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Preview: A Copernican Revolution -LA Holmes

A Copernican Revolution -LA Holmes

Thoughts on the way toward a radical encounter with God

Updated: 2018-01-15T10:26:26.365-06:00


Where are the answers?


My family kept them on the top shelf in the dining room.  It was also an office, at times a nursery, and where the piano was. I don’t know where we got them from, but I remember them seeing them as a child sitting up on the top shelf, all neatly arranged.  Sometimes I would get them down just to flip through and see what I could learn.  The encyclopedias were source of knowledge, wisdom, and entertainment for an introverted kid like me.  I don’t know if they were a particularly good set, but they were ours.  My siblings and I used them for homework sometimes, or just as heavy books to press leaves in.  If there was a question that we didn’t know the answer to, we could find it in there.  It’s helpful to know where the answers are.  As a child we believe our parents have most of the answers.  As we grow up we learn they don’t, and so we begin to look elsewhere.  Somewhere along the way my family traded our encyclopedias for a computer.  More likely we traded them for an encyclopedia on the computer, (Encarta, anyone?), and eventually for the internet and all it’s wisdom. We are all looking for answers, from how many cups in a gallon to how to fix a broken marriage. One of the keys to appearing smart is not just having all the answers yourself, but knowing where to get them.When I arrived as a new pastor on the field almost 7 years ago, I came to a church that was looking for answers.  There had been the issues that many churches face, and they wanted someone who knew how to fix it.  I believed of course that I had the answer, but if you get right down to it I believed that I was the answer.  Here were people looking for answers, and lucky for them I had them all. I quickly set about giving them the answers I just knew that they needed.  You might not be surprised to know that conflict arose when I was appalled that they didn’t like my answers.  And in some cases, they just didn’t like me! When we have a question about how to fix a dishwasher, who starred in that movie, or how to find the acute angle of a triangle, we know that we can turn to friends, family, or experts, either online or in person.  But where should church leaders go when they are seeking answers about how they can get healthy again?  Some believe the answer can be found in the world, that if we change our church to be more like the world then we can get people to come back to church. Others think the answer is in finding that next great up and coming pastor who could sell snow to Eskimos. If a church can find the most charismatic leader available then the church will grow! Others think the answer is going back to the glory days, the ways that the one pastor did it who grew the church so much all those years ago.  How can a church find the answer to bring the church back to life? It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was not the answer this church needed, but I still thought I could find it. I read widely, listened to podcasts, and went to conferences. The answer had to be out there somewhere, if only I could find it.  I looked every where for it, except for one place.  In the pews of the church.  The answer to the question of church revitalization is not found the in the pulpit, but in the pews.  A particularly gifted pastor might be a temporary answer, just like a new program might bring temporary answers to a church looking to increase attendance. But over time the lure of those things will fade, the pastor will leave, or families will move on.  Only when the members and leaders of a church commit themselves to putting reaching their community for Christ above all other things will a church be able to avoid decline and despair. Every church has questions. The answer is not to find the next great pastor or staff member. The answer to church health lies in the pews, which is partially dependent on the health of the the one in the pulpit.  The answer is not another great pastor, a sage guru wit[...]

Captain of the Team: M. Theron Rankin


I recently had the chance to read a short little story about the life of M. Theron Rankin.  He served as a missionary to China for many years before becoming president of the International Mission Board from 1945-53, before dying of leukemia at a young age. This sketch of his life was written by his brother, and contains a few details and anecdotes about his life and ministry.  Although  it's very brief it was greatly encouraging to me.

(image) While serving in China in the late 1930's he lived under the threat of war with Japan and the rising threat of communist China.  When Japan was threatening to invade China, he was ordered home by the Foreign Mission Board three times before he finally replied "It may be that some of us will have to die for Christ in this generation. My place is in China."

Rankin paid the price for that, and spent several weeks pinned under enemy fire in the mountains before being captured by Japan and spending more than a year in an internment camp.  Upon his release and return to the states, he was made the president of the IMB where he served faithfully until his death.

(image) "The convincing power of the witness we seek to give the world..., will be determined by what Southern Baptists do about what we profess. Professions of great faith cannot be substantiated by small action and giving."

If you can find this book, or any other stories about this great Southern Baptist, you will be encouraged.

How a small town pastor can have a larger impact


“3740”  That’s what a student told me when I asked for his number. My wife and I had been married for only two months, and we had left the large metroplex where I had always lived so I could be youth pastor in this town of less than 600.  I was stumped by his answer, because I didn’t think that was enough numbers.  My new wife, who did grow up in a small town, gently informed me that meant everyone in the town had the same first three numbers to their phone.  That sounded like the craziest thing in the world to me, that there was so few people that you didn’t even need to say the first part of your phone number.  It was then I realize just how small this town was, but also how connected it all was.  Growing up in a large metropolitan city, we were only sort of friendly with our neighbors.  I went to school in one part of town where my dad was a principal and went to church in another part of the city.  There were plenty of people that we knew through the school and through church.  My dad knew everyone it seemed, and in a church of over one thousand there was lots of people to know and befriend.  In a metroplex of over a million people, though, it’s not unusual to go a whole day of going to the store, filling up the car, going out to eat, or to a movie, and not ever see someone that is in your closest circle of friends. In a small town or rural community, you constantly see people that you know. My life in the city was made up of mainly two groups of people: friends and strangers.  Friends are people that you know well, and that know you.  You share life with them maybe through church, school, work, or by living close to them. These are people you can trust, you can count on, and know that they will be there for you as much as you will be there for them.  But the rest of the people in a large city are mostly strangers.  I didn’t lack for friends, but there were far more people that I didn’t know than those I did. They had their own group of people that they knew, and unless our lives overlapped for some reason, I would never know them. When you live in a small town you still have those same two groups of people. The third type of person in a small town is the largest of all, and is often much large than the same group in a city.  Friends - These are people at your church or work, people that you know well and that know you well.  You don’t think twice about calling on these people help you out in a bind, or calling to check on them when they have been sick.  This group is probably the same size as it would be if you lived in the city.  Strangers - This group is smaller than it would be in a large city, because there is less people.  Leaving a city of over a million to move to a town of 3500 means that there are far less people that I don’t know.  Depending on the size of the town, it might be unusual to meet a person that you have no connection with at all.  Acquaintances - This group is much larger in a small town than in a large city, for you will find that you have at least some connection to almost everyone.  You know that the bank teller is the niece of a church member, or that the school secretary has a daughter in your child’s class. When you go to high school football games you will see the city manager, county officials, the city judge, the owner of the feed store, employees of the lumber yard, the police chief, and music leader from the church across town. In one place you can see many people in town that you know, not as fully as friends but not quite as strangers either.  What does all this mean?  It means a pastor in a small town might be more closely connected to more people than a pastor in a larger town.  Peter tells his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you,” (I Peter 5:2), and in a small town that can be more than just the people in your church.  The pasto[...]

