering that myself as we entered into our Wednesday night stuff. I was prepared to be discouraged again.

It didn’t turn out that way. We had a great time of fellowship and discussion. One of the best ever.

Afterwards, Darla and John both affirmed, “Hey, this study is great. I like it. I enjoy the small group interaction.” Notice the anti-number term—SMALL group. These are two leaders in our fellowship—both are spouses of staff members. Humm. You mean, you are benefitting?

After the study, Jorge from the Hispanic church knocked on my door as I was leaving, “Do you have a moment, pastor?” We proceeded to talk about what is going on in this congregation. Unbelievable. Last Sunday, they had 53! That’s a number. Not many would be impressed with it at face value. However, it is impressive when you think that this church only had six adults sitting in the congregation a few months ago.

But that is not the most impressive thing. They are going to have a baptismal service this Saturday night and baptize five folks! How about that? Jorge thanked me for the support First Southern has given to the Hispanic church. They are excited. The atmosphere is electric in this congregation.

As we parted ways last night, the Spirit brought this whole kingdom concept back to mind. I can and will rejoice because of what the Lord is doing in His kingdom, this broader kingdom that is bigger than the church I serve but includes this group of Hispanic brothers and sisters whom the Lord is using and blessing.

Okay, so all of this causes me to PAUSE.

"With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say" (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 NLT).

Lord, thank you for the encouragement last night. I needed it and along with it a perspective shift that causes me to pause. Help me to get a grip and keep a grip.

Guide us, Lord, in everything we do. Deliver me from a purely “numbers” mentality. Help me see things the way You see them.

“All that thrills my soul is Jesus,
He is more than life to me” (BH 2008, 551). Amen.
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Priorities

I had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with Mary Ann yesterday. She is our Treasurer and Financial Secretary and does an excellent job of it, by the way.

In the course of the conversation, she brought up a message she had heard on the radio. It was a Focus on the Family broadcast and the preacher was David Jeremiah.

I was so intrigued as she told me about it. When we finished our conversation, I went into my office, turned on my computer, logged into the Focus on the Family website, found the sermon she told me about, and downloaded it. It is one of those messages that you have to “eat” in increments just to digest all of it. As of this morning, I have not listened to all of it. I hope to finish it today.

Anyway, I have appreciated the ministry of David Jeremiah. I have listened to snippets of his sermons on the radio on occasion, but he wrote a book about his cancer experiences. My pastor friend Bart loaned me his copy of the book shortly after I was diagnosed. It was a huge encouragement and another one of those impetuses the Lord gave me to write down my own experiences.

But I appreciate it whenever preacher pull back the curtain a bit, allowing others opportunity to learn what the Lord has taught them behind the scenes.

Jeremiah said that as he started out as a church planter, he was hardly ever home at night. One evening, his wife pulled him aside and said, “I know I have complained about the fact that you are gone so often at night. I want you to know I won’t do that again. I know that God has called you to be the priest of our home and you are accountable to God for how you do that.” This is not an exact quote, but that is the gist of what she said.

David went on to say that the Lord used that in his life to reorder his priorities. He affirmed the list: God, his marriage, his family, and the church. He asserted that everyone in his congregation knows that the church is number four.

He also stated that he believes it is important for children to know they are important to their parents. And, parents should demonstrate that in tangible ways.

One day, a man complained that Dr. Jeremiah was walking out of the church and not stopping to minister to him. David replied, “Sir, there are five other pastors available to you. Any one of them can meet your need. I have only one son and he has a basketball game I am going to. Have a nice day.”

I love this!

This tracks with what the Lord has been teaching me since I was diagnosed—a reordering of priorities. All of us say that God is first and family is second, but do we really live that out in reality? I certainly wasn’t.

I miss my house in Thornton at times, but the bottom line is that I have an overwhelming sense of peace that where I am living (with my mom and sister) and what I am doing right now is what I need to be doing.

Please pray for me as I commute back and forth across town to work. I tend to get distracted easily, more easily these days. It just seems more difficult to keep my focus on the highway. I hate folks who talk on their phone or worse—text—as they drive along. I do not text! Rest assured there, but I find myself wanting to use my commute time to talk on the phone. I now have to toss my phone in the backseat just so that I can’t get to it even if I wanted to.

The other part of this is that I think that I am more able to fulfill my responsibilities as pastor living here with my mom and sister.

Let me try to explain. It seems to provide a clearer divide between my pastoral work with people AND prayer/the ministry of the Word. I think I had gotten in a rut with my previous schedule (before cancer). Now, I am better able to spend time in prayer and in study.

It is interesting to realize that putting priorities straight helps all areas of one’s life and work. Of course. The will of God is not piece-meal. You are either in the middle of it OR not. And if not, then of course, all the other areas are affected.

In other words, God is not going to lead me to do one thing in one area that adversely affects another arena of life.

This is well and good right now because I feel more of a burden than ever to focus on prayer and study. I’ll tell you: this study in Acts is revolutionary. How could I have immersed myself in this book all these years and missed the Holy Spirit? Are you kidding me?

Back to the message: I am going to try to provide a link to this sermon on my Pastor John Facebook page. If I can’t get that done, go to the Focus website and download it yourself. It is only $2.00—the best two bucks you will ever spend.

All of this becomes increasingly important in the Last Days, as the enemy ratchets up his deception and attack on the truth, culminating with the Antichrist. Notice what Paul says about this time in history, referring to the Anti-Christ:

"He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 NLT).

Those who don’t believe in Jesus will be a sitting duck. All of us are right now without the Lord, but this will be amplified as we near the end.

I think this goes back to priorities as well.

Lord, thank you for the modern technology that makes it possible for a sister in the Lord to tell me about a sermon—thank you for Mary Ann and her family—and then for me to listen to it shortly thereafter. Help me to heed this message. And I pray for all who are reading this blog today—help us to get our priorities straight and keep them that way.

“We will follow the steps of Jesus where e’er they go” (BH 2008, 550). Amen.
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The Breath of His Mouth

Yesterday, I got to spend some time with Ken Hemphill.

Let me give you some context of that meeting. Bob, our team leader for the Mile High Association, in conjunction with Alan, who serves a church in Elizabeth, put together a golf/Sunday School meeting yesterday. It started at 8:00 at Spring Valley Golf Club in Parker.

I understand the method to the madness, and I LIKE IT, of course. I am sure Bob was hoping he could get a few more guys there if he linked a round of golf with it. He was right. He got me, and not just because of golf (believe it or not).

As I have explained previously in this blog, I have just had my fill of associational meetings. The church I serve and I both SUPPORT the association financially and other ways. Don’t get me wrong! But as far as meetings are concerned, I am “meeting-ed out.”

However, (and Bob and I have talked about this) I am a guy in need of fellowship AND as a guy, love to do something I like to do with other guys as an avenue of fellowship. That’s just the way guys are!

Well, all of this sounds well and good. The plan was for us to play golf together, go to Alan’s church (Elizabeth is just down the road from the golf course), and have a meeting with Dr. Hemphill.

The only problem was that it was raining and rather cold yesterday morning. Most of the guys that had committed to come did not show. That left six of us (including Bob and Ken) sitting in the restaurant at the golf course looking at each other.

Ken jumped up and said, “Hey, why don’t we go ahead and have our meeting now. Maybe things will clear off a little later, and we can still go out and play.” Golfers, especially those of us who are actually at the golf course, are eternal optimists, and it always does seem to work out.

My mom has an expression: “It never rains at the golf course.” Her dad was a fanatic golfer. Her husband fit that category, and now her son. She knows a thing or two.

I would amend her comment a bit, and hopefully my paraphrase will explain it: “It does rain at the golf course but never enough actually to prevent golfers from going on and playing anyway.” Ken was reflecting that viewpoint, and thus demonstrated that he is part of the fraternity. Ha.

So, we all grabbed breakfast burritos and sat there as Ken talked about Sunday school. I’m not going to go into detail about all he communicated with us, but it was a huge encouragement to me and gave me a lot of insight into my situation—exactly what the doctor ordered.

One thing he said really stuck with me. All of you readers know about my struggles with Wednesday night. Ken said, “Guys, the reality today is that most folks will give you two to three hours a week. That’s it. You better figure out how to get “it” done in that time frame.”

Of course! Yes! Now, it makes sense. No wonder no one is coming on Wednesday night!

We got to visit a while as we sat around that table.

And then, miraculously, the weather cleared and we all headed out to the course. We split up into two groups, teed up, and headed out. It was very wet and soggy. A few holes into our round, the wind started to pick up. It felt Fall-like. We only played nine holes (I NEVER play just nine), but that was enough.

I was in the first group. We finished well before the second, but when we all had concluded, we jumped in our cars and headed to Alan’s church for a meal. His folks were waiting for us with a “spread” fit for a king. The ladies had prepared for thirty people! There were six of us. But we weren’t complaining. We loved that math and scarfed down a great meal.

But as we ate lunch, we were able to share more fellowship. Ken was not with us. He had to leave from the golf course to head to the airport.

I just have to tell you: that was one of the best associational meetings that I have attended in a long time, and I am going to write Bob to tell him that today. I left full—full of good and helpful and encouraging information, full of food, and full of fellowship after having played golf—now that is about heaven here on earth for a pastor, right?

Now, to the passage today: there is a statement in verse eight of 2 Thessalonians 2 that epitomizes the power of God.

"Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT).

By all accounts, as one reads about the Anti-Christ or the man of lawlessness as he is referred to in this verse, he is no slouch. He will be a very powerful and compelling incarnation of everything that is evil with a world following to boot.

Through history, Christians have tried to identify certain folks (like Hitler and the pope) as the Anti-Christ. I think these comparisons and weak and feeble and miss the point. There has not been anyway in history (so far) that has come along who can hold a candle to the Anti-Christ. Our imaginations cannot conceive of this person—yet.

But when Jesus appears, he will defeat this individual with the effort it takes the rest of us to inhale.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Poof! Gone!

Oh, Lord, you are awesome! I always underestimate your power and the victory you have already won over the enemy. Your Second Coming will simply be the “coup de grace.”

Thank you for the fellowship and encouragement of the guys yesterday. I lift up Ken, Bob, Bart, David, and Doug to you.

“Breathe on me, Breath of God, …
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do” (BH 2008, 334). Amen.
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Susheel and Phil

I thought our service yesterday went great. It was long, way long, but as I was telling my mom and sis when I got home, “a long service every now and again won’t hurt us.”

Let me back up for a moment. I had to pick Susheel up yesterday morning. As it turned out, he stayed with a family on the very extreme southwest part of metro Denver, off of C 470 and Kipling Parkway (just to locate it for you native types). For the non-initiated in Denver geography, that is about thirty miles from the church. But I did not care in the least. The long commute gave me a chance to visit with this brother.

He said several things that I would like to note here this morning. First, he told me that it is his usual practice to call people who did not attend services at his church on Sunday evenings. Here is the incredible thing about this: he does this even if he is overseas! He told me that he finds out from his wife who was there and who wasn’t. He calls people to ask, “Why didn’t you attend today?” If they are sick, he prays for them. If they are not and don’t have a good excuse, he added that his people know “they are in big trouble with me. I don’t have any problem rebuking people when they are disobedient. This is my job.”

Second, and this is a statement I will never forget, he stated that the church of Jesus Christ “has no address.” In other words, it is not limited to one place or one building. I love that!

Third, as we were driving along, I asked, “Susheel, I want you to tell about your ministry. Do you have any slides we can show?” He looked rather startled when I asked that question, “No, Pastor, I am not here to promote myself. Please do not do this. I am here to preach, and I do not believe that the pulpit should be used to promote anyone except Jesus. I don’t want people to think that I am here to raise money. I am not.”

We have had our share of “promoters” at First Southern over the years. Invariably, it ends up being a rather negative thing. I was SO glad to hear this.

Fourth, in the course of the sermon—an excellent multi-text challenge, by the way—Susheel said, “If we claim that we love God also, what we are really trying to do is to love God and love the world. This means we don’t love God because he wants us to love Him ONLY.” Very powerful statement.

Before he stood up to preach, I just introduced this brother as “Pastor Susheel from Hyderabad, India.” That is it. And he just opened his Bible and preached.

Before the service, in my office, he asked how much time he had. My first inclination was to tell him, “All the time you need.” But he pressed me. “Pastor John, we all operate with time constraints. I believe in them. Tell me.” Okay—thirty minutes. “Great,” he said. “Will do.” Thirty minutes it was—how often do preachers do this? I say this to my own shame.

It is just a lack of preparation. It is just “winging it.” Let’s be honest. Come on. And I “are” one, so I can say this.

But this brother was prepared.

He preached and sat down—very powerful message.

Prior to the service, I had asked my friend Phil to give the church a challenge. It was great. He was there along with four guys from his church in Dallas and some folks from Elevate Church in Stapleton. Pastor Rich and some folks from the church plant were there as well. It was a real shot in the arm.

Thus, Phil got up (I had given him five minutes—an even greater challenge). He gave a little background about our relationship and joked about my golf game, “John doesn’t just pray all the time. He does play golf.” I’m sure this statement did not surprise anyone!

He read some verses in Acts 11, focusing on part of verse 22: “The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent …” (NASB). Phil said, “We can’t minister and go everywhere, but like the church in Jerusalem, when we hear, we can send. Pastor Susheel has come a long way. It is not puddle jump to come here from India (Phil ought to know this; he and his family served overseas with the IMB before coming back to the States a couple of years ago). What will be the response of First Southern?” Wow. It still impacts me to write those words. It was excellent.

