Monday, November 7, 2011

Jesus, Bring the Rain

When a person looks back over his life, there are certain events that come to mind almost immediately and stand out above the rest.  Certainly, there are the wonderful memories.  The sight of the rippling water when I was baptized at 12 years old will never leave me.  The water was rippling, not because of the baptistery, but because I was so nervous the pastor thought I was having a seizure. 

I will never forget the night I got down on one knee in the crowded dining room of Simms Landing to ask my bride-to-be for her hand in marriage.  I don’t really need all of the pictures and videos—our wedding day is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday, even though it was over 24 years ago. 

I remember the expression on my wife’s face as I nearly passed out at the birth of our first daughter.  And I remember the expression on the Security Forces Airman as I flew through the back gate of Keesler Air Force Base to get to the base hospital just in time for our second daughter to be born.  I also remember the sheer terror as they took our son to neo-natal intensive care because he wasn’t breathing. And the sheer joy when the doctor told us he was okay. 

The call to ministry, my ordination, finally walking across the seminary stage after over 15 years of night school and distance learning classes—each of those are wonderful memories that I will cherish forever.  Just like I will cherish the day that the Lord called me to pastor Brushfork Baptist Church and the wonderful times my family and I had serving there.

But when a person looks back, he not only remembers the wonderful memories, he cannot help but recall the painful ones as well.  Family deaths, broken relationships, sickness and tragedy are part of everyone’s life and we bear the emotional scars for a lifetime.  Yesterday was one such moment for me. 

Yesterday, I had to tell a group of people I deeply love that I will no longer be their pastor.  It was my desire that the Lord would keep me there forever and we would grow into a strong, healthy, multi-generational world mission center—but for some reason, He saw things differently.  I don’t know exactly where He will call us or what He will call us to do next. But I know that my family and I will bear yesterday's emotional scar for a long time.

For those who have followed this blog (despite the paucity of recent postings), this will be the last entry here.  I will continue—hopefully with more regularity—posting on Deep Riches.  I will also be starting a new website within the next few days.  You will be able to find it at www.deepriches.com.

It amazes me how God uses everything in our lives—the good, the bad and even the ugly—to mold and grow and shape us into the people He wants us to be.  As the song says,

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Justice Was Served

I must admit, I was not one of the millions of Americans who was glued to the Casey Anthony trial on television.  I didn't even really know what was going on until a few weeks before the verdict was announced.  I don't typically watch much Fox News or CNN, preferring to get my news from online sources.  Apparently the trial headlines did not capture my attention. 

Within the past few days, however, that all changed.  I had to see what all the buzz was about, so I tuned in to the news channels and sampled their coverage.  From everything that I saw, Caylee Anthony was guilty of murdering her precious little daughter in cold blood.  She could not have seemed more guilty if she had owned a white Ford Bronco and a black leather glove. 

Then came the verdict.  Once again, I was not one of the millions of Americans who tuned it to watch it live.  Around 3:00 PM, my cell phone starting buzzing as I received texts, tweets, messages and various other notifications that Casey was aquitted of the murder charge.  Public outrage ensued. 

For those of us who remember the O.J. Simpson trial, the parallels are unmistakable.  The only thing missing is the racial tension.  But with the proliferation of social media, the vitriolic public cries for justice are just as loud, if not louder.  The public knows that Casey Anthony is guilty.  And the guilty must be punished.  Justice must be served.

Whether Casey Anthony is guilty or not, I can't say.  I wasn't in the courtroom to hear the evidence and I didn't keep up with the trial closely enough to offer an educated opinion.  Regardless of her guilt or innocence, true justice will never be completely fulfilled until Jesus returns. I thank God that justice was poured out upon Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Jesus offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice so that He would receive the true justice that we deserve.