Simeon Monologue


Tonight at church I read this monologue I wrote from the perspective of Simeon from the book of Luke.  I hope it's a blessing to you.I remember everything about that day.  It was just any other day.  It’s one that I had experienced many times before, but this time was different.  You would think at my age I would have done and seen it all, but never had I seen this.  I entered the temple, just like I had hundreds or thousands of times before.  Some would say I spent most of my time there, but where else should an old man wait for the Messiah?It had been been a long time since I had heard that word from the Lord.  The word that I would live long enough to see the Messiah.  It had been long enough that I had was wondering if I was maybe beginning to doubt. But nevertheless I went to the temple like I had so many times before. There was a large strapping Jewish man, with a smile as wide as the Eastern Gates.  He seemed to be a friend to everyone he saw, and everyone was glad to see him.  “Surely this must be the messiah”, I wondered?  But I heard nothing.  I loved the sights and smells of the temple. Animals bleating, baby’s crying, and children laughing all mixed with the sounds of the priests, the smells of incense, the burning of the altars, and the prayers of those calling out to God.  Over there by himself was a little man calling out to God in prayer.  Not much to look at, I’ll admit, but fervent in prayer.  Maybe He is the one who the Lord has brought to deliver Israel from bondage.  But there was no answer from the Lord.   He did bring to my mind, as he had many times before, the story of Samuel picking out David from his brothers.  If the mighty prophet Samuel could miss the great and future King, then I sure could as well.  Open my eyes Lord, so that I may see the Savior!  I longed for the salvation of Israel. As an old man I knew that I would probably die with Israel still in bondage, but I longed to at least see the deliverer.   O Israel!  How long will you stay in bondage! I echoed the prayer of our prophet Isaiah in chapter 64.  [Isa 64:1-12 NASB] 1 Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence-- 2 As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil-- To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! 3 When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. 4 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him. 5 You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved? 6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. 8 But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand. 9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD, Nor remember iniquity forever; Behold, look now, all of us are Your people. 10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11 Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned by fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin. 12 Will You restrain Yourself at these things, O LORD? Will You keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?As I turned around I bumped into a young family.  Obviously out of their element in the big city temple, they would have been more at hom[...]

The Painful Pruning


It had been a beautiful day!  I was sad to see it go.  In fact it had been a really beautiful year.  As long as I could remember it had been sunny and bright. There was always plenty of food, and I was well taken care of.  Granted, I was only a year or so old so I can't remember that much, but my life at the vineyard was a good one.  I had grown a lot during this year, that's for sure.  I started off as a little seedling, but I grew quickly up the trellis along with the other vines around me.  We all had grown, though I think my leaves were a little more fuller and my branches a bit thicker, if I do say so myself.I had noticed something though. The sun was still shining, but not as long it seemed. The days were getting shorter, and the vine dresser seemed to be pre occupied with other tasks these days.  I could tell he was getting ready for something but I couldn't tell what. The other young vines around me didn't know either, though some had heard whispers of something called winter that was coming.  I didn't know what was though, so I just enjoyed the sun, the waterings, and continued to grow as best I could.  I was a natural for this kind of life it seemed.As the days grew shorter, they began to get really short, and then it began to get colder. Some days the sun wouldn't come out hardly at all, but the vine dresser seemed to be taking personal time with each vine, so I wasn't worried.  He had always given me what I needed before, and I knew I could trust him.  I couldn't tell what he was doing to the other vines in the other sections of the vineyard, but after he was done they seemed different somehow.It came to be the turn in our section, and as he got close I could not believe what I was seeing.  The vinedresser, the one who loved us, cared for us, even talked to us throughout the day, had some sort of instrument in his hands and was taking off some of our branches!  Surely he will skip me, I thought, I'm healthy in all the right places, but as he approached me I knew I wouldn't be skipped either.  He snipped, he cut, without any order it seemed, until I could see pieces of myself on the ground.  He gathered them up and threw them on a pile with the other cuttings to be burned.  I had trusted this vine dresser with everything.  But now pieces of me that I loved went up in flames as I watched.I couldn't believe it. The vinedresser, the one who I thought cared for me above anyone else, had trimmed me off so much that I looked ragged and barren.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I tried to grow back those branches, but they wouldn't come. Something in me had changed so that I wasn't growing anymore.  No one around me was, it seemed, and the days had gotten very short and very cold.  We didn't see the vinedresser often, and I had no choice but to think he had abandoned me. As I sat through all the cold, day after day, weeks turning into months, I began to get mad at the vinedresser.   Who does he think he is, taking what is mine, what I had grown, what I had labored for.  Yeah he made sure I got sun, and water when it got hot, but now he had abandoned me, leaving me to suffer in the cold with the other vines around me.  My confusion turned into hurt, and my hurt left unchecked turned into anger.  This was not how it was supposed to be. What happened to the nice sunny days, full of fun and life? Would I never see those again? If this is what being a vine is, then maybe I am not cut out for it.Through many months I kept these feelings.  The short days and long nights drove me into even deeper despair.  I wanted to grow, I wanted to make fruit, I wanted to do what I was created to do, but I couldn't do it in these conditions.  Occasionally I would see the vinedresser from a distance.  He seemed to be helping other vines, but never me.  At least not h[...]

Another Ordinary Sunday


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} I remember it like it was last week.  The Sunday started just like any other Sunday I went up early to turn on the lights and make sure the heat was on, like I always do.  As the morning moved along, we had a great time of worship through song.  As someone prayed I moved towards the pulpit and looked out over the congregation I was eager to see how God was going to move that day. The sermon was from Matthew 12, about the dangers of an empty heart.  If we don't fill our hearts with Jesus, they will be filled with something else.  After the sermon I gave an invitation and a few people came down to pray.  I gave a few closing announcements, and the service was over.  Some people hung around to talk about Christmas decorations, or plans for lunch, or whatever was on their mind. There was no tears of repentance, there was no great movement of God. People worshipped God through song, through the study of His Word, and through fellowship with other believers.  That Sunday, in every sense of the word, was just another ordinary Sunday.  Perhaps you were expecting for this to be another one of those stories that all your pastor friends seem to share every Sunday.  So many joined, so many baptisms, so many got saved.  If all the numbers I read on social media are true I don't know how there are any lost people left!  Just once I would like someone to report that they had a nice ordinary Sunday.  Songs were sang, fellowship was had, prayers were made, offering was given, and the gospel was preached.  We hurt the body of Christ, and each other, when we make every Sunday into a huge event. The truth is that most of the Sundays since the resurrection of Christ have been ordinary Sundays. In that same time the church has grown from a handful in the upper room to millions worshipping in every time zone, language, and ethnicity. There is power in the ordinary.  Those who labor in church live in the tension of longing to see Christ to work in miraculous ways, but living ministry lives that are largely made up of ordinary days.  How can live in this tension, especially in a world always pining for the next big thing?1.  Remember that God is at work in the ordinary just as much as he is in the miraculous.  We might plant and water, but God is always the one who gives the increase.  It's possible that God can make a oak tree grow overnight. It's more likely that God will guide that tree as it grows slowly over 100 years.  Both are acts of God.  But nobody goes to a conference about how to grow slowly, even though it's how God works most of the time.  2.  Keep praying for the extraordinary.  We pray for these things because we know we worship a God who works in these ways.  The God of the Welsh Revival, the Great Awakening, and the Protestant Reformation is the same God who works in the service at the rural church where I serve. God is capable, and I pray that He is willing, to move in that way.  3.  Love the church God has given you.  It's easy to think that if were somewhere else things would be better or different.  But you are where you are because that's where God wants you.  Maybe God has plans for you to be mentioned alongside of Edwards, Luther, or Calvin.  We can't be sure about what people will say about us after we are gone. I am certain, though, that God desires for us to be faithful in the task he has given us. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 12.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none[...]

