WORSHIPERS BY NATURE
JANUARY 16, 2017
We human beings are worshipers by nature. It seems, looking at history and present-day culture, that we are hard-wired down to the core of our beings to worship something or someone. Among the earliest archaeological treasures that we have discovered connected with our species are religious objects that indicate that humanity's propensity has always trended toward worship.
Even in societies that one would deem to be secular, scientific, atheistic or intellectually "enlightened," we find that people will always find an object or a person to lift up and venerate as being worthy of praise, honor and glory. We run the gamut with this tendency too, idolizing our "heroes" in any field of endeavor, including academics, business, politics, technology, military conquest, humanitarianism and sports, among many others. We have even developed a category in recent years of people who we idolize simply because they are famous for being famous (hello, Hiltons and Kardashians), and culturally we follow their every move as if our well-being depended upon their happiness, fawning over them and making much of them and their goings-on (sounds like worship to me).
In examining things truthfully, I would have to conclude that for us as human beings, there's no real discussion about whether or not we'll BE worshipers; no, the real discussion comes down to asking what or who it is that we'll be worshiping. In tackling this question, the Bible has some interesting things to say about our choices as they relate to God and to anything or anyone else that we might worship:
First, there's the simple command found in Exodus 34:14--"You shall worship no other god..." If we needed something just simple, plain and clear to us, this is it. The Bible is full of such imperatives regarding the sole worship of the Lord. Second, however, is the reminder that other gods we may worship are not really gods at all, as seen in Psalm 86:10--"You alone are God." Because they are not gods at all--indeed, they have only been fashioned as "gods" by human hands, hearts or minds--they carry no real power and no real authority. First Chronicles 12:26 declares that "all the gods of all the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens."
The Bible is also clear about the consequences of engaging in "worthless worship." In speaking of His own people who had begun to worship the idols of the surrounding nations, God said in 2 Kings 17:15, "They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves." I don't know about you, but "worthless" is not a description by which I would like to be known, and especially not so by God Himself!
In contrast to the many, many scriptural prohibitions and warnings regarding the worship of anything or anyone other than God, there are numerous calls to worship God and to serve Him only. Space prohibits me listing all of them here, but a simple search through the Psalms alone will leave you with a clear understanding that God's unalterable call to us is to worship Him and to do so with all of our heart and soul. One great example of such a call is found in one of my personal favorites, Psalm 95, which says in part, "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!...Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!"
Take some time this week to consider what or who you're really worshiping in this life. What/who gets most of your attention and affection? What/who have you come to idolize? As worshipers by nature, we're going to be inclined to worship, so let's worship the Lord and Him alone!
Grace and peace,
More New year's Thinking (A Cautionary Tale)
January 9, 2017
The Understanding Christian
January 3, 2017
The Trail of God's Handiwork
December 27, 2016
Waiting with Hope
December 19, 2106
GRATITUDE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
DECEMBER 12, 2016
It's pretty universally known among pastors and ministers that the Christmas season is unique in the amount of opportunities that it presents to invite people to church-related activities and to present the message of Jesus Christ. Unlike any other time of the year, people are more open to our invitations and overtures, and the giving nature of the season offers churches and believers in general a wonderful pretext for generosity and kindness toward others. The very fact that the entire holiday itself is focused on Jesus Christ (regardless of what secularists say) sets the stage for us to engage with others in conversations about our Savior and the ministries of His church.
With the above in mind, it is with great gratitude that I reflect back on Sunday evening's Christmas in the Park event, during which I saw my church family take an all-hands-on-deck approach to meeting the opportunity provided by the season to communicate to others the love of God and good news of the Gospel. With all that was going on, I wasn't able to keep track of all of the puzzle pieces that made the evening what it was, but I certainly took note of how many of our family members were engaged in being hospitable and inviting and how many used their gifts and abilities to make a great impact in the lives of others.
I'm sure I'll likely miss someone who was a key part of our efforts, but I do want to thank our choir and musicians, our welcome team (consisting of the parking lot team, senior valet, greeters and ushers) our hospitality team (both those who served our choir and musicians and those who manned the coffee bar), the live nativity volunteers, our support staff and ministers, and everyone else who participated. I thank God for your heart and your effort!
I also want to encourage you--maybe even challenge you--about some events we have coming up that will complete our Christmas season and that may provide you further opportunities to pray, to participate, and to invite others to hear the Christmas message:
- Christmas Party at the apartments, Saturday, December 17 - This is one that I'd like to ask you to pray for specifically. Some ladies in our church have stepped up and out to plan a party for children who are residents of the Colonial Grand Apartments adjacent to the church. Pray for them to make some great connections with families!
- Movie in the Park, Sunday, December 18, 5:30pm - Our children's ministry is sponsoring a showing of Polar Express. Because rain is in the forecast, we are bringing the movie inside to fellowship hall. Hot chocolate and popcorn will be complimentary.
- Christmas Eve services, Saturday, December 24, 3:00pm and 5:00pm - This year, our early service will be an interactive, kid-friendly service. We'll have glowsticks instead of candles, and the children will help tell the story of Jesus' birth. Our later service will be a traditional one, with candles and traditional Christmas carols.
- Christmas Worship in the Round, Sunday, December 25, 10:30am - "What is Christmas in the Round," you ask? Come, enjoy this unique and celebratory time of Christmas worship and find out!
I want to reiterate how grateful I am for you, my church family, and I want once more to encourage and challenge you to take advantage of the remaining opportunities we'll have this Christmas season to share our hope and to shine His light!
