Most every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings you will likely find me in the principal’s office. I meet with one of our high school principals to listen, to encourage, and to pray for him and the school.

However, this week I also learned something about how people are likely watching what we do and how  we act. In fact, I learned that people look for the details in our lives. This week the office assistants at one of the schools asked about my snuff! So I guess it’s time for me to go public about my habit, because while some have been courageous enough to ask me about my back pocket ring, others have not.skoal-ring

Let’s be clear: it’s not Skoal ring! It’s a breath mint ring. The backstory about carrying it the round container is not very exciting. I choose this particular breath mint because it comes in a plastic container. Other brands come in metal tins, and the mints rattle as I walk.

So there you have it. It’s not very exciting.

However, it does say something about the fact that people do pay attention to the smallest things and draw conclusions about us. Sometimes those conclusions are wrong.

This made me think about other things people notice about us. Do they pay attention to our actions, to they way we dress, to our conversations with other people, to places we go? Let me just say, “Probably so.” And the consistency of these various aspects of our lives converge to reveal the true nature of our character. Our testimony should be like that of Paul: “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NLT).

Does the nature of your character reveal that you live in holiness and sincerity in all your conversations and dealings with people? Remember that your testimony is built through your 24/7 life — not just what you do and say at church or when you think no one is looking.  And your testimony gives you the platform for sharing the good news and for leading people to faith in Christ.

These next few weeks will give you plenty of opportunities to invite your friends and family members to share the season of Christmas. At our church (Mandeville’s First Baptist Church), we have an evening of Christmas music next Sunday, December 4, at 6 o’clock. We have the annual live nativity on December 9-11. We have a Christmas Eve service at 4:30 pm on December 24 and a Christmas Day service at 10:00 am on Sunday, December 25.

Yet the thing that we really need to share a verbal witness of the good news of Jesus Christ. Each of us have someone in our lives who has not experienced salvation and would spend eternity in a godless hell. We need to focus prayerfully on that individual and pray for the opportunity that the Holy Spirit will provide. Share how you came to faith in Christ and how your life has been affected by Him. Then tell how they, too, can have this forever relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the way, having a mint ready in my back pocket makes those conversations more pleasant for everyone!

A glass bottle washed up on the beach, a decades-old note inside sounds a bit like the introductory scene in a movie. But for Clint Buffington that situation turned into a reality.  Huffington discovered the bottle nestled in the sand on an overcast day in the Turks and Caicos near the Bahamas.

When he took a closer look, he noticed what was written on the note inside the bottle: “Look inside.” That got his heart racing.imrs

Eventually, he broke the bottle open, revealing the note, which had been scratched out in pencil and contained a few clues: an address (419 Ocean); a name (Tina); a name of something? (Beachcomber, spelled incorrectly). Was it a place? Was it an object? The words “return” and “reward” eventually became more clear, too.

Buffington — “an experienced message-in-a-bottle hunter” — eventually tracked down a potential contact by the name of Paula Pierce, whose mother Tina had been an owner of a motel on 419 Ocean Boulevard in Hampton, New Hampshire. Though Buffington found the bottle in 2011, it was not until last month that Buffington and Pierce met in person. Pierce, whose father is believed to have written the message, said it was “like being contacted from the past….That gave me chills today,” she said, “I actually started to cry.”

And Buffington? “I’ve been really lucky that I have this thing that allows me to open the door and connect with people that I would never have any reason or right to connect with otherwise.”

What “message in a bottle” moments can we look for as we seek to connect with people? What doors can we open in order to foster relationships that may have never existed otherwise? God has a purpose for each one of us. That purpose involves coming to a faith relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Coming to faith in Christ always involves some other person or persons. There’s always a connection, and that connection that leads to a “forever relationship” with Jesus Christ always involves a verbal or written testimony of the gospel.

I’m sure you know the “five-second rule.” You know the idea that if you drop a delicious bite of food on the floor, dirt and germs don’t have enough time to contaminate it. Parents sometimes apply this rule to pacifiers, although I doubt that first-time parents would do so! The history of the five-second rule is difficult to trace. One legend attributes the rule to Genghis Khan, who declared that food could be on the ground for five hours and still be safe to eat.5-second-rule

But a recent experiment should permanently debunk the five-second rule. Professor Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University, reported that a two-year study concluded that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it. You can check it out for yourself in his journal article “Is the Five-Second Rule Real?” found in the always exciting Journal for Applied and Environmental Microbiology. (I did check it out. It’s a 22-page document complete with charts and scientific diagrams. Ugh!)