How Should Christians Respond to the Death of the Wicked?


This morning the news of the death of Charles Manson might have caught some by surprise.  In the late 1960's Manson and his followers gained national notoriety after several murders, most notably the actress Sharon Tate.  Manson believed in something he called "Helter Skelter," and was attempting to start an apocalyptic race war.  His beliefs were cobbled together from all over, places as different as Beatles Songs and the biblical book of Revelation.  Manson was convicted of several first degree murders, among other things, and was sentenced to death. After California ended the death penalty his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Over the years Manson gave several wild interviews on television, sometimes appearing with a swastika carved in his forehead.  He never expressed remorse for his actions, and was caught several times with drugs or contraband in prison.  Suffice it to say, he was not a good man.How are Christians supposed to think about the death of a man who committed evil and wicked deeds and never showed any remorse? Manson is not the only one we have to think about.  A few years ago when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in raid by US Navy Seals, some people openly rejoiced at his death. It's tempting to say good riddance to someone like this. Most of us want to to shake our heads and walk away and forget about men like this. As christians we are not to do only what seems good to us, though.  Scripture is clear about how God feels about the death of the wicked."Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23It is God’s desire that all men and women should turn to him and live.  This is not just a passing fancy, either. God desires the salvation of all mankind so much that he was willing to send His son to die in our place.  History is full of men and women who by the grace of God gave their lives to him, and spend their lives in his service. We rightly grieve over death of people like Jim Elliot, who was martyred at a young age, or his wife Elizabeth who died at an old age. History is also full of men and women who rejected God, who chose not to love him, not to obey him, and to not give their life to him. As Christians who believe the eternal state of the soul, and hell for those who die separated from God, how should Christians respond to the death of the wicked?1.  We should grieve.   Those who do not know God in this life die eternally separated from God.  If God does not rejoice in this death, then neither should we.  Rather, we should mourn over a soul that was created in the image of God that will now spend eternity apart from Him.  This was not God’s plan for mankind, but one that we have chosen for ourselves. Charles Manson got what he wanted out of life, and chose to live the way he did.  Not only is his death a tragedy, his life is a tragedy.  Mankind is capable of so much goodness and grace, but we too often turn and use the gifts God has given only on ourselves.  2. We should remember that by God's grace we would be the sameIt's easy to look down on people like Charles Manson, to think that we are definitely a better person than he was. We’ve never been cult leaders or murderers.  But we must remember that we carry the same propensity for sin that Charles Manson did.  It is only the grace of God that has kept us from that life. That grace might have been believing parents who took you to church, or a friend who shared the gospel with you.  "There but for the grace of God I go" is not just an old saying but a reality that helps reminds us of the hardness our hearts.  God's grace comes to us in ways that are too numerous to count, each of them pulling and tugging at our heart to return to the heart of God[...]

Strangers in the small church


Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and [a]the alien who is in your [b]town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 31:12The people of FBC Sutherland Springs gathered yesterday for church just like they had for decades and decades.  By now you know how the story ended.  In a terrible, tragic, act of evil that is beyond words a man walked into the church and killed over 20 people there to worship.  Those who died ranged in age from 5 to 72. It’s the deadliest mass shooting at a church in history.  It’s crazy that there is even a category for “mass shootings at a church.”  If you go to FBC Sutherland Springs Youtube page you can watch the services over the past several weeks.  The church looks just like dozens of churches that I have been over the years.  Churches this size make up the majority of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the majority of churches in America.  Chances are that most people who will read this have spent time in a church like this.  At most of the churches in my community, it's not uncommon to have groups of under 100 in attendance at services, and on services other than Sunday morning it can be significantly lower.  When a stranger walks into a church of that size, everyone notices. Not because of race or gender, but because there is someone new there! Anyone who is not a "usual" stands out in small group, no matter if we are meeting in the sanctuary, downstairs in the basement, or somewhere else, you cannot help but notice someone new. The tragedy at Sutherland Springs should be sobering to all who work for, lead in, or even attend a church.  There are three ways that we can respond when we hear this news.  1. We can be foolishThe fact that there is such a category of “mass shootings at a church” means that we must pay attention.  Any church that thinks “that will never happen here” is burying their head in the sand. Every church, regardless of size, must think about how they can secure their building during services, be aware of their surroundings, and be as safe as they can be.  It’s a sad fact that in todays world we must think about these things as churches, but it is still true.  Every leadership team at a church, whether it’s an elder board, a deacon body, or just the regular Wednesday night crowd, must be having discussions about these things.   2. We can be fearfulIn light of the shooting, many have urged churches to re evaluate their security procedures, to train responders, to look out for "suspicious people.” We need to do those things, at leas in part. It’s easy to become fearful in the world we live in, always looking over our shoulder, always suspicious of every person that walks through the door. A church that lives in fear will not be able to live out it’s calling to share the love of Christ with everyone. A fearful church will be afraid that letting anyone in will put them at risk of being hurt.  That feeling is not completely untrue, of course. The events of the past few years show that it might happen in any church. But to close the completely close the church except for those you know is contrary to the gospel.  The very nature and mission of a church is for it to be welcoming and opening to anyone who walks through the door.3.  We can be faithful​We must be wise about our surroundings, and we can’t bury our head in the sand.  But we must be faithful to what God has called us to do. The church is the wisdom of God made manifest in the world, and by it’s nature it is to show the world the heart of God.  Just as Jesus put himself at risk by coming to earth, so the church s[...]

Big Data and the Holy Spirit


It has happened to me, and I bet that it has happened to you.  As I mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I saw it,  There was an ad for something that I had been looking at a day before on Amazon. Maybe it was eBay or Amazon,  or  it could've been Facebook or Twitter.  It's easy to get the feeling that we are being watched, and we feel that way  because we are.  You are always being watched.  Corporations like Facebook and Amazon are always collecting data on you.  Everywhere you go on the internet they are collecting data.  They know about your shopping habits, about your diet needs, and about your special love for all things 90's.  That is why you see these ads everywhere.  It's called targeted advertising.  It's as if someone followed you around Walmart keeping track of everything you looked, everything you picked up and put down, and then suggested items to you that might be interested in.  if you are like me, there have been times I have just thought about something.  No searches, no shopping, but I see an ad for it anyways. All of this data is fed into algorithms that can predict what things you are likely to buy.  Big data is a billion dollar business, because the better they know you, the better they can figure out how to get into your wallet. While corporations targeting you online is a fairly new thing, shoppers have been targets long before that.  Stores set up displays to grab your attention, to make you stop and look and buy.  But now these corporations know more about us than we do, and they show us just what we need to see.I thought of all this as I put down my Bible after my morning devotional time.  For what seemed like the 100th millionth time, what I was scheduled to read that day was just what i needed to hear.  I follow a reading plan that has the whole year mapped out, so I'm not randomly thumbing through my Bible.  But with surprising regularity I find that the passage I am scheduled to read contains just the verses I need to hear that day.  If I pick up Morning by Morning by Spurgeon, it does the same thing.  How does a 150 year old book know just what I need to read that day?  It's not because some big giant corporation has stored up all my data over the years.  It's because I have a God who cares about me, and who loves me enough to orchestrate everything so that my soul is fed just the right thing for the day I need it. I can't even begin to think how God brings together a 150 year old book and a bible reading plan from 200 years ago and my life today to bring to me what I need to hear.  Or what I need to be challenged with, or comforted with, or reminded of.  God works in such a way to target my heart, not for His gain but for mine.You don't have to go out and look for the word that God wants you to hear that day,  There are three ways that you can ensure that the word you need reaches your heart.1. Read God's word regularly.  If this sounds basic it's because it is. There is no excuse for any Christian who has a copy of God's word to not regularly be in it.  Throughout history and even today there are christians who do not have God's word.  if you are reading this you probably have multiple copies,  But we always find excuses.  That's why we need a time that we regularly set aside in our day to read God's word. You will never meet a mature Christian who doesn't regularly spend time in God's Word. 2. Spend regular time in prayer.  One of the ways that God speaks to us is through His word, and one of the ways that we speak to God is through prayer.  We are not telling God something that he doesn't already know.  But you will find that when you pray regularly to God that it softens your heart to hear[...]

