Friday, July 25, 2008

Reality and Respone

In life there is a constant reality that demands a response. There is always something that is and then what is must be followed by a response.

This morning Asher and I were enjoying a game of chase through the house. He was laughing and squealing, as he often does when anybody chases him, and he turned to make sure I was actually chasing him. Sometimes I'll break off the chase to go the other direction so I can pick him up and tickle him only to let him go so we can start the chase again. This morning when he looked back to see if I was still chasing, he veered to the right toward the dining room and when he turned around the front of his head met a wooden column that was there. It was a knock out.

As I picked him up off of the ground, I expected two responses. 1. Asher would cry. 2. Everybody else in the family would come and inquire as to why Asher was crying. Both of my expectations were met.

There was a reality followed by responses.

If Asher began crying right now, which he wouldn't because he's on his fat belly playing with cars at my feet, or if people in my house came and began to inquire about Asher's crying, which they wouldn't because he's not. But if those two things started happening right now that would not create the reality of Asher striking his head and beginning to cry.

Why? Because reality comes first and then comes the response.

So it is in Christ.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

For those in Christ the reality is "we have been justified through faith," and this reality creates a response. The response is "we have peace with God" and now "we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Not only do we rejoice in that, "but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us".

What a blessing! We have peace with God and rejoice in Him. That joy exists even in suffering, which produces perseverance. When the reality is that we are those who persevere, we gain character. When the reality is that we are people of character, we gain hope. The hope that comes from the reality of being one who has character, which comes from the reality of persevering, which comes from the reality of being able to rejoice in suffering, which comes from being justified by faith, that hope does not disappoint.

And why do we have this response? "(B)ecause God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

Having hope, character, perseverance, and joy does not create the reality of being justified through faith in Christ. It does not create the reality of God's love in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is only after we have been justified through faith in Christ that the responses take place in our life. Our responses cannot make us right with God.

So the question is: what is your reality? Your responses to life will tell you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What We Think Helps Can Hurt

Abraham Lincoln' young son Willie died on Thursday, February 20, 1862 at 5 P.M. at the age of eleven in the White House. At the time of his death Washington D.C. was filled with tens of thousands of soldiers who were there to protect the capital from a potential Confederate attack. Sanitary conditions being what they were caused the water to become contaminated. The sickness that caused Willie's death is believed to have been caused by the water he drank.

It is ironic and sad that the condition created to provide Willie and his family safety is what caused his death. What his father believed was the best position to provide for his boy led to an illness that took his life.

What kinds of things do we allow in our lives that we believe protect us, but actually cause sickness in our minds, souls, and bodies?

I am not speaking here of an ecological reality, although there is plenty to be said about our need to provide clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. I am thinking about the things that we seek or allow in our lives that we perceive as good or ultimate things that are beneficial, but can be causing a sickness in us. I am thinking about material things, emotional things, or activities like sports, work, or hobbies. These are all good and necessary things, but they can create an unhealthy life.

For instance how many people lose their health or important relationships trying to pay for a house, a car, or something material? How many people lose their marriage trying to prove themselves in the business sector or in some other way? They are looking for emotional encouragement, but in the pursuit of it they sacrifice the people they love and genuinely need and who need them. How many parents rob their children of childhood by making them semi-pro athletes, musicians or academicians? Sports, the arts, and education are good things, but at what point can they become detrimental to a child's mental, spiritual, and emotional life.

Willie died because he was in a position that looked "safe", but in reality caused a sickness that killed him. Are you creating an environment for your life with good things that will cause harm rather than make it safer or better?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Want to Know Where I Stand

This past Sunday was a special day. God in His goodness and mercy chose to move in a marvelous way and bring several to a place of assurance in their salvation. After everyone of our three services, I had the privilege to talk with a person about their standing in Christ. Many of them were already redeemed in Christ, but uncertain of it.

Over and over again I sought to help people merely seek and receive what Jesus had already given them or wanted to give them.

Over and over again people would ask, "but how can I know for certain that what you explained is true in me?"

I simply told them to look to Christ and trust in Him. In so doing He would reveal their standing over time and give them His rest.

In my devotion this morning C.H. Spurgeon said it like this.

