Posts Tagged ‘Christian Service’

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.

Dr. Jerry Root, an evangelism professor at Wheaton College, recently had an article publishnew-harvested in Christianity Today (2/17/2017). The article’s premise caught my attention: “Evangelism is harvesting where God has already plowed, sowed, cultivated, and nurtured.” Essentially, Dr. Root said that we don’t take Jesus to anyone. He is already present in everyone’s life. After all, God is omnipresent. Furthermore, because He is a God of love, He is near every person you meet, loving and wooing him or her.

We don’t go to bring Jesus to anyone. Rather, we go to make explicit what He is already doing implicitly. Jesus said, “See the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). The problem is not that people will not respond to Christ. No, people are not responding to the gospel because Christians seem unwilling to go into the harvest.

The big question is, “How can we enter into the work that God is already doing?” Dr. Root says we need to ask more “public” questions: “What is your name? Are you from here?” Then we should listen to the answers, and in those answers come permission to ask new questions based on the information that is given.

Here’s one example of a conversation that Dr. Root had with a man. He simply began the conversation with, “What’s your name?” The man answered, “Peter.” (I often begin a conversation with someone new with, “My name is Ken.” Often the person responds with his name.) Then Dr. Root asked, “Peter, are you from Chicago?” These questions are public, nonthreatening, and neighborly.

Under his breath, Dr. Root whispered a prayer that he might enter into God’s love for him and that he might listen well. Peter said, “No, I was born and raised in Albuquerque, but when I was 12, my parents divorced and I moved to Chicago with my mother.”

Peter didn’t have to offer that much detail. He could have said, “I grew up in Albuquerque and moved to Chicago when I was 12.” That would have been enough information to continue the questions. But what Peter shared opened the door to inquire along those lines. “That sounds painful.” Peter opened up his heart and began to tell how his father had abandoned the family, never remembering him on his birthday and at Christmas.

Dr. Root could see where God was wooing him and eventually interjected, “The power to forgive in order to untether the past wounds and sorrows is a precious commodity.” Peter agreed and asked, “Yes, but but can we do it?” At this point in the conversation, Peter gave him permission to discuss from where the power to forgive comes. Here’s where the conversation moved to the gospel where Peter’s heart was not merely open but eager to listen.

Another time while his flight was delayed in the Vienna airport, a woman wearing a name tag lanyard and carrying clipboard approached Dr. Root. He began the conversation by asking her name. “Allegra,” she replied. “Allegra, are you from Vienna?” She said she was a student. This opened the door to more questions, “Where do you go to school? What are you studying?”

Twenty minutes later, Dr. Root knew a good deal about Allegra. He knew her mother abandoned the family to go to Canada with her lover and that her father’s bitterness was toxic. Her brother also studied at the University of Vienna, but they were estranged. When Dr. Root expressed sadness over the amount of estrangement from the people closest to her, she said it was far worse. Her former boyfriend went to Florence to study art for six months. He had asked her to wait for him, and she did so. Her boyfriend had returned the day before to inform Allegra that he met somebody better in Florence.

He knew where God was wooing her and knew the deep felt need where Allegra was likely to hear the gospel. After 20 minutes, she had not asked one question from her survey. Dr. Root knew that she needed to complete her survey and did so but also told her that he had been sent to tell her something. She rushed through it, then put down her pen, looked him in the eye, and eagerly asked, “What were you supposed to tell me?” Knowing that Allegra felt abandoned and betrayed, Dr. Root said, “Allegra, the God of the universe knows you and loves you. He will never abandon you or forsake you.”

Sometimes, it takes three times before words sink in, so he said it again. After the third time, she burst into tears. “But I’ve done so many bad things in my life!” Dr. Root responded, “Allegra, God knows about it and that’s why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for all your sins and to bring you forgiveness and hope.” Dr. Root was explaining the gospel to ears willing to hear and a heart willing to receive.

Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the prestigious Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a leading figure of the eighteenth century First Great Awakening. Religious leaders, like the famous preacher George Whitefield (pronounce “Whit – field”), traveled great distances to meet with him and discuss theological matters.