Grace and peace,
The First and Greatest Gift of Christmas
December 5, 2016
- Wonderful Counselor - Psalm 1:1 says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers..." When it comes to the kind of "counsel" we receive from the world at large, it's pretty much filled with all of the above. The "wisdom" that we often receive even from well-meaning people can be completely off-base and send us in a direction that is in total contradiction to what God would have us do. For this reason, it's good to know that we have a "Wonderful Counselor" on whom we can depend, one who will always guide us rightly and whose wisdom will never fail us. Psalm 73:24 sums up well the relationship we can have with the counsel of the Lord: "You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory."
- Mighty God - In the Old Testament alone, there are around 350 uses of the terms "Lord Almighty," God Almighty" or "Lord God Almighty." The reason for this is to emphasize the fact that we don't serve a weak, insipid God whose accomplishments are dependent on others or on circumstances falling into His favor. In Isaiah 46:10 God declares, "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." It's good to know in a world of shifting sands that there is One who cannot be moved, whose purposes and will cannot be thwarted by enemies or swayed by popular opinion. It's good to know that our God who can and will keep all of His promises and can be counted on never to leave us or forsake us. What an amazing comfort to know a God "who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20)!
- Everlasting Father - When we speak of our God, we speak of the eternal. We don't just speak about it from a hypothetical perspective, but rather from a relational perspective, as the dearly-loved children of a Father in heaven who has granted us everlasting life and who has placed in our hearts the hope of an eternal home in heaven. This year, many of our church families--mine included--will celebrate the holidays minus the presence of a dear loved one who has died in recent months. As we do, it's comforting to know that, having died in Christ, they are truly at home, sharing in the eternal celebration of the saints who are absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a wonderful gift to have this relationship in our lives--children of an Everlasting Father!
- Prince of Peace - There's an old song that has this line in it: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." While most people in the world will express a desire for peace, we struggle to keep it--both in our relationships and on a global scale. Our history reflects our struggles: out of the 3400 years of recorded history, only 268 are considered peaceful in terms of international conflict. That's only about 8%! Truthfully, we as human beings are not too good at the whole "peace thing," and we desperately need someone to intervene for us and grant us the peace that we ourselves cannot find or manufacture. The person we need is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who gives us a peace that the world cannot produce--an internal kind of peace that surpasses our ability to understand it. His peace is the kind that exists even when everything else around us is a raging firestorm; His is the kind that truly brings us rest.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
November 28, 2016
- Provence Neighborhood Movie Night, Friday, December 2 - On this night, we're sponsoring an event in the Provence neighborhood that will include food trucks, hot chocolate and cider and a couple of classic Christmas movies shown in the park. It kicks off at 5:00pm (movies will start at 6:00pm), and everyone's invited!
- Sunday with Santa, December 4 - We'll have the "big guy" himself in the service with us, telling the kids the real Christmas story, sharing a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" party with them in Kids Own Worship and remaining after the service for pictures.
- Young at Heart Christmas Lunch, December 4 - Immediately after our worship service, our Senior Adults will enjoy lunch and entertainment as we kick off the season with Randy Overstreet.
- Christmas in the Park, Sunday, December 11 - This year, we're having two performances of our Christmas musical (4:00pm and 7:00pm), with a Live Nativity in between (5:30pm). Plan to attend, and bring some folks with you!
- Polar Express Movie Night in the Amphitheater, Sunday, December 18 - Bring a blanket, a chair and some guests to enjoy an outdoor viewing of Polar Express at 5:30pm in our amphitheater. Popcorn and hot chocolate will be provided!
- Christmas Eve Candlelight Services, Saturday, December 24 - Plan to attend one of our Christmas Eve services with your family in celebration of Christ's birth. This year, we're having a family-friendly version at 3:00pm, followed by a traditional version at 5:00pm.
- Christmas Day Service, Sunday, December 25 - Christmas Day is on Sunday this year, so we'll celebrate with a time of worship at 10:30am (Bible Study Groups will not meet). Come as you are, and join us for a casual, family-friendly time of recognizing the amazing gift of Jesus!
A Thanksgiving Miracle
November 21, 2016
The Five LEvels of Stewardship
November 14, 2016
- Beginning Giver. This person is new to the idea of stewardship and has a desire to begin giving/serving in some capacity as a step of obedience to Christ. This person's newly-awakened desire requires a big leap of faith and a reorientation of priorities in the right direction as he takes steps to move from desire to action.
- Consistent Giver. The consistent giver has experienced how God uses his willingness to give/serve and has developed a desire to do this on a regular basis. The move from "occasional" to "consistent" requires discipline and commitment, but this person finds great blessing in the doing of it.
- Tither. The tither aims for the ten percent level that is laid down as the scriptural principle for giving in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New Testament. Giving ten percent of one's income requires a readjustment of personal spending habits, but this person finds great joy in giving God a tithe of the "firstfruits" of his income. Likewise, in regard to serving, this person's aim is first to serve God, then to pursue the other things in life that require time, energy and effort.
- Expanding Giver. The expanding giver is already a tither, but now has reached the level of commitment that he is looking for other opportunities to "take it up a notch" and give/serve in special ways beyond the basic tithing commitment. This person has discovered that we cannot outgive God, taking up His challenge in Malachi 3:10 to test God in this matter of giving and to watch as He pours out blessings in response.
