Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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.

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!

Most every week I pray with each of the three high school principals in Mandeville. I have a standing appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at the Fontainebleau, Lakeshore, and Mandeville. During these times of prayer, I listen to each of these men as they talk about their students and faculty. We often talk about our church and how things are going. At the end our brief time together, I will pray for the principal, the students, the faculty, and any specific prayer request that has been voiced.

This week was different. Having already heard about a Mandeville High School student who had taken his life on Monday, I received a text message early Thursday morning informing me that a second student from the school had taken his life. While it’s not unusual to have a difficult time finding a place to park at the school, I decided to park in a “staff only” space. As I approached the school’s administrative offices, I walked past more than a half dozen police officers. Once inside, I waited for a while as the office staff answered the phone, taking time to address concerns raised.  Grief counselors had been summoned. A couple of student assemblies had been planned.

While I did not get to pray with the principal, I did pray for him and his staff and students as I left the campus. Without a doubt, this would be a difficult day and week for the school. The families affected by these tragedies need our prayers and our comfort. The hurt is deep. The anxiety caused by these losses can be devastating.

What can you do? Pray. Then pray some more. If you are close to the family, then do not stay away. If you are not close to the family, it is probably better to pray from a distance. The truest friends are those who wait. This loss is so unexplainable, so difficult to grasp. You need to wait for the griever to grieve. Don’t pressure them to “get back to normal.” Their normal has been rocked. Embrace them with love. Don’t try to offer answers. Eventually, you can point them to the hope and joy and victory that can only be found in Christ.

In March of 2014, a year after the devastating loss of his twenty-seven-year-old son who took his own life, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church was asked, “How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?” His answer? “Easter.” Warren went on, “You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory. And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Number two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Number three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’”

The answer is Easter!