At age 14, Edwards, already a student at Yale University, treasured the spiritual qualities that directed his life and ministry. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” So the rare blend of spiritual passion and searching intellect characterized his life. By the age of 26, he became the sole pastor of the Northampton Church. Five years later his preaching on justification by faith sparked an awakening.

Yet even a man of Edwards’s credentials was not exempt from criticism. When Edwards sought assurance that those in his congregation had experienced genuine conversion, a group of discontented church members took exception. They launched a slanderous campaign against him that ultimately led to his dismissal from the church he had made famous. One of the greatest theological minds and most devout pastors in American history had been forced out of his church by malicious detractors. Edwards then assumed a modest pastorate in the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and ministered to native Americans.

Eventually Jonathan Edwards was vindicated before his critics. Some of his most vocal opponents publicly confessed their sinfulness in attacking their godly pastor. Ultimately, the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, called his as president in 1758. To its great loss and to that of the American church, Edwards died soon after his arrival at the age of 55. Some consider Edwards to be the finest theologian America has produced.

I offer this short biography of Edwards to remind us that God uses faithful believers who have solid commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His Word. I am reminded of the call that God issued twice to Jonah, “Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach the Word.” The first time, Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sea, and ultimately down into the belly of a great fish. The second time God issued the call, Jonah was more than ready to listen and obey. When he arrived in Nineveh, he preached the word that God had given to him — and God brought about a supernatural movement, and the people repented.

I am praying that God will “do it again.” A few Sundays ago, we dedicated both services to prayer and to seeking God’s divine intervention. We believe that God still wants to do a great work in America and to the ends of the earth. However, He will only do so on His terms. We cannot tell God how He must move. We cannot require Him to submit to our bidding. Rather, we must humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wickedness. Then He will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

The Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park; all photos are a little small. 3x2

The Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park

Known as the world’s hardest race, the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in the mountains of eastern Tennessee provide a grueling test for the most-in-shape athletes. In this year’s race, none of the 40 runners completed the race. “The mountains won,” said Gary Cantrell, who created the even in 1986. “I was pleased with the outcome. It’s a competition between the humans and the mountains.”

In the 30 years of the race, only fourteen out of about 1,100 runners have completed the race. With a finisher rate of about one percent, the Barkley has been labeled by many as the world’s hardest race.

Along with a handout that includes race directions, participants are only allowed to use a map and compass to find their way. There are no medical aid stations on the course, which covers more than twice eh elevation gain of Mount Everest over the full 100 miles (or five 20-mile treks around the course).

Nicki Rehn, a 40-year-old Australian who is an assistant professor of education in Canada, completed one and a half of the five 20-mile laps this year before succumbing. “You don’t come here to be victorious. You come here to be humiliated,” she said. “It’s lonely out there. It’s eerie. You have to be comfortable being inside your own head. Everyone comes back pretty broken.”

It’s easy to get lost, confused, or weary in the Christian life—and the length of it can break us down. With such a race, we must run with perseverance with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who successfully completed the course.

Last Sunday we had a wonderful time in prayer and worship. About three months ago, when I began putting the service plans together for the summer, the Lord led me to set aside the Sunday nearest Independence Day for a “different kind of service.” At the time, I did not know exactly what it would entail. All I sensed at the time was that the service would be built around Psalm 130 and would include an observance of the Lord’s Supper.

While at the Southern Baptist Convention last month, it became clearer to me what that “different kind of service” would be. The week prior to the July 5 service, I had an emergency eye procedure. At first, I thought this would prevent me from participating in the service. However, what occurred was that the Lord used my time of convalescence to prepare my heart to lead the service. I must admit that I was not sure how our congregation would respond, but there’s little doubt that God spoke to us in an unexpected way! And yes, we will be seeking the Lord for His timing for another service during which we can pray individually and corporately for revival and spiritual awakening. We will do so until He brings an awakening.