“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”
— 1 Thessalonians 1:4
Many persons want to know their election before they look to Christ, but they cannot learn it thus, it is only to be discovered by “looking unto Jesus.” If you desire to ascertain your own election;—after the following manner, shall you assure your heart before God. Do you feel yourself to be a lost, guilty sinner? go straightway to the cross of Christ, and tell Jesus so, and tell him that you have read in the Bible, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” Tell him that he has said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Look to Jesus and believe on him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for so surely as thou believest, thou art elect. If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust him, then you are one of God’s chosen ones; but if you stop and say, “I want to know first whether I am elect,” you ask you know not what. Go to Jesus, be you never so guilty, just as you are. Leave all curious inquiry about election alone. Go straight to Christ and hide in his wounds, and you shall know your election. The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him.” Christ was at the everlasting council: he can tell you whether you were chosen or not; but you cannot find it out in any other way. Go and put your trust in him, and his answer will be—“I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” There will be no doubt about his having chosen you, when you have chosen him.
“Sons we are through God’s election,
Who in Jesus Christ believe.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), July 17 AM.

This concept of election is not an easy one. D.A. Carson says in his devotion that we read togeher as a congregation last year that human responsibility and divine sovereignty (which includes God's electing power) are compatible. Here is how he describes it in referencing the death of Christ. He explains that the death of Jesus was God's plan before the creation of the world, but that people had to choose to put Him to death. Those who put Him to death are responsible even though God in His sovereignty destined the death of Jesus.

Carson writes:
God’s sovereignty over the death of Christ does not mitigate the guilt of the human conspirators. On the other hand, the malice of their conspiracy has not caught God flat-footed, as if he had not foreseen the cross, much less planned it. The text plainly insists that God’s sovereignty is not mitigated by human actions, and human guilt is not exculpated by appeal to divine sovereignty. This duality is sometimes called compatibilism: God’s utter sovereignty and human moral responsibility are compatible. Complex issues are involved, but there can be no serious doubt that this stance is either taught or presupposed by the biblical writers.. If Jesus died solely as a result of human conspiracy, and not by the design and purpose of God, it is difficult to see how his death can be the long-planned divine response to our desperate need. If God’s sovereignty over Jesus’ death means that the human perpetrators are thereby exonerated, should this not also be true wherever God is sovereign? And then where is the sin that needs to be paid for by Jesus’ death? The integrity of the Gospel hangs on that element of Christian theism called compatibilism.
D. A. Carson, For the Love of God : A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Volume 1 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), July 17.

This whole idea of election and human responsibility came to be true and reasonable to me my second year in college when I read C.H. Spurgeon's sermon "Election." Click on the word and you can read the entire sermon.

Here is the section of the sermon that hammered the nail in my theological coffin regarding the sovereignty of God and human responsibility.
But there are some who say, "It is hard for God to choose some and leave others." Now, I will ask you one question. Is there any of you here this morning who wishes to be holy, who wishes to be regenerate, to leave off sin and walk in holiness? "Yes, there is," says some one, "I do." Then God has elected you. But another says, "No; I don't want to be holy; I don't want to give up my lusts and my vices." Why should you grumble, then, that God has not elected you to it? For if you were elected you would not like it, according to your own confession. If God this morning had chosen you to holiness, you say you would not care for it. Do you not acknowledge that you prefer drunkenness to sobriety, dishonesty to honesty? You love this world's pleasures better than religion; then why should you grumble that God has not chosen you to religion? If you love religion, he has chosen you to it. If you desire it, he has chosen you to it. If you do not, what right have you to say that God ought to have given you what you do not wish for? Supposing I had in my hand something which you do not value, and I said I shall give it to such-and-such a person, you would have no right to grumble that I did not give to you. You could not be so foolish as to grumble that the other has got what you do not care about. According to your own confession, many of you do not want religion, do not want a new heart and a right spirit, do not want the forgiveness of sins, do not want sanctification; you do not want to be elected to these things: then why should you grumble? You count these things but as husks, and why should you complain of God who has given them to those whom he has chosen? If you believe them to be good and desire them, they are there for thee. God gives liberally to all those who desire; and first of all, he makes them desire, otherwise they never would. If you love these things, he has elected you to them, and you may have them; but if you do not, who are you that you should find fault with God, when it is your own desperate will that keeps you from loving these things—your own simple self that makes you hate them?

One man in particular stands out in my mind who talked with me Sunday. He explained that he felt terrible about his sin and was not sure about his salvation because he seemed to like sin so much. I asked him if he wanted to be free of it. He said, "more than anything." I told him that the desire to be free of sin is supernatural. This desire to be free of sin is a gift God had given him in the process of his salvation. It is a gift God gives to all followers of Jesus. I also explained that having received grace and God's indwelling Spirit, sin would be found in him less and less and one day God would restore the world and we (all who are in Christ) would live sin-free in a sinless new world where God dwells with man - heaven (Revelation 21).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Talked with My Pastor

Last week I received a huge lift. I got to spend almost an hour talking with my pastor. My pastor is Brother Bob Mowery (Bro. Bob). He served as the senior pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church for 35 years. He is a man of great integrity and wisdom. It is dumbfounding to me that he served a single church for the same amount of time that I have lived on this earth. That is amazing.

