Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

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!

Firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department found a creative way to find and rescue a lost teenager. When thirteen-year-old Jesse Hernandez plunged 25 feet into a four-foot-wide sewer pipe after walking on some wooden planks in an abandoned building, rescuers turned to a superhero-inspired solution to help locate the young boy. rescue

The search, which lasted 13 hours, was a race against time as survivability diminishes in that toxic environment according to Erik Scott with the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD). More than 100 firefighters searched 2,400 feet of pipe in a maze of a sewer system that has different depths of water moving at around 15 miles per hour.

Since the hazardous environment prevented crews from wading in directly, firefighters strapped a camera to a flotation device, and used its signal along with other “Batman-like tools” to track the boy’s location, identifying the handprints he left on the pipe walls along the way.

Rescuers found Hernandez a mile east of where he accidentally entered the sewer pipe. After the rescue, LAFD personnel gave him a cell phone to call his parents, obviously quite relieved.

I love that the LAFD found a creative way to find and rescue Hernandez. But I am forever grateful that the Creator of the Universe sent His one and only Son into the hazardous environment of our sin-filled world. Through the life, death, resurrection, and saving power of Jesus Christ, we can be rescued forever.

This week I attended a pastors’ conference that encouraged me greatly. Greg Gilbert, who serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, led the conference. The Lord used Greg to speak into my heart from the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He noted that this story was not as much about Joseph as it was about God. When I told Gayla about it, she said, “The story of Joseph has always been one of my favorites because of what God did in Joseph’s life.”

I’d like to share the lessons I learned from Joseph. The main idea of the narrative is that whatever your circumstances remember that God has a purpose for it all even if it is not what you want or expect. With my recent experience of having stepped down as pastor of my church, I can assure you that these words resonated with me with particular power. Greg offered five points of application from Joseph’s life.

First, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, remember that you work for the Lord. Joseph worked for several different people — his father, Potiphar, the chief jailer, Pharaoh. But he really worked for God no matter who his earthly boss may have been. Problems can come in our ministry when we make an idol of our ministry. It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing everything revolves around us. You can begin to believe that you deserve certain things. Problems can also come when you become idle in the heart. You must keep the spiritual fire alive by washing yourself in the Word. You cannot continue to work effectively for the Lord without His strengthening.

Second, remember that God is sovereign over every detail of your life. Joseph knew that God allowed all the things to happen to him. The dreams of Genesis 37 reveal the end of the story, but they aren’t there to kill the plot. God was “calling His shot” (kind of like Babe Ruth calling his famous home run). Joseph delivered the clinching line, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).  You need to learn to rest in God’s sovereignty. There’s nothing that happens without God’s ordination and permission. God rules without exception. (Boy, did I needed that!)

Third, because God is sovereign you need to work hard to develop a patient quiet trust in God. Joseph had a remarkable confidence in God. He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but continued to be confident. Consider his resolve even after being thrown into the pit by his brothers. Consider his resolve even after two plus years in the prison. What a great model! It would have been so easy to give up on God. You need to remember that God’s providence is longer than your life.

Fourth, whatever your circumstances, learn to be joyful and serve well where you are placed. Wherever Joseph served, he served his master well. There was no indication that he complained — even when he was falsely accused or forgotten in the prison. When I left my last church, I determined that the Lord was not finished with me and that I would still serve Him. God has faithfully provided opportunities for me to preach or teach.

Fifth, leave the results to God. To be sure, some of the preaching opportunities have been humbling, but I have rejoiced in knowing that He knows where I am and that He has appointed these opportunities for me. I also remain confident that He has a more permanent assignment for me in the future. Therefore, I will work faithfully for Him through this present period in my ministry. Taking Joseph as my example, I will not attempt to wrangle circumstances for my advantage.

As Greg concluded his talk, he took time to observe how irrelevant Joseph is for the rest of the Bible. Although Moses focused on his story from Genesis 37-50, Joseph barely gets mentioned for the rest of the Bible. He was so important in Genesis — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — the patriarchs. But in Matthew, the record says, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. What a shocker! But this only underscores that God does what He wants — not what we want or expect. God is sovereign; therefore, we would do well to leave the results to God.

Here’s what I think God wants us to get: He is so unpredictable because He wants us to cling to Him.

 

On November 5, 2014, a woman named, Gigi Jordan was declared guilty of killing her 8-year old son who had autism. Her defense attorney said her act could only be described as a mercy killing.

How could this be? Gigi Jordan said her ex-husband had threatened her life; therefore, she did not want Jude, her 8-year old son to fall into the hands of his biological father. This woman, a multi-millionaire, declared that she loved her son so much that she could not bear the thought of him living without her, Therefore, she poisoned her son and killed him.

For her crime, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Simpson issued a stiff sentence — 18 years in prison. Simpson commented, “You would think in 2015, the defendant would say something like, ‘What a terrible thing I did. How could I kill my own son?'”

This kind of twisted thinking in our culture today, demeans the purpose of each person who lives.  It places one person over another, as one having a purpose and a destiny, while another does not. This is what happens when a culture for the almost 45 years has aborted more than 60 million babies, an entire generation. sanctity-of-life

I declare in Jesus’ name today that every baby and every child and every teenager and every adult has a purpose for their lives. Whether they are healthy or whether they face struggles like Down’s Syndrome or autism or whatever other birth defect, every life has a purpose under God. God has a purpose for every life.