- Extravagant Giver. This person has reached a level of reorienting his life and his finances so that he is giving and serving in radical ways, reveling in God's blessings as he does. Typically very quiet and private about his commitments, he silently gives and serves with powerful Kingdom results.
Fear God. Honor the Emperor.
November 7, 2016
Opening My Mouth Boldly
October 31, 2016
The Power of Love
October 24, 2016
Fight or Flight
October 17, 2016
Religion and Politics
October 10, 2016
October 3, 2016
On BEING a friend
September 26, 2016
September 19, 2016
Building Bridges, Burning Bridges
September 12, 2016
The Second Greatest Command
September 2, 2016
Created to Grow
August 29, 2016
August 22, 2016
Serve Out, Serve In
August 15, 2016
- Our Jerusalem (local) = We will be holding multiple prayerwalking emphases and outreach events in the various neighborhoods in and surrounding Liberty Park this church year. Our first will be in the Provence neighborhood, on Sunday, September 18.
- Our Judea (regional) = We have committed to develop a partnership with Strong Tower Church at Washington Park (www.strongtowerawp.com) in Montgomery, AL. As this relationship develops, we will be assisting Pastor (and NAMB church planter) Terrence Jones in his work to reach western Montgomery for Christ.
- Our Samaria (national) = An old, familiar door has reopened for us in Damascus, VA, where we will be traveling once again to minister and witness to Appalachian Trail hikers at the Trail Days event. The dates for this trip will be May 18-20, 2017. In one previous trip, I personally had Gospel conversations with people from 28 different states and 6 different countries!
- Ends of the earth (international) = God has thrown the door open for us in Guatemala as our friend, missionary Garry Eudy, has received an eager invitation from the incoming president of Guatemala to carry out ministry and church planting in that country. We will travel to San Andres, Guatemala, on July 14-22, 2017, but we will be engaged throughout the entire year in a variety of activities to keep our hearts, minds and prayers focused on the task ahead.
An Olympic Effort
August 8, 2016
The Pursuit of Pure Worship
August 1, 2016
July 25, 2016
For these reasons, our church, along with Locust Fork Baptist and Prospect Baptist (in Eclectic, Alabama), sent representatives to spend a week engaging in four main areas of work:
- Medical - Technically, our team was to hold a medical clinic Monday through Thursday, providing free medical care, free medications and reading glasses for those who needed them. Our team ended up taking part of Sunday to see the staff and families of the Christian School with which we were working, held the clinic on Monday through Thursday as planned and then held a "mini-clinic" for the staff and families of the hotel where we've stayed on each of our four visits. In all, they saw and treated around 1200 patients!
- VBS - At the Christian school where we held our clinic--and where previous teams of ours had done some building upgrades--another part of our team held a VBS for the students. Although not entirely like its American counterpart, this VBS still included Bible stories, games, recreation and, most importantly, the presentation of the Gospel to the children.
- Construction - A team of a dozen men worked through numerous setbacks and difficulties (one of the main being the unrelenting heat and humidity) to build the entire outside of a new pastor's house in less than a week. Starting with just a concrete slab on the school's property (where we also hope to see a church started within the coming year), these men worked tirelessly to construct a house that will help in the process of settling a pastor and his family into this town to begin a new work there.
- Evangelism - Though technically a part of everything we do, there was a designated evangelism team (along with others who rotated in and out) tasked with ascertaining the spiritual status of every person who came through the medical clinic and then encouraging and praying for believers and sharing the Gospel with those who were not and praying for them as well. Because all information on new believers was left with a local pastor, we didn't get any final numbers on how many people received Christ, but we do know that it was several dozen, with our highest number in a single day being twenty-eight new believers.
By the time the week was done, much had been accomplished, and the groundwork had been laid for subsequent work to be accomplished, on the local level, on the national level by the church from Guatemala City that is sponsoring this new work in San Andres, and on the international level, as all three churches--Liberty Park, Locust Fork and Prospect Baptist Churches--all committed to a partnership that will culminate in another mission trip to San Andres next summer and hopefully will continue beyond that trip as well.
In the meantime, I would ask you to pray--for the Christian School in San Andres, for the new believers there and the local church that will be following up with them, for the church in Guatemala City as it works to locate a pastor for the church plant in San Andres, for Garry Eudy and his team as they think strategically about the expansion of their work in Guatemala, and for the partnership of three Alabama churches that are already planning for the coming year.
It's always amazing to watch God at work--and this mission trip was certainly no exception!
Students of the word
JULY 18, 2016
As an undergraduate at Mississippi College, I took my first Greek language class with Dr. G. Roger Greene. On the first day of class, Dr. Greene looked at the 20 of us who sat before him, did some simple calculations in his head, and said, "Only 5 of you will complete all four semesters of Greek." Needless to say, for those of us who had signed up with hopes of learning, reading, and understanding Biblical Greek, we were shocked and a little disheartened.
As the semester began, we quickly learned why Dr. Greene said what he said. He expected a lot from his students. His expectations were not unrealistic, they just required discipline. The discipline required was of a greater level than many of us had ever participated in before. The expectation that sticks out in my memory the most is his expectation of study. Dr. Greene believed that in order to truly learn and grasp the Greek language that you must live in it every day. Therefore, he required his students to study at least an hour every day. You may wonder how he knew whether or not we were meeting this requirement. When the roll was called at the beginning of each class, our response was not "Here" or "Present", but rather the number of hours we had studied since the last class meeting. If our answer was less than an hour, we were in for a long and very uncomfortable class.