After all of this, I stood up to tell the church that it is time for us to act. I didn’t want to get too specific. I just wanted to see how and who would respond. This type of thing absolutely cannot be “John’s idea or let pet project.” Embracing an unreached, unengaged people group in India has to be a church commitment. Has to be.

But I think we took a big step in that direction yesterday. I’m thrilled.

All of this takes on more significance as we think about the message of 2 Thessalonians. The main thrust of this book has to do with end times. Paul is writing to correct some misunderstandings and false teaching as he talks about “the day of the Lord”—the Second Coming of Jesus.

"Before that day comes, a couple of things have to happen. First, the Apostasy. Second, the debut of the Anarchist, a real dog of Satan. He’ll defy and then take over every so-called god or altar. Having cleared away the opposition, he’ll then set himself up in God’s Temple as “God Almighty.” Don’t you remember me going over all this in detail when I was with you? Are your memories that short?" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-5 MSG).

The Apostasy. The emergence of the Anti-Christ. I think the Apostasy has already begun. I will not speculate about the Anti-Christ, but it will not be pretty.

All of this to say, it is time for the church to love God ONLY and SEND.

Lord, thank you for the messages I heard and needed to hear yesterday. Get our focus right. Get our worship right. Get our urgency right. Get our action right.

Bless Susheel as he travels to Seattle tonight. Take care of Phil and the guys as they go back to Texas today.

“O may I ever faithful be,
My Savior and my God” (BH 2008, 549). Amen.
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An Interesting Mix

As I was driving away from church yesterday, the thought occurred to me, “Wow, tomorrow, at least four congregations will be represented in our service.”

Let me back up for a second. I had breakfast yesterday with my friend Phil and a guy from his church in Dallas, Clay. These two guys were part of a group that came up here on a mission trip to help Alan Carr, a leader in our state in church planting and missions, and Rich, a church planter in Stapleton.

It is kind of interesting how this connection came about (it always is). Phil got Rich’s name on a visitor card and followed up. The only thing is: Rich never visited Phil’s church! Somehow, he got Rich’s name because Rich’s family had visited the church in Dallas (they have relatives in that city) while Rich was in Houston at the convention.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and a few weeks later, Phil is bringing some guys up here on a mission trip. One of the guys in the group is Larry who is a plumber. He was able to minister to some refugees from Burma. Alan is organizing ministry to reach them, and they did some other home repairs for these folks as well as some outreach ministry for Rich yesterday afternoon.

Before I go on, I was very interested to meet Clay. He is not a pastor, but a layman in Arapaho Road Baptist Church (this is the name of Phil’s church where all the guys on the mission trip come from; interesting—we have an SBC church here in Denver with the same title except it is called “Arapahoe Road”). He was saved and started following the Lord rather recently and is in the product development business. Phil asked him to come and he did.

Just some lessons for me there--I will get to them in a moment.

Anyway, the plan today is for Phil and all the guys from Arapaho Road as well as folks from Rich’s church to come to our service today! As I have mentioned, Rich is a church planter. He is working in Stapleton. His services are usually on Saturday night (I believe I am right about that), so there is no problem for them to come to worship with us.

Are you keeping track? That is three churches right there.

Then, we are going to have a very special guest preacher. He comes from a church a little further away than Dallas or Stapleton. How about Hyderabad, India? His name is Susheel Benjamin and he is a pastor of a church in Hyderabad.

I met him over a year and a half ago (maybe even longer than that) as we began the process of getting involved in an International Mission Board (IMB) challenge called “Embrace.” I know I have alluded to this before. But the challenge is for each church in our convention to embrace an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG, all these abbreviations—we are good at them in church life, aren’t we?). We have been in process with this since then.

One of the things that led us to narrow our focus to India was meeting Pastor Susheel. We correspond fairly regularly through Facebook and email.

He called a few weeks ago, telling me that he was going to be in the States. I invited him to come and preach. This is the Sunday we worked out. He is staying with a family in Littleton. This is a Denver suburb on the south side of town. I’m going to pick him up and take him up to Northglenn here in a little bit.

Anyway, he represents his church, of course. That all adds up to four.

I think it is certainly no accident that the Lord is bringing all of us together this morning—these folks from Dallas and Stapleton included.

I have asked my friend Phil to share also. He has served overseas with the IMB (remember that abbreviation? Ha) and certainly has a burden to see churches in the states reach out overseas.

It should be interesting. I love to see how the Lord pulls things and people and ministry together.

Speaking of which … I was involved in a wedding yesterday. Two twenty-year olds? Nope. It hasn’t been very long for both of these Seniors. Each lost a spouse in the last couple of years, but they met each other at our church and got married yesterday! How about that?

I don’t know if I ever have laughed as much at any wedding ceremony in my life. Both of them were standing on the stage at the church as the ceremony was beginning. I heard Helen say to Bill, “You can still back out now if you want!” I nearly fell over! This was the first of several comments they made back and forth to each other in the course of the ceremony. It was a hoot!

I’ll tell you: the Lord is amazing in the way He pulls things together—again, I say. I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I think about all of this today. A friendship from seminary (that’s where I met Phil), a brother from India, a church planter from another suburb, two seniors getting married—only God can mix all of that up together.

What is it called? CHURCH.

This is how the Lord works as He gets us ready for the final day and Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 1 reflects this:

"Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely" (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG).

I echo this prayer today, Lord Jesus. Make us fit for what you have called us to, and indeed I pray that all of THIS will amount to something.

Somehow, the fact that it has taken so long for us in this Embrace process is really a burden to me today. We never want to get ahead of you, Lord, but at the same time, we don’t want to drag our feet, either. Give us impetus. Move us forward.

I pray for Susheel and his ministry along with that of Arapaho Road in Dallas and Elevate Church in Stapleton.

“We’re seekers of your heart” (BH 2008, 548). Amen.
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"Winston is Back"

Another passage on judgment. What is going on? Duh, I think the Lord is trying to tell me something. But I will get to that in a moment.

It has been over a month, but yesterday, I played golf! All is well with the world. Ha. Well, not quite, but I cannot express how grateful to God and to all of you I am. Thanks for your prayers. I’m so glad that the surgery is now, for the most part, behind me.

I do not know if I have ever seen a more beautiful day than yesterday. After all the rains and all the clouds for the past few weeks, this was an absolutely crystal clear day with temperatures in the mid-70’s—a “chamber of commerce day,” as the expression goes.

I felt very good with little or no soreness except in the small places where the doctor made the incisions, but as the nurse told me in the follow-up appointment, that is to be expected, and I will not get over that for another couple of months. No biggie.

As I was walking along yesterday, I could not but help think of the message that the Board of Admiralty sent to the British Fleet when Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty on September 3, 1939. A very short but pithy announcement, “Winston is back.”

Yeah, I know. The fact that I was able to play golf again does indeed rank up there in historical significance with this appointment for Winston Churchill! Ha!

The other thing I want to mention this morning is a very exciting bit of news. There is a new biography out on Charles Haddon Spurgeon. As many of you know, I did my PhD dissertation on this very famous nineteenth century British preacher/pastor. I studied his sermons.

This book takes more of a historical perspective of his life and ministry. It fills a huge void in that regard, in my opinion.

Spurgeon wrote a lot. In fact, I still have the 63 volumes containing his sermons! Yes, you read that right—SIXTY THREE! I am confident that no other preacher in the history of Christendom has that many published sermons.

However, in spite of this (and he wrote many books and articles. Plus, there are a few very summary biographies out there), there is not much written about his work as a pastor. I’ve always been fascinated about this, but there just isn’t a lot OUT THERE, until now.

The author of this new biography is Tom Nettles. He used to be at Southwestern Seminary as a church history professor. Now, he is at Southern seminary in Louisville.

The timing of this book coming out could not be more precipitous for me personally. I will explain why some other time.

Back to the passage for today. Not long ago, I received a letter from a guy who used to attend First Southern. His letter contained a question. It went something like this: “John, I have heard there are two judgments. Is this correct? And, if so, can you tell me about both of them?”

Well, the passage for today does a great job of explaining ONE of those judgments. I will quote it now:

"All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the kingdom. You’re suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with his strong angels, he’ll even up the score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we’ve been waiting for. Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they’ve done. Eternal exile from the presence of the Master and his splendid power is their sentence. But on that very same day when he comes, he will be exalted by his followers and celebrated by all who believe—and all because you believed what we told you" (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 MSG).

Again, I love the graphic language Peterson uses in the Message Version. When Jesus comes back, he will even up the score. Those who failed to believe in Jesus will face eternal separation from God—“eternal exile” as Peterson puts it. At the same time, those of us who know Jesus will start an eternal party that will go on forever.

As I explained to the brother who wrote me, the first judgment is called the “Great White Throne” judgment. The Holy Spirit talks about it in Revelation 20:11-15. This will be a time of separation—the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares.

Let me back up for a moment to the book of Obadiah. What is the judgment there? Well, I believe all of history is the unfolding and gradual revelation of the judgment of God on evil. The judgment against Edom in Obadiah is a case in point, but someday, this separation will be complete. That is what the word means in the Greek. It means to divide and separate.

Now, if that doesn’t send a chill up your spine. Nothing will.

Lord, I thank you for the salvation we enjoy in Jesus. Your first coming made all those provisions and arrangements. Your Second Coming … Well, that is another story. It will be for judgment.

I know I am ready for the Great White Throne. Help me to be ready for the second judgment—the evaluation of the WORKS of believers.

Thank you for the health you have given me. Help me use it to serve you, just like the saints of old, just like Spurgeon.

“We lift our lives up to You,
We are an offering” (BH 2008, 547). I love this chorus. How appropriate for today! Amen.
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Faith Growing Phenomenally

Back to the New Testament today after my brief foray into the Old Testament in the book of Obadiah—a gem, for sure, not much if ever preached from in the contemporary pulpit. That will change in the church I serve at some point in the future.

Before I talk about some verses in 2 Thessalonians, I want to say a word about the annual associational meeting I attended in Boulder last night. First, I left my home in southeast Denver about 5:45. I was hoping to get up to East Boulder Baptist Church well before the official meeting started just to visit with some folks. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to get up there between the tail end of rush hour and some road construction on the Boulder Turnpike.

That’s just the way it is sometimes in this town—it took me twice as long as I had anticipated. I should have known better and left a half an hour earlier but I have learned the hard way as I drive up and down 1-25 now on a regular basis—leaving earlier does not always guarantee arriving earlier because the traffic is worse. Oftentimes, it just means more sitting on the city’s largest parking lot (a new joke I heard the other day)—I-25.

Well, anyway, I got to visit with Dave as we entered into the church—a real brother and great guy whom the Lord brought back to Colorado a few months ago. He serves as a catalytic-type guy in our association and state. This is not his “official” title, of course, but it certainly describes who he is and what he does. Once in the church and in the auditorium as the meeting was beginning with a time of worship, I found my friend Bart, punched him in the arm, and sat next to him.

As the worship time progressed, it was hard for me not to reflect back on my years of involvement in what used to be called the Denver Association, now “Mile High.” I have been on just about every committee one can be on. Plus, when I first started as pastor in Northglenn, I served as the Singles’ leader for the association. In that ministry, which proved to be very time consuming, I got to meet a lot of great folks in churches all over the city.

We actually put on a 5K race followed by a concert at Applewood Baptist Church. The race ended up involving a lot of lost folks; the concert fell rather flat. We invited a rather well known singer who was visibly disappointed in the crowd as he stood up to start. He said something like, “Well, maybe you guys can do better next year.” He did his thing. We did not garner enough funds to pay him his “fee.” He and his wife were visibly upset as I took him to the airport. I tried to converse with them … It was rather awkward. Months later after a lot more fund raising (try to raise money for a concert that has already occurred—try that sometime. It is a lot of fun!), we eventually paid him off.

By then, I was seeing the handwriting on the wall for my involvement in this ministry, as the church was taking more and more of my focus. Plus, honestly, I just came to point where I said, “I don’t need this. I have enough to do in the church. And, oh, by the way, these folks are paying my salary—not the association!”

I served on more committees at that point for several more years, but over time, my involvement has diminished almost to zero. I rarely if ever go to any meetings. This is why I decided to go the annual meeting.

Bob invited a special speaker last night. His first name was Josh. He is involved in the Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. Apparently, it is the largest association in the Southern Baptist Convention. Josh is an advocate for associations, but only if the vision is clear and if they are relevant.

As he was speaking, I could not but help think about the local church, the one I serve in particular. I agreed for the most part with what Josh said. It will be more food for thought and prayer in the days and weeks ahead.

But somehow, I am growing a little weary of hearing about the need for vision. This is becoming a catchword in our day and time. Don’t get me wrong. I personally am a “big picture” person. I gravitate to the concept, but all the vision in the world matters little if people’s hearts are not where they need to be with the Lord.

Plus, there is another factor. Things are changing so rapidly. We don’t live in the same world we enjoyed even five years ago. This is true for churches. It is certainly true for pastors. And of course, it is true for the folks we serve.

Back to First Southern and Wednesday night—I think for us, it is dead.

Our seniors have a gathering and Bible study and fellowship on Wednesday afternoons. They finish at 2:00 and go home—done for the day.

Our younger families work and are busy and we expect them to come to church on a weeknight? Are you kidding?

I got an email from our Youth Pastor Jeremy, yesterday. I had sent an email to our staff talking about Wednesday night. We recently started having a meal and then cutting down our time in study and ministry with the hope of involving more families in our church. They have not responded.

Why? Well, Jeremy’s email showed me that because of physical limitations (one mom’s health does not permit here to drive her kids ten miles to the church on Wednesdays) and logistical reasons (late afternoon school activities and little league football), families can’t make it on Wednesday night. They don’t even get home until 6:30 to 7:00.