To the one who feels forgotten


If someone asks who your father is, you can probably answer that. That’s not that impressive.  You can probably name your grandfather also.  How about your great grandfather?  “Grampa Holmes” is all I know, but I know if I dug around some in an old bible I could find it.  How about your great great grandfather?  Now it’s getting harder.  Could you name your great-great-great grandfather?  Unless you have an account on a genealogy website, you are pretty much done after going back 1 or 2 generations.  In a world where so many are focused on getting their 15 minutes a fame, it’s a sobering reminder that most of the people in the world will be forgotten in 2 or 3 generations. We don’t even know our own family members, let alone the billions of people who lived on the east 200 years ago.  Even those who engage in God’s work are often forgotten by the world.  There are some names who stand out.  Names like Spurgeon, Ryle, Calvin, Luther, or Edwards stand out. Around those men that are remembered were multitudes of men who faithfully preached the gospel, administered the sacraments, and buried the saints.  But you and I don't know their names today.  If you feel today like no one knows you and no one appreciates you, then this might not be the pick me up that you were looking for.  If you feel like you are forgotten, like the world doesn’t care, like no no one would notice if you quit ministry and started selling shoes, take heart.  Those faithful men and women of old might be forgotten by you and me, but their names are remembered where it counts.  They don’t have their names on a pillar or church, but they are written in a place they cannot be erased. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  Revelation 20:11-15At the end of time these men and women will stand before the throne of God, and their deeds will be read before God. It will be told of how they endured cold and heat, slept on the ground, traveled great distances, and even gave their lives to share the gospel.  The years of faithful preaching, of pleading with souls, and hours of prayer will be shared before God. The failures, the sins, and the rebellions will be heard too. But their name will be called one more time, when it is found in the Lamb’s book of life.  Those names that were forgotten by you and me will be remembered by Christ as faithful servants.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 12.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Take heart if you feel forgotten, because you are not forgotten where it matters.  I can’t promise you that you will ever be the biggest name at a big conference.  You might not be the biggest name in your own town. But your name is written down where it cannot be forgotten, and at the end of time it will be called out for all to hear.[...]

Preach like Carl Sagan, not Neil deGrasse Tyson


There were thousands of articles written about the recent solar eclipse.  Scientific explanations, helpful advice, and lots of information about those glasses.  Many people walked outside to look up, some traveling hundreds of miles to be in the path of totality.Many news channels had wall to wall coverage, each with their own man or woman of science to explain things.  Some were meteorologists, some were actually astronomers, and others just people who found it all very interesting.  I was not in the path of totality, but as I flipped around the channels on the tv, it became clear that not all the broadcasts were the same. Some of the newscasters were very interested in it and it showed. Some were only covering it because their boss made them, and it showed too.  Later that day I came across this description of the the movements of the sun by famed scientist Carl Sagan.  A noted atheist, he was nonetheless very eloquent in his description of the cosmos.   The way that Sagan wrote provokes a sense of wonder in you, causing you to look up at the moon wondering how our ancestors saw it thousands of years ago.  His words invoke the themes of life and death and the way that people struggle with it.  Compare this with the comments on the eclipse by a noted scientist of our time, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is true in what he says, of course. But there is no wonder in his voice, nothing that makes you look up at the sky in amazement.  Nothing about those words makes you contemplate life and death or your ancestors from thousands of years ago.  When a preacher stands in the pulpit, he holds the word of God in front of the people.  But too often we preach in ways that make people think that whatever is going on on Facebook is more interesting than our sermon.  When we hold the good news of Jesus Christ in our hands, we should never bore someone with our words.  The message of Christ and the cross is the greatest message of all. It is the news that even though we are lost we can be found, that even though we are stuck in the pit of sin that God can lift us up.  Too often the message about living water can be preached in a way that is dryer than the desert.  The matter of fact way that Tyson spoke leaves no room for wonder, for mystery, or for amazement.  We do the same when we preach the glorious truths of scripture as nothing more than to do lists or definitions from the dictionary.  I know Carl Sagan did not believe in God, but he still spoke with wonder about His creation.  Shouldn’t those of us who do believe in the God of creation speak with wonder about the glorious good news of the gospel.  If you are in position to share God's word, as a preacher, Sunday School teacher, or FCA leader, you are sharing the most glorious truth in the world. It the good news that God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  The gospel is more glorious than all the treasures in the world, more majestic than the most soaring mountain peaks, more spectacular than a solar eclipse.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 12.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre} So preach like it.   [...]

Words that Don't Go Together


There are some words or phrases that just don’t go together.  “Jumbo Shrimp,” “New Antiques,” “kind of pregnant,” or “sort of married” are some that come to my mind. Other phrases can become part of our standard english, like “virtual reality” or “Icy Hot.”  In the English language we call them “oxymorons,” a funny sounding word in and of itself.  That word has a greek origin, and could be translated as “pointedly foolish.”  Another way to say it is that it’s a statement that makes a self-contradiction.   All that intelligence I got from Wikipedia.  (And that sentence is another oxymoron.)  We all slip up in our speech sometime, but the Bible often uses these pointed phrases to drive home a point. The Bible often takes words that don’t go together, and puts them together, to grab our attention and help us see the point more clearly. For example, Paul writes “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live” in Galatians 2:20.  The Gospels tell of  “Virgin birth,” and Jesus says that “the first shall be last.”  All of these phrases, even when brought into English, catch our ear and make us stop and examine them more closely to see just what is being claimed.One of these phrases caught my when preaching through the Gospel of Matthew.  In Matthew chapter 9 a synagogue official comes to Jesus because his daughter has passed away.  This mans life has been interrupted in the worst way possible.  Somehow he heard of this man Jesus who was teaching and healing and performing all sorts of miracles.  In desperation he comes to him and pours out his heart.While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” Matthew 9:18As he pours out his heart, he puts together two words that should never go together.  “My daughter has died, but…”  Those last two words don't fit together.  Death is always the final word in any situation. As long as there is not death there is still hope for a recovery, for a miracle, for a healing. But death is the end of the sentence. Death is a period. There is no hope after death.  But for this synagogue official there is.  “died, but” He believed that with Christ that death was no longer the end. That those words that didn’t belong together could now live in harmony because of this man Jesus.  He did things that should not be done, that defied nature and all common sense.  He put a comma where there had only been a period before.  Death was not the end of hope when Christ was there.  Christ came to her house and brought her back to life. A period was now just a comma, a pause, a dark night before the sun rose in the morning.  As far as we know, this was just a temporary pause though. She went on and lived her life and died again someday.  Physical death still comes for all of us.  If we are in Christ, though, physical death is not the end. If we are in Christ, our fellowship may end with our loved ones, but death marks the beginning of an eternity of fellowship with Jesus.  Even for those that are left behind after the death of a loved one, we know that it is only a temporary parting if they are in the Lord.  We will see them again on the other side of the river.  Our parting is not eternal but temporary.  Of all the words that don't go together in the Bible, this phrase is the one that gets everyone’s attention.  We all know that death comes for all of us one day, and that there is no escape. There is no way to avoid death it. Praise God t[...]