As I look back on my experience with Dr. Greene, I see the wisdom of his requirement. Language is not something that can be crammed into your brain. It is something that must become a part of you. To truly master a new language, you must live in and with it day after day until it becomes a part of who you are.
The teachings of the Bible are this way, as well. We cannot just cram them into our brain. In order for them to become a part of who we are, we must dwell in them day after day. We must live in and with them until they become a part of who we are. They must not only guide our thoughts, they must eventually become our thoughts.
As Christ-followers, our lives will be directly impacted by our knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. The people we encounter each and every day will also be impacted. As Christ-followers, you and I serve as examples of Christ for those in our circle of influence. Just as the students in a class expect their teacher to be familiar enough with the topic to lead the class, our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers expect us to be familiar enough with the truths of the Bible that we claim to believe to help someone who is searching to grow in their relationship with Jesus. How do we get there? As Dr. Greene recommended, we get there by investing a little time in study every day. We cannot wait until the night before to cram. We must invest time everyday living with God's Word, so that we will be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ when presented with an opportunity to share.
By the way, I am honored to say that I did complete all four semesters of Dr. Greene's Greek. And, he was right. Only five of us made it to the end. May we, as servants entrusted with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, be faithful to the end in our study of His Word.
Life in These United States
July 11, 2016
Regardless of one's thinking in regard to each of the aforementioned killings--and I realize that there is great variety in attitudes across our nation--as fellow human beings, we should grieve the loss of life and the development of any circumstances that lead to the death of another human being. Even if the death of another human being is justified (as in self-defense, the protection of others or in a just war scenario), for anyone who believes that all humans are created in God's image, the loss of someone's life is a serious thing, and it should be viewed with the appropriate gravitas befitting such a occurrence.
In addition, as we consider the impact that these deaths have on the broader community, it should give us pause and move us to pray for families, for friends, for coworkers and for others affected by such tragedies. As we reflect, for example, on the death of Officer Brent Thompson, just married in the last two weeks, or Officers Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Smith--both husbands and fathers --we cannot help but realize that the loss of their lives will permanently alter the lives of their families as well. Basic human compassion should cause us to weep alongside the families of all whose lives were lost last week, as they mourn their sudden, tragic loss and wonder about how life proceeds from here.
On a broader scale, we as Americans should be deeply alarmed at the divide in our nation and at the seemingly un-fixable problems that have brought us to this level of discord. Beyond just disagreeing with each other, we appear to have come to the place as a nation where we no longer even hear each other, seeking instead to shout down, shut out and dismiss as inconsequential the feelings, thoughts, attitudes and arguments of others.
As an American who senses the national feeling of anxiety that seems to be spreading across our nation, let me express some of my thoughts regarding how we begin to respond to what's happening in our nation:
First, let's remember that anger, malice (desire to see another person harmed), and disregard for others are not biblically defensible ways of dealing with fellow human beings. In fact, Ephesians 4:31 says that we are to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice." Our approach to others should rather be that of grace, mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love.
Second, we should recall Jesus' words regarding our calling as peacemakers in Matthew 5:9--"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called son of God." Where we can impact our society, or even the interactions between groups and individuals, by bringing peace, we should seek to do what we can in that regard. We are not to be stokers of the flames (not even on social media!) but rather seekers of peace.
Third, we must not forget the power of God in all of this. We as humans seem to busy ourselves making a mess of everything, twisting it all into a knot that cannot be untangled. We easily reach the place of impasse and impossibility, where we can no longer undo what we've done. While we are powerless to address and to repair our society, God is not. Last week did not catch Him by surprise, and He is not standing in heaven wringing His hands and wondering what to do. He always has an answer and a plan for redemption. He is the God of the impossible, the Great Untangler of our most interminable of knots. We, therefore, should seek Him with all our hearts, crying out for wisdom and listening and watching carefully for His answers. This really does matter.
The above is just a start, but it's a good start. There is no easy way back from where we've come, but our Father assures us that He will walk all the way with us. We just need to stick with Him.
One Nation Under Duress
June 27, 2016
As we enjoy the festivities of our Independence Day, however, there is doubtless a sense of foreboding and anxiety felt by many, regardless of political stance, party affiliation or cultural leanings, that underlies and perhaps undercuts the joy that we feel. Deep down, we know that our nation is in precarious circumstances in a number of arenas, the major ones being political, economic, cultural, and spiritual. Consider these concerns:
Political - As we approach a presidential election this November, there is no clear-cut leader that the majority of Americans seem to be excited about. On either side of the aisle, it appears that many will vote holding their nose, so to speak, because the candidate representing their party carries immense baggage and comes with major questions regarding their ability to lead our nation. Additionally, our views on hot-button issues like immigration, gun control and religious liberty are continually debated with intense passion from both sides, with little view toward compromise or even civil, grown-up discussion.
Economic - In spite of fairly steady stock market gains for the most part in recent years, it's hard to escape the fact that our nation's leaders are spending vast amounts of money that we simply do not have. Our economic circumstances have grown to resemble someone who has taken out a bunch of credit cards and loans, using one to pay on the other, all the while posting minimum payments on interest just enough to keep the creditors at bay. Anyone with sense at all knows that an individual--and a nation--can only do that for so long before something has to give. With our unprecedented national debt now soaring over $19 trillion--an amount too astronomical to consider--Americans know that our financial outlook nationally is fear-inducing at best.