Professor Schaffner tested four surfaces — stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood, and carpet — and four different foods: cut watermelon, bread, buttered bread, and strawberry gummy candy. They were dropped from a height of five inches onto surfaces treated with a bacteria. The researchers tested four contract times — less than one second and five, thirty, and three hundred seconds. A total of 128 possible combinations of surface, food, and seconds were replicated twenty times each, yielding 2,560 measurements. So after those 2,560 drops they found that fallen food had not escaped contamination, leading Professor Schaffner to conclude, “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously.” In other words, they debunked the legendary five-second rule.

My first reaction: Really? You actually conducted a two-year study on this? And why conduct any phase of this experiment for thirty seconds, let alone three hundred seconds?

Yet I will give Professor Schaffner credit for going to the effort of disproving the five-second rule rather than blindly accepting it as fact. And it makes me question other things that we blindly adopt without critical study. What cultural and lifestyle beliefs have you adopted without critical study? What theological ideas and beliefs have you assumed were true because someone told you they were true?

We live in critical times. We must be discerning. We must remain true to the Lord Jesus. There is no middle ground.

1  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

2  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

3  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

4  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

5  They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

6  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:1-6 (ESV)

Because of Jesus,

Ken Schroeder

Follow me on Twitter @kenschroeder

Awaken-America_FINAL_BlogAfter finishing up the second service last Sunday, I raced off the campus for home to grab the sandwich Gayla had ready for me. With bags in hand, we jumped into her car and Gayla drove us to the airport for a 3:00 flight. Although it ended up taking a couple of tries to make it to Houston (that’s a whole other story), we finally made to St. Louis just after midnight. As we made plans for this trip, we had made contact with Warren and Pat Greenwalt, former members of our church. Warren would pick us up at the airport, since Pat was flying from Dallas on Sunday evening. As it turned out, Pat’s flight had also been delayed, the Greenwalts still took us to our hotel. (And by the way, the four us sat together on Wednesday evening at a Cardinals game!)

Gayla and I attended the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference on Monday. The music and preaching touched our souls, especially as Passion led the worship on Monday evening and Pastor Greg Laurie delivered us to the Word.

The SBC Annual Meeting began on Tuesday and concluded on Wednesday. With a  theme of “Awaken America: Reach the World,” I want to report that this convention encouraged me in so many ways. Our convention took steps to reaffirm biblical principles and to recommit its passion for personal evangelism. Three words describe the overall thrust of the meetings: agree, unite, and pray. We did much together to make these happen.

We also had an election for convention president. Ronnie Floyd of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas was completing two years as president. Three pastors were nominated: David Crosby, FBC New Orleans; Steve Gaines, Bellevue Baptist, Memphis; and J. D. Greear, Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham. None of these godly men received the needed 50% plus 1 to win. Gaines and Greear were in a runoff.

The vote result was not announced until just ahead of the Tuesday evening time of worship and prayer for spiritual awakening. Gayla and I happened to be seated just behind Gaines. Only in a Baptist meeting with only two candidates would it be possible for neither to get a majority. Gaines received 49.96% of the votes while Greear received 47.8% because 108 votes were declared “illegal.” The bylaws require that all votes be counted towards the total, so Gaines was 3 votes short of a majority. We watched how Gaines reacted and how he would tell his wife as she joined him. We had the opportunity during the service to pray in a circle that included several of the Gaines family.

Later Gayla and I prayed that Greear would drop out, since Gaines was so close to winning the ballot. We also watched as someone tapped Gaines on the shoulder so that they could talk. Then Gaines returned to his seat and talked briefly with his wife before slipping out.

The time for next runoff ballot would occur just before 11am on Wednesday. As the convention hall began to swell with messengers as that time neared, we could feel the anticipation of something big. That something big came when Ronnie Floyd announced that he would recognize both J. D. Greear and Steve Gaines so that they could speak. Greear told the convention he prayed the night before and believed “we need to leave St. Louis united.” He made the motion for Gaines to be elected by acclamation. Gaines said, he, too had decided internally Tuesday night to withdraw but agreed to serve as president after a conversation with Greear. “There’s no way God is not doing something in all of this. I just wanted Jesus to be lifted high and the convention to be united.”

Just after Gaines had been elected by acclamation, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, preached the convention message from Psalm 133, the very passage to which the Holy Spirit drew Gaines and Greear the night before. The Lord gave us great unity.

I am so hopeful about our future. Would you join me in praying our church and our convention of churches as Gaines leads us to emphasize spiritual awakening, soul-winning, and stewardship?

