1 cor. 9.22.001Recently I posted about purchasing a couple of tickets to a baseball game for my wife and me to attend. Our local AAA baseball team had partnered with a semiprofessional football in our area for a one-night promotional event through which the Bayou Lacombe Cardinals football team would receive a portion of the proceeds. I also happen to work with the team as their public address announcer.

I had no idea that my post — meant to urge others to purchase tickets to support the football team — would be controversial. Because I am also a pastor, my association with the team was questioned, and I offered an immediate straightforward answer: “I’m building relationships with people who need the gospel.” Somehow this led to a charge that my “popularity” has to do with my willingness to please people and to conform to their ways. The charge continued to what must have been the aim of the original question, which was to disparage the use of contemporary music in churches.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I enjoy contemporary music. But I also enjoy the sacred hymns. However, I also enjoy many other styles of music. When asked “What kind of music do I want the church to use?” I always respond, “Music that honors God and that is done well and that relates to the people. I define “done well” as that which is presented as the best the particular congregation, singers, or instrumentalists can offer because we ought always offer our best when it comes to worshiping the Lord.”

Throughout my ministry I have pursued a variety of interests in order to connect with people in the community. The goal has always been the same — to build relationships with people who need the gospel. The apostle Paul modeled this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul clearly stated his purpose for conforming to the customs and opinions of men by stating “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). What mattered to Paul was not him, his rights, or his preferences, but the gospel. The gospel consumed his life.

The controversy surrounding “contemporary music” hardly smacks of something new. In 1873 (that’s more than 150 years ago!), something new came on the scene when the great preacher D.L. Moody’s singing associate, Ira D. Sankey, introduced what became known as the “singing of the gospel.” Sankey’s style completely revolutionized the music of the church.

Before Sankey, a cappella singing of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs had always been an important part of worship services. However, Sankey introduced a style of popular hymn calculated to awaken the careless, to melt the hardened, and to guide the inquiring souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. Often when the Moody-Sankey team came to town for an evangelistic campaign, the people would come out of curiosity to see and hear Sankey sing. Pedaling his small cabinet organ, he would sing out in his rich, melodious voice, and completely captivate his audience. During this time many church members thought that the use of an organ or any kind of musical instrument to accompany the voices of singers was wicked and worldly. Strict church people, accustomed only to the unaccompanied old psalm-singing type of church music called Sankey’s songs “human hymns.” It took tact on the part of Sankey to break down the prejudice against organ music. He helped transition the practice and the result was a wave of well-composed and great theologically sound hymns which are still sung in churches today.

I believe that each generation needs its Ira Sankeys who can tactfully make the theology of Scripture speak to the people. People often say that the older hymns have such theological value and that we should be teaching their value and not have them lost. If by teaching the value of hymns, you mean that we should sing songs that have robust theological meaning, I wholeheartedly agree. If you mean that we need to teach a particular style of music, that’s actually missing the point. People are converted to Christ through the gospel not through a style of music.

What matters is the theological truth that comes from Scripture. Words are what matters — not the melodies or tunes or even the instruments. We should sing truth. We can sing truth with new songs and new instruments, and we can sing truth with old songs and new instruments and new arrangements.

It comes down to getting the saving message of the gospel to people. I cannot win everyone, but I’m willing to do whatever is biblically permissible to win some. And I’m willing to rub elbows with anyone if it means that I might have the opportunity to speak the gospel.

 

 

 

 

I often use “Truth is unkillable” as my salutation on emails and letters. Occasionally, someone will ask, “What does that mean? Why do you sign off like that?”

I started using the salutation after I had attended a conference at Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary held in January 2012. The conference, “Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists,” included speakers including Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, and Emir Caner. One speaker in particular included that surprised me was Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church.

Known also as the Radical Reformers, 16th-century Anabaptists, such as Menno Simons (the namesake of the modern Mennonite church), Pilgram Marpeck and Balthasar Hubmaier, defended the authority of Scripture, the practice of believer’s baptism and religious liberty. Modern Baptists hold these convictions in common with the Radical Reformers, who for their beliefs often faced persecution and death at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants alike.