Between the cross and Jesus' second coming, we live in a time where true justice has been accomplished but not yet fully realized.  I eagerly await the time when justice will be fully realized at His return. Until then, we will continue to see injustice played out in our lives, our courtrooms and our world.  When we see horrible injustice like the murder of a precious child played out before our eyes, it should make our prayer be that of the Apostle John on the island of Patmos: Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

Romans 3:21-22

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Preacher's Plea

Unconverted friends, what dead hearts you must have; all the preaching in the world cannot put life into them. What hard hearts yours must be; the heaviest hammer we can lift cannot break them. We speak the weightiest arguments into your ear, yet all will not move you. We must lift up our voice, and prophesy to the Spirit; we must bring down the Almighty Spirit before we can touch your heart. We try to convince you of sin; we show you how you have broken the law, and that “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them;” that you must be under that curse, that you will not be able to bear that curse, that it crushed a Saviour to the earth, and will crush you to the lowest hell. You are somewhat impressed, and we hope that your heart is touched; but your impressions are like impressions on the sand when the tide is out, and the very next tide of the world effaces all. We try to convince you of righteousness. We tell you of the love of the Saviour, how it passeth knowledge; how there was an ocean of love in that bosom, which no line could fathom—love to lost sinners like you; how he served in the stead of sinners, obeying the law for us; how he suffered in the stead of sinners, bearing the curse for us. We tell you to believe in him, and be saved; you are melted, and the tear stands on your cheek; but, ah! it is like “the morning cloud and early dew—it quickly passes away.”

Ah! brethren, what hard, iron hearts you must have, when all that man can do will not melt them. Your hearts are too hard for us; and we have to, go back weeping to our Lord, saying: “Who hath believed our report?” In all other things we could persuade you by arguments. If your bodies were sick, we could persuade you to send for the physician; if your estate were entangled, we could persuade you to be diligent for your family—oh! how readily you would obey us; but when we demonstrate that you are the heirs, soul and body, of an eternal hell, you will not awake for it all. Even if we could show you the Lord Jesus Christ himself—the bleeding, beseeching Saviour—your wicked hearts would not cleave to him. You need Him that made your hearts, to break and bend your hearts. Will you not, each of you. go away, then, beating on the breast, and saying: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner?”

Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, Vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 380.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clear and Unambiguous

When I saw this picture on Zach Nielsen’s blog (Take Your Vitamin Z), I couldn’t take my mind off it. As you can tell, the sign serves as a warning—bluntly, succinctly and to the point. It clearly communicates its message, is free from ambiguity and is universal in its application. It does not waste space with superfluous information.

It’s awfully plain though. Its message might have been more entertaining, using contemporary illustrations from TV and movies. It might have been flashier, using the latest multimedia technology. It might have been more practical, and dealt with things like the weather, current events or politics. It certainly could have used a joke or two to lighten the mood a little bit. But that would have only been if the sign’s purpose was to call attention to itself.

As it stands, the sign’s purpose is clearly not to call attention to itself. The sign’s purpose is to call attention to what lies ahead. It is to stand as a clear and unambiguous warning to all who pass that way. The message is clear—if you continue in your present direction, in your present state, the consequences will be severe.

I wonder if the message is equally clear and unambiguous from the pulpit of the little brick church in the picture.

As I prepare for next Sunday’s messages, I pray that I remember that my purpose is the same as that sign’s. As a preacher of the Gospel, my purpose is not to entertain. My purpose is not to be flashy. My purpose is not even to give “practical” advice. My purpose is to proclaim the Word. My purpose is to point to Jesus and call attention to Him.

Lord, grant that I may be as clear and plain as that sign.

1 Timothy 4:16

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is a special day. It’s not a national holiday or a religious festival. It’s not a famous anniversary or day of remembrance, but it’s still a special day. Today is special because it is my mother’s birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, because I would like for tomorrow to be special as well.

Along with my wife, my mom is the strongest woman I know. She has allowed Christ to shine through her life in good times and bad and has served as a living testimony to the truth of James 1:2-4. Through circumstances that would destroy most people, she has stood firm and strong in the grace of her Rock and Sustainer.

Each day of her life is a living testimony of God’s grace. The grace of God in her life shines through in her devotion to Christ and her witness to others. It shines through in her care for the children she teaches in public school as the only gospel many of those children will see. It shines through in her care for her homebound mother who most of the time remembers who she is--and that's about all. It shines through in her care for her Bible Drill and Sunday School kids. And it shines through in her care for her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

“Her children [and grandchildren] arise up and call her blessed…”

Happy Birthday Mom!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fathers, Teach Your Children

I pastor a church with a vibrant children's ministry. We have age-graded Sunday School and mission classes as well as a thriving AWANA program. Vacation Bible School, Fall Festivals and block parties are the outreach highlights of our church calendar.