So, we are ministering to some, but to continue to beat this drum seems rather silly. We have to find another way to “eat the elephant.”

Associations, churches, pastors, and congregations who don’t adjust are relevant, and therefore, aren’t viable.

Back the point: I believe it is the church’s job to minister to folks where they are so that growth occurs. It is significant that Paul talks about this in the passage today, but it is not growth as preachers think of it—numbers. It is growth on a far more significant level:

"You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks. We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you" (2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4 MSG).

Numeric growth is not the goal. It is faith growth.

Lord, thank you for what you are teaching me through all sorts of avenues. I believe. Help my unbelief. Show us how to be so in touch with you that we are as relevant as you are. Guide us, Lord. Give us wisdom to be able to disciple believers and see their faith grow and grow phenomenally.

“My dearest treasure, the light of His smile” (BH 2008, 545). Amen.
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The Finality of Judgment

Sitting here this morning, I was kind of chuckling to myself. You would think that after three plus years of sitting here each morning that I would run out of things to write about. I look back on how this started—Marilyn got me on CaringBridge and encouraged me to use that blog as a way to communicate with people about my cancer stuff. A good friend of ours from college—Lynda—told her about it. Her husband Jon had been going through cancer treatments. Jon and I are buddies as well.

He is doing great now, by the way. I’m glad to say.

Anyway, it all started back in August of 2010, and the thought occasionally goes through my mind, “I wonder when I will be done with writing each day. I wonder when I will just run out of things to say and/or people will just stop reading the verbiage I put online each day.”

And, you know, I don’t think I am going to stop EVER, and I’m not sure it matters if anyone reads these posts or not. More and more, I view them as sermons. Long ago, the Lord taught me that first and foremost, my sermons are an offering to the Lord. I am preaching my sermons, week by week, to Him. Whatever happens or not from there is up to Him.

I was preaching when I was a child. Shortly after my mom and dad professed faith in Jesus at University Hills Baptist Church, I became enamored with preaching. I’ve told Brother Herb—our first pastor—about this quite often. I sat on the second row, all by myself, to Herb’s left, and just drank it in. Most, if not all of the other students in the church my age sat on the back row. I didn’t even sit with my family because I wanted to be up there, close to the action, so to speak.

In fact, I still have a couple of Brother Herb’s sermons on cassette tape. I wonder if they would even work now IF I could find a cassette tape player! I don’t care. I’m going to keep the plastic. These messages had a huge impact in my life.

Anyway, how did I get into all of that? I have no idea! Ha. But I just look at these blogs as an extension of my preaching ministry, and I am not going to stop.

One of the reasons is days like today. I have so much on my mind and heart that I want to write about that I literally have to pick and choose. I have an even greater burden for the church after yesterday evening, but I think I will NOT go there today.

Instead, I want to tell you about an experience I had yesterday morning. Jim, one of our deacons, went with me. This is going to be a little difficult to talk about because I do want some aspects of this to be confidential. Some who read this will know what I am talking about. That is fine. If you do, please do not mention any names if you respond to me on CaringBridge or Facebook. Thanks.

Jim and I attended a sentencing trial in a Federal Courtroom in downtown Denver. How about that? The official name of the building is the Alfred J. Arraj Courthouse. I was interested to discover that the building itself is not that old, but I will tell you: it is huge and it is intimidating, if ever a building can be.

Jim and I had to pass through a metal detector as we entered. Looking at a directory on the wall inside, we found the name of the judge and his courtroom.

Shortly after exiting the elevator on the tenth floor, a man in a blue suit came up to us, “Are you guys here for Sam?” (Not his real name). Jim and I were a little shocked, “Ah, well, yes.” This gentleman was Sam’s attorney, and he escorted us into a side room where we sat down to discuss Sam’s case. He was very candid with us and talked us through the process and what might happen in the upcoming proceedings. At one point, he glanced at his watch, and said, “Oh, got to get in there.” It was nearly time for the trial.

We entered the courtroom. The attorney pointed to the left where the spectators sat (I was going to use the word “fans,” but that doesn’t quite get it, does it?). Jim and I sat there. I tell you. It was quite an intimidating room. (I know I have used that word before, but it applies here as well).

Let me see if I can describe what a Federal Courtroom looks like. Of course, at the head of the room is a huge desk on a platform—the judgment seat. Over to the right were a couple of rows of chairs. To the left, a man and a woman sat at a table. I believe the woman was a stenographer because she typed feverishly as each person spoke. The man sat at a computer. I’m not sure what his role was.

In the middle of the room were two tables surrounded by chairs on all sides. The lawyer we spoke with sat at one table, facing the judge. On the other side of the room, at a similar table, the prosecuting attorney sat in a similar position.

Behind these two tables, situated between them, was a podium with a microphone.

Directly behind the podium were two more tables with chairs behind them. These looked like the kind of tables you see in courtrooms on television.

This room was nothing like the lawyer shows on television.

I sat there trying to take all of this in, mainly because it hit me that this was probably a once in a lifetime experience.

Suddenly, a door opened at the side, and a husky man in a brown suit with an open-necked black shirt entered with Sam. Sam was wearing a yellow jump suit and had handcuffs on. His husky escort took Sam’s cuffs off before Sam sat next to the attorney at the “dining room” table.

Let me skip now to the pronouncement. I’ll have to tell you—again, at this point, I would use that word “intimidating” again. Here is a man in a black robe telling another man what is going to happen to him in his life.

I was watching Sam as the judge spoke. He was intently listening to every syllable that came out of his mouth. Of course. Every one of us would do the same thing. He pronounced his judgments and then the stenographer lady to my left used a gavel. Done. Finished. Concluded. That was it. There was such an air of finality about it all. The judge stood up and walked out. Sam got cuffed and escorted out.

I tell you when preachers talk about the judgment of God most people yawn. It just seems so remote. Whatever. God judged Edom. Most of us don’t even know where Edom was and it doesn’t really matter.

The fact is: we need to listen to these judgments for what they are—an extremely personal word that we better pay attention to OR we are going to be in worse trouble.

This little one-chapter book pronounces judgment on Edom, but it concludes with another aspect of judgment for God’s people—a pronouncement of a promising future! How about that? Notice these words:

"People from the south will take over the Esau mountains; people from the foothills will overrun the Philistines. They’ll take the farms of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will take Gilead. Earlier, Israelite exiles will come back and take Canaanite land to the north at Zarephath. Jerusalem exiles from the far northwest in Sepharad will come back and take the cities in the south. The remnant of the saved in Mount Zion will go into the mountains of Esau And rule justly and fairly, a rule that honors God ’s kingdom" (Obadiah 1:19-21 MSG).

No matter what happens to evil nations and unbelievers (and none of us relishes this EVER), judgment means good things for God’s people.

Lord, thank you for that experience yesterday. I wish every child and teenager in our church could sit in that courtroom—might give them a little different perspective and might keep them out of trouble. Maybe.

I pray for Sam today.

I pray that we would take the Judgment of God and the ultimate finality of it all—for us and others—VERY SERIOUSLY.

“My life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for Thee alone” (BH 2008, 545). Amen.
Comments

One Square Mile

As I have been praying for the church and the whole “lipstick on a pig” issue (see yesterday’s post), I had a very encouraging meeting with Hank yesterday.

Hank’s organization—Winn Ministries—linked up with Community of Faith United (COFU) several months ago. Now, Jim and Hank work together.

A couple of years ago, Hank led a seminar at First Southern while COFU was still there. I can’t remember the exact name of the seminar he led, but a huge part of it was the concept of “One Square Mile.”

Since then, Hank and I have been trying to get together to flesh out what this concept would mean potentially for First Southern. Yesterday, we finally got to meet.

This tends to be a cliché that we often toss out. I know I do, but I (I will speak only for myself at this point) am not sure I really believe it.

Again, it is hard for me to put into words how burdened I am for the church, and I feel under attack from the enemy. Satan would love nothing better than to have this church stay mired in “the rat cage.” It feels as if we are going around and around and around, working harder and harder, with little effect—the old definition of insanity.

Most people (and I am at the top of the list) love routines. That’s what makes all of this so difficult. We are used to things as they are—even though they aren’t ideal—and find it very difficult to change.

But change, real change, significant change—not just lipstick or whitewash on a grave (to use a Jesus metaphor)—starts with a change of paradigm.

My meeting with Hank began to open the door a crack as to what that paradigm shift needs to be.

I won’t go into all the details about what “One Square Mile” is, but suffice it to say that it is a very detailed focus on engaging the immediate neighborhood right around the physical location of the church AND encouraging folks to engage the immediate area right around where they live (whether it happens to overlap the one square mile around the church building or not). That is basically it.

What is so different about this? Well, can I just say that the area immediately around the church—this community of about 4000 people has not really been a priority for us, to say the least? Hank had access to a demographic tool on the web that allowed him to find out some details about the 80233 zip code—our church’s zip code. He found out several things we visited about, but the population of the 80233 zip code is 3922 people.

I was a little shocked about this, but the more telling stat was how young our community is: over fifty percent is people under the age of 30, if my memory serves me correctly. That may not be totally accurate, but it was a large percentage.

So, let me step back a bit. I serve a congregation where the majority of people are over fifty; the community has a majority of people under fifty. Houston, we have a problem.

But back to One Square Mile, here is the deal. I am trying to lead folks in our church to embrace an Unreached Unengaged People Group in India. I am also trying to encourage involvement in the ministry of Federal Heights.

By the way, last night, I was able to attend a Federal Heights City Council meeting at the request of Mayor Joyce. Somehow, I can’t let that relationship go. I believe it is very important in our ministry in that community to maintain contact with her and other community leaders.

Last night, she and the members of the council presented an award to four Junior High students who figured out some sort of alternative fuel that school buses in the city could use and thus help save on the cost of gasoline. Isn’t that incredible? I think right now, they use this alternative fuel just to top off the gas tanks, not fill them up completely.

But after I led the opening prayer, I was sitting there thinking, “These are four students I need to get to know and very quick. If this is legitimate, they will all be millionaires someday—an alternative fuel! Are you kidding me?” Mayor Joyce gave them an award. I snapped a picture with my phone. Please see the picture on Facebook.

Anyway, the relationship with Joyce and the city is important. We are going to maintain it, but all of that to say—we have neglected the immediacy of the community right around the church. AND, we have not had a lot of response in our appeals for India and Federal Heights. I don’t feel led to discontinue the challenges in that regard. This Sunday is a case in point in THAT regard (I will say more about that later), but I do sense the urgency to refocus on our own community.

This should be our priority, right? This sounds rather mundane. Of course a church should be doing that. All of us say THAT, but I am not sure many of us approach it as practically as One Square Mile does.

As I think about our community right around the church, I think it is going to take some major shifting of gears if we are serious about reaching it. These changes will not be cosmetic. I guarantee. But I think this is the beginning of actually see significant change and the name change would correspond with that.

We will see what happens. I’m going to pray about all this and begin to share it with select leaders. Please pray for wisdom and direction.

The truth is that it is urgent that we figure it out and do it soon. Most of the 3922 people who surround us are lost without God and headed for an eternity of separation from God.

They are under judgment, just as Edom was in Obadiah’s day:
"For the Day of the Lord is near, against all the nations. As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head. As you have drunk on My holy mountain, so all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and gulp down and be as though they had never been. But there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion, and it will be holy; the house of Jacob will dispossess those who dispossessed them" (Obadiah 1:15-17 HCSB).

The Old Testament concept of the “Day of the Lord.” It corresponds with what the New Testament talks about with the judgment seat of Christ. This will be a day when all the veneer and religious masks will be dropped, and Jesus will separate the wheat from the tares and the sheep from the goats. And there will be no more time for Christians to have the “luxury” of deciding, “Gee, you know what. We better get a committee together to figure out how to reach our community and get this done in the next twenty years.”

Nope. No time. Now or never.

Lord, thank you for the way you work. Thank you for leading me to talk with Hank yesterday. I do not trust him or “One Square Mile” or any program, but thank you for using that conversation to jolt me into a biblical reality. Evangelism and missions always, always, always starts where I live.

I pray for my neighbors, both my former neighbors in Thornton and my new neighbors here.

All of this is in your hands, Lord.

“Whiter than snow, Lord,
Wash me just now” (BH 2008, 544). Amen.
Comments

Lipstick on a Pig

A curious list of eight negative commands in Obadiah …

But first, I want to share a couple of things. These past few days have been very difficult for me on a physical level. And I have no idea why.

Sunday, as I was praying with the guys, I suddenly just felt awful, all over. Later on that morning, I was visiting with Scott and shared that with him. His eyes got big, “Oh, that’s what happened to me before the flu came on.” He was very sick not that long ago. John didn’t feel well on Sunday either.

It seems that a lot of folks are getting sick, and this isn’t even the “traditional” season for it.

Yesterday, I just could not get going, especially in the afternoon. I was plugging away on my sermon from Acts 2, but it was a huge battle just to stay awake. I finally gave up, put my computer aside, and dozed off for about an hour! I never sleep or allow myself to sleep in the middle of the day. I have “bragged” about my abilities to stay awake when I am studying. Well, so much for that! I lost the battle yesterday. Part of the reason is that I came to the conclusion that I was sick, but today, I feel better. We will see.

Again, one of the major changes that has occurred in my life as a result of cancer is that I am much more in tune with how I am feeling each day, and I try to respond to it to take care of myself. In the past, I just ignored the type of symptoms I have described and forged ahead.

I hope I am not doing that today!?! We will see.