Because I live in Louisiana, I will offer some statistics from that perspective. Even so, I am sure that similar statistics could be offered for the other forty-nine states. As is the case in the United States as a whole, suicide rates are on the rise in Louisiana. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Louisiana, and was responsible for 679 deaths in 2016.  This figure puts the suicide rate in Louisiana above the national average. To put this data into perspective, this rate means that, on average, one person dies every 13 hours from suicide in Louisiana.  Sadly, it appears that loss of life from suicide is a particular risk for young people, with suicide representing the third leading cause of death for Louisianans ages 15-34. To be sure, we have a mental health crisis.

Listen to me today, whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or people are completely healthy in every way, I declare in Jesus’ name, God has a purpose for their life. Human life is not in the hands of men, but in the hands of God.

We do not have the right to take innocent life. Whether this takes place in a fit of rage or under the approval of the courts through upholding abortion procedures, no one has the ultimate right to live and act in a way contrary to the dictates of God’s revealed truth.

 

 

In an interview with Cindy Pearlman published in The Chicago Sun Times (October 13, 2014), actor Bill Murray claimed that a work of art once saved his life. He was in Chicago for his first experience as an actor. He thought that his first performance had gone so badly that he just walked out afterward and onto the street. He kept walking for a couple of hours. Then he realized that he walked in the wrong direction and not in just the wrong direction from where he lived, but in the desire to stay alive.

He headed for Lake Michigan as he contemplated taking his own life. Murray continued:

“I thought: ‘If I’m going to die, I might as well go over toward the lake and float a bit.’ So, I walked toward the lake and reached Michigan Avenue and started walking north. Somehow I ended up in front of the Art Institute and walked inside. the-song-of-the-lark-1884.jpg!LargeThere was a painting of a woman working in a field with a sunrise behind her. I always loved that painting. I saw it that night and said, ‘Look, there’s a girl without a whole lot of prospects, but the sun’s coming up and she’s got another chance at it.'”

The painting, “Song of a Lark” by Jules Breton, helped mend Murray’s heart. After gazing at the painting, Murray decided to live and said, “I’m a person, too, and will get another chance every single day.”

When Peter addressed “the exiles dispersed abroad” throughout five Roman provinces (see 1 Peter 1:1), he wrote to encourage them as they faced uncertainty due to persecution. Having been forced to leave their homes, their jobs, their friends, their way of life, these believers needed exactly what Peter offered — encouragement to remain faithful and strong in the Lord.

That encouragement remains intact for believers today! God has given each believer a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This new birth comes with an inheritance that is untouched by death, unstained by evil, and unimpaired by time. Furthermore what God has given to the believer is being guarded by God’s power. Not only that, but the fullness of our eternal salvation is ready now to be revealed when He returns (see 1 Peter 3-5).

You have every reason to live for today because God has your today and forever covered.

 

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I was not the best science student. In fact, because of my limited grasp on textbook science, I managed to earn an undergraduate degree with only one science course! However, this has not kept me from appreciating the connections from science when I study God’s Word.

I’m hoping to continue preaching as many Sundays as possible while I am in this “in between” ministries phase. So each week I prepare as if I will be preaching. It keeps me sharp and focused on my calling as a pastor-teacher. The Lord has led me to prepare to preach from 1 Peter, and I discovered a great connection between science and the audience Peter addressed.

Dr. James Clark, is a professor of Geology at Wheaton College in Chicago. He recounted a visit to the Soviet Union a few years after Communism dissolved. Though not a preacher, Dr. Clark was asked to preach at a small Russian Baptist church that lived through a long season of persecution. Some in the congregation had been in prison because of their testimony in Christ. Others had husbands or relatives that had suffered or had even been killed for their faith.

In order to connect with his audience, Dr. Clark decided to use a geological illustration — one dealing with metamorphic rocks. Clark said: 

“Clay is actually composed of many microscopic clay mineral crystals, which not even a light microscope can see. But under pressure the clay minerals are not crushed or made smaller. Rather, they grow larger. The minerals change into new larger biotype grains forming slate, found on many homes. With even more pressure, the minerals become even larger. And some are transformed into garnets, which are semi-precious gems.”slate

Dr. Clark explained to the congregation that this geological process illustrates how pressure and suffering can be used to refine, purify, and mold a person into a more beautiful soul. He said that he will never forget what he saw when he looked at the congregation. It seemed like the whole congregation was sparkling. The old women’s eyes were gleaming bright with tears recalling past suffering.

stauroliteDr. Clark continued, “What makes a gem so attractive? It’s the reflection. These dear women and men were reflecting God’s glory through the suffering they had endured. But there’s more: With even more pressure applied, a new mineral forms called staurolite. The name is from two Greek words meaning “stone cross.” The twin variety forms deep under high mountains in the shape of a cross. A reminder of Christ’s ultimate suffering for us all.”

Peter wrote his epistle for two clear reasons. First, Peter wanted to challenge and strengthen believers to stand against the onslaught of persecution being leveled against them. Peter also wanted to reinforce the truth that believers have an eternal home and that we are merely passing through this time on the earth. Peter’s audience was hurting and suffering from ridicule and persecution. They had been forced to leave everything behind: homes, property, estates, businesses, jobs, money, church, friends, and fellow believers. Now scattered to five Roman provinces, Peter urged them to continue as an underground church.

Imagine the fear, uncertainty, and insecurity. They lived each day looking over their shoulders. Their stress-filled lives included restlessness, sleeplessness, anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity. Their hearts pounded at the slightest shadow or noise.

These believers needed strong encouragement. Peter’s words would have helped them immensely to know that God had not forgotten them but was bringing about a strengthening of their faith in Christ.