My Falls Creek Spot


Get off at Exit 51, go past the fried pie place, and head towards what is officially called 77D, but what most people just call the “High Road.”  If you are one of the millions who have been to Falls Creek Baptist Campgrounds over the years, then you recognize these directions.  Falls Creek has been a special place in the heart of Oklahoma Baptist’s for 100 years now, and those campgrounds have seen God move mightily over the years.  It was reported this summer that over 2.3 million people have camped at Falls Creek over the years, more than 66 thousand have been led to Christ there, and over 36 thousand felt that God called them to serve in vocational ministry.  God has worked in many more lives than that to be sure, drawing people to Himself through the work of preachers, sponsors, youth pastors, camp staffers, and more.If you continue on up the “high road,” then you will come to the new gate.  Enter through that gate, and drive up to the first intersection and turn right at the Healdton Cabin.  Then follow that street down, past the Tabernacle on your left, and turn left at the next intersection, by the West End Cafe.  Travel just a little bit down that road, and a large hill will appear on the right. Turn by FBC Ardmore, and go up that hill a little ways, and you will come to a spot that I will remember for the rest of my life.When I stayed there in high school it was owned by a different church, but now the cabin belongs to FBC Goldsby. The hill was a lot longer then, but was cut down for the new Tabernacle.  But right there in front of that cabin, right outside the main doors, is a spot where God changed my life forever.  When I was 15 I sat there on a bench with my youth pastor, and poured out my heart.  I was so angry over things that had happened to me, over things that I thought I didn’t deserve.  I knew better than God, you see, and my life hadn’t turned out the way I thought it should.  With simple wisdom and spiritual insight, Jason Gilbow probed at my heart.  He asked questions and made statements that will stick in my mind until the day I die. And there, in front of that cabin, God set me free.  I was a christian, having been saved at my church years earlier. But I was living in anger, not in the life God had for me.  Through my church, through my youth pastor, through Falls Creek, God spoke to my heart there, setting me free from my past and pointing me towards the future.  Later at Falls Creek I surrendered to serve God in ministry, and I have been doing so ever since.  It’s now my privilege and joy to lead students there every summer, praying that they too will have a spot like mine, that they will remember forever the way God worked in their heart at Falls Creek.  The work that God did that night doesn’t show up in the numbers that I mentioned above, but I am one of millions who had a heart change at Falls Creek.  There are untold stories just like mine, and you would be hard pressed to find a spot at Falls Creek where someone has not had a life changing encounter with God.  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} At least once a summer, I drive by that spot.  I will never forget it.  It might happen someday that cabin gets torn down, or even that Falls Creek is no more for some reason. But the work that God did in my heart will never cease and will never go away.  I will carry that work that God did there into eternity[...]

The Cliffs of Preaching


I wouldn't say I'm afraid of heights. I'd just say that I don't like being up high. This came into full view recently with my first visit to the Grand Canyon. Being in Gods nature has always been good for my soul, and this was no different. The glorious views remind me of Gods goodness, power, and glory. But when I walked up to the edge the first time, I was torn between my desire to look over the edge and take in the view, and my overwhelming desire for personal safety and to step away from the edge. Sometimes there was a railing, which I made it a little better. I gripped with white knuckles, forcing myself to look out at the view and not look down. Other places there was no rail, just cliffs. I wanted to do it, to see it, to take in the view. We hiked a trail down the side of a cliff, with severe drop offs, and I loved every minute that I wasn't terrified. Loving it when I'm not terrified also sums up the way I feel about preaching.  When I was called to preach at a young age I was enthralled by the grand views, the soaring vistas, and inspiring opportunities. To teach people and preach Gods word still excites me. But as I've grown I've also learned of the weight of pastoring.  Every Saturday afternoon (if not before) my heart starts to weigh down with the heaviness of the privilege of preaching the next day. Did I prepare enough?  Have I prayed enough? Will this member who has been absent show up? Will the ones I invited come? Every Sunday I go through my routine, go through the service, and as the song ends and I know it's my turn to step up, I feel as if I'm about to jump off the edge of a cliff.  Who would dare to stand and speak on behalf of God, to explain God’s word, to expound God’s word, to exhort and encourage and speak of the wonderful mysteries of the gospel?  Paul was an educated man.  He had every right to be confident in his words, his application, his exposition. But he tells the church at Corinth that he comes to them with “fear and much trembling.”  I imagine this to be the the same kind of fear I felt standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The danger, the excitement, the soaring vistas and the jagged cliffs all rolled into one.  Paul wants the church to know that the word of God has more power than they could ever imagine.  And he wants them to know that they should rest in the wisdom of God, and not in the wisdom of men.  If Paul trembles, how much more should I!  “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Cor. 2:3-5I love the grand views of pastoring, seeing God work in miraculous ways. But sometimes I’m afraid of getting to close to the edge for fear I will fall off.  Pastoring is exciting and scary all at the same time.  If you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and don’t feel even a hint of concern, then something is wrong with you. If you stand on the edge and think you could cross it with a running start and a good jump, then you are a fool.   Likewise, if you are privileged enough to proclaim God’s word in front of the church and don’t feel the weight of it, then you don’t understand what God has called you to do.  This weight makes even the most talented and gifted men shrink back.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this point in his book “Preaching and Preachers.”"My argument is, therefore, that a man who feels that he is competent, and that he can do this easily, and so rushes to preach without any sen[...]

Functional Jeffersons


Photo from the SmithsonianAt the age of 77, Thomas Jefferson was already an established man in the newly formed America. By the year 1820 he already had enough accomplishments for two or three lifetimes of lesser men. As author of the Declaration of Independence, and President of the United States, Jefferson left many volumes of work for us to judge him by.  But in 1820 he published something that he had been working on for a long time.  What came to be known as “The Jefferson Bible” actually carried the title “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jefferson was a deist at best, and was called a “howling Atheist” by opponents in the 1800 presidential election.  So for him to publish a religious book might have been a surprise.  Jefferson pored over six copies of the New Testament, in Greek, Latin, French, and King James English.  Then, with careful precision, Jefferson cut out the pieces of the New Testament that he didn’t agree with. All references to the supernatural, to miracles, and things “contrary to reason” were removed.  He left the teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes.  His “bible” concluded with the death of Jesus and his being laid in the grave, but left out the resurrection.  As someone who stands up every week and proclaims the entire counsel of God’s word, I shudder at what Jefferson did. This is making God in our image, instead of conforming our self to the image of God.  If you are reading this, you are likely also to shake your head at what Jefferson did.  If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, and doesn’t merely contain the Word of God, then what Jefferson can be seen as nothing else as an assault upon God himself.  We are right to shake our heads, of course.  The scripture makes clear that is inspired by God, and profitable for all sorts of things.  We can’t merely take out the part we disagree with.  What a foolish thing to think that we can overturn the eternal words of God with a pair of scissors.  The problem is that all of us, you and me included, are functional Jeffersons.  I doubt you have taken scissors to your Bible like he did, but there are verses that we just flat out choose to ignore.  We have all sorts of reason for doing so. We might deem them as standards to high to live by, or unreasonable expectations.  We might feel that they step on our toes to much, and if we take that passage seriously we would have to change the way we live, act, or work.  There are passages that you and I read over and just flat out choose to ignore.  You know which ones I’m talking about.Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. I John 2:15 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Ephesians 5:13Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Matthew 5:8Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: [...]