Anyway, I heard an expression from a brother the other day. It has stuck in my mind. He and I were discussing transitions that I am leading First Southern to make or hopefully to make (I don’t want to get into detail at this point). He said that he was talking with a friend, discussing the church and “change.” His friend said, “Are these changes real or are they LIPSTICK ON A PIG?”

I have to laugh at this point because that image is very graphic! But the metaphor is powerful.

I think a lot of what I have attempted over the past few months may fall in the “lipstick on a pig” category. Looking back on what we have done, I feel good about the changes and still feel the Lord led us to make them, but still … I wonder.

As I pray for the church I serve, my mind always diverts to schedule and program changes. Maybe we could do this. Maybe we could do that. Maybe we could meet on this day instead of that day. If only I had a few more leaders, we could do this or that …

That type of thinking, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Most of these ideas are cosmetic. Without heart change, real change, I don’t think it will matter. It is just lipstick.

Going back to the message I preached Sunday, I still can’t get over the command that Jesus gave His disciples prior to His ascension. After the resurrection, I’m sure they were excited to get the ball rolling. They wanted to see the Romans kicked out once and for all and the kingdom restored to Israel. This was the question they asked in Acts one. But Jesus told them to WAIT in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure they even had any idea of what Jesus was talking about. “Wait? Are you kidding? Wait for what?”

But the order is very instructive and key. Without the power of God, it is all human, fleshly effort. And it is all pointless and fruitless.

I can relate. I feel like a chicken with its head cut off.

I wonder if the real thing that is going on with me is exhaustion. Not really physical exhaustion. But emotional fatigue. I’m tired of trying to figure out ways to get the church going. The more I figure, the more I try, the “worser” it seems to get.

So, when I finish writing this morning, I am going to continue to pray for revival and encourage the church to do so as well and continue to preach on the Holy Spirit and the church in Acts. There is something there, something we are missing.

Anyway, back to the passage for today. Let me quote it here:

"Do not gloat over your brother in the day of his calamity; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction; do not boastfully mock in the day of distress. Do not enter the gate of My people in the day of their disaster. Yes, you — do not gloat over their misery in the day of their disaster and do not appropriate their possessions in the day of their disaster. Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off their fugitives, and do not hand over their survivors in the day of distress" (Obadiah 1:12-14 HCSB).

If my counting is correct, there are eight negative commands in these three verses and all of them have to do with Edom’s response to the calamities that the Israelites were facing. One of the words that are repeated is “gloat.” They gloated over the defeat of Israel, and the Lord saw it, and He remembered. And this response became one of the reasons God judged Edom and ultimately destroyed this nation.

So, I read this, and I wonder, “Are we in the same position as Israel? We (the church, not just First Southern but the American church in general) are down. And it seems as if the enemy (the world, the flesh, and the devil) has the upper hand FOR NOW.

But our God is famous for the way He vindicates and rescues His people, right? Edom thought she had the upper hand. Think again. God defeated her and rescued His people. God did this.

Lord, the church I serve does not need “help” from me. It does not need to be propped up and fixed. It is your church, first and foremost. I appeal to you today as the Lord of the church—hook us up! Holy Spirit, release your power, the power each of us had resident within us. Unleashed it!

I let go of the leash.

Lord, I am convinced that the pastor of First Southern may be her biggest problem. Take care of him. Turn him around and work in his life. Get him out of your way.

“Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay” (BH 2008, 544). I love this hymn—very appropriate message. Take heed, preacher. Amen.
Comments

Pulling the Plug

It is interesting and very tragic to see how the Lord takes someone or a nation down when He decides to do so.

Before I get into that … a word about the floods here. Things seem to be getting worse. Six people are dead. 1,253 are unaccounted for. And 19,000 homes are destroyed! Unbelievable.

Saturday, things cleared for a few hours and the sun tried to peak through the clouds, but yesterday, it poured rain again. I just wonder when we are going to get a break.

I tell you: Colorado is a place of extremes. The past few summers, we have had a drought here. Watering is very closely regulated. This summer, in Denver County, the powers that be allow homeowners to water only two days a week. Our lawn looked brown most of the summer.

Many years, we also have a huge fire threat. Earlier this summer, there was a huge forest blaze in a suburb of Colorado Springs. This has felt like the norm, but not now.

We look like a rainforest in the Amazon. It feels that way as well—so much humidity. This is very unusual.

Please pray for us here.

In the case of disasters like this, often times, we hear about them happening in other places. All of this is in our backyard. I just pray that we will be ready to help when the opportunity arises.

One need came up yesterday. Brenda shared that she works with a lady whose 19 year-old daughter was killed in the floods the other day. We prayed for Brenda. We asked the Lord to give her sensitivity and boldness in her witness to this woman and her family. I told Brenda to let us know if there is any way we as a church can minister to her.

This is the only way I know to help right now. So many of these areas and people who have been impacted by the floodwaters are inaccessible with all the roads and the bridges that have washed out.

Well, anyway, thanks for your prayers.

It is hard to think that this isn’t God’s judgment in some way … but that is a dangerous road to go down. The simple fact is that we live in a fallen world. Disasters happen, and as Scott shared yesterday, he rightly reminded the students in the class he teaches at Belleview Christian School that the rain (and floods) fall on the just and unjust.

In my opinion, it is just idle speculation (we do it, all the time) to try to figure out why things like this happen. The only time we can be certain of God’s judgment is when the Bible tells us so.

The book of Obadiah is a clear example of this, and it is interesting to see how the Lord works. Let me quote the verses for today.

"Everyone who has a treaty with you will drive you to the border; everyone at peace with you will deceive and conquer you. Those who eat your bread will set a trap for you. He will be unaware of it. In that day — this is the Lord ’s declaration — will I not eliminate the wise ones of Edom and those who understand from the hill country of Esau? Teman, your warriors will be terrified so that everyone from the hill country of Esau will be destroyed by slaughter" (Obadiah 1:7-9 HCSB).

A couple of things in this passage—first, the Lord turns friends into enemies. This is a huge stab. When a nation presumes upon its relationships to a fault, the Lord can pull that plug in a second. Things can shift, and poof, all security is gone.

Second, the Lord can pull the plug on wisdom. Since all wisdom ultimately comes from God anyway, he gives and he takes.

Third, even the strongest of the strong shrink in horror. From what I can determine, “Teman” was an elite sect of soldiers in Edom—an equivalent to the Navy Seals, perhaps. When these guys are so scared that they quake in their boots, you know you are in trouble.

Basically, then, the judgment of God means that he pulls the plug on everything we value and trust, leaving us totally exposed to our enemies and vulnerable to attack, but the ultimate tragedy is decay from within.

The Roman Empire fell this way. I wonder about the United States of America.

Lord, this is chilling. This is scary—to see how you pull the plug on nations who don’t worship you. Ultimately, God, this is the destiny of the unrighteous. You take them down.

I lift up all the folks affected by this flood. Stop these rains. (I never thought I would EVER pray THAT). You are the God who brings rain; you are the God who can stop them.

“In my life, Lord, be glorified” (BH 2008, 542). Amen.
Comments

Presumptive Pride

Okay, here is this little one chapter prophecy in the Old Testament. When was the last time you EVER heard a sermon preached from this book? Have I ever preached from it? I don’t think so. On both counts.

This little book is a message of judgment against one of Israel’s main enemies—Edom. If memory serves me correctly, is this not the nation that emerged from the rebellion of Esau? I just checked on Google (if it is there in some website, it must be truthful, huh?).

Edom is a rather curious place. I have a feeling that I am going to be researching it. And I also have the distinct impression that I will be preaching from it soon.

This is the way it works for me—my devotional reading becomes the basis for just about every sermon series I preach. There are exceptions to this rule.

In the two-message series I just finished, the sermon on boldness came out of a couple of significant spiritual experiences over the past three years and what the Lord taught me through them. I’d better tell what those experiences were: a prayer meeting I attended in the Brazilian church back in the summer of 2010 and the recent Good News Across America outreach with those four folks from Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Anyway, enough said about that.

I’m curious as I begin reading this prophecy. Why would the Lord single out one enemy nation? Why is there a book in the Bible almost completely dedicated to judgment? A quick overview of the book confirms this. Only the last three verses say anything about Israel.

I can just see it with the congregation I serve. I make an announcement, “Hey church, next Sunday I am preaching about God’s judgment on Iran.” You know, I think some folks would come just out of curiosity.

This goes back to the fascination with predictive prophecy in our day and time.

But the curious thing about Obadiah is: this is the ONLY message we have from his entire life—what the Lord said through him about Edom.

Curious. Interesting. If you had only one sermon to hear or to preach, would it be a message of judgment? Probably would not be the first choice for any of us, would it?

The message, however, is rather mainstream, as the first few verses delineate:

"Your presumptuous heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down. This is the Lord ’s declaration" (Obadiah 1:3, 4 HCSB).

With all the talk about Syria and Iran and a potential World War III coming out of that region, this is a really good reminder.

The Lord brings prideful people and prideful nations DOWN whenever He encounters them. Ultimately, we don’t have to worry.

Plus, pride, like a lot of other sins, emanates from a presumptive heart. What am I talking about? Well, a presumption is some sort of false delusion that is based on idolatry. When I start to think I am “special,” it leads to presumptions. Presumption leads to pride (and a lot of other sins). And, pride goes before a fall.

Lord, I pray for the United States of America. Keep us from pride as a nation. It seems that we are there or at least on the way these days. As we talk about other nations, keep us from exalting ourselves.

Thank you for the heritage of this country. I know we aren’t a “Christian” nation, but we were founded on Christian principles, the chief one being freedom of religion.

Lord, I humble myself before you today. You are God; I am not. I just want to be a vessel through whom you work.

Take care of all the folks in our region who lost loved ones or their homes through the flash floods. Some in our church experienced flooding. I haven’t heard anything. I don’t think the church was flooded. I guess I will find out! Even in that arena, you are taking care of us. Thank you, Jesus.

“Take my life, lead me, Lord;
Make my life useful to Thee” (BH 2008, 540). Amen.
Comments

He Will Do

The verse for today is a significant one in my life.

It takes me back a hundred years (well, not quite, but it feels as if it were that long ago) to my sophomore year at Baylor—toward the end of it. That year ranks up there as one of the toughest of my life.

For some stupid reason, I decided to move off campus into an apartment along with Chuck, Scott, and Carter. None of us had ever lived in an apartment before, and we didn’t realize what we were in for.

Cooking and eating at the top of the list. What a disaster!

I remember sitting at our table one night. All of us were trying to choke down tuna helper. We weren’t doing a good job. And I said, “Well, guys, this isn’t working. From now on, all of us are on our own.” There was immediate agreement. I bought the meal plan at the dorm, and I was good to go for the rest of the year!

But that was just one part of it. In retrospect, the Lord was breaking me. He had (still has) a lot of work to do in that regard.

Another part of the year was that I injured myself playing basketball and fell down the stairs in our apartment the next morning because no one had taught me how to go down stairs with crutches. It is kind of funny to think about it now, but it wasn’t funny that morning.

My fall must have sounded like a semi running into a building. My roommates jumped out of bed. They saw me lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs with my feet up in the air. I was okay. Once they saw that, they helped me to the couch, sighed, and went back to bed.

Well, anyway, all of this and more was preparation for that morning that I felt the call to full-time vocational Christian service. I won’t go into all the details of that story again, but at the end of the time that I felt the Lord dealing with me, it was very vivid. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 came strongly to mind. I’m going to quote it.

"Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Thessalonians 5:24 NASB).

Awesome. Still sends chills up and down my spine just to read that verse. He has indeed proven Himself faithful over the past thirty-five years since that morning at the Cottonwood Apartment Complex in Waco, Texas, May 1978.

Since then, I’ve learned a couple of things about that verse. First, the literal language is very simple. The NASB doctors it up a bit to make it read a little easier, but the word for word translation from the Greek is, “Faithful is he who calls you, he will do.”

Our God is a performer. He leaves nothing to chance. If the Lord calls us to something, He will make sure that he performs.

If I wanted to be a little more legible, I would take the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation: “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, HSCB). That “reads” easier AND I think it is a little more accurate given the context. But the question is: what is the “it”?

Here is another reason why reading multiple translations in Bible study is so helpful. I noticed something in this verse that I have NEVER seen before. Let me quote still another translation:

"Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful" (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24 NLT).

I included verse 23, but the NLT links these verses together and it makes perfect sense.

As Romans 8 reminds, our “call” in the Christian life is not first of all a call to ministry. It is a call for each one of us to look like Jesus in the final analysis. When we see him, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. And what Paul is saying is that the Lord is faithful and he will make IT happen. Praise God!

Back to that early morning in Waco. Was the Spirit off base to bring that passage to mind after I felt a “call” to preach? I don’t believe the Spirit is EVER wrong. Let me say that first of all. But I believe it is “both/and.” My call to preach is part and parcel of the broader call of God in my life.

And, I want to be ready if the Lord calls me again to something. I believe He already has but it is not outside the broader call of God.

That something else is writing. He has proven Himself just as faithful in that arena as all the others. He will do. He will do IT.

Lord, thank you for your faithfulness before that day in 1978 and since then. You are awesome. Without you doing, it would not get done. Lord, continue to do. DO through me today.

“With all my heart
I want to love You, Lord,
And live my life each day to know You more” (BH 2008, 539). Amen.
Comments

Sin Sniffers?

Man, oh man! I can’t ever remember a time in all the years I have lived in Colorado where it has rained this much in successive days. Our usual rainstorms are very light, almost mists, that come in the late afternoons during the Summer and early Fall months. They last for a little while often with thunder and lightning, but they pass on very quickly, and all of a sudden, the clouds are gone! Poof!