I had the opportunity to share some of the challenges I have faced as a leader and listen to him share story after story of how he had faced similar situations. He share both his victories and his failures and in the process gave me hope.

There is one thing that I will pass on to you. One of the things he said last week that I heard him say several times in sermons over the years is, "One hundred years from now the only thing that will matter is where we stand with Jesus." What a wonderful and true perspective.

I know I tend to get worried and caught up in many things that seem important, but really in the grand scheme of things aren't.

I am going to take Bro. Bob's advise and regularly ask myself this simple question: "One hundred years from now will this (whatever this may be) really matter?" If not, don't get too bent out of shape about it.

The Bible teaches the same thing:
Philippians 3:20-4:1 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I am truly blessed by God. We had family pictures yesterday. I am overwhelmed with the precious family my God has given me.

Here are some of my favorites.

But I am also reminded that the world is a fallen sinful place because I got eaten up by chiggers, while we were getting these pictures made. It is my hope that there are no chiggers in heaven. Until I am convinced otherwise it is my firm belief that chiggers are a part of the curse upon our world that makes the earth groan for the return of Christ.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Talk Can Be Cheap

The actions of our lives and the attitudes of our hearts are of greater value and importance than the words we speak. It is one thing to say something truthful and affirming about the greatness of God and the worth of people, but it something all together different to live in a way consistent with the words.

God gets frustrated with people who are "all talk."

Through the prophet Jeremiah God told the people going to the temple to worship to stop talking about their faith and start living it. These people would in essence go to church, but their religious activity didn't impact their true beliefs. Their behavior proved that the did not truly believe. So God told Jeremiah to “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: “ ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”(Jeremiah 7:2-4).

These people talked a big game, but they didn't live it.

In Jesus' day the same thing was happening. The religious leaders knew the prophecies and the stories about the power of God, but lived as though they weren't true. They could teach the Pentateuch frontwards and backwards and follow "their" rules like nobody's business, but they didn't obey the Father.

Jesus explains with an extraordinary story and striking statement that the most sinful people of the day were ahead of these religious leaders.

Matthew 21:28-32 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

The "sinners" at first said, "no thanks God, I'm good." But then changed their minds and sought to honor the will of the Father. The "religious" said, "Yes, Lord. Amen. Praise and Glory!" But they never actually obeyed and loved God and people.

In our day and in our nation we have Christian bookstores, Christian radio, Christian television, and churches all over the place and yet my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, actually declined in influence this year. The light is getting dim and the darkness is on the move. There are many who claim Christ, but what is the impact.

Is the ministry of Jeremiah and the story of Jesus something for the church today?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pray for Us

1 Thessalonians 5:25 "Brothers, pray for us."

I read this during my devotion time this morning and felt compelled to again ask for your prayers. There is nothing wrong. So many times the only time someone asks you to pray for them is when something is wrong. That's not the case today.

Well there is nothing in particular wrong. There is a great deal that is wrong. The devil is at work seeking to destroy lives, families, and the church. People are suffering from sin and sickness. Society is being contaminated with pornography, rage, greed, lust, and hate. Billions are living without Christ and face an eternity separated from the love of God.

There is a lot wrong, but these are the same things that have been wrong since the fall.

I would simply ask that you pray for me - a young pastor. Pray that I will maintain my spiritual fervor. Pray that I will love and lead my wife and children and serve them as Christ serves the church. Pray that I will lead our congregation as a good shepherd. Pray that God's Spirit will inspire and enable my preaching. Pray that I will lead as Jesus leads. Pray that I will not work in the flesh, but in a spirit of prayer. Pray that I will not allow the time I need to give to prayer to be pushed out by other important needs.

Pray for me. C.H. Spurgeon in his devotion for today explains why in more detail.

This one morning in the year we reserved to refresh the reader’s memory upon the subject of prayer for ministers, and we do most earnestly implore every Christian household to grant the fervent request of the text first uttered by an apostle and now repeated by us. Brethren, our work is solemnly momentous, involving weal or woe to thousands; we treat with souls for God on eternal business, and our word is either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. A very heavy responsibility rests upon us, and it will be no small mercy if at the last we be found clear of the blood of all men. As officers in Christ’s army, we are the especial mark of the enmity of men and devils; they watch for our halting, and labour to take us by the heels. Our sacred calling involves us in temptations from which you are exempt, above all it too often draws us away from our personal enjoyment of truth into a ministerial and official consideration of it. We meet with many knotty cases, and our wits are at a non plus; we observe very sad backslidings, and our hearts are wounded; we see millions perishing, and our spirits sink. We wish to profit you by our preaching; we desire to be blest to your children; we long to be useful both to saints and sinners; therefore, dear friends, intercede for us with our God. Miserable men are we if we miss the aid of your prayers, but happy are we if we live in your supplications. You do not look to us but to our Master for spiritual blessings, and yet how many times has He given those blessings through His ministers; ask then, again and again, that we may be the earthen vessels into which the Lord may put the treasure of the gospel. We, the whole company of missionaries, ministers, city missionaries, and students, do in the name of Jesus beseech you
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), July 7 AM.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The American Dream

What is your dream? In America we have the freedom to pursue whatever it is we desire. The question is can we discipline ourselves to desire what is best? There is nothing you can't acquire with hard work, but what is truly worth your life's effort?