Most every week I pray with each of the three high school principals in Mandeville. I have a standing appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at the Fontainebleau, Lakeshore, and Mandeville. During these times of prayer, I listen to each of these men as they talk about their students and faculty. We often talk about our church and how things are going. At the end our brief time together, I will pray for the principal, the students, the faculty, and any specific prayer request that has been voiced.

This week was different. Having already heard about a Mandeville High School student who had taken his life on Monday, I received a text message early Thursday morning informing me that a second student from the school had taken his life. While it’s not unusual to have a difficult time finding a place to park at the school, I decided to park in a “staff only” space. As I approached the school’s administrative offices, I walked past more than a half dozen police officers. Once inside, I waited for a while as the office staff answered the phone, taking time to address concerns raised.  Grief counselors had been summoned. A couple of student assemblies had been planned.

While I did not get to pray with the principal, I did pray for him and his staff and students as I left the campus. Without a doubt, this would be a difficult day and week for the school. The families affected by these tragedies need our prayers and our comfort. The hurt is deep. The anxiety caused by these losses can be devastating.

What can you do? Pray. Then pray some more. If you are close to the family, then do not stay away. If you are not close to the family, it is probably better to pray from a distance. The truest friends are those who wait. This loss is so unexplainable, so difficult to grasp. You need to wait for the griever to grieve. Don’t pressure them to “get back to normal.” Their normal has been rocked. Embrace them with love. Don’t try to offer answers. Eventually, you can point them to the hope and joy and victory that can only be found in Christ.

In March of 2014, a year after the devastating loss of his twenty-seven-year-old son who took his own life, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church was asked, “How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?” His answer? “Easter.” Warren went on, “You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory. And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Number two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Number three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’”

The answer is Easter!

KenThe answer to all the fundamental questions in life is the same. The answer…is Easter.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son, Matthew, took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years. About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, “I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ And I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter.’”

“You see, the death and burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.

“And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’

“The answer is Easter. The answer…is Easter!”

Your loss may not have been like the Warrens, but your loss—no matter its form—brought you pain and suffering. At the time of the crisis, you hurt deeply. Whether the loss was a loved one or a marriage or a relationship or a job or a home, your loss brought doubt and confusion. And the only way anyone can overcome these kinds of losses comes in faith resting on the ultimate provision through Jesus Christ.

Let me be clear. I’m not simply talking about believing the facts about Jesus—the virgin birth, living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead. I’m talking about believing this AND receiving Jesus into your life. Receiving Him means to welcome Jesus into your life to take control of your life. It means turning from your sin and turning to Christ. When you rest your life on Jesus, you can face the losses in life knowing that God has not forsaken you and that He will ultimately bring you to days of joy and victory. If you have never placed your faith in Christ by welcoming Him into your life, I urge you to do so today.

images-3At the Midweek Service on Wednesday, I told about an article written in the New York Post. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coast of the Northeastern United States. (The article called the storm “venti-sized” which I prefer to the media referring to it as a superstorm, but that’s another story.)  By the time Sandy subsided, 286 people lost their lives along the storm’s path in seven countries.

As the hurricane bore down on New York City, almost everything shut down — except for one rogue Starbucks near Times Square. Desperate but highly committed Starbuck junkies fought high winds, dangerous rains, and dire warnings just to get a latte or a cup of coffee. Bethany, 28, walked 10 blocks with her one-year-old daughter for a fix. “I saw on Facebook that they were open,” she said. “It was scary not having Starbucks.” Her neighbor and friend, twenty-nine-year old Chris came along and later said, “When she said they were open, I said, ‘Pack up the baby. Let’s go!’ I didn’t know they were all going to close. I started panicking. There’s nothing else I would’ve gone out for. This makes my day complete.”

They were a part of a daylong stream of customers that packed the store, standing shoulder to shoulder and waiting at least ten minutes to order. Alex, 25, walked more than twenty blocks looking for an open Starbucks. He told reporters, “It took half an hour. But I’m a Starbucks fanatic. I go four or five times a day.” David, also 25, said he went to three closed Starbucks before learning the store was open. He said, “I’m really happy these guys are open. I can’t get a pumpkin spice latte anywhere else. The ten-minute wait was worth it.”

People will make sacrifices for what they value. If we value Christ, we will lay down our lives for Him. The people in this true news story were nuts, but you have to say that they weren’t lukewarm or uncommitted about following their deep desire for a pumpkin spice latte. They willingly risked the safety of their homes to pursue what they valued.

When it comes to serving the Lord, He calls us all to the same level of commitment. “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That’s a definitive call and that call is not based upon what is comfortable. It’s a call to self-denial.