For the past several months, someone from our pastoral staff opened the Sunday services with what we call “the service introduction.” We’ve used this opening to set the stage for the service. Sometimes we use a short story or anecdote, and sometimes we simply call attention to the subject matter or theme of the service. Last Sunday (June 26, 2015) I opened the services with how we should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement of its 5-4 decision that makes same-sex marriage legal. To ensure that I am clear, I am repeating that response in writing.

1. God is still sovereign. We do not need to panic. Jesus Christ remains completely and totally in charge. God is eternally sovereign and nothing can change that. This means that we should not make wild declarations about how everything is lost. In reality, not many of us were surprised that the court ruled the way it did. Our response should be that of complete trust in the Lord and that He will one day bring all things together in perfect order.

2. Marriage and sexuality has not changed. The Word is very clear. What I mean by this is that God created marriage; therefore, God alone defines marriage. No legislative body, no president, and no court can change this fact. We must continue to stand for marriage and what the Bible says about marriage. As we do so, we must be careful not to jump to conclusions as to what will happen next. Some have already concluded that pastors and priests will be forced to conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples under the threat of fines or jail time and that churches will lost their federal tax exempt status if they refuse same-sex couples to use their facilities for ceremonies. Jumping into such discussions accomplishes little and should not be the main focus of our conversations. Such conversations actually keep us offtrack and away from our main responsibility—to bring people who are far from God near to Him through the gospel so that all people might love Him.

3. We must lovingly demonstrate the love of Christ to all people — no matter how they have responded to the court’s decision. It would be very easy for us to get into a war mode. To do so actually does much disservice to the Lord and to the cause of the gospel. Make sure that the people who disagree with us do not think that we hate them. Remember, Paul of Tarsus live and served in a world completely hostile to Christ and the gospel. Obviously the government in his time offered no accommodations for Christianity. To be sure, the Roman government permitted pagan religions and, to some extent, allowed the synagogues to exists. However, when it targeted Christians for persecution, they had no place to hide. Even in such circumstances, the gospel prospered. Therefore, we must continue to communicate the gospel and not do or say anything that suggests that we are going to retreat from the world and from sharing the Good News.

4. I am calling for a service during which time we will spend time praying as we plead with God to send revival. Both services on July 5 will dedicated to this purpose. This experience will be unlike any we have had on a Sunday morning. We will have times for hearing from God’s Word, times for personal intercession, times for corporate prayers, and times for singing hymns and praises to the Lord. We know that God alone is sovereign and He alone can bring about revival and a spiritual awakening. What we can do is to position ourselves according to scripture so that He might bring about such a revival. “[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).

camden-yardsA record that stood for almost 125 years fell on April 29, 2015, when the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox played before an empty Camden Yards. Absolutely no fans filled the seats. Prior to “the zero in attendance” record, the previous low mark came in a professional baseball game on September 28, 1882, when six people watched the Worcester Ruby Legs defeat the Troy Trojans 4-1.

The bizarre development in Baltimore came as a mandate from the Major League Baseball office in wake of protests and outbursts of violence. Here’s how an Associated Press article reported one incident from the fan-less game:

Chris Davis might have hit the quietest home run for the home team in Orioles history. As the slugger pounded the ball deep onto Eutaw Street, just a few feet from where fans normally would have sprinted after a chance a souvenir, there was almost nothing to hear. The only muffled cheers came from a pocket of diehards locked out of Camden Yards yelling, “Let’s Go O’s!”

On this day, 30,000 Orioles fans had been muted. The wild applause had been silenced. There were no fans to stand for a standing ovation. Just Davis’s teammates in the dugout coming over for high-fives. “When you’re rounding the bases, and the only cheers you hear were from outside the stadium,” he said, “it’s a weird feeling.”

No live audience, no cheering fans, no applause — as a Christ-follower, how much does the audience affect your performance? How much does the cheering crowd motivate you to do a good job? Would you do what you do in ministry, if no one applauded for you or patted you on the back? Are you content to live before the Lord, the “Audience of One”?