Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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!

soccerNothing can stop the world’s most dedicated sports fan from supporting his beloved team.

Ali Demirkaya, nicknamed  “Yamuk Ali” (or crazy Ali) by the Internet, is a soccer fan of the local soccer team in Denizlispor, Turkey. Ali, who had been banned from Denizli Atatürk stadium for unspecified reasons, took the only reasonable course to watch the game. He rented a crane. soccer fan

From high above just beyond the stadium limits, the diehard Denizlispor fan watched his team vanquish Gaziantepspor 5-0. He even led the crowd in a chant.

“That match was very important for our team,” he explained to Yeni Asir newspaper. “I had to go to the police station to sign a paper to show that I am not watching the match in the stadium. Then I quickly went to rent the crane.” Social media in the area was full of pictures of a jubilant Ali cheering from his perch.

Ultimately, police were summoned and Ali was forced to lower the crane. Nevertheless, he still ended the day on a high note. The stunt only cost him the equivalent of $86, he wasn’t cited or fined by the authorities, and his team won 5-0.

How far would you go to get something you wanted? It will likely come down to how bad you want it. If it means something to you, you’ll get creative to make sure you don’t miss out. Sometimes God’s blessing comes to those willing to go to extremes.

God offers spiritual disciplines as the means to understand His heart and His will for our lives. The disciplines of prayer, meditating on His Word, and fasting are only some of them. Unfortunately, many believers think that the spiritual disciplines are extreme and only have to be used in dire circumstances. However, if you really want to know that heart of God, you’ll be more than willing to do whatever it takes.

bushThe story of Moses’ call has always interested me. Recently the Lord drove me to take a fresh look at how God works in our lives — often without our realizing how intricately He engages into every aspect of our days. While God is always up to something, it’s not His way to explain Himself other than to record in His Word so that we learn from Him. We can certainly agree with what Isaiah the prophet said about God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

As the book of Exodus opens, it appears that God has forgotten Israel and His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Egypt has enslaved Israel and has held them in bondage and treated them harshly for more than 350 years. Because Israel had increased in number and because the Egyptian king feared that Israel might join Egypt’s enemies, the king ordered the execution of all Hebrew boy babies by throwing them into the Nile River. One Hebrew mother hid her son for three months until she placed a floating basket which carried her son into the river. The Egyptian king’s daughter rescued the baby, and the baby’s sister suggested that she could find a Hebrew woman to nurse him. In this way, the baby’s own mother would be the chief influencer of that baby for first few years of his life.

As Moses grew up in the household of the Egyptian king, he was afforded all the best of Egypt. However, the early nurturing of his mother took hold. Moses would come to identify with his people. When he came to the rescue of a Hebrew slave who was being beaten by his Egyptian taskmaster, Moses killed the Egyptian. A couple of days later, Moses fled Egypt fearing for his own life.

Exodus 2 closes with Moses gone from Egypt and caring for sheep in Midian while the Israelites still suffered the hardship of slavery. While the text of Exodus gives no time frame, Deacon Stephen does in Acts 7. In his testimony in his trial, Stephen noted that Moses was 40 when he identified with his own people and that it was another 40 years when he had the encounter with the burning bush. There’s no other record of what Moses may have been doing other than the ordinary day-to-day work of caring for sheep and providing for his family. In other words, it would appear that God had forgotten His people in Egypt. But we would do well remember that God doesn’t get in our kind of hurry.

The day that God showed up in the form of a burning bush on the side of mountain, Moses was caring for Jethro’s sheep. God took the initiative. Moses was minding his own business and had been doing to for 40 years when God summoned him to come up to Mount Horeb.

This week I read the account of J.P. Lowery of Mount Pleasant, Texas, who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday. What got my attention was the headline in the Southern Baptist Texan: “100-year old Sunday School Teacher Began Ministering at 60.” Born in Mississippi, Lowery was just 5 years old when his father died. His mother provided for the family sharecropping until he was 14 when the family moved to a farm in West Texas. They didn’t live near a church, but they did go to Sunday School in a two-room schoolhouse where he attended school. After serving in the Army in the late 40s, Lowery returned home. He worked as a police officer and had an electronics repair business. He and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant after visiting his sister there in the late 50s.

Lowery commented, “I was living a pretty good life but I needed to become a Christian.” It wasn’t until he had a talk with the pastor of First Baptist Church of Cookville that he realized he was lost. “I had lived all those 41 years and thought I was a pretty good guy. The Holy Spirit got ahold of me and made me realize I was going to hell if I didn’t change my ways.”

It sounds to me, like Moses, J.P. Lowery was minding his own business when God showed up in his life and invited him to have a relationship with Him. Lowery concluded, “You know, if God wants you to do something, He’ll manage for you to do it and that’s the way it happened for me.”

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.

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. 

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.