Cultural - In regard to our cultural and societal mores, we are certainly a nation divided. Whether in regard to the nature of marriage, gender identity issues or our values in regard to human life, sexual morality or the having/raising of children, there is a clear chasm of understanding and worldview that exists among Americans. Because many of these issues carry with them mutually-exclusive conclusions, there seems to be little if any desire or ability for people to agree with each other on any level, thus intensifying the debates and deepening the divide.
Spiritual - Much of the above cultural debate stems from various people's stances in regard to spiritual/religious matters. One need not be an elite reader of the spiritual tone of our nation to note that there is a colossal, growing split between religious and irreligious citizens. Furthermore, there is a distinct rift between religious conservatives' and religious liberals' points of view on a number of issues. Overall, I think it's fair to say that the spiritual character of our nation is a matter of great anxiety to those who are concerned about such matters (that should include us!).
What are we to do with/about all of this? While it may sound simplistic, I would say that our first and primary order of business is to pray. We also need more than ever to live our faith--and not with slogans, t-shirts and bumper stickers, but rather "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Further, we need to advocate for our beliefs and values and vote in ways that are consistent with biblical principles. Finally, we need to realize that who we are called to be and how we are called to live before God and in regard to others never changes, regardless of the winds swirling around us.
So, let us be the salt of the earth, children of God living with integrity among our fellow Americans, shining like stars in the universe as we hold fast to and hold out before us the word of life, hoping and praying that our nation can become once again one nation under God.
An Amazing Display of Christian Unity
June 20, 2016
Among the matters to be voted on this year, the one that garnered the greatest amount of attention from those of us who gathered there was the election of a new convention president. Although there were three candidates who had been nominated for the position, two had come to the forefront in a race that was as hotly-contested and potentially contentious as any in recent memory.
One of the candidates, Dr. Steve Gaines, formerly served as the pastor of Gardendale's First Baptist Church (my home church) and presently is the pastor of the historic Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, following in the footsteps of great pastors like Adrian Rodgers and R. G. Lee. As an older pastor, Dr. Gaines appealed to his supporters as someone familiar with convention structures and processes whose ministry has been characterized by prayerful, revival-centered preaching and leadership.
The other candidate, Dr. J. D. Greear, is a younger minister who serves as pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, a church that has grown under his leadership from 300 people to more than 10,000. Dr. Greear is also the author of several books and formerly served on the International Mission Board, working its outreach efforts to Muslims. His supporters were enthusiastic about his potential to bring new and visionary leadership to the denomination, and his appeal was very strong among younger SBC messengers.
Following our initial presidential vote on Tuesday morning, we were informed that no one had received a clear majority, and a second vote would be required that afternoon as a runoff between the top two candidates--Dr. Gaines and Dr. Greear. That evening, during our worship time, we were told that, once again, no clear majority had been reached (in fact, the candidates had only been separated by fewer than 150 votes) and that a third vote would be taken the next day.
When we gathered on Wednesday morning at the time appointed for the vote, both candidates were called to the platform, and most of us assumed that we were about to hear speeches in support of their candidacies. Instead, Dr. Greear told us that the night before, when the need for a third vote was announced, he immediately decided that he would pull out of the race for the purpose of preserving unity in the convention. He went on to inform us that he had approached Dr. Gaines about the matter, and his response was the same--that he had also decided to remove his name from consideration for the sake of unity.
After much prayer with each other and consultation with other SBC leaders, the two men concluded that Dr. Gaines should serve as our next president, and he reluctantly agreed to do so. Dr. Greear was asking that as a result, the convention elect by acclamation Dr. Gaines as our new president. We did just that, and the moment served as a dramatic and wonderful display of unity and brotherly harmony unlike anything we've experienced in our convention in years.
You see, we Southern Baptists have been known to have a good fight from time to time, and most of us expected that this presidential election, with its clearly-defined sides, would be no exception. How wonderfully surprised we all were! As we dismissed for lunch, it was gratifying to hear the conversations as people glorified God and expressed thanks for this great display of humility and agreement by these two godly leaders.
I'm telling you about this not merely for informational purposes, but rather because I want you to know about this amazing moment in the life of our denomination. It was great to see our leadership exemplifying through their attitudes, words and actions the best of who we can be and should be as believers in Christ. And I just thought you should know about it.
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" - Psalm 133:1
the Southern Baptist Convention
June 13, 2016
This week, I will join thousands of other Southern Baptists in St. Louis, Missouri, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, where we will worship, fellowship, enjoy the preaching of God's word, listen to reports by the entities of our convention and vote on matters of denominational importance. I look forward to such gatherings, because I enjoy reconnecting with ministers I've known over the years, and I also appreciate hearing updates on the Kingdom work our missionary agencies, seminaries and other groups are doing worldwide.
Mixed in with the rejoicing, felowshipping and thanksgiving, however, will be some serious sadness and concern, as we will once again--for the ninth year in a row--note a decline in both baptisms and church membership within Southern Baptist churches. In fact, membership numbers across the board in our denomination are down by more than 200,000, and baptism numbers are down another 3.3%. These declines come in spite of a renewed emphasis on church planting over the last several years that has led us as a denomination to have more churches than we've ever had (more than 46,000).
While we are still the largest protestant denomination in the United States (at more than 15 million members), the negative growth trend among Southern Baptists has seen our membership numbers reduced by around one million members since 2003. During that same time, there have been multiple other religious trends of interest that may relate to Southern Baptists declines:
- The aging of our denomination. As Southern Baptists grow older, they are not necessarily being replaced by new generations. Younger generations raised in Southern Baptist churches are not only smaller; they also have less denominational loyalty than their predecessors.