Warren pointed out during his address that the word “radical” means “of the root,” as portrayed in most areas of life. In Botany, for example, “radical leaves” on a tree are closest to the root; in mathematics, “the radical is the root of the equation;” and in grammar, “the radical is the root with all prefixes and suffixes removed.” In most areas of life, Warren said, “radical” does not mean “extreme.”

Radical means “rooted.” The Radical Reformers were rooted in Christ and rooted in the Word of God. As rooted believers, as the Radical Reformers read the Scriptures following the Luther’s Reformation, they concluded that Christianity had strayed from its doctrinal moorings. In other words, the faith and practices of the Catholic Church did not root in Scripture but in tradition. The Radical Reformers also concluded that the magisterial reformation did not go far enough.

“The Anabaptists didn’t just believe in the purpose of the Great Commission,” Warren said, but also in “the exact order of the Great Commission.” The church should first go, then preach the Gospel and make disciples, then baptize those who believe, and then teach them to do everything the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded.

At the conference I picked up several books about the Anabaptists, including one on the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the greatest theologian of the early Anabaptists. He used this salutation on all his writing: Die Wahrheit ist untödlich (“Truth is unkillable”). “Unkillable” is not a word in the English language; however, it is the best translation of Hubmaier’s word.

We live in an age where many people want to define truth for themselves — to make it relative or convenient. But truth does not change. We need a reliable source, and the world’s culture will never deliver on a reliable source. We must root our lives on the only reliable source — Jesus Christ. He has given us His Word. The Word alone is reliable — eternal — unkillable!

Solomon had much to say about worldly treasure. Here are a few verses from Ecclesiastes:  

The one who loves silver is never satisfied with silver, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. 11 When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? 12 The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12, CSB).

 

People are continually searching for the treasure of true life and joy and love. Jesus Christ promised that He was that treasure. Any other treasure will lead you astray. This still doesn’t stop people from searching in the wrong places for what they believe will bring them joy.

Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a bronze chest filled with gold and precious gems. The search for this hidden treasure has become a hobby for some, an obsession for others, and for one recent searcher — a fatal pursuit.

Last summer, 53-year-old Jeff Murphy was hiking in Yellowstone National Park when he disappeared. Park investigators found his body on June 9, where Murphy had fallen 500 feet from Turkey Pen Peak, after accidentally stepping into a chute.

The man behind the treasure is Forrest Fenn, an 86-year-old millionaire, former Vietnam fighter pilot, self-taught archaeologist, and successful art dealer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “No one knows where that treasure chest is but me,” Fenn says. “If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me.”

“The ornate, Romanesque box is 10-by-10 inches and weighs about 40 pounds when loaded,” NPR’s John Burnett reported in 2016. “Fenn has only revealed that it is hidden in the Rocky Mountains, somewhere between Santa Fe and the Canadian border at an elevation above 5,000 feet. It’s not in a mine, a graveyard, or near a structure.” For further clues, you have to read the poem in his self-published book, The Thrill of the Chase.

Here’s one stanza:

Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk.

Put in below the home of Brown.

So far tens of thousands of people have reportedly gone looking for Fenn’s treasure, thought to be worth well over a million dollars. Murphy is the fourth man to die while searching for the chest.

Solomon concluded Ecclesiastes 5 with a word towards focusing on God who brings us satisfying joy:

Here is what I have seen to be good: It is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. 19 Furthermore, everyone to whom God has given riches and wealth, he has also allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, 20 for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, CSB).

Why not spend your efforts finding and enjoying the real treasure found in a relationship with Jesus Christ?

soccerNothing can stop the world’s most dedicated sports fan from supporting his beloved team.

