Archive for the ‘Church’ 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!

Watch Your Mouth!

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

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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.

This past Saturday I preached Mrs. Edna’s funeral. She had lived more than ninety years on the earth, although she actually fell a little less than a decade of her goal. I noted at the funeral that everyone of us had our “Edna stories” that were actually our own precious treasures. Rather than rehearsing a few of those choice stories, I urged those in attendance to treasure the hidden anecdotes that we had hidden in our memories.

Edna knew the Lord, and at life’s end, that’s all that really matters. It’s not about accumulating wealth, titles, properties, or fame. It’s what a person did with Jesus that matters. Edna had trusted Christ in life, and she had trusted Him in death.

The sorrow we felt at Edna’s funeral was not hers. No, the sorrow we felt was ours. We lost a friend who had made us laugh and cry. She was someone we enjoyed and sometimes just put up with!

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). The word “know” in this verse means “assurance borne out of conviction,” so Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that death did not signal the end of a person’s existence. He used the word “tent” as a synonym for our earthly existence or life, calling it “our earthly home.” In contrast to “tent,” Paul said that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands.”

We would do well to remember that when Jesus left His rightful place in heaven that the apostle John describe it as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). John’s word for dwell literally means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” In other words, when Christ came to the earth, He lived as a human being — “He pitched His tent among us.” When He had accomplished His mission on earth — His death, burial, and resurrection — He returned to His Father in heaven.

Scientists tell us that the cells in the human body continually die and replenish so that every seven years we get an entirely new body. That means that Edna had lived in several bodies! We did not weep for her when she moved from the first to the second or imagesthe fifth or the sixth or even the twelfth! Why should we weep now when she moved from her earthly tent into the wonderful house that the Lord has prepared for her?

 

Paul said that when this old earthly tent is worn out and is no longer fit for habitation, we move into “a building from God, a house not made with hands.” A building has a foundation, suggesting a permanent house and not a tent. This new house is an eternal dwelling place.

Edna lived in several places since I’ve known her. Some of them were nicer than others. But now, Edna has moved again! And we should be happy for her! Let me offer some more words of encouragement from Paul, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord….Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8, ESV). Note the words “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There’s no in between time.

Death is a part of life just as much as birth is a part of life. Let’s just suppose for a moment that Edna could have reasoned in her prenatal state. “Something is about to happen to me. I’m about to leave the only place I’ve ever known. It’s good in here. I’m safe. I’m well-nourished. I’m going somewhere I’ve never been. This must be death.” When the reality is that she discovered birth, not death. She left the narrow confines of her mother’s womb to discover a far greater and richer life.

In the same vein, let’s suppose that a few hours before Edna underwent another change on Tuesday afternoon. Again she reasoned, “Something is about to happen to me. I am about to leave the only place of life I have ever known. Surely this must be death.”

But if Edna could speak to us, she would undoubtedly say, “No, I was wrong again. What I thought was death was another birth out of the human flesh experience to the superlative life of heaven. It’s far greater and richer than I could have ever imagined.

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.

 

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.