The Order matters


As the Israelites came into the promised land, Moses began telling them their history.  A whole generation had passed away while in the desert, so it was important for them to have everything straight before they crossed the Jordan.In Deuteronomy chapter 7, the warnings come from Moses about the importance of Israel staying away from the gods of other cultures.  Just so they know who they are, just so they don't forget where they came from, Moses reminds them. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.  "Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them.  Deuteronomy 7:6-11Moses tells them the truth about Israel's past, so they can be ready for the future.1. They are chosen by God.  Verse 6 says that God chose Israel out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.2. They are not chosen for anything that they have done, or because they were the most numerous, but because God loved them.  3.  God's promises to Abraham in the past moved him to work on behalf of Israel in the present.  4.  God's work in the past and the present gives us a promise for the future.  God is so faithful that he keeps His covenant to a thousand generations.  (30,000 years, depending on how you count.)5. Because of all these things, Israel is to keep the commandments of God.  Verse 11 says that they are not to keep his commandments so that they might earn His acceptance.  Rather, because they have been accepted and chosen by God they will obey.  This is the Gospel, this is the good news for Israel. Their works cannot take them out of God's favor because their works didn't put them into God's favor.  This is the gospel not only for Israel but for you and I as well.  We are not chosen because of what we can do, or have done, but out of God's lovingkindness and goodness.  We were chosen by God before the foundations of the world, and because of his acceptance and love we obey.  What more could we do for one who has loved us so?To be honest, these verses seem out of order to me.  It seems to my natural mind that the order should be in reverse.  I obey, so God takes care of me. That teaches me that if I obey more God will take care of me more.  And then because I obey, God then accepts and chooses me as his own. This is the message of almost everything else in the world. And it is completely opposite the Gospel.Moses spoke these words to Israel so that they would get the order right.  Moses himself knew God chose him from the desert when he was doing but herd sheep.  Moses instructions to Israel are instructions to us as well. Get the order right, and rest in the goodness of God.   Any other or[...]

The Forgotten Part of Prayer


It’s no surprise that the Apostle Paul talks about prayer a lot.  Living on the road, sharing the gospel, or being shipwrecked, beaten, or jailed are things that would drive anyone to pray.  In his books in the New Testament Paul mentions prayer (prayers, prayer reports, prayer requests, exhortations to pray), 41 times.  One of those times you might be familiar with in Philippians instructs us to pray, but also reminds us about the most forgotten part of prayer, and it’s benefits.  Philippians 4:6-7 is a pretty well known passage, and for good reason.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:6-7Many, many sermons have been preached on these verses. They are full of deep theological truths that have brought comfort and peace to multitudes.  But the little phrase tucked in the middle of verse 6 caught my eye the last time I read it.  “…with thanksgiving…”  We often pray, and we often make prayer requests, we might even rest our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  But too often we leave out giving thanks as part of our prayer life.  We forget to give thanks because we our hearts naturally turn to the things that we don’t have.  It’s far too easy to look around and think about what your life is missing compared to others, about what you don’t have, about what you need God to take care of.It doesn’t come naturally to give thanks, though.  I didn’t have to teach any of my children to ask for things, but I do have to teach them to give thanks.  A mark of Christian maturity is when giving thanks to God is as hardwired into our hearts as making request’s of Him is.  Paul tells us that thanksgiving goes right along with prayer, that taking our worries to God and thanking God for what He’s already given should be part of the same prayer.  What are the benefits of thanksgiving in our prayers? Thankfulness motivates me to pray.  We naturally turn to prayer when discouraged, but looking around in thankfulness will remind us of all that God has done for us already.  Who would not want to pray to a God who has already blessed you in so many ways?Thankfulness helps us pray with confidence. Not only does it motivate us to pray, it helps us be sure that God hears us and wants to act on our behalf.  God has acted in so many ways in the past that we can be sure He will act in the future. Seeing the pattern of how God has blessed us in the past will lead us to confidence that He will do it again.  Thankfulness leads to peace. Paul says it in Phil 4 that the prayer and thanksgiving we offer that the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Giving thanks to God will help calm our anxiety about the future and give us a peace about the past. This peace of God “guards” our hearts and minds in such a way that they cannot be affected by all the troubles of this world.There are many practical ways you can integrate prayer into your life.  Write a list, look around you, ask others, or ask God to show you what you have to be thankful for.  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px} li.li1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0p[...]

Social Media Discipleship


I had a conversation with another pastor about two church members of my church that were fighting on Facebook.  He lectured me a little about the need to be careful with Facebook.  He’s 30 years or so older than me and told me “that is why he’s not friend with young people on Facebook.  They just don’t know how to control themselves.”  The advice he gave was sound, but the problem is that a 75 year old was fighting with an 85 year old online!The world of social media is a new one for most everyone to navigate.  By that I don’t mean about figuring out how to get an account or follow somebody.  I mean figuring out how to deal with conflict, differing opinions, and even threats on social media.  There are many, many, many ways that a person can get in trouble online, and social media can just make it all worse.   And there are many ways that it is used to hurt, harm, and spread gossip rather than inform and unite.  There is one way, though, that you can use social media can be a blessing instead of a burden.  Paul gives admonition to the church in Colassae to “set their minds on things above,” and social media can be a tool to help others do that.  Jesus command to go and make disciples made no provision for the which methods to use to do that.  Making disciples though is our command, and I think social media can be a great addition to other discipleship methods.  It even allows us to have a presence with those we wouldn’t otherwise.  You probably know the importance of starting your day with God.  For many though, Facebook is often the first thing that people check in the morning.  For most it’s a habit, one done with out even thinking.  Facebook and God’s word could not be farther apart, except for the fact that it enable us to put God’s word in front of people in ways we never could have a few  years back.  Sharing a bible verse in the morning, instead of your thoughts on last night’s game, is a good way to help people focus on things above. Sharing short clips from sermons, songs you sing in church, or quotes from different people are all great ways to help people turn their mind off the world and onto God. It’s also a way to introduce people to writers, thinkers, musicians, and theologians that they would never have heard of other wise.  Social media can be a tool to broaden people’s mind instead of just narrowing their viewpoint.  It's a great way to connect with friends and family, catch up on news, and share photos.  But I challenge you to think about this way you can use social media also.  Social media is too powerful of a tool to not use for godly purposes.  Please hear me that this is not a substitute for discipleship.  Don’t share a verse and think you are fulfilling God’s commands.  Disciples of God engaging with others, laboring to bring them to maturity is the biblical example. But this is an additional way to get God’s word in front of God’s people.  Nor am I saying you can’t share your thoughts on last nights game. But be intentional about your social media use.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} If a person from your church called you and asked what you would like them to think about today, what would would you tell them?  Social medi[...]