But not this storm. It has lasted now for a few days. The rain has been heavy—substantive drops of water that make a “plunk” sound when they hit the roof of the car, almost like hail.

We have also had a lot of flooding in our state, particularly on the north side of town and up toward Boulder and Loveland. Betty sent me an email yesterday telling me that her basement was partially flooded.

A newspaper article quoted an official (somewhere) who said that we are having “biblical” floods. I guess I know what he means, but his comment strikes me as strange. I think he is confusing “unusual” with “biblical.” I don’t know … I won’t try to figure it out.

Two communities—Lyons and Jamestown—have been devastated. I heard yesterday that Lyons was isolated. Flood waters have surrounded this little town and have made it impossible for rescue workers to help people. I hope it is better today, but I hear rain falling outside my window as I sit here this morning. So, I doubt things will improve today. I think it is supposed to rain for another day or so, at least.

Apart from all the tragic elements of this storm, I’m glad to see the rain for several reasons. I think I would have pushed myself too soon and too early to get back on the golf course. These rains make sure THAT doesn’t happen! But, I’m glad for another reason: I have had a lot of opportunity to catch up on my sermon study.

I am starting a new series of sermons in the book of Acts this Sunday. I have preached many sermons from Acts over the years, but I am thankful for a new course of study in this awesome book. This is what I love about God’s Word. Every time one approaches it, the Spirit of God makes it come alive in new and exciting ways.

In addition, I’m grateful that the Spirit of God has given me new impetus in the writing of my second book. A lot to share there … I might do it at some point. I just feel compelled to keep my nose the grindstone.

Anyway, back to 1 Thessalonians—two more shotgun commands—I think they go together. Here they are: "Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21a, 22 NLT).

As I read them this morning, I am interested in the phrase “every kind of evil.” My curiosity got the best of me. I looked up the word “kind” in my Bible software. The Greek word “eidos” means “form.” This is not too helpful. The KJV uses the word “appearance.” I actually think that is a good word here.

As I was perusing a list of entries in Google about this verse, I came across an essay in www.bible.org. I’m not sure how reliable this website is. But the title of the essay is, “1 Thessalonians 5:22—The Sin Sniffer’s Catch-All Verse.” Humm. As I read this article, the writer basically says that legalists use this verse to make sure that Christians don’t enjoy our life in Christ. Maybe I am caricaturing his comments a bit. Read them for yourself.

I disagree with his assertions. I don’t think our problem is stifling “fun.” The Christians I know (myself at the top of the list) are too easily “suckered” into evil, as the enemy is out to trip us up.

What is the answer to this “deer in head lights” approach to the Christian life? I believe it is not a measured and cautious approach that creeps along afraid of evil. I believe it is boldness! I believe it is the active pursuit of the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

When I am immersed in GOOD, I find it a lot more difficult to fall prey to the various forms of evil. This verse reminds me that our temptations are often very subtle, and call us just to take a small baby step off the trail. This seems rather innocent, but we continue with these baby steps and pretty soon, we are wondering what happened because we are miles off the trail.

This is more common than “sin sniffing,” in my humble and accurate opinion (the word “accurate” just shows that I need to work on humility. Ha).

Lord, thank you for these words to the wise. I pray for wisdom and discernment and boldness. Instead of cautious measuring each step, help me—help everyone who is reading this blog today—to stride boldly and confidently down the straight and narrow, for your honor and glory!

“Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide” (BH 2008, 538). Amen.
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Prophetic Utterances

Before I talk about this subject, I want to say a word or two about yesterday.

First, late in the afternoon, Bob (our Director of Missions for the Mile High Association) along with Randy (in a similar role in the Rogers Baptist Association in Oklahoma) along with three pastors and one staff member from that Association. They were here for a few days on a tour to meet with churches in the Denver Metro area to see how they could help coordinate help from churches in Oklahoma.

A couple of years ago, Colorado Baptists established a partnership with Southern Baptists in Oklahoma.

This is the next step in this partnership. These guys were here to assess the needs of existing churches.

Anyway, the six of us got to sit down for a visit late in the afternoon. We got to share our stories and meet one another. At one point, as the meeting was winding down, Bob tossed a question out, “If any of you guys were called to be Minister of Missions at First Southern, what would you advise John to do?”

Bob answered, “Well, I would say start small. Go with the folks who want to be involved. We aren’t the Marines. We don’t let those who don’t want to do anything stop the rest of us.” He proceeded to describe how his congregation got folks involved in outreach and missions. If my memory serves me, he said that out of a church of 150, over fifty folks are actively involved and committed.

Not a bad percentage, I would say. I would take it.

It was a good word. Plus, I was just encouraged getting the chance to meet these guys. I told them that I appreciated their visit and offer for help.

One more thing that came out of the meeting is that Bob said, “We need to get some guys together and go take a tour of your church fields in Oklahoma. We are not just on the receiving end here. This is a reciprocal relationship.” Good deal. I would like to be involved in that. We will see what happens.

The thing that motivated me to ask Bob to have this “preacher tour” stop at First Southern was a comment that Bob made to me as we were talking about it. He stated, “John, our task of engaging lostness is so large that we can’t do it alone.”

What an awesome and revolutionary comment!

Here I am along with other guys that serve churches on the north side of Denver bemoaning our lack of laborers. What would happen if somehow, we joined forces? I need to pray about this.

When we speak of this, we always face territorialism and selfishness, people asking, “Why should we help that other church to grow? We need to that ourselves and for ourselves!” I understand that comment to a degree, but that attitude is the problem!

Anyway, with this meeting and everything we talked about on my mind and heart, we had our first go around of our new Wednesday night ministry called “Refuel.” Our goal is to provide a stopping point of refreshment and encouragement for folks in the middle of the week. We had a dozen or so people at the church plus the youth met at Jeremy’s house. I was a little disappointed in the response from the church. Honestly, I’m not sure about Wednesday nights, not sure that the church as a whole feels the need to be involved. And, if ultimately we see that, then we won’t have it any longer, but I am not convinced about that at this point.

We had a few people but I was glad to see them and determined to teach them and try to encourage them anyway. It went well, I believe. We will see what happens in the course of the Fall.

Now, to the fourth shotgun command of the final verses of 1 Thessalonians 5, an intriguing command indeed: "Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said" (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21a NLT).

Interesting. What is Paul talking about here? Well, the word “prophecy” has a variety of meanings in the contemporary church, depending on who you talk to.

Most people look at it as some kind of “prediction” about the future or creative linkage of current events with references in scripture, kind of a Houdini act. I’ll tell you. That type of slight of hand sure gets a crowd. It will garner some cash from viewers on TV.

The Spring prior to my cancer diagnosis, I announced a series in Revelation. Some folks in the church lit up like a Christmas tree. “Oh, wow. We are starting a study on prophecy!” Now, this is an accurate comment. The book of Revelation calls itself a “prophecy,” (1:3). But I think the folks that wanted to get an interpretation of current events got disappointed rather quickly, but Revelation is NOT that.

Prophecy in its technical definition does have an element of prediction in it--FORETELLING. And, I do believe in very limited ways, this still occurs. Agabus is an example in the book of Acts.

Last night, after Refuel, I got a chance to visit with Ilamarques for a few minutes. He was telling me about his congregation and said, “Early last year, the Lord led me to preach a sermon in which I said that 2013 was going to be a year of growth for us, and at the time, I did feel that the message was rather prophetic.” I affirm this. This is a legitimate example of foretelling.

But having said all of that, I believe the prophecy in the vast majority of cases is about FORTHTELLING. It is simply a message from God’s word that has immediate application to those who hear it.

So, I think Paul is basically telling the church in Thessalonica: be careful to be obedient to everything the Lord tells you do in sermons, being careful to make sure it is indeed a message from God. This is certainly not very glamorous and won’t attract a crowd, but it is what it is. I want to expend my creativity not coming up with “prophecies of the future,” but obeying God RIGHT NOW.

This would keep most of us busy enough. We don’t need to worry about predicting the future. How about the challenge of living for Jesus in the present?

Lord, thank you for Bob, Randy, Graydon, Scott, Phil, and Bob. I lift up these brothers and the churches/associations they serve in the great state of Oklahoma. Thank you for their visit and for this partnership.

Thank you also for the folks that came to Refuel last night. I pray for each of them that they were indeed (I seem to be using that word a lot today—INDEED) REFUELED.

Lord, help me today to be immediately responsive to everything you tell me to do.

I love you, Jesus.

“Master, Thou callest, and this I reply,
‘Ready and willing, Lord, here am I’” (BH 2008, 537). Amen.
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Don't Pull an Archie Bunker

I guess I’d better explain THAT title. I was never much of an “All in the Family” fan. It was okay, I guess, but there were some classic lines in the show that persist to this day, even though most if not all of the younger folks in the church have never seen it.

First, let me quote the shotgun command for today, and after reading several versions, I picked the New Living Translation: "Do not stifle the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19, NLT).

Do you remember what Archie used to say to his wife Edith as she would try to get a word in edge-wise? “Edith, stifle yourself!” This makes a rather funny line in sitcom, but when it comes to the gathered body of believers, it is on the other end of the spectrum.

The more familiar command is, “Do not quench the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit is a fire. He is speaking (Edith). There are actions and attitudes that can throw a bucket of cold water on what the Spirit is doing.

This anticipates the direction that my study in the book of Acts is taking.

I am starting this new series from Acts on Sunday, and through the study, I am focusing on what this marvelous historical account tells us about the relation of the Holy Spirit to the church. Of course, Luke, in his two-volume story of Jesus stands out among the gospel writers because of his emphasis on the Holy Spirit, not only in Acts, but also in the Gospel.

Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here and preach my sermon for Sunday. But I will say this: when we do talk about the Holy Spirit (not often enough in my opinion, I am convicted to say), it is usually in terms of the Spirit’s work in the life of the individual believer. That is all well and good.

However, I think we neglect a major aspect of His work when we fail to talk about the work of the Spirit IN and THROUGH the church. This will be my focus for the Fall as I preach through Acts. I’m excited to explore this. I think it will be even more convicting, just because we neglect it, just as we neglect the Holy Spirit.

Back to 1 Thessalonians 5:19, I believe that Paul is giving this command (like all the others in this shotgun list) to the CHURCH. What does it mean for a CHURCH to quench the Holy Spirit?

Wow, I’m sitting here and asking the Lord to show me. Certainly, there is a lot that could go on a list, but I am thinking about one thing.

I think someone can quench the Holy Spirit’s work in the corporate context when he or she has a bad attitude in a worship service.

Let me paint a scenario here: the worship leader stands up and asks the congregation to join him in singing a song he/she does not know or does not LIKE. This person folds his or her arms across his/her chest and says, “Oh, here we go again. Why does he pick those songs that we don’t know? I don’t like it and I am not going to sing! I’m just going to stand here with an angry expression on my face and endure this until we get to a song I like.” Something like that.

Across our denomination on a Sunday morning, I wonder how often that scenario is repeated?

So, here is the deal with that: that person, because he or she doesn’t like a song, is quenching the Holy Spirit!

Things are so twisted. Where do we get off allowing what someone else does to affect our worship of God? I’ll tell you what. I can worship him anywhere. I don’t need circumstances to be in a perfect line in my worship of God. And I’m not being prideful in that statement.

I can worship Him anywhere. Even in a hospital bed. So can others.

I visited Juanita yesterday as she prepared for surgery (I have not heard how it went) and we laughed and joked as Ray her husband and Demetrius her son stood there. Then, we prayed together. What is that? WORSHIP! It was not in a church building. There were no pews. No music. But we still worshipped God!

My point is: we do more damage in the corporate context when our attitude and actions don’t honor God. How about this? How about an immature believer looking over at this disgruntled person who is standing there with an angry look on his/her face? What does that teach about how to worship?

I’m going to chase a rabbit for a second and make an honest confession: I love music. I really do—all types of Christian music that honors the Lord, but I am really tired of the way that we allow Satan to twist this wonderful gift into something that quenches the Holy Spirit. On some Sunday, this “bucket of cold water” in the church I serve is palpable. I can feel it. I can sense it. It weighs.

And, the human side of me says, “Oh, just forget it. I wish we could do away with music altogether and become a Church of Christ.” I’m sick of it. I really am.

Oh, boy. I’d better say this: WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET RID OF MUSIC! Don’t worry. I’m just being honest and giving an example of what quenching the Holy Spirit is.

Oh, and another thing, I don’t think any of us wants to be in a position to do this. Grave consequences await those who quench God’s Spirit. Oh, man. Don’t go there. I’ll just leave it at that.

Father, I thank for the fire of the Spirit you gave the church. Without the Holy Spirit, there is NO CHURCH. I pray that today, my attitude and actions would come nowhere near quenching YOU. Nowhere near it.

Take care of the American church when it comes to music. Take care of the church I serve. Teach us all what worship is really all about.

“Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart” (BH 2008, 536). Amen.
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"Finding" the Will of God

This age-old challenge is mislabeled, in my opinion. The will of God is not lost; it is not a question of hide-and-go-seek. More about this in a moment.

Today is a significant day for Don in our congregation. He starts his chemo treatments today. I’ve called him a couple of times and left messages. He has not returned my calls. I understand.

It is a daunting challenge, and you never really know what to expect. Each person’s regimen is different. I spent enough time in the chemo room watching other folks enough to know that. The bottom line: it is not fun.

In Don’s case, since he was diagnosed, he has gone through a lot more testing and the ups and downs of possible treatment options that didn’t work out. It was the epitome of a roller coaster ride. And all along, as we did talk, we both agreed, “Let’s get this show on the road. What is the problem here?”