- The rise of non-denominational churches. Following on the previous trend, the lack of denominational loyalty--and in some cases a stance against denominationalism--has led to a subsequent meteoric rise in churches with no denominational affiliation (more than %400 in forty years). One need look no further than the explosive growth of Birmingham's Church of the Highlands (partly fueled by many former Southern Baptists) to find an example.
- The rise of the "nones." Over the last few years, there has been a steady and growing rise in the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. This trend is especially strong among the younger generations. For SBC churches, this means that the climate for evangelizing is not as friendly and open to our efforts as it used to be.
- The consistent growth of the Assemblies of God. This trend is interesting because it reveals that not all American denominations are seeing declines. In fact, even as the SBC has posted consistent losses, the Assemblies of God have experienced 25 years of consistent growth.
In addition to the above, there are many other trends and matters of interest that intersect with our denominational decline, some of which may have an impact on it, others of which may be coincidental. What cannot be numerically measured is the spiritual state of the SBC, and my heart tells me that we're in deep need of revival and renewal on many levels. Regardless, one thing is clear: if something isn't done to reverse this trend, we're headed for trouble as a denomination.
So, as I head off to the convention this week, I ask for you to pray--for our church, for our denomination, for our leaders--that we might experience spiritual renewal and that we might, once again, be a denomination on fire, in love with the Lord, in love with His word, Spirit-filled, and dead-set on reaching souls for Christ.
June 6, 2016
Today, we started the 2016 version of VBS at LPBC, and once again, we are experiencing the beautiful cacophony generated by hundreds of loud and messy kids. And, there in the midst of it all, is another new face that belongs to another minister starting his very first day on the very first day of VBS, just like I did twelve years ago.
His name is Matthew Marsh ("Mr. Matt" to the kids), and today he began his work as LPBC's new Children's Minister! As Matthew gets the ball rolling here, he also brings with him his family--his wife Kelly, and his kids Haley, Ailee, Avery, William and Paisley. It's great for us as a congregation to have the pleasure of welcoming them into our church family, and I want to encourage everyone who's a part of LPBC to be intentional about getting to know them.
Please pray for Matthew and his family as well as they make this major transition. It's always tough on a minister's family when moving from one church to another. Even as you make new friends, encounter new challenges and enjoy the excitement of a new ministry setting, you leave behind good friends, people with whom you've partnered in ministry, a church family in which you've invested yourself, and lots of good memories. As their new church family, it's on us to smooth out the transition for the Marsh family, praying for them, befriending them, helping them and encouraging them. The good news is that I know from personal experience that you're up to the challenge!
I also want to ask everyone to pray this week for a successful VBS! One of our young moms--Rebekah Payne--has worked for months as our VBS director to plan, organize, recruit and prepare, and we're hoping that everything this year will go as planned, without a single hitch. She's joined this week by dozens of volunteers, all of whom are taking their spot on the team and working hard to make this VBS the best it can possibly be.
The most important thing, however, is that every child in attendance has the opportunity to hear the Gospel. We want them all to hear the message that God loves them so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to live and to die for us, and we want them to know that through faith in Christ they can receive forgiveness and eternal life. This is really why we go to all the trouble to hold VBS every year in the first place!
So--pray for the kids to hear and receive the Gospel, and pray for this wonderful message of God's love and salvation to be communicated to entire families as well. Thanks for your prayer support!
Say "Yes!" to VBS!
May 30, 2016
may 23, 2016
Why Italy? Well, for starters, Rome became the central base of the Christian church by AD 380, when Christianity was named the official religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Theodosius I. Leading up to that time, the Christian church had a very contentious relationship with the Roman Empire, with Christians being horrifically persecuted from the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul (both of whom were said to have been put to death in Rome) through AD 313, when Emperor Constantine I decriminalized Christian worship. We also know that there was a strong Christian community in Rome by the latter part of the first century AD, because Paul wrote the book of Romans as a letter to the believers there. In addition, Rome is the seat of the Catholic Church which has, both for better and worse, been a powerful influence in the in the development of western Christianity since the 4th century AD.
While in Italy, we visited Vatican Square, toured St. Peter's Basilica (the largest Christian church building in the world), and toured the Vatican Museum, including a visit to the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling of which is famous for its paintings by the legendary artist, Michelangelo. We also visited many ancient Roman sites, including the Palatine Hill, where we stood in the ruins of the palace of Caesar Augustus (see Luke 2:1 for his significance to biblical times), and the Colosseum, where thousands of Christians died a martyr's death, torn apart by wild animals and killed by gladiators to the delight of merciless Roman crowds who saw it as wonderful sport and entertainment.
Among the other amazing sites we saw were the massive cathedral in Florence (the third largest Christian church building in the world), the cathedral in Pisa (where the pulpit was hand-carved in marble by the great artist Giovanni in the early 1300s) and St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, which was built around AD 1063 (the original was built in AD 828 but was burned down in a political rebellion). During our visit to the Florence cathedral, we were also able to tour the crypt. There, archaeologists have excavated for decades, uncovering ruins of earlier church buildings going all the way back to the AD 400s!
Honestly, by the time we had finished our first day there, I realized that there was more history, more artistry and more beauty than anyone could possibly take in during the time we would have there, perhaps even in a lifetime. In fact, we as a family took thousands of pictures, knowing that with many of them we would have to come back home and do some real studying to gain even in inkling of the history and significance of what we had seen.