When did you start to die?


June 28, 1914.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary,  was assassinated by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in in Sarajevo.  Sometimes it's easy to look back and see the beginning, how something started,and what events led to the place you're at today. The Great Recession can be traced to Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.  World War 2 began with September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.  Even in your own life you might note when you first met your spouse, your first date, or your wedding day.  The death of a loved might also mark change in your life, easily traced back to the day of their first signs of illness or diagnosis. Other times, it's not so easy to see the beginning.  It's harder to pinpoint when you begin to get old, when a marriage begins to fall apart, or when a church begins to die. I recently saw two churches, within one mile of each other. They  actually had the same name, (NW Baptist vs NW Christian) Both had big old buildings and historic ties to the area.  Both were in the same changing neighborhood.  Both faced the white flight and changing demographics.  But only one church had a thriving ministry. It had three ethnic churches that shared it's campus, had a thriving ministry to the surrounding community, and was full of worshippers on Sunday.  The other church was not only struggling, they had to close their doors.  Their big old building was empty, while the church down the street was full.It's tempting to want to dig through their records, their business meeting and board meetings, to try and pinpoint the date it all went wrong.  I doubt you would find anything very clear though.  It's unlikely that you can go back to one decision, one meeting, or even one pastor when it all started to go wrong.  There's not an event outside of the church in the community either, that led to the closing.  Because the church down the road faced all the same changes over the last 50 years.It's usually not one big decision that leads to the death of a church.  It's a thousand small decisions.  The weekly, even daily decisions that are made to focus on member's comforts over the community's lostness.  Every time the decision is made to reward gossip instead of focus on prayer, or avoid conflict by giving into church bullies, a church dies a little.  The big decision to close the church was precipitated by a thousand small decisions to ask lost people to come to them, instead of imploring saved people to go out and share.  The unwillingness to share a pew with someone who looks different, or sing a new a song, or stand up for truth.  These are the decisions that lead to the death of a church.Sometimes a church downfall is traced to scandalous affairs, or stealing money, or some other large drama. But even these events are set up by the small decisions of those involved.It works the other way, too.  We might show up on a Sunday thinking, this is the day that it all changes. Revival will come, God's spirit will fall, the church will turn the corner towards health.  The decisions that lead to a church's death are numerous and small ones.  The decisions that lead to a church's health are numerous and small as well.  The daily decision by members to die to themselves, to focus on others, the willingness to be uncomfortable to reach others for the gospel.  The weekly preaching of sound doctrine, the choosing of gospel over comfort.[...]

The true meaning of Revitalization.


Four times a year the Oxford English Dictionary updates its entries, adding hundreds of words each year.  Long the gold standard of the dictionary world, the OED has to update quarterly because of the massive influx of words today.   Words or phrases that 20 years ago would be nonsense are now part of every day language, even used in newspapers and on the nightly news.  This past December 2016, words such as Brexit, fulled, hakbut of crochet, Fulfulde (n. and adj.), glam-ma, YouTuber, and upstander were added to the list.  (No I don’t know what all those mean)Every so often in the Christian subculture there are new words and phrases that catch on and become buzzwords.  You might remember when words like missional, emergent, emerging, church planting, or more first began to be circulated.  Often due to influential books, authors, or preachers, these words help put a point on something that need to be expressed in the current moment. In the last few years the phrase “church revitalization” has been flowing fast and free.  I myself am getting a MA in Church Revitalization from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a degree that didn’t exist a few years ago.  Many state Baptist conventions have departments focused on church revitalization, there are national conferences for it, and more than a few books have been written about it.  All this for a word that wasn’t used hardly at all more than a few  years ago.“Church Revitalization” is a helpful phrase that illustrates what needs to be done with what many call  “legacy” churches.  A new church plant is not needed, but what is needed to is revitalize, literally to “imbue with new life and vitality,” churches that have long been stagnant or declining.  Much of what this brings to mind is updating church structures, changing harmful or unwieldy polity, and modernizing the worship service.  If you walked into a county seat First Baptist Church in a small town in the south, you might think you need to update the sanctuary, do away with committees that don’t work, and introduce modern music and other elements into the worship service.  You could do all of these things, however, and still have the same people without a revitalized church.  We often say that the church is the people, not a building. This is backed up by scripture of course. But if the church is the people, then there is only one way to revitalize a church: revitalize the people.  This is much more difficult work of course.  It’s easy to paint walls, to change bylaws, or teach people a new song.  Those things are easy to change in comparison to changing a person's heart.  But heart change is the only true and lasting way to change a church.  The way a person's heart changes is through the Holy Sprit, of course.  The method that God has ordained for us to do this is through discipleship. My experience is that most churches that are need of revitalization are full of people who need discipled, and have probably never been truly discipled.  They might have been in church for 40, 50, or 60 years, they might be deacons or committee chairs or Sunday School teachers.  Please hear me.  This is not an indictment of these people as much as it is an indictment of the system that let this happen. These people are often the pillars of the church, who have upheld it for generations.  They might be good people, who sincerely love God, but they have never been sho[...]

What's left when a church closes


Some skills are God-given. Some are acquired through hard work.  Through years of practice and hard work, I have learned to spot a garage sale sign at great distances.  Driving through the city recently my eye caught a big one.   Not only was it a going out of business sign, it was at a church. I drove to a big old church building that backed up to a high school in one of the older parts of the city.  It was a mainline protestant church, and as I entered the old gym, the sights and smells were familiar.  It looked and felt like almost every older church I have been in.  Like my church, even.  I wandered around the building some, and it had all the problems older buildings have. Dated decor, lots of stairs, and it was probably difficult to direct people in the maze of hallways.  One table in the back had a picture of the congregation taken a few years back. The church shared little demographically with the high school you could see out the window.  I talked to a few of the ladies working the sale. The church was closing down because they didn't have the money to pay the bills, the building was too much to take care of, and the just couldn't keep membership up. Tears filled their eyes as they spoke of closing down the church, and how hard it had been.  I wished I had more time to hear their stories. It was a sobering thing to walk this church as it was closing.  The stuff, junk some would say, that filled the tables represented hundreds of  thousands of dollars worth of items. The chairs and tables that were for sale once sat in classrooms that were filled with children hearing the Gospel, with adults studying the bible, and with youth learning about Jesus.  But now?  The hallways were dead, the classrooms were silent, and the nursery was stripped of anything that could be sold. The tables were piled high with many of the same things that probably fill many older churches, tucked away in closets and classrooms.  Punch bowls, board games, fake flowers and foliage. There were lots of decorations for all the holidays, telephones, and file cabinets.  There were piles and piles of tables and chairs, bookshelves and books, curriculum and more. A table full of office supplies, kids toys, and craft supplies.  There was a corner in the back with filmstrips and projectors and turntables. The record player, with stereo and turntable, had a label on it that said it belonged to the "Youth Department." This is what is left over a church closes. Stuff. Stuff that once was used for ministry, for the glory of God, was being picked over and sold for pennies on the dollar.  At one point all of these things were seen as helpful, necessary even, for the ministry that church did. People sacrificed to buy these things, to provide the church with what it needed to survive and do ministry.But what the church needs most is people, not things. The people who populated the halls were long gone, but the stuff remained.  You can often tell what a person values by what they own. At an estate sale, a person's life is on display, what they spent their money on, where they went, what they took pictures of to preserve the memory of.  This church sale felt the same way.  You could see the nursery items and kids' tables and communion sets.  They had everything that a person might say you need to have church.  There are church plants that would love to have their space, their kids supplies, their instruments. &[...]

