God has a purpose for every human life. Whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or whether a person is completely healthy in every way, every person has a God-given purpose. Human life is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of God.

During my time of “in between assignments,” I have been preparing to preach each week. As those who have known me or have followed my ministry, you know that I preach mostly in series and most of the series take on books of the Bible or portions of a book of the Bible. For December, I am preparing messages from the first two chapters of Luke. This week I have prepared a message from Luke 1:57-80 which describes the birth of John the Baptist. This passage emphasizes how God keeps His promises made to His people. The details about the naming of the baby born to Elizabeth and Zechariah indicate how he was destined for a significant ministry in service of God.Zechariah

Previously, Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah while he ministered in the temple. He delivered the message from God that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son. Because of their advanced ages, Zechariah questioned how this could happen and essentially asked for a sign. The Lord shut Zechariah’s mouth as a result of his faithlessness.

Since Elizabeth had hidden herself and Zechariah was mute, the news of the birth of this promised baby came as a sudden surprise for the neighbors and kin. They reacted with rejoicing and celebration. On the eighth day when the baby was circumcised, the people called the baby Zechariah, following the tradition of the day. But Elizabeth firmly declared, “No, he shall be called John.” When the crowd objected the name, they turned to Zechariah and made signs to him to see how he reacted to this name. Still speechless, Zechariah wrote “John” on a tablet. The people marveled at his agreement with Elizabeth and in the firmness of his reply.

As he expressed his agreement with Elizabeth, Zechariah regained his voice. With his first words, he offered praise to God. The people had witnessed the powerful moving of God and they were afraid. They asked, “What then will this child be?”

Zechariah moved dead silence to praise. Luke characterized his speech as prophecy which is always directed to others, not God. It served as guidance for those gathered for the circumcision ceremony, and it sheds light for us today concerning the Messiah. Zechariah answered more than the people’s question and went on to declare what this child’s birth revealed about God’s faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham and David. He also declared that it signaled the advent of the Messiah to deliver Israel.

This Messiah would be the Redeemer of all people, the mighty and victorious King, and the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who would remove the debt of sin on the cross. The Messiah would also be the Light of the world who would rise up in the darkness and be the light of the world. He would be the Prince of Peace. The Messiah would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Isaiah 9:6.

God has a divine plan for your life. Do not minimize it. God has you here for a purpose. You are a part of God’s plan. Ultimately, God wants you to find your purpose through Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not, whether you accept it or not, God has placed within your heart eternity. He has wired you to want to know Him. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11, ESV).  This makes people different and more valuable than every other living thing. People are not like animals that live and die and give no thought to what will happen in another life. We human beings ponder and lose sleep over what will become of us after death. That’s because God has made us for eternity. He created us for a greater purpose, a greater objective, not just for this life, but for what comes after this life.

This fact sets us apart from animals. This is what gives meaning to life. People were not made only for this existence on the earth. No, we were made by our Creator for eternity, and He has planted that into our hearts.

Recently I learned about an amazing bird that illustrates from nature what our Creator Bar-tailed_Godwithas implanted in us. There’s a small bird that grows up in northern Alaska called the bar-tailed godwit. The godwit has no outstanding outer characteristics. They have no extraordinary markings and they seem so ordinarily colored in mottled brown, black, and gray. They almost seem to blend into the water scene along the shore as just another bird that you see along the water.

But every fall flocks of bar-tailed godwits fly about 7,000 miles to New Zealand. When the young birds mature and start to migrate, something wired in them also directs them to New Zealand. Though they are land birds, and cannot fish or rest on the sea, they will cross most of the Pacific Ocean, and fly all the way to New Zealand. Many of them are young, and have never done this before.

How they do that, many of them never having been in the southern hemisphere, never having seen the southern stars, nobody seems to know. But they manage. One female, dubbed E7, because that was the code on her wireless transmitter, flew 11,680 kilometers (7,369 miles) in 8.1 days. Non-stop. The same homing signal that guides them over treacherous waters to New Zealand also navigates them back to their parents.

God has created the bar-tailed godwit with New Zealand in their hearts. Similarly, God has created within us “homing signals” for God and eternity. He has put eternity in our hearts. Our desire to live and our longing for something beyond this life comes from the One who loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.

 

15445658829_5b8245266e_bA number of years ago I began taking off my boots whenever I would preach. I never called attention to it; I simply did it.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it didn’t really make any difference to most people because they couldn’t see my feet while I was preaching anyway. For those who did, most generally did not ask me about it, but rather would either speculate why I did so or they would ask someone else.

Those who chose to speculate generally decided that I removed by boots because my feet hurt. Let’s deal with this first. While I do have a genetic circulatory issue (primary lymphedema), I don’t generally have pain associated with it. The lymphedema does call swelling in my calves, ankles, and feet, I don’t experience much discomfort. It just looks unsightly. I began wearing boots to cover the swollen ankles and to keep people from worrying about how big they were. While I enjoy wearing boots (and I rarely wear any other kind of footwear), my boots gave me some confidence because a negative aspect was covered.