I look forward to sharing about our trip with you as I have opportunity to do so, but even more so I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my family for making it possible for us to take this epic family trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Many times during our stay there, we reminded ourselves that you, our church family, did this for us, and we prayed several prayers of thanksgiving for you while in this special place.
God bless you all, and thank you so much from the Guffins.
With love and thanksgiving,
-Beth, Blake, Bailey and Scott
Let the Little Children Come
MAY 16, 2016
- Pray – Pray that God would prepare the hearts of the children who attend VBS to receive the good news of Jesus Christ. Pray that our volunteers will be prepared to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the children through word and deed. Pray that God will raise up additional workers for the week of VBS. Prayer requests will be posted daily on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/libertypark. If you have not done so already, like our page and pray daily for VBS.
- Invite – As the school year comes to a close, you will most likely attend end-of-the-year parties or programs with your children or grandchildren. This is also the time of year where you may have opportunities to watch them play baseball, softball, etc. When you have those opportunities, be intentional to invite the children of the other families present to attend VBS. If they are interested in more information, direct them to our website, www.libertypark.org/vbs.
- Register – For those of you with children who will attend VBS, please go ahead and register them. By registering your child(ren), you will help us to determine class sizes, place volunteers, and order materials. You can register them at www.libertypark.org/vbs.
- Serve – If you have not done so already and are available to serve the week of VBS, please sign up to serve at www.libertypark.org/vbs. We still need people to help with setup, to serve as guides, and to reset everything each night.
the power of recognition
may 9, 2016
Each Tuesday, our ministers meet together following our larger staff meeting for a time that we have specifically set aside to plan our worship services. During this meeting, we discuss every aspect of our worship services, from the welcome and announcements to the music and the message. Everything about the service is on the table, and we hold nothing back in our assessment and in our planning process, praying over every portion of the service and seeking God's guidance as we prepare.
When we get to the latter part of March each year, we begin to look ahead to the month of May (we try to plan at least six weeks in advance), and we always find it to be a challenging month, due to the number of "recognitions" that naturally fall during that time of year. Here's what I mean: the first Sunday in May is broadly recognized as Senior Adult Sunday, the second Sunday is always Mother's Day, the third Sunday is our annual Graduate Recognition Sunday, and in those months of May with only four Sundays, the last one encompasses Memorial Day weekend, a time in which we remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our country.
As a younger minister, I used to be bothered by all of this recognizing, feeling that there that we were taking up a lot of valuable time patting each other on the back, time that could be devoted instead to worshiping or studying God's word. Several years ago, however, as I was studying through Romans 12, my thoughts were captured by verse 10, which says that we are to "be devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor."
The latter part of this verse is what struck me so strongly, because it clarifies that one of the ways we show a familial love toward one another is by honoring our brothers and sisters in a preferential way. The idea presented here is that we as believers should go out of our way--even go over the top--to recognize each other, to celebrate each other, and to show our gratitude for each other. The extent to which this is to be done is highlighted in the English Standard Version's rendering of this verse: "Outdo one another in showing honor."
While we might be more inclined to "tone down" such recognitions and celebrations, God's word is unequivocal in calling us to step it up, working hard to make our brothers and sisters feel loved, accepted, honored, appreciated, wanted and valued. So, here's my encouragement/challenge to you: If you begin to suffer from "recognition exhaustion" as we go through the month of May, remember the words of Romans 12:10, and recall how much it means to you when your faith family shows you how much they love you and appreciate you.
And then, taking up the call to "outdo one another in showing honor," celebrate your brothers and sisters with reckless abandon, knowing that as you do so, you're fulfilling God's command, saying a big "I love you" to your church family members in the process. As you do this, you just might transform from a "recognition curmudgeon" to a "celebration expert"! And couldn't we all use some of those in our lives?
(Let me remind you that in this Sunday's worship service we will recognize and honor our church family members who have achieved a great milestone in life by graduating from high school, college or grad school. I hope you'll plan to join the celebration!)
may 2, 2016
- A fourth of all flower purchases in any given year in the are made in the days leading up to Mother's Day.
- Carnations are a popular flower choice for Mother's Day. Traditionally, wearing a colored carnation meant that your mother was still living; wearing a white one meant that your mother had passed away.
- About 133 million Mother's Day cards are given each year.
- American consumers will spend roughly $21.4 billion celebrating Mother's Day.
- In the early 1900s, Mother's Day was celebrated by all of the family going to church with mom, writing letters to mom, and giving mom hand-made cards.
- As of 2015, it was estimated that the tasks performed by the mom in an average household would be worth $65,284 in the professional world. Go, moms!
I love trivia like this. While it undoubtedly takes up space in my brain that I probably cannot spare, i enjoy learning and knowing random facts like these.
Because this Sunday is Mother's Day, however, this set of facts is not entirely random, but rather carries with it the intent of helping us all think about our moms and how important and influential they are in our lives.
In my years of working with people in ministry, I've had a front-row seat in seeing how a mother's life and love impact children from their earliest of years and all throughout every stage of life, well into their adulthood. Moms are among the most important and powerful molders and shapers of our personalities, and their influence goes so deep that we often don't even recognize it, because its so deeply ingrained into who we are.
Because of their great role in the determining of so much about our lives, I cannot think of anything better to do in regard to the moms in our society than to pray for them, to encourage them and to affirm their value to us and to our culture at large. I also consider it to be of utmost importance that we as the church highlight godly moms who are raising their children to be godly adults, thus spreading their influence and challenging all moms to follow their example.