He Passed me the plate


It was something that had happened to me hundreds of times before.  I stood in front of the church leading in the Lord's Supper.  Taking the plates, leading in prayer, and doing it all in remembrance of the work and sacrifice of Jesus.

I had prepared and prayed and was ready to lead.  As the music started and I walked out I was reminded again of how grateful I was to be able to lead the church in this remembrance.  I think this is one the great privileiges I have as a pastor, and I have tried to never take it for granted.

Our human mind though, often forgets, even when it needs to remember.  My desk that is littered with post-it notes is a testament to that.  It is because God knows that we are prone to forget that we are told to "do this in remembrance of me."  Every time  your church partakes in this remembrance, it helps to remind us, so that we don't forget the sacrifice of Christ for us, His body broken and his blood shed.

The deacons who had served the bread to the church returned with the plates.  I took one and offered him the bread, and turned to the other side.  He also took a piece as I held it, but then he passed me the plate.

He passed me the plate.

In that moment I was overwhelmed by the sacrifice of Christ as I was reminded I'm  a participant in the Lord's Supper, not a leader.  Though it might be privilege to stand at the front of the church as we remember the body and the blood of Christ, I am just in much of that grace that was given at the cross as anyone else.

I hope you get that same kind of reminder today.

2 gods or One God


We all have a choice. At the end of his life Joshua stood before the people he had led into the Promised Land.  He reminds of all that God has done for them.  After coming from Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb had the faith that God would deliver the nations of Canaan into their hands. Their faith was rewarded, and after wandering through the desert Joshua was picked by God as the successor to Moses.  Joshua led them against Jericho, and then in a systematic march through the land.  God delivered Israel, just as Joshua said he would.  Now at the end of his life, Joshua reminds the nation of all that God has done.  He doesn't leave it there, though, and in Joshua 24 he recounts the whole history of Israel, starting with Abraham.  God's faithfulness is show through Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers. The list of nations was impressive.  Pharoah and Egypt, Balak and Moab, Jericho, the Amorites, the Preizzites, the Canaanite's and the Hittite's, the Girgashite's, the Hivite's, the Jebusites.  All of these nations God had defeated before Israel.  In a beautiful picture of the gospel, God tells them that"I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant."  Joshua 24:13Who could forget God and all his deeds?  How could they choose someone else after all that God has done for them? But Joshua knew the truth:  We all have a choice about what God we will worship.  God created us with free choice to reject God. The question for every human being is not "Will I worship?" but "What will I worship?"Joshua offers three options. "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15You've heard part of that verse no doubt.  Go to your local Christian bookstore and you can find it in every kind of wall art you imagine.  It's good to choose to serve the Lord, but it's not your only option.  Joshua lists three choices that the nation of Israel has: the god's of your fathers, the god's of the Amorite's, or the God of Israel.  We are all faced with these options. We often makes idols out of the past.  Joshua has just spent many verses reminding Israel of it's past.  It's good and wise to celebrate what God has done in the past, but it's easy to make an idol out of it.  It's not a sin to remember the past. But it is a sin to focus on the past at the expense of the present.  There are multitudes of books and articles making this point about the modern church.  Nevertheless, it is a god that is chosen far too often by churches and individuals.  The churches that make this choice often find they have no choice but to close their doors, as their past is no longer wanted by today's world. Joshua also tells them they can worship the gods of the land, of the Amorites.  The god's of the present are a powerful pull on the church today.  We might easily see the folly of worshiping the gods of the past, but it's no use if we only exchange the past for the present. The gods of our age are not the gods of the Amorites, but the gods of pleasure, success, power, money, and[...]

To My 3 Daughters


When your mother and I got married, we dreamed of having children someday.  I can honestly admit for myself that none of those dreams involved having three daughters!   I'm definitely in over my head with bows, princesses, excessive amounts of pink, and SOOO much talking.  But God has blessed me with you, and I wouldn't change it for all the boys in the world.I'm concerned though, for your hearts as your grow up in an increasingly difficult world.  I'm not an old man, though you make me feel it sometimes. But the world I grew up in is not the world we live in now.  And I can't even imagine what the world will be like as you continue to grow and mature into womanhood.  Who knows what the results of the 2016 election will bring, or what the world of even our own state will look like in a few years.  It's hard to prepare you for a world that seems so uncertain. Should I be teaching your survival skills?  Or another language?  Should I be learning these things?  I can't foresee the all the future holds, but I know that your opinion of yourself will guide and shape your decisions.  I'm more convinced than ever that it's my duty as your father to make sure that your understanding of who you are doesn't just come from who the world says you are, but who God says you are. You are young enough now that you still have some innocence about you, and I want to protect that as long as I can. But no one can stay innocent in a fallen world forever, and so I want you to have a solid foundation as to who you are.1.  You are God's creation, made in His image.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  I don't have all the answers about just exactly how God created the world, or when it happened, but I believe that He did.  And I know that you are His special creation, that there is not another one of you in the whole world.  You have great value as the created child of God Almighty.  God chose to give you brown eyes or blue eyes, to make you tall or short, even to make contemplative or energetic.  You are God's creation, and for that reason you are valuable!  Others in this world will try to tell you that your value is based only on how you look, or what kind of clothes you wear, or who you date. But you, by yourself, as God made you, are of infinite worth.  Not only to me and your mother, but to God of all creation. Never take lightly the fact that God has made you just as you are for a purpose.  Your worth does not rise and fall with what people think of you. Rather, your worth is the same on the day you were born as it will be on the day you die: a beloved daughter of the King of Kings.2.  The world does not define what a woman is.  People are quick to say that a woman must act a certain way, or dress a certain way, or look a certain way.  Those values have changed over time and cultures. Different world cultures see beauty in different things. But God is the one who created you, as a woman, and God is the one who defines what that means.  And it's not about looks or abilities or what you want to wear. Who you are as a woman is something that has been built into you by God.  If try to hit the target of the world's definition of what a woman is, you will be aiming for a moving target your whole life.  Or you will be tempted to feel that you were somehow made wrong, as you don't match the worl[...]

The Living Church, by John Stott


John Stott was the longtime Rector of All Souls in England.  He was a celebrated author, theologian, and leader among evangelicals until his death in 2011.  Towards the end of his life he put out this book, The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor.  Stott shares some of his convictions about the necessity of the church, and the future of the church in an uncertain world.  Stott had a great love for the church, and that comes through in his writings.  He had the privilege to serve at the same church for practically his whole life, the same one he grew up at as a child. His love for the church was not limited to All Souls, though, and God used him mightily through his pen and pulpit to guide others towards Him.

Below are a few quotes

All authentic mission is incarnational mission. 

The church is not "over" the Holy Scriptures, but under them.  

The Holy Spirit's presence is not measured by decibels.  

No book is more scathing of empty religion than the Bible.  

The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.

This book by Stott was a short read, but a great reminder of God's heart for the church.  I encourage you to pick up and learn from it.