However, the Lord convicted me concerning my pride when reading through the scriptures. In Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush and went to investigate it. God called out from the bush, “Moses, do not come near. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride in covering the part of my body that was not perfect. I didn’t want people to think less of me because of this physical deficiency. So one Sunday I removed my boots prior to going to the pulpit. Doing so serves to remind that when I am speaking for the Lord that I am standing on holy ground. I must look to Him and depend upon Him for the words that I will use. There’s a special urgency and a sense of unique importance in declaring each message that the Lord has given to me. Having removed my boots reminds me that I must never forget what the Lord has called me to do. Preaching His Word must never become a Sunday or Wednesday routine.

Removing my boots reminds me of the gravity of my calling and the reality of the one true God we worship. It reminds me that I am merely a tool in the Lord’s hands. It reminds me that I must depend on Him. It reminds me that no matter how much I have prepared in the study for the preaching moment, I must find my strength in the Lord alone.

 

 

IMG_1046Gayla and I enjoyed a great weekend with our children and grandchildren. We gathered on Friday for a day of giving thanks and enjoying one another’s company. While we waited for the rest of the family to gather, Gayla and Kendal prepared in the kitchen while Colin and I cleaned the pine straw from the roof and gutters. I mostly watched since I have been grounded from having much to do with ladders since my fall about six weeks ago!

After everyone arrived, we had plenty of time for talking, laughing, and playing before we enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. These gatherings are getting better and better, and we’re believing that the Lord will increase our number thereby increasing our praise and thanks to Him. What a matter God we serve!

I heard about a thanksgiving surprise that was picked up in some news services last November. It all started when a grandson forgot to notify his grandmother of a change in his cell phone number. This resulted in an awkward and potentially embarrassing situation for the unsuspecting new owner of his old number and for his grandmother.

The grandmother, Wanda Dench, sent a text message invitation to her family and friends to invite them over for a Thanksgiving meal. But that invitation made its way to Jamal Hinton, the new owner of her grandson’s old phone number. Jamal was offered a seat at Wanda Dench’s table for Thanksgiving when she thought she was texting her grandson. The text message ended with, “Let me know if you are coming. Hope to see you all.”

Jamal responded by asking for a photo to confirm if it was his own grandmother behind the text. Soon a picture of a woman with blonde hair and glasses showed up on Jamal’s phone.

“You’re not my grandma,” Jamal replied with a laughing emoji. He then sent back a selfie to let her know he was not her grandson. But Jamal did not stop there. He asked if it was possible to “still get a plate.”

In grandmotherly fashion, Dench responded, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.”

In an interview with KNXV in Phoenix, Hinton said, “I’d never seen her before, and she welcomed me into her home. That shows me how great of a person she is. I’m thankful for people like that.”

This morning I preached at Crossgate Church of Robert. While I am grateful for another opportunity to use my spiritual gift of preaching and teaching, what I really enjoyed was the fact this church has taken seriously its mission to love its neighbors seriously. The people in this church did not know Gayla and me except that their pastor had asked me to preach in his absence. They welcomed us and made sure that our needs were met. After the service, they came back over to where we were seated to greet us again and to thank us for coming.

I’m thinking that Wanda Dench’s response to Jamal’s question about still being able to come over for Thanksgiving. She said, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.” If the church takes seriously its mission to love its neighbors seriously, this will be on our lips, “Of course you can. That’s what Christian’s do.

Let’s make sure that we know that we must extend the invitation to all and to welcome them when they come. They need to know that we care.

be-stillLast Sunday afternoon Gayla and I traveled to Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Pastors Conference. I’ve learned a great deal over the past several months about the sovereignly of God — particularly His sovereignty with regards to His timing. However, He would teach us more at this conference. The theme, “Pause,” is what we are experiencing right now — a pause in our ministry. Sunday marked the final time that I would preach as the pastor of Mandeville’s First Baptist Church. With no “next assignment” in sight, we find ourselves in a pause in our ministry.

From Sunday evening to the close of the conference on Monday afternoon, we heard seven different speakers and five of them chose to speak from Psalm 46. That psalm is one of my favorites and includes one of the most quoted verses of the psalms — “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Martin Luther used this psalm as the scriptural basis of his “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Coincidentally, we just observed the 500th anniversary of the day when Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. The historical background of the psalm was God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians during the reign of King Hezekiah, who may have been the poet who the Spirit used to form this psalm and perhaps Psalms 47 and 48 as well.

The psalm has three stanzas, each marked off by the term “Selah,” a term that may mean a musical interlude. The interlude would give the worshipers the opportunity to reflect on the stanza that they had just heard or sung. Instructions in the text prior to verse one give instructions to the worship leader. Clearly, the Lord intended this psalm to be used as a hymn of worship.