Well, chemo is such severe treatment that the doctors have to make sure you can handle it. That was the situation with Don.

I just have to tell all of you that my heart goes out to him. I think about him a lot and pray for him as the Lord brings him to mind.

Next to my pastor friend Rick who went home to be with the Lord, this one hits close to home with me.

And it is one of those things where you want to be more prominent and more involved, but I of all people remember how life gets simplified when you are going through this type of thing. You just focus on your family and making it through each day.

What was a little unusual for me is that I had writing. It helped me process what was going on while enabling me to share things with folks. Looking back on it, though, I think it was as much about me as it was about ministering to others. Still is. The Lord knows what we need.

While I am in this neighborhood, please also pray for Juanita in our church. She is having surgery today as well. I’m not exactly sure what the operation is for. And, to be honest, I’m always a little hesitant to ask a woman but maybe her husband Ray will tell me when I get to the hospital today.

Juanita has been a significant person to me because she had the same kind of cancer that I am dealing with. I still remember very clearly the day she came by the church office to tell Betty and me that she was in remission! She was jumping up and down, and we celebrated with her. She has been cancer-free ever since! I praise God for this. It was and still is a HUGE ENCOURAGEMENT. Please join me in praying for her.

Anyway, back to the topic for today—“finding” the will of God. This phrase is usually used in relation to some decision that we need to make such as what job or what college to choose. It is often a decision between entities of equal moral value.

In other words, we don’t have to try to find God’s will if we are talking about the decision of whether or not to rob a filling station or take a job at the factory down the street. This is patently NOT what this is about. It relates to deciding whether to take the job at the insurance company or the job at the factory.

But, that having been said, I still don’t like the phrase “finding the will of God.” I believe that the will of God (as we have already seen in 1 Thessalonians 4) is a moral issue and it is clearly delineated. The next “shotgun” command in 1 Thessalonians 5 spells it out:

"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB).

That is about as clear as it gets, huh? The will of God is not about some decision we make; it has to do about our moral lives (chapter four) and our attitude in each and every situation. No matter what I “decide,” I’m still responsible for giving thanks IN EVERYTHING. This does not tell us to give thanks FOR everything, but IN everything, not matter what happens and no matter how I feel.

By the way, back to the whole issue of deciding between jobs, I don’t believe it is a matter of finding the will of God. I believe that the Lord gives each of us a brain, and we need to weigh all the options, and just make a decision.

And, as a brother told me a few years ago as we were discussing this topic, “if you find out that you made the wrong choice when you choose a job, just quit and do something else.” When we are talking about moral equivalents (as it relates to a job, for example), I believe this fits in the category of human responsibility.

The will of God relates to morals and ethics and there is no “finding” involved. It is all right there in the Word.

Lord, thank you for showing me what you want from me today. I choose joy. I choose not to stop praying. And I choose to give thanks IN everything today, no matter what it is.

I lift up Don and Juanita. I love them both. Give the doctors skill and wisdom as they treat/operate today. Help them to thank you IN chemotherapy and IN surgery—two big challenges right there.

“O the pure delight of a single hour
That before the throne I spend”—another hour, another moment with you, Jesus. Awesome. (BH 2008, 535). Amen.
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A Long Distance Thank You

Yesterday morning, via email, I received a message from Phil. This brother travels the world in association with his ministry. It is called IMD International. He spends a lot of time in India and surrounding regions. In fact, that is where he is right now.

Flashback for a second. Shortly after I was diagnosed, Phil was in Myanmar, and he shared my need with Pastor Moses and his wife Sharon. They committed to pray for me and urged the congregation they serve to do so as well.

Back then (and still), it was a huge encouragement. To think that folks clear across the world who have never met me would even care, let alone pray, is amazing.

Well, several months ago, Phil came to First Southern to talk about a need associated with Moses and Sharon’s congregation. I have mentioned it in this blog before.

They have an orphanage and a part of it where they house women needed a new roof as the monsoon season approached. They needed approximately $2,000 or so.

Somehow, I felt led to challenge our church to help with this need. As I was talking about it in the office one day with Betty and Mary Ann, both of them challenged me further, “We can do this.” THE WHOLE THING?

Sure enough, we did! People gave. They were very willing to do so. We sent the money with Phil who took a trip there a few months ago. He gave Moses and Sharon the money. They paid for the construction, and sent us pictures. I think I still have them in a file somewhere. All of that happened a couple of months ago.

Now, Phil is back there. And he made a sixteen-second video. You can see it on my Pastor John Talbert Facebook page. It is awesome.

I showed it yesterday, and everyone in our fellowship applauded. I wish we could make a video and send it to them. We will see about that.

I don’t know … It is hard to fathom the magnitude of what this means. A church halfway around the world is thanking us!

As I go back to my parable of the tree—this is certainly not evidence of a dead church, is it?

I think that parable is just a very strong warning to all of us. That is how I respond to it. I hope others will. It makes me want to trust God more and pray more and let the Spirit work through me MORE.

This brings me back to the shotgun commands at the end of 1 Thessalonians. We looked at THE CHOICE yesterday. Today, I would, as a good Baptist preacher, call this one THE CHALLENGE. (I hate alliteration and go out of my way to avoid it normally, but today is an exception).

I’m going to quote it from two versions. My quotes won’t take much space.

"Never stop praying" (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NLT).

"Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly];" (1 Thessalonians 5:17 AMP).

These two versions bring out the true meaning of this command, I believe. It is NOT about praying all the time. We should do THAT. But the challenge here is NOT TO QUIT praying.

THAT is the CHALLENGE.

I believe a lot of people just give up when they don’t see an immediate answer to their prayers. And as a result, they are less likely to pray when the next “need” comes up.

I wonder today. I wonder if Abraham gave up praying for a son and believing that he and Sarah would ever have a child. It was a remote possibility when they first received the promise. He was 75. She was 65. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who had children at THAT age.

Think about 25 years later! Are you kidding me?

Here is what I think: I think they both stopped praying about it and it slipped their minds. I mean—just the physical impossibility of it, right?

How does this factor in with the command at the end of 1 Thessalonians, if indeed that did happen? Who knows?

I guess I am asking because that is where I am with a couple of things that I have prayed about. I haven’t forgotten, necessarily, but I don’t pray about them as often or with the same fervor AND sometimes go months and months without even thinking of them.

Maybe that is what happened with Abraham and Sarah? Maybe they didn’t forget, but their praying lost steam and impetus.

I don’t know. I think this command is critical and it is the biggest challenge we face. I guess what it does for me is challenge me to think about what I have prayed about for years and continue to appeal to the Lord.

Lord, I do know this: you never forget ANYTHING I have prayed about EVER, no matter how long ago I prayed it or if I have forgotten. Thank you for this.

Thank you for Moses and Sharon. Thank you for the church and the ministry and orphanage. Thank you for their THANK YOU. Thank you for the privilege of allowing us to minister to them. We don’t deserve any kudos for this. All the praise and honor and glory goes to you.

“Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love” (BH 2008, 534). Amen.
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The Choice

Yesterday was a tough day, not physically, but spiritually. I am not going to go into detail, but I’m thankful that the Lord brought us through it. One of the weird things about the day was that, as I sat down to do my final sermon prep yesterday evening (this is usually about a two hour process), I just could not stay awake. It was a battle. The Lord eventually worked me through it, but …

I consider myself an expert of sorts in the art of staying awake while studying. Ha. I learned so many ways to do it while I was in the PhD program at Southwestern.

I think what really spurred me on was the sight of one of my friends.

At Southwestern, there is a corner of the library on the second floor that is reserved rather inauspiciously for PhD students. It is a rather non-ornate place filled with carrels—little enclosed areas with a desk and a shelf in each. This is a place provided for study.

Not many guys used it all that much. I did. I kind of liked my carrel. But the problem was that it was a tough place in which to stay awake. I don’t know why. It was usually kind of warm back there … I don’t know.

One day, as I was fighting it, I just got up and walked over to the next row to see if a friend was there. Sure enough, I saw his feet and knocked on the little swinging door for his carrel. Oops! I was kind of shocked because he was hunched over his desk sound asleep with his shirt off!

I nudged him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I just got tired of fighting it and it is too hot in here so what is a guy supposed to do?”

Now that isn’t all that bad, is it? But somehow, I made the decision that I was going to figure it out. Someday, I will share some of the things that I did to stay awake, probably not all that earth shaking. I’m sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat with anticipation. The thing is: I’m not sure that a lot of people don’t come to libraries to sleep! They ought to put beds in them and charge rent!

Well, anyway, I divert. I think last night was more of a spiritual than physical battle. I’m also learning to sense the difference.

All of that sets the context for my reading of the final verses of 1 Thessalonians. In a rather unusual move for Paul, he ends the book with a series of short, pithy, “shotgun” commands (the use of that term is rather unfortunate but it is not original with me. I remember reading it in a commentary a few years ago). What I am learning about them is that, just because they are short and sweet, does NOT mean that they do not merit a lot of careful attention. And I think the first commandment is a case in point. Here it is:

"Always be joyful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, NLT).

This little two-word (in the Greek) commandment is significant. It tells us that joy is fundamentally a CHOICE I make every day of my life. I think we tend to confuse happiness (which is based on happenings) with joy (which is an attitude of the heart).

With happiness, when my happenings are not positive, it affects me. With joy, my happenings can be horribly bad, and I can still have joy.

But what exactly is it? Is it some giddy emotion? I always think of a young woman in a church we were in who signed her letters, “PTL.” She was a very unhappy person who tried to trump up happiness with that little expression. In other words, “I am very unhappy. My life is miserable, but Praise the Lord ANYHOW” in a kind of forced bravado.

That is NOT Christian joy. The fact that comes to mind is that joy is part and parcel of the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit of God within us creates this joy if we will allow Him to do so.

I believe that joy is a deep-down inner confidence that God is going to work things out—maybe not always the way I would like but the way He wants. How about that? Certainly no technical distinction but I think it works.

And, one more crucial part of that little command—this is the most difficult part (impossible, really, from a human standpoint)—ALWAYS. In every situation, I pray that I would choose to allow the Spirit to work joy in me and out of me.

Lord, today, I CHOOSE to allow Your Spirit to give me joy. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Where is that? I’ll find the reference later. For now—do it, Lord. Do it IN ME today.

“Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word,
Set my soul afire, Lord,
Set my soul afire” (BH 2008, 533). Amen.

P. S. Still looking for the picture. I may have it later this morning.
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A Parable that hits a Little Too Close to Home

As the work started rather early Thursday morning, I felt a strong leading from the Lord to grab my cell phone with its camera and take some pictures. As I took them, I remembered another picture someone took in the Spring of 1976.

Later on Thursday, I reminded Marilyn of that latter picture. She got this gleam in her eye that told me somehow, I think that picture will find its way to Facebook sometime soon. Ah, not sure how I feel about that … but I decided to beat her to the punch. If I find it, I’m going to post it myself with a LOT of explanation.

You are probably wondering at this point, “What on earth is in that picture?” Well, I can’t find it on my computer right now. I know I burned a disc of old pictures. I will find it and put it up later today.

There are two parts to the picture that are significant. I will explain the MAIN part when I put it up. I will explain the secondary part right now. The picture I am referring to is a picture of me in our backyard. It is taken from the house out toward the back fence.

One of the very cool things about this house that I have lived in basically since I was four years old is that we have no neighbors behind us, and we never will. Why? Because the Denver Water Board owns the land, and it is just a field.

Years ago, when I first started to learn to play golf, I would hit golf balls over that fence and into the field. Then, I jumped the fence to retrieve them.

After doing this for a while (months), I figured out a better way. I found an old broom, jumped the fence, and stuck the handle in the ground about 100 yards out (or so I figured). That was my flag—I had a target! I imagined myself on 18 at Augusta in the final round of the Masters leading Arnie by one shot.

I spent hours hitting balls to “18.” All well and good, right? Well, not exactly …

One day, as I was retrieving golf balls on my “practice green,” I noticed that a dark green automobile entered the gate to this field about 250 yards away. It paused for a moment and then diverted off the gravel road that bisects the field and sped toward me. Yikes!

The car pulled up beside me and the man inside rolled down the window, “What are you doing?” Gulp.

“I’m just hitting some golf balls out here.”

“Who are you? And where do you live?”

I have to be honest at this point. I had one of the biggest internal debates I have ever had AT THAT POINT. I wanted to say, “David Westcott” and point at his house next to mine. David was my neighbor and younger and maybe this man could haul David to San Quentin for life.

“My name is John, and I live in THAT house.”

“Well, this field is private property. You are not allowed out here. I’m giving you a warning. Don’t come out here again.” And he turned the car, kicking up some dust in my face, and headed back to the gravel road and on with his business.

Well, that put the fear of God in me—literally and metaphorically.

Why did I share that story? It is not really germane at this point except as background.

Shortly after that, my mom decided to plant some evergreen trees along the back fence in our yard. Over the years, they have grown and grown and grown. Now, they are huge and spectacular, I must say.

Well, recently, we noticed that one of those trees was looking a little anemic. We called a tree “expert” who told us that it was dead. So, a couple of days ago, we had someone come by who cut it down. It was quite a project, but I took some pictures with my phone and I will post them this morning on my Facebook page. You can see the progress of this project.

Anyway, going back to the title—a parable? How so?

This tree was about forty years old. It has been taking up space along our back fence for all those years, but in the course of time, it died, and we had to chop it down. As we were talking about it later in the day, Marilyn said, “I think we ought to plant another tree or trees in that spot.”