Ali Demirkaya, nicknamed  “Yamuk Ali” (or crazy Ali) by the Internet, is a soccer fan of the local soccer team in Denizlispor, Turkey. Ali, who had been banned from Denizli Atatürk stadium for unspecified reasons, took the only reasonable course to watch the game. He rented a crane. soccer fan

From high above just beyond the stadium limits, the diehard Denizlispor fan watched his team vanquish Gaziantepspor 5-0. He even led the crowd in a chant.

“That match was very important for our team,” he explained to Yeni Asir newspaper. “I had to go to the police station to sign a paper to show that I am not watching the match in the stadium. Then I quickly went to rent the crane.” Social media in the area was full of pictures of a jubilant Ali cheering from his perch.

Ultimately, police were summoned and Ali was forced to lower the crane. Nevertheless, he still ended the day on a high note. The stunt only cost him the equivalent of $86, he wasn’t cited or fined by the authorities, and his team won 5-0.

How far would you go to get something you wanted? It will likely come down to how bad you want it. If it means something to you, you’ll get creative to make sure you don’t miss out. Sometimes God’s blessing comes to those willing to go to extremes.

God offers spiritual disciplines as the means to understand His heart and His will for our lives. The disciplines of prayer, meditating on His Word, and fasting are only some of them. Unfortunately, many believers think that the spiritual disciplines are extreme and only have to be used in dire circumstances. However, if you really want to know that heart of God, you’ll be more than willing to do whatever it takes.

bushThe story of Moses’ call has always interested me. Recently the Lord drove me to take a fresh look at how God works in our lives — often without our realizing how intricately He engages into every aspect of our days. While God is always up to something, it’s not His way to explain Himself other than to record in His Word so that we learn from Him. We can certainly agree with what Isaiah the prophet said about God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

As the book of Exodus opens, it appears that God has forgotten Israel and His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Egypt has enslaved Israel and has held them in bondage and treated them harshly for more than 350 years. Because Israel had increased in number and because the Egyptian king feared that Israel might join Egypt’s enemies, the king ordered the execution of all Hebrew boy babies by throwing them into the Nile River. One Hebrew mother hid her son for three months until she placed a floating basket which carried her son into the river. The Egyptian king’s daughter rescued the baby, and the baby’s sister suggested that she could find a Hebrew woman to nurse him. In this way, the baby’s own mother would be the chief influencer of that baby for first few years of his life.

As Moses grew up in the household of the Egyptian king, he was afforded all the best of Egypt. However, the early nurturing of his mother took hold. Moses would come to identify with his people. When he came to the rescue of a Hebrew slave who was being beaten by his Egyptian taskmaster, Moses killed the Egyptian. A couple of days later, Moses fled Egypt fearing for his own life.

Exodus 2 closes with Moses gone from Egypt and caring for sheep in Midian while the Israelites still suffered the hardship of slavery. While the text of Exodus gives no time frame, Deacon Stephen does in Acts 7. In his testimony in his trial, Stephen noted that Moses was 40 when he identified with his own people and that it was another 40 years when he had the encounter with the burning bush. There’s no other record of what Moses may have been doing other than the ordinary day-to-day work of caring for sheep and providing for his family. In other words, it would appear that God had forgotten His people in Egypt. But we would do well remember that God doesn’t get in our kind of hurry.

The day that God showed up in the form of a burning bush on the side of mountain, Moses was caring for Jethro’s sheep. God took the initiative. Moses was minding his own business and had been doing to for 40 years when God summoned him to come up to Mount Horeb.

This week I read the account of J.P. Lowery of Mount Pleasant, Texas, who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday. What got my attention was the headline in the Southern Baptist Texan: “100-year old Sunday School Teacher Began Ministering at 60.” Born in Mississippi, Lowery was just 5 years old when his father died. His mother provided for the family sharecropping until he was 14 when the family moved to a farm in West Texas. They didn’t live near a church, but they did go to Sunday School in a two-room schoolhouse where he attended school. After serving in the Army in the late 40s, Lowery returned home. He worked as a police officer and had an electronics repair business. He and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant after visiting his sister there in the late 50s.