Given that we heard this psalm used repeatedly as a sermon text at the pastors conference, I believe that the Lord wanted us to pause for a while so that we could hear from His Word that we could trust in what He had planned for us. He wanted us to know that we could trust Him. The three stanzas of Psalm 46 help the reader focus on the Lord and how He relates to His trusting people.

God is our refuge and tower of strength. God is that place of refuge or the fortress to whom we may go. When everything seems to be falling apart, He shelters us so that He can strengthen us to go back to life with its responsibilities, challenges, and even dangers. That the psalm writer said that He would be near “in times of trouble” describes God as He would be with us in the tight places of life. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid.” We need that kind of comforting word in the Christian life.

God is our river of joy. When the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem, their water supply would normally have been threatened. However, Hezekiah had built an underground water system that connected the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley with the Pool Siloam within the city walls, thus making water available. But the psalmist knew that the true source of the river of life was God. We need to know that our source of life is God and not our wise planning.

God is our God, and He will be glorified.  It’s not until verse 8 that the psalmist gave a command for his readers to heed, “Come, see the works of the LORD.” But this is not a command to do something. Rather, it is a command to watch God. What does He do? According to the psalm, He makes the wars cease by destroying the weapons of war. When you come to verse 10, there’s a new speaker. God says, “Stop your fighting, and know that I am God.” The Christian Standard Bible captures the nuance of the word that is often translated as “be still.” The command to be still is not simply a command to be quiet or to get alone. No, it’s a command to stop trying to fix things in your life yourself. It’s a command to stop depending on our your strength or your ingenuity and start depending on the Lord.

This morning when we came into the church where the Lord had assigned us to preach, Gayla pointed out a small plaque hanging above the baptistry at the front of the auditorium. It said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

The Lord has my attention during this pause in my ministry. I waiting for the Lord.

I’m encouraged by one of our newer members of the church. Her name is Linda. She joined our church just a few months ago. When she became a member of First Baptist, she let me know that while she wouldn’t be here long that that she would be as faithful in her attendance as possible.

Linda has cancer. But she did not let her illness for becoming fully immersed in our church family. She attended New Member Experience earlier this year, participated faithfully in Life Group, attended the Wednesday evening service, and joined the choir. I enjoyed visiting Linda in our sisters’s home because she always ended up encouraging me so much.

About a month ago, Linda decided that moving from her sister’s home and to a hospice house was the best place for her. She expected that she would be there only a short while as she waited for her time to go to her heavenly home. Gayla and I — and several others from our church family — have experienced the joy of visiting with Linda at the hospice house. The joy comes in what Linda brings to her visitors who come to encourage her. She always turns the visits into opportunities for speaking a word of joy or for singing songs of praise.

Last Sunday Linda once again spoke about her longing to go home to heaven. But then she said, “I guess the Lord still has something for me to do.” Gayla and I agreed with her. On Monday afternoon during our pastoral staff meeting, Linda sent me the following text message:Praise-God

“Just found out why I am still here. The 92-year-old lady from Germany who is in the hospice house just gave her heart to Jesus! Praise God Almighty! I just cried. I am so happy. Next time you come I will introduce her to you. She is so sweet.

“And another thing. A girl, who (when she was 9) used to go with me when I would sing at the nursing home, called me out of the blue. She told me that because of going her with me and all the biblical teaching I did with her and her sister was the reason she accepted Jesus. Now she goes to nursing homes and she felt like she was supposed to find me and tell me about that! Wow! Ain’t God good! Amen, amen! Just wanted to tell you. Have a blessed day. I did!”

 

Ray’s parents gave him a new Bible on his eighteenth birthday. It was his senior year in high school, the first week of two-a-day football practices, and Ray had crawled home that day bone tired. His mother had made a special dinner. His dad had written the following inside the Bible:

Bud, nothing could be greater than to have a son — a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be fully of blessing.

tattered bibleWe love you.

Dad

9/7/66

Phil. 1:6

In his blog posted on September 7, 2016, Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr., wrote, “As I read these wonderful words from fifty years ago, it never occurred to me to think, ‘Dad doesn’t really believe that. It’s just religious talk.’” Ray knew that his dad meant it because he had watched him live it. Ray’s dad was a student of the Bible, and his life was full of blessing, and Ray knew that he wanted what his father had.

While it took him a few more years to get clarity in some ways, Ray never stopped mining out the treasures in the Bible. What his dad had said so many years ago had left a deep impression. As he stated it, “It moved me then, and it moves me now.”

The B-I-B-L-E — yes, that’s the Book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. That’s true for me. I hope that it’s true for you. But in order for the Bible to make any impact on your life, you must invest time reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, and applying it to your life. If you don’t have a regular time to read God’s Word, please establish one. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies that you cannot understand it or that you don’t have time. God wants you to know Him through His Word. If you will ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind to understand the truth in His Word, do you think that He will not answer that prayer? I urge you to set a time when you can read God’s Word for yourself.