In addition to our children's ministries, our youth ministries are fantastic.  We have an outstanding group of young people who are involved in every area of church life, from teaching, to ministry, to leading congregational worship. 

Despite our focus and prayerful dedication to reaching and discipling children and students, we are fighting an uphill battle.  We neither coddle nor consumerize our children--our programs are not entertainment driven--yet we still lose them at an alarming rate. 

I have noticed three times of significant drop-off.  We lose many as soon as they enter the "tween" years and we lose many more toward the middle of high school.  Several more drop out after high school. 

One pattern consistently emerges as I reflect on the children we have lost over the years.  The vast majority of them have either been dropped off at church or we have brought them in on our van.  Some were brought by their grandparents or even their mothers.  I can recall none of the children we have lost being brought to church by their fathers.  This article by Robbie Low in Touchstone Magazine highlights that fact. The points he brings out are both fascinating and terrifying and the article is well-worth reading.

Dads--do you want your children to grow up with a solid foundation? Do you want them to understand the value and purpose of hard work, family and community? Do you want them to be able to withstand temptation and not fall into the traps of drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy and rebellion?  Do you want them to become good spouses and parents and have long and happy marriages?  Then get up off of your backside and take them to church.  Don't just drop them off. Don't just call the church van to come get them. Don't just send them with their mother or their grandparents.  If at all possible, find a way to get up and go with them. The more effort they see you putting into taking them to church, the more value they will place on it.  They will never recognize the importance of church attendance unless they see it is important to YOU.

Dads, if you are faithful to take your children to church, can I guarantee that nothing awful will ever happen to them? Of course not.  Sometimes good, faithful Christians do dumb things too.  But what I can guarantee you is that they will understand and learn to value what is really important.  And they will truly begin to value it, not just from your words, but from your actions.

Proverbs 22:6

Friday, July 2, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Who deserves to hear the Gospel?

A disturbing trend in some very influential circles in our convention is the attitude that no one deserves to hear the Gospel twice while there are those who have yet to hear it once. That might sound good. It is certainly emotionally moving and motivating. That mantra is being used to stir people’s hearts for the nations. But at what cost?

Jesus charged us with reaching the nations. Since our inception, Southern Baptists have always been passionate about joining together to reach the nations for Christ—it’s in our DNA. But we have also always been passionate about joining together to reach our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria for Christ. I have never seen an area that we can afford to neglect with the Gospel. Have most of our resources as Southern Baptists been concentrated in the American Southeast? Yes. Is that area so evangelized that we can now pull out and martial our resources in another area? No.

During the period of time commonly referred to as the First Great Awakening, there was no place that was more evangelized than what is now the American Northeast. In the subsequent years, evangelism efforts focused almost exclusively outside of that area. The thought was, everybody has already heard and responded to the Gospel in that area—now it’s time to move on to those who have not been evangelized. Within a generation, the area which had been so fervently on-fire for Christ was now what historians call, “The Burned-over District”. The decline continued to the point that the American Northeast is now one of the most secular regions of the Western World.

I am not arguing against our emphasis on getting the Gospel to unreached people groups. I applaud this emphasis. But Jesus has not called us to an either/or mentality. He has called us to be witnesses everywhere at all times. That includes those who have never heard the Gospel as well as those who have heard and rejected it 1,000 times. Remember that God still sent Isaiah to preach to Israel—even though He told him that they would continually reject his message. The entire history of God’s relationship with Israel is one of them rejecting Him, but God continually sending His prophets to them. I thank God that He has never had the attitude that, “No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice as long as there are those who have never heard it once.” God has never had that attitude and neither should we.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

God's Gift, Given this Day

On this day a few years ago (I won’t say how many), God blessed our world with one of His greatest masterpieces.

He made her beautiful
It goes beyond the physical beauty that all can see. She has a beautiful spirit that is evident in the way she cares for me, our family and our church.

He made her tender
She has the softness of skin and tenderness of heart that can only be forged in the fire of motherhood, then tempered with the trials of first being a military wife, then a pastor’s wife.