“Another evergreen?” I asked.

“No, I don’t want to plant another evergreen. I think we ought to put an aspen tree there.” Humm. Good idea.

What is the parable here? Didn’t Jesus use a similar analogy in Luke 13 about a farmer and a tree that did not bear fruit? The owner of the vineyard told the tenant farmer to cut the tree down. The farmer replied, “Give it one more year” (Luke 13:6-9). Remember that story?

Honestly, as all this was going on, I just could not get the church out of my mind.

This is a perennial struggle I have been dealing with over the past couple of years, especially since I got cancer. Churches, like trees, have a life cycle. They get planted. They grow for a period of time, and then they die—for one reason or another. Each tree is different. The two other evergreen trees along the back fence of our yard are thriving better than ever, but that one died.

Some churches grow and thrive for a long time. Some don’t.

I just wonder where First Southern is in the life cycle. I fear …

You know, I wonder how people in our fellowship would respond to this parable. If I heard it, I would be angry. “This church isn’t dead. Look at the people who are here. I’m here. What are you talking about? You are crazy!” I guess I would hope people would respond that way. I fear that some would just shrug their shoulders. Oh, well.

I hope people wouldn’t respond that way. I hope.

Well, that tree that we chopped down and someone hauled away a couple of days ago did not die in one day or one month or even a year. It was a gradual, almost unnoticeable process at first. Over time, we observed it and worked hard with feedings and cultivations and trimmings and a lot of work to try to keep it going, but none of these efforts worked, and it died.

And now, there is an empty space there, and we want to fill it, but not with the type of tree that was there before—a completely different tree.

All of this has given me insight into the Lord’s perspective. Each church has been allowed space literally and spiritually in God’s yard. There is a reasonable expectation of growth, and as John 15 reminds us, God is the Master Gardener. He cultivates. He prunes. He does a lot of work—as any good gardener would do—to maintain his garden, but the vines or the evergreens have a “responsibility” as well—to stay in touch with the life source. If somehow that life connection is severed, we are talking about a bonfire and some empty space for a while.

Ultimately, the Lord will find “a vine” that will bear fruit for that big empty space.

One of my recurring nightmares is driving by the spot on Washington Street where the building is located and seeing a 7-11. And I always wake up at that moment with a start—what?

The church is NOT a building, I know.

That probably won’t ever happen. I hope.
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With Jesus Forever

Well, after advocating for a singular focus on the Lord in light of the imminent return of the Lord, I got totally wrapped up and engrossed in that game yesterday. It started late because of a weather delay and it lasted well past 10:30 PM here. This is WAY past my usual bedtime. But I was determined and very glad to stay up and watch it till the last second ticked off the clock.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with cheering for one’s favorite team (especially if that team happens to be the Broncos—ha), but there is a line in there somewhere.

I went out to lunch yesterday with my mom and sister, and just about everyone we saw had some sort of Bronco jersey or hat or whatever. I bought a new Bronco hat as well. How many of them do I already have? Oh, well. Again, nothing wrong with that, necessarily. Well, I don’t know …

Just as an aside here—this was hard to explain to some of my college friends who asked me why I was not (and still am not) a real fan of college football. Now, I say that, but I do love Baylor football and try to watch the games, of course, but still not as much as pro football.

Here in Colorado, when it comes to football, it is all about the Broncos, and it always has been. CU and CSU and Air Force have had some good teams over the years, but the college game here still cannot hold a candle to the fervor over the Broncos.

It is different in other places of course. I’m sure if this were Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, et cetera, there might have been more college fans, and I might have been one of them, but that just hasn’t been the case.

But back to yesterday—this town was totally immersed in and consumed with that game. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it just take over as it did yesterday.

I thought it was also significant that Wes Welker commented on it as well. In one of the fifty articles I read about the game last night, he was quoted as saying (something like): “I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole career.”

As my mom and sis and I were watching all the preliminaries to the game, I commented to them that it felt like ancient Rome. It seemed as if the gladiators would be coming out into the arena to fight the lions.

Every year, the hoopla surrounding the NFL seems to get more and more lavish with fireworks and concerts and Ryan Seacrest (He gave the opening introduction at Sports Authority Field last night. Are you kidding me?) and banners outside the stadium and on and on and on.

Again, nothing wrong with all of that, necessarily, except that I think it is ultimately going to be our downfall, just as it was with ancient Rome.

All of this stands in contrast, stark contrast, with what Paul is talking about in the final chapter of 1 Thessalonians. I think this gives insight into why it is so difficult to get people focused on the spiritual and eternal. And I am definitely including myself in this group—at the top of the list—but also Christians in church on Sunday during Bronco season.

All of this is so immediate and ORANGE and all consuming. Where is any thought of Jesus and his imminent return and eternity? It seems miles and miles away.

But Paul makes a great statement among many in verse ten: "Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever" (1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT).

The Bible does tell us some things about what happens to us when we die (some of this information is in chapters four and five of 1 Thessalonians), but still, there is a lot of mystery. I think the teachings of other groups and churches complicate it. Roman Catholics believe in purgatory. I certainly am no expert on this teaching (and, I don’t want to be), but I believe it is some kind of waiting room for the dead until their final destiny gets decided.

I don’t believe the Bible teaches this, but what exactly happens to believers when they die? I’ve had more than my share of Christians over the years ask that question. This verse is as good an answer as any. My response is, “I really don’t know for sure, but here is what I know, when you or your loved one dies, he or she is with Jesus. Wherever that is, wherever he is, that is where you and I will be, and we will be with Him forever.” Whether I am awake or asleep—this is Paul’s metaphor for life and death—I get to be with Him. I am with Him. That’s it.

That’s really all I need to know, right? Christians will be with Him, and of course, the corollary: those who aren’t Christians WON’T be with Him. This gives us impetus for our mission, or it should …

Lord, thanks for a really fun day and evening here in our town. Thank you for the fun of cheering for our team.

Somehow, I do know however that all of our hoopla over this game is way out of whack. I am particularly vulnerable to all of this.

Keep us focused on what is really important.

I thank you for the privilege of salvation: I get to be with you, whether I am alive or dead, awake or asleep—WITH JESUS FOREVER. Amen.
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"What is your goal for the church?"

Jim was sitting at his desk. He looked me in the eye and asked the question, “John, what is your goal for the church?” Humm. No one has ever really asked me that direct question.

Let me back up a minute. Yesterday was a really good but extremely busy day on several fronts. I actually think I overdid it a bit. I can tell because I didn’t sleep well (too tired to sleep) and my hernia surgery “area” is a little sore. So, I am going to take it easy today, and I have enough study to keep me busy.

But my check-up with the nurse went very well. She said I was doing great. I asked her about timeframes for recovery. (Of course, I will just say it. I wondered when I could get back on the golf course before the snow flies). She said, “Well, John, no lifting of anything over twenty-five pounds for two more weeks, but you can walk or ride a bike or go on the treadmill—if you don’t do any of those very hard. I would give golf another week.”

“Huh? What? One week? You mean--I don’t have to wait three or four?”

“Oh, no,” she went on, “Recent research has shown us that it doesn’t take as long as we used to think to recover—two to four weeks. Some football players who have this injury—they are back on the field in two weeks!” Yikes!

But I cannot begin to tell you how glad I was to hear this as I walked out of that office. Great news!

The longer I live in this beautiful state, the more I think that September (apart from the ominous nature of it as a precursor to Fall and thus Winter) is one of the most awesome months of the year, not just for golf. I’m glad that I am going to be able to be out in it and enjoy it more than I thought I was.

And again, I’m not going to go crazy.

Before I left the Lutheran Hospital campus, I stopped at the Hospice Center on the south end of the property to visit Mary Ann’s mom. Virginia has been there for several days now. Before I went into her room, the nurse said, “Virginia is not having a good day mentally today.” I don’t think those were her exact words, but it is the gist of what she was saying.

I did not perceive this AT ALL. Virginia recognized me immediately. She said, “John, I just want to go home.” And she wasn’t talking about any geographical location on this planet, either. We prayed and as I was leaving, I added, “Hope to see you soon, Virginia. If not here, there.” She smiled. I honestly don’t think I have ever said that to anyone before. I don’t think I had the courage.

Well, anyway, after a couple more stops (I still had not been to the church office), I walked into Jim’s office at Community of Faith United (COFU) on Huron Street. It was literally crawling with folks and activity. Great to see.

Jim and I had made an appointment to get an update on COFU and to see how we could continue to work together. That’s when Jim asked the question. A very good one, I might add.

When he asked it, I hesitated a bit because I’m not sure that “my goals” for the church really matter. I would like to believe that I am leading the church to meet God’s goals!

But, in the split second of hesitation, I realized that his question had to do with VISION. I believe vision (though certainly not infallible like the Bible) comes from God.

My answer came out rather easily and I was surprised, “Well, Jim, we are in a re-visioning process. We are transitioning out of some traditional perspectives of the suburban church, which in effect asks the community to help her out by joining and families bringing their two and a half kids along with their money to support the church. I think it is time for the church to ask the community how she can help it. These days, we have to earn our keep, so to speak. I mean--if FSBC Northglenn were to close her doors tomorrow, would it matter to the community? We would miss our little religious routines (and I was not demeaning worship and fellowship and Bible study—but this is what these activities tend to become for some) but what about folks in the community? What about the city of Northglenn? Would they miss us? Do we matter?”

Jim seemed to gravitate to what I said. We had a great conversation on several levels. I look forward to what the Lord is going to do. We will see.

The passage for today—primarily a call to holiness in my opinion—adds urgency to all of this. Here it is:

"For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation" (I Thessalonians 5:5-8, NLT).

Did you notice the “double entendre”? First, we belong to the day. The metaphor of light and darkness is common in Paul’s writings and the New Testament as a whole. When Paul says that we are “children of the light and of the day,” he is talking about our character. If God is Light, then our lives ought to match His essential nature and not correspond to darkness—a reference to the world.

By the way, a great aspect of “darkness” is being oblivious to anything else going on except my immediate life, hence the allusion in verse three to everything being peaceful and secure. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of Christians fall in this category. They never think about spiritual or future stuff.

Second, when Paul says, “We belong to the day,” I believe he is referencing the Second Coming.

Tonight, the regular season of the NFL begins. This is the DAY. Everyone in Denver knows this.

But for Christians, our DAY has not occurred yet. Our DAY is what the prophets called The Day of the Lord. Everything we do and everything we say should be oriented, focused, and geared toward that Day. We need clear heads and clean hearts and don’t forget—the armor.

Lord, thank you for your plans and purposes for the church I serve. Take how I answered Jim and sift it. I submit my goals and plans to you. Whatever God.

Just help us to be DAY people. Come, Lord Jesus. Come today, even if it means we don’t get a chance to beat the Ravens and avenge that playoff loss last January.

That last sentence confirms that I need your grace to sell out to DAY living.

“A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground” (BH 2008, 532). Amen.
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Militant Advocacy for Homosexuals

Do you remember the story of the bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple? As it turns out, as a result of that decision, the Christian couple who own the business have been threatened, harassed, and hounded. They have decided to shut down their store.

I found an article the other day that stated that they have gone out of business. You can find the article in www.TheBlaze.com. The title of the article gives you an idea of the vitriol they have faced. It is “’Bible-Thumping…B**ch’: Bakers Who Refused to Make Gay Couple’s Wedding Cake Shut Down Their Shop Following Threats, Anger.” The article says that the business will be “transitioning” to be in the couple’s home in Oregon.

This whole thing bothers me… deeply.

Really? Is this where we are in our country? I guess so.

What is the percentage of the gay/lesbian population in our country? Is it something like one or two percent? And yet, this minority and those who support them are having more and more of a voice.

And, in this instance, a THREATENING voice.

Have we fallen so far in our country that people who choose to operate their business as they choose (this is still a free country, I THOUGHT) get threatened and maligned for making a decision.

I personally applaud their stand.

And, I want to carry this a step further. Having said that, even though I vehemently disagree with gay marriage (those two words will NEVER go together), if a gay couple wants to get “married” because the laws in their state allow it (that is another issue), then go for it. Find a baker. Have a cake. Whatever.

Why berate and attack someone who does not go along with it?

I’ll tell you what: if I did that, my name would be splashed all over the paper and I would be run out of town.

But how does this happen from the same group that expects the rest of us to be tolerant of them?

Again, Christians get attacked for standing up for their beliefs. The title of the article says it all.

Christians are now “Bible thumpers.” I seem to hear that expression more and more. What does it mean exactly? Does it mean that they are so adamant in their belief in the Bible that they preach it and proclaim it and hold it up before others? What is wrong with that?

Whenever I hear this term, I am reminded of Charles Stanley. When he preaches, he holds his open Bible in one hand. It must be a “used” leather version because he can hold it up and turned back in his hand. Often, during his messages, he lifts it up to read from it or point to it as he preaches.

I love this.

I guess he is a Bible thumper.

And then the other word in the title—“B**ch. I think I know what the two *’s stand for, but come on!

Once again, our twisted world confuses the difference between taking a stand against an evil in our culture while at the same actually loving someone engaged in the evil we stand against. As believers, we can and should take a stand against homosexuality and sexual perversion of all types, but continue to reach out to people who need Jesus, whatever their lifestyle.

I’m sure, in the history of our country, gays and lesbians have been berated and threatened. There is nothing right about that, but it does not justify the practice in return.

This whole thing is so twisted. More and more states are legalizing gay marriage. This very vocal minority and those who support them have such a voice.

