Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Have you ever heard of an accidental car theft? That means that you missed this news story from Portland, Oregon. In late October, Erin Hatzi reported to police that her red Subaru Impreza had  been stolen from her driveway. She and her husband knew that it had been stolen because their surveillance camera had recorded the entire heist. The footage showed that a woman calmly entered the car and drove away. The operational word is “calmly,” because the woman sat in the car for a couple of minutes — hardly the normal actions of a car thief.car1

The Hatzis filed a police report, but it did not take long before they got some answers. Erin’s husband was taking out the garbage the next afternoon when a Portland police officer had a woman stopped right outside the Hanzi’s home. The woman had just gotten out of Erin’s red Subaru. She offered up this explanation: The night before, “she had been sent to the neighborhood to pick up her friend’s car and accidentally took Hanzi’s vehicle instead.” The friend did not see the car until the next morning, and upon realizing the mixup, left a note and gas money inside the car and sent it back to its rightful owner.

So what happened? According to the police, “Older Subaru keys are interchangeable and can occasionally be used to open different cars.”

I hope this bizarre happily-ever-after news story reminds you that while we might jump to immediate conclusions about situations, God has a bigger picture in mind — a picture in which the car might be returned in the end. 

Back in the late 1980s, Gayla and I lived in a small community north of Fort Worth where I was the pastor of the Baptist church. We lived in the parsonage, a house supplied as part of our compensation for serving as pastor. This house was located less than a mile from the church campus.  However, some train tracks separated the parsonage from the church building.

If you have ever lived near train tracks, then you know the hassle and inconvenience a passing train can cause. You’re alre74202ady running late, you’re driving up to the track crossing, and then — the barriers start flashing. It’s a frustrating feeling, and you can’t do anything about it.

But imagine if that happened as you were trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s exactly what happened to more than 100 runners in Pennsylvania in September. A train crossed the marathon course — and crossed it very slowly. One runner, who was using the race as his last opportunity to qualify for Boston, said that he “missed his qualifying time by eight minutes.”

Race officials had communicated with the railroad line prior to race day and had received “absolute assurances…that trains would be suspended” during the race. Yet those assurances did not stop a train from crossing the course’s seventh mile.

“The incident is especially regrettable and was quite unexpected,” the marathon’s account posted on Facebook, nothing that those times were affected would “be addressed on a runner-by-runner basis.”

We may have a plan laid out for running our best race, and we may have set goals and dreamed dreams, but there’s a “slow moving train” in our way. Let me explain. Although the Lord has led our church to accomplish much in the way of discipling more people, going to places near and far to share the good news, while updating our facilities, the slow moving train in our way is the state of our finances.

Our church’s mission is to bring people who are far from God near to Him so that together we might love Him and love people to make a forever difference. This statement roots in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Every congregation has a mission that God has for it to accomplish, and every mission should find its foundation in the Great Commission. As churches work through their particular mission advance, they will make a forever difference.

However, without the shared financial support from all of its members, your congregation will not be able to continue at the level of advance your leaders have hoped and believed the Lord wants you. The biblical answer to this circumstance is for each believer to follow Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Let me urge you to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you concerning giving.

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!