Lowery commented, “I was living a pretty good life but I needed to become a Christian.” It wasn’t until he had a talk with the pastor of First Baptist Church of Cookville that he realized he was lost. “I had lived all those 41 years and thought I was a pretty good guy. The Holy Spirit got ahold of me and made me realize I was going to hell if I didn’t change my ways.”

It sounds to me, like Moses, J.P. Lowery was minding his own business when God showed up in his life and invited him to have a relationship with Him. Lowery concluded, “You know, if God wants you to do something, He’ll manage for you to do it and that’s the way it happened for me.”

Watch Your Mouth!

Posted: May 15, 2018 in Church, Gossip, Stories, Tongue
Tags: ,

81977

Recently it seems that I have either received or caused a number of pocket dials. You know, those times when your smartphone “reaches out and touches someone” at some awkward moment. Usually it’s someone you have recently called. For me that means it will be my wife, one of my children, my mother, or one of my brothers. At best such phone calls can be embarrassing–and at worst, it could cost you your job.

James Stephens discovered that a pocket dial late one evening cost him dearly. Stephens and his wife were at home one night complaining about his boss who overheard because James had pocket dialed him. The next day, James says he was given a choice: resign or be fired. He resigned. Now, he and his wife are suing, claiming that eavesdropping was illegal.

Stephens says that his former boss had a tendency to call him after hours quite a bit. After his boss called him at home late one night his wife Gina had something to say about the “intrusion.”  Unfortunately his boss overheard them talking for about 12 minutes before James realized he had pocket dialed his boss. He hung up immediately. However, it was too late. The next day Stephens was forced to resign his six-figure job.

The  Stephenses have sued James’s boss personally, claiming he had invaded their right to privacy with “voyeuristic eavesdropping (that was) felonious conduct,” However, they face an uphill battle. One legal analyst opined, “What we find here is someone who really believed he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in having a very, very confidential conversation with his wife and that yet, it may not be private at all.”

Centuries before any telephone existed, James wrote about the untamable nature of the tongue. “For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:7-10).

The tongue is hard to tame, be careful in our communication, what’s done in private can be revealed in public.

 

Little Church

After serving as a pastor of a local church for thirty-five years and now having stepped down from the pastorate of my last church, my wife and I have experienced  a different perspective about the local church. Most people choose a church based on the quality of the services or the power in the pulpit or the size of the membership.

After we resigned, we sought the Lord’s guidance for a church to call our “home church.” This was a new and awkward experience for us because the last four churches we called our church came automatically to us as we accepted the call to be the pastor. The awkwardness continued as the Lord gave us several opportunities to preach for churches for the first several weeks. The church we joined has welcomed us and loved us. The pastor and his wife, the deacons, and members reached out to us when we needed it. They have prayed for us and and have encouraged us. We found that the most important ingredient to finding the right church was not really the dynamism of the leaders but the devotion of the people. The church the Lord led us to join is what most people would call a “small church.” But we think this church has a big heart.

Last week Gayla and I attended the midweek service at one of the churches where I have preached a couple of times recently. We needed to meet with one of the members there about a property transaction with our local Baptist association. We arrived just as the service was beginning. (We had underestimated the amount of time it would take to get to this little country church.) We joined a small group of attenders — my wife and I increased their attendance to a dozen souls. Since we had been with these people before, they stopped and greeted us before they continued with the lesson.

Since we had planned to go home afterwards to eat a light supper, we were a bit hungry. My hunger only increased as the aroma of a wonderful meal that I supposed had been enjoyed before the service began. However to my surprise when the service ended, there was an immediate insistence, “You both will be staying for supper!”

While not wanting to be a burden on the small gathering, we succumbed to their urging. And we were glad we did. Not that the meal was anything special, the fellowship around the table with believers we barely knew was especially sweet. There’s just something about communing the body of Christ.

If you’re not a member of a local body of believers, you’re missing out on a big blessing. And don’t judge the size of your blessing on the size of the congregation. God becomes so real when He comes from the hearts of His people.