What about Christians? This is my burden as I sit here this morning. Where is the church of Jesus Christ? Where is our boldness and advocacy for the truth of the gospel? More and more believers seem to be silent and content to sit in the background as our culture shifts more and more to look like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The passage for today lends even more urgency to our task. Paul continues to talk about the Second Coming in chapter five of 1 Thessalonians:

"Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, ‘Everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 NLT).

Who are the people who are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure”? I’ve always read that to think it is the world. Now, I wonder if Paul is alluding to Christians. We love our routines and rituals and church buildings where we sit in comfort to hear sermons and leave with no change in our lifestyle or urgency.

We like to grade sin. We put homosexuality up there high on the list, but what about apathy and indifference? How do those rank?

Jesus, you ascended to heaven with instructions to your disciples that you are going to return in the same way that you left. The only uncertainty about the Second Coming is WHEN. Could it be today? I want to be ready if you choose to return today, Jesus.

I pray for that couple in Oregon. Thanks for the stand they took. Protect them. Encourage them.

I pray for the church I serve and for me. Give us urgency and boldness to proclaim the truth and to take a stand against sin as we love sinners, whatever the sin may be.

“A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground” (BH 2008, 532). Amen.
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The Rapture Hoax

Okay, I am going this morning where angels fear to tread. I wouldn’t have realized this unless and until something happened to me several years ago.

I happened to make a comment in a sermon. It was rather off-hand, as I remember. I said something like, “Oh, and by the way, the Bible says nothing about a secret rapture of the church or any kind of rapture.” And I just went on. No harm. No fowl right?

A couple of weeks went by and somehow, the topic of a particular family in our church came up. I asked about them because I hadn’t seen them for a few weeks and the person I was talking to said, “Oh, they have left the church and are not coming back.”

Let me stop right there. Why am I always the last person to know when it comes to families leaving the church? This has always bothered me. And it frustrates me even more when it involves something I have said or done (as was the situation in the story I am telling).

I have tried to figure out the scenario. How does it work? A family is walking out of the church. Joe Smith is standing at the door and they say, “We are gone. We are never coming back to this church.”

Maybe Joe Smith asks, “Why?” Maybe he doesn’t have to ask the question.

“It is because of what John said in his sermon today. We are out of here!”

Is that how it works? Who knows?

Then, here is the next step. Joe Smith tells Mary Franklin (by the way—these are fictional characters, in case you are wondering), and somehow, the “grapevine” gets into gear and a couple of weeks later, as someone is talking with me, and the topic just happens to come up, someone just happens to say, “Oh, yeah. That family has left the church, and it is YOUR fault.”

This bothers me deeply. I am getting angry right now.

This whole “process” (and again, I am just guessing here, but I don’t think I am that far off) has motivated me to make this comment to every membership class I teach: “By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I am human. If you are looking for a perfect pastor or perfect church, I’m telling you upfront: this church is NOT it. I am going to say things and do things that are wrong. Sometimes, the Spirit makes me immediately aware of my sin; sometimes, I rely on others to do so. Be that as it may, if I ever say or do anything that offends you, please come and talk to me FIRST. This is how we operate at this church. There is zero toleration for the divisive tactic of going to someone else when you have a problem with me. Okay? Everyone agree?” And at this point I usually stop and look everyone in the eye.

Whoa—I sure chased a rabbit there. But it is part and parcel of all of this.

Back to my comment on the rapture—having heard that this family left because of my statement, I went to visit them. My memory is hazy at this point, but I think they just said that they disagreed with me and felt it was best just to move on. In other words, “don’t confuse me with the facts.” They didn’t give me a chance to talk about it. And, they did not take the opportunity to show me in the Bible where this doctrine is. Hey, I am open. Show me. I’ll be the first to admit I’m wrong.

I mean, if it is important enough to leave the church over, then it should be THERE somewhere, right?

The truth is that a man named J. N. Darby invented this doctrine in the early 1800’s and C. I. Scofield popularized it in his reference Bible.

As I always caution folks when talking about “reference” Bibles—the stuff over the line is inspired and inerrant truth; the stuff below the line isn’t. But somehow, this seems to get lost in the shuffle with folks.

Most who espouse the doctrine of the rapture point to the passage I read today. And, honestly, for the life of me, I can’t see where they get it in this passage. Paul is not talking about some secret event where all the Christians are lifted off the planet causing cars to crash because they don’t have drivers! He is addressing a practical concern in the church. Folks were wondering about their loved ones who had preceded them in death and their place in the Second Coming. That’s it! Here is Paul’s answer:

"We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 NLT).

Amid all the “rapture” discussion—a hoax in my opinion—a great truth gets lost in the shuffle: the Second Coming of Jesus means a grand reunion of believers from all times and ages. Christians who lived and died a decade or century or millennium ago are not more or less important when it comes to the Second Coming than believers who are alive when Jesus returns.

We like to say that the ground is level at the cross. I love that statement, but here, Paul is assuring folks that the sky is level as well. Ha! How about that? This is indeed a great comfort and encouragement.

Oh, Jesus, come! Come today. I look forward to this grand reunion with my dad and Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul—as we celebrate together FOREVER.

“And when Thy face I see,
My ransom’d soul shall be,
Through all eternity,
Something for Thee” (BH 2008, 531). Amen.
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Mind Your Own Beeswax

As she walked out the door yesterday morning after the service, Darla said, “You know, I was a little worried about you up there today with all your movements and gestures with your hernia surgery.”

Later on in the afternoon, Marilyn said the same thing, “I was worried when you lunged and made a gesture at one point in the sermon.” And then she struck a Heisman pose.

Really? I had no idea about any of these things. News to me. No wonder my hernia bothered me after I preached!

But not yesterday. I was tired, just as I usually am after I preach, but I had no pain. I’m thankful for this.

A lot of people asked me how I was doing. They were genuinely concerned. I could tell, and I’m confident they had been praying. There is really no way I can calculate and express how valuable this is to me. I deeply appreciate it.

I did get a little teasing from Phil and John. Phil said, “So, how did you injure yourself?” He had a grin on his face. John was laughing as well as he made a golf swing motion.

I said, “Hey, you guys ought to know me better than that. I don’t even swing a golf club hard enough to injure myself!” Kelley was standing there. I’m glad she piped in, “Sometimes it is just genetics. It doesn’t have to be anything you do that causes a hernia.” John and Phil didn’t seem to listen.

Part of the joke is that I have seen these two guys work. I’m not sure I have EVER seen two guys work harder than Phil or John. Phil used to have a business in which he dug holes for foundations, posts, or whatever. I was with him one day as he worked. Oh, man. He worked like a dog. I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone work as hard.

It is the same with John. He is a carpenter. He did the work of remodeling our offices a few years ago. I watched him. Again—like Phil—he worked like a Trojan.

If any two guys were candidates for getting hernias because they injured themselves, Phil and John fit in that category; if anyone is on the opposite end of THAT scale, it is I! There is no telling.

Anyway, we had a good day yesterday. I picked up Mitch to bring him to church yesterday. Mitch brought his friend Thomas. As they were getting into my truck, I said to both of them, “Hey, guys, I thought someone else was coming with you today. What’s the deal?”

Thomas said, “Well, Monet was going to come but he changed his mind.” Okay.

After church, when I took them back to the house where they live, Thomas went in and got Monet. I got to meet him. He asked, “Pastor, are you going to have services next week?”

“Absolutely, Monet. You are invited to come next week.”

“I will be there,” he answered. I hope so. I took their picture. It is on Facebook. From left to right it is Monet, Thomas, and Mitch in from of Carriage House—the name of the home where they live in Commerce City.

I know that I have written about Mitch in this blog before, but once again, after spending time with him to and from church, I am more impressed with him than ever. Mitch has a lot of “issues” to deal with, but there is no one who wants to come to church in our congregation more than Mitch.

John (the aforementioned) usually picks him up, but yesterday, he couldn’t do it. I am always glad to.

Mitch is very honest about how he is doing. He struggles with depression.

Let me stop right there. I think he struggles with it no more or less than anyone, but he is just more honest and vocal about it. When he gets discouraged, he calls people in our fellowship for prayer. Betty is one of the main people he calls. There are others. He also calls Trip.

Trip has moved to Georgia, but he used to pick up Mitch just about every Sunday. He and Mitch became buddies. Trip and Mitch still talk on occasion.

Anyway, Mitch loves Jesus and loves to share him, not only with the guys that live with him at the Carriage House, but also on the bus. He takes RTD (this is the name of the city bus line here in Denver—Regional Transportation District—RTD) just about everywhere he goes. He always takes gospel tracts with him and hands them out.

Many of us call Mitch our “RTD Missionary.” A couple of us were talking about it yesterday. It is not easy to approach strangers on buses. But Mitch does it in order to share Jesus.

As we were driving back to their house yesterday, Mitch asked Thomas, “Would you like to come back next Sunday?” Thomas was non-committal, but I will bet you Mitch asks him again and again.

The Lord used him to encourage me yesterday.

Paul continues his challenge in chapter four. He urges the church to grow in love in a seemingly contradictory way:

"Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more. Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others" (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NLT).

Grow in love by minding your own “beeswax”? On the surface, that doesn’t make sense. But the more I think about it …

I get all wrapped up in what many people in the church are not doing. This is off base, even under the guise of pastoral concern. My main job today is ME, and my main role at the church is equipping the saints for ministry. Beyond that, whatever anyone else does or doesn’t do is their responsibility.

Mitch is an example of this. He just serves the Lord in the way he can serve. That’s it.

Lord, thank you for the love and prayers of the congregation I serve. Thank you for helping me recover from this surgery. Thank you for Mitch and Thomas and Darla and Phil and John—everyone who is concerned and has prayed.

Give Mitch a good day today. I lift up Thomas and Monet and everyone who has received a tract from our RTD Missionary in Residence. Gotta love it and love Mitch! From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Lord, for this brother.

“I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today” (BH 2008, 530). Amen.
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McGuckin Hardware

Late yesterday afternoon, just for something to do and somewhere to go, we drove up to Boulder. Marilyn wanted me to see this “very cool hardware store.”

As those of you who know me KNOW, I’m not much of a “fix-it” guy or the type of person who frequents hardware stores except on rare occasions, but I think all of us were just looking for something to do. Plus, I think my mom and sis noticed that I was feeling better.

And I did feel better yesterday and even better today. (Again, I’m not going to push it, but I am grateful to the Lord for this).

This store is kind of tucked in a corner of a shopping area in Boulder—maybe it just felt that way because of the entrance we chose. But immediately, I began to see what Marilyn was talking about. This store is huge and literally has everything. I was kind of worried because it is the type of place that as you walk along, you see thing that you have to have that you did not know you needed prior to coming in (if you catch my drift).

I certainly fell prey to that. Here is what I bought: some highlight pens, a label maker, a pair of socks, and a stud finder. How about that? And, I saw a lot of other stuff that intrigued me as well—glad I didn’t buy more.

Maybe the reason I was so “open” to this whole experience was that I felt better.

I’m glad this store didn’t have any new cars for sale?!? Ha.

Anyway, it turned out to be a lot of fun. We enjoyed our little trip up and there and back.

Back to the store—it really is an amazing place, and I know that I will go there again when I “need” something else. One of the great things about it was all the retired guys standing around asking if there is any way they could help. I really like this for a rookie like me.

If it were Bob, J. B., Ray, John, Duane or a dozen other guys in the church that know what they are doing when it comes to all things hardware, they would be able to find their way around any hardware store and probably prefer the Home Depots and Lowes of the world, but I don’t. When I happen to venture into hardware store once a decade (well, maybe more frequently than THAT), I need help, lots of help to find what I am looking for.

In the future, I’m not sure it will be worth a drive back up to Boulder, probably not, but it does mean that I prefer Ace Hardware—a little smaller store where there are people standing around older than ten ready to help.

Anyway, enough said about that. It was a good day, and I feel as if I am ready to go this morning and looking forward to it.

Chapter four marks a transition of sorts in the book of 1 Thessalonians. Like most of Paul’s books, there is a division between the doctrinal and the practical. I’m not sure that holds true with 1 Thessalonians. I would say that the first three chapters are PERSONAL and the last two are practical.

Be that as it may, Paul launches off on a challenge to the church. I like it:

"Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more… Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 6, 7 NLT).

A couple of things that stand out in this passage—first, if one is walking with the Lord, then he or she can “do so even more.” There is never any room for complacency in the Christian life. There is always room for growth, no matter how long one has been saved.

I am certainly not putting myself in any “mature” category, but I felt as if yesterday was a kick in the backside for me to get back to writing. Somehow, I had let that slip for about NINE months (I can’t believe it was that long), and the Lord used that Winston Churchill movie as a cattle prod to get me back to where I need to be.

And that is something I should add in this matter: don’t worry if you are not where you need to be. The Father will discipline you to get you back on track. Believe me.

Second, these initial verses focus on sexual sin—a grave matter. I’m sure this was in this passage before, but I just have not seen it before. There is kind of a double whammy when it comes to sexual sin. The people involved hurt one another, but if one of the guilty parties is married, then it harms and cheats the spouse as well. This is another victim in the matter.

And it is serious stuff as evidenced by the fact that Paul says, “the Lord avenges all such sins.” All you have to do is look at the life of David to see this. Here was a man after God’s own heart, but he went through a lot of agony because of sexual sin and murder.

Enough said.

Lord, thank you for yesterday and our trip to McGuckin Hardware. Thank you for helping me feel a little bit better. I rely on you today for strength and grace to preach and minister.

Keep the flock and keep me from sexual sin of any kind. I pray for the saints today. Keep us growing and going in the right direction, on the straight and narrow path.

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold” (BH 2008, 530). Amen.
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