I hope you'll take time this week to pray for and with your mom (and husbands, pray for the mother of your children). I hope you'll make her feel honored and valued, and I hope you'll affirm the good things that she does and the positive influence that she has on your life.
Even more so, I hope you'll make an intentional effort to point out to her how her motherly care and nurture resembles the heart of God, who multiple times in Scripture mentions His desire and His activity of hiding and guarding us with His "wings," just as a mother hen or other bird does for its babies (see Matthew 23:37 and Psalm 36:7, 57:1, 63:7, 91:4).
To all of our moms--Happy Mother's Day!
the best thing ever--love
April 25, 2016
On the whole, it appears that we as human beings are hard-wired for emotional connectedness, and when we encounter something like a song that speaks right to our heart and touches on our innermost longings to be connected in the deepest way with another human being, it sticks with us. The degree to which such things effect us can be seen in how we can go without hearing a song for years and then, upon hearing it again, we can be mentally and emotionally transported to a place of our fondest and sweetest memories.
Still, even the best love song cannot come close to encompassing what we as Christians have come to understand about love--if we've paid close attention to God's word and have learned from His Spirit and through experience how a God-kind of love is supposed to look and work. In 1 Corinthians 13, which has become known as "the love chapter" in the Bible, Paul describes in detail the nature of the love that Jesus commanded us (see John 13:34) to have for one another.
Here's how Paul characterizes this exceptional kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Now, let me be ultra-clear about something in regard to this love: Jesus commands us to love our fellow Christians with this love (once again, see John 13:34). He does not suggest it. He does not offer it as one among many alternatives. He commands it. Because of Christ's clear expectation of a love like this, we have no other choice as believers than to commit to, grow into and work hard at loving our brothers and sisters in this fashion. I'm certainly under no illusion that this task is always an easy one to accomplish, but it's clearly the thing which Jesus Christ has demanded of us.
So let's get to it.
When we do love in this fashion, we will discover that what Paul said about this love is true--that this love is the best thing ever (he literally calls it "the most excellent way" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and "the greatest of these" in 1 Corinthians 13:13). We will also discover that it is a tremendous witness for us (see John 13:35), making it clear to everyone we encounter that we are true followers of Christ, sold out to Him and deeply obedient to Him.
Because of the unique nature of this kind of love, it will attract people who are hungering longingly for such unconditional acceptance and community. Our love will then open the door for us to speak to them about God's love, which is the model and the source for ours. And perhaps then, they themselves will discover through Christ the greatest love of all.
And isn't that what we all want?
Relationships that Matter
April 18, 2016
One Step Forward, Two Back, Three Sideways
April 11, 2016
Following Hard After God
April 4, 2106
March 28, 2016
the Echo of the Empty Tomb
March 21, 2016Easter is a really big deal. I say this because I'm not always sure that we as Christians understand how big a deal it is and give it its just due. Let me show you what I mean:
Shamelessly Audacious Prayer
March 14, 2016
Four Ways to Start Celebrating Easter Now
March 7, 2016
Concerning Spiritual Gifts...
February 29, 2016This week's article is very special, because it represents an absolute first for me. In my eleven years and eight months of writing weekly articles in my tenure as pastor of Liberty Park Baptist, this is the first time I've ever written an article that was posted on February 29! If my calculations are correct, this leap-year date will not coincide again with a Monday (the day I write my articles) until the year 2044. If Jesus hasn't returned by then and I'm still alive and kicking, I'll be 79 years old then, and hopefully retired. So, this is both a first, and most likely a last as well!
February 22, 2016Thursday, February 18, 2016, is a date that will forever be etched into my memory, because it was the day that my Dad passed away, stepping from this life into eternity. In Dad's final days and final hours God was very gracious and merciful to us, as Dad fell asleep and went home peacefully and quickly, not in pain and not in distress. God's people were also gracious to Dad and to us as a family, pouring out expressions of love, support and admiration, as they prayed us through this difficult moment in our family's life.
Pouring Myself Out
February 15, 2016Since the first of January, we have been focusing on the measures of a disciple both in our Bible Study Groups and in our Sunday worship services. We've had a rich time of digging through God's word together as we've sought to uncover what the Bible says about this deeply important topic. Over a period of several weeks, we've unpacked together the idea that a true disciple is someone who connects with God, noting that this means surrendering to Christ, abiding in Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit, praying in faith, living in the word and worshiping in spirit and in truth, among other things.
Unfortunately for us, our natural "wiring" as human beings directs us in the opposite pursuit. Fortunately for us, Christ is in the business of transforming us, exchanging our natural self for a new, redeemed self, one that desires to please Him above pleasing self, and He does this every day for those who are willing to submit themselves to Him and abide in Him. This is good news, because our own pride and selfish ambition seem to be intent on pressing us in a direction that is exactly opposite of what Christ desires for us, and we are too often willing to go there as directed.
When a person does follow the route of self-fulfillment and feeds his own pride and tends to his own ambitions above all else, we will often describe that person as being "full of himself." Generally speaking, we don't like people who are full of themselves; there is something within us that just finds such an attitude to be repulsive. Perhaps that's an indication that, deep down, the part of us that is created in God's image and recoils against self-focused, self-aggrandizing individuals is crying out to us to recognize that God's will is not fulfilled in being full of oneself but only in the emptying of oneself.