He made her wise
Her wisdom is not a worldly wisdom. It is not measured in books she has written or titles she has earned. Her wisdom is a godly wisdom. It shines in both the simplest and the most difficult circumstances. It keeps me grounded, guides our children and stabilizes our home and church.

He made her selfless
I have never seen a better example of the mind of Christ described in Philippians 2:1-11. Her wants, needs and desires always come behind the desires of others. She selflessly followed me all over the world during my 20-year Air Force career. She built and sustained our family during an 8-year period while I was gone from home 300 days per year. She eagerly serves me, her children and her church before she even thinks about herself.

He made her pure and lovely
Despite difficult circumstances in her life that have destroyed many people, she has always had a pure and lovely heart. She sees the best in people when I tend toward suspicion. When cynicism rears its ugly head in my life, her loveliness melts it away. One day, as my bride, I will confidently be able to present her to our Lord in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she is holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).

He made her smart
She is an accountant—keeping the books at our home. She is a teacher—at one time homeschooling three children. She is a master chef—feeding our often unappreciative, ravenous crew. She is an executive assistant—flawlessly handling calls, correspondence and scheduling. She is a beautician, physician, psychologist, counselor, transportation director, efficiency engineer, quartermaster, motivational speaker, and manager. Most people only have the brains to handle one job. She is smart enough to handle all of those and more.

And what I thank God for most of all—He made her mine
I will never fully understand God’s goodness and grace toward me. All I know is that I have a living, breathing example of it waking up beside me every morning.

Happy birthday Miranda!

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Messengers must be allowed to vote online.

The only way for our convention to accurately reflect the will of the majority of our churches is to recognize the voice of every possible messenger. It is no secret that over 80% of our churches run less than 200 in average Sunday morning attendance. Because of the outstanding Cooperative Program giving of most small churches, we are allowed the same number of messengers as even the largest mega-churches. The problem is, most small churches and small church messengers cannot afford to send their full contingency of messengers. For example, due to our CP giving, Brushfork Baptist Church is allowed to send a full slate of messengers to the convention. Financial considerations only allowed us to send me and my wife. Even though we will only allow the church to pay for our hotel, it is a significant expense that causes a strain on our finances. Similarly, the gas, food and other expenses that my wife and I choose to pay put a tremendous strain on our personal finances. Many small churches and churches with bi-vocational pastors are simply not able to absorb that cost and send any messengers.

I believe that each messenger from each of our 40,000-plus churches needs to have every opportunity to participate in the business of our convention. Technology provides that opportunity.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Never depend on someone else to do the right thing.

Early on in discussions about the interim report of the GCR Task Force, several of us commented on the necessity of voting on the recommendations individually. Although I was fairly confident that the Task Force was going to presented them that way, we discussed the parliamentary possibilities if the report was presented as a whole. There were several options available that would have at least forced a vote on considering the recommendations individually. Had that happened, I think the outcome might have turned out differently. We will never know.

I sat amazed as the Task Force boldly presented their recommendations as a whole. My amazement grew to shock as no one moved to divide the question. A motion was made to table it, which would have effectively killed it. Although opposed to the recommendations, I voted against the motion to table. I thought that the diligent work of the Task Force should at least be decided upon. Another motion was made to refer the recommendations to the Executive Committee for further study and consideration. This seemed to be a fair motion, but was soundly defeated. The mood of the messengers (whether for or against) was to deal with the issue without further delay.

The right thing to do was to decide the issue that day. I still believe that the right thing also would have been to decide on each of the recommendations separately. I was not alone in feeling that way. As a matter of fact, nearly everybody that I talked to—both for and against—felt that way. So why did it not happen? It didn’t happen because no one made the motion.

A motion to divide the question is a simple motion. It requires a second (which the man in the rear-left of the convention hall would have eagerly and loudly made). It does not even allow debate, so absolutely no eloquence would have been required. After the motion and second, all it requires is a simple majority vote. I believe it would have had a good chance of passing—but we will never know. We will never know because no one made the motion. We will never know because I did not make the motion.

Sitting back and hoping someone else will do the right thing is the same as doing nothing. I did nothing, so we will never know what might have happened.