I read this today and it struck me that this couple experienced a joy few know. They disciplined themselves and desired something, but then sacrificed it for something better and God blessed it.
Martha Scarborough celebrated Independence Day, July 4, 1870, by giving birth to a son, Lee. When the boy was eight, Martha and her husband George, a part-time Baptist preacher, moved to Texas to raise cattle and share Christ. A dugout shelter first served as home, then a log cabin near Clear Fork Creek. George and Martha dreamed of a beautiful house atop a nearby hill. They saved frugally, but times were lean, and years passed before they accumulated enough to proceed with the long-discussed house. Lee, meanwhile, grew into a brawny 16-year-old cowboy.
One day, their work behind them, George said to Martha, “Let’s go up the hill and select a suitable place for the home. We have saved money for that purpose, so we had as well begin plans to build.” Arm in arm, the couple strolled to the grassy crest of the hill behind their cabin. This was a moment long anticipated. At the top of the hill, he said, “Here is the place. This is the most suitable location we can find.” But Martha turned toward him, her eyes filling with tears. “My dear,” she said, “I do appreciate your desire to build me a new, comfortable home on this place of beauty, but there is another call for our money which is far greater. Let’s live on in the old house and put this money in the head and heart of our boy. I fear that if we use this money to build a home we shall never be able to send Lee to college. I would rather a thousand times that we should never build this house if we can invest the money in our boy.”
George was disappointed, and he said little for several days. Finally one evening past midnight he yielded. The house was never built, but Lee Scarborough left home on January 8, 1888, for Baylor College in Waco, Texas. He eventually became a powerhouse for Christ, a Southern Baptist leader, a writer, a seminary president, a pastor, an evangelist, and a business leader who built colleges, seminaries, churches, hospitals, and mission stations around the world.
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997), July 4.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Camp with Our Kids

I just got back from being at camp with 200 of our middle school and high school students. These kids are having a blast. I absolutely love camp. It is one of the things I miss about being a youth pastor.

Our staff has done an outstanding job. Jeff Armstrong, Cory Hammett, and Bryan Lewis have worked hard to make this camp amazing and it shows. The adult volunteers are doing a great job as well. Their presence in these kids lives is huge.

I am so thankful God brought Jeff here and has called Bryan to serve from within our congregation. I am terribly sad to see Cory headed back to Knoxville, but I know God is going to bless and use him there. Cory is an outstanding man and that guy you can hang with. Cory can keep it real. Thank you for your service Cory. We will always remember you and honor your name.

The students are at Cedarmore Camp and Conference Center. It is a great facility. The staff there is top notch. It's very clean. The food is amazing. The camp leader "T" is too cool. The camp pastor "J" is bringing some great messages. I'm not sure if everybody goes by an initial there, but I like it.

Camp with church is a big deal. I cannot imagine my children missing this experience. It's just one of those special times that prepares someone for a life of faithfulness to God.

There are some things about camp that I think are worth noting. Here are the facts and the fiction about camp.

Fact #1: Camp is fun. Granted, some kids like the outdoors and some kids don't, but camp is fun for everybody. You get to hang with new and old friends all of the time. You get to swim and swing on a wire above or get blasted into the air and land into crisp cold water. There is horseback riding, drama classes, art classes, field games, basketball (Nathan Riley scored 8 points on me like it was nothing), mountain biking, and the list goes on and on.

Fact #2: Camp is life-changing. The Bible studies and large group worship times give students a perspective on the faith that prepares them for life. They gain this perspective with peers and discuss what they are learning with them and other leaders. This makes them friends for life. Some of my best friends are people I went to camp with. Camp builds a strong faith and friendships.

Fact #3: Camp is unique. What makes camp so special is that it is unlike anything else a kid will do the rest of the year. Where and when else will they get away to focus on God with friends and Godly leaders and participate in this much non-stop activity? There is nothing like it and a kid won't forget it. I can recall all the camps I've been to because it is a unique experience.

There is one thing about camp that is not a fact.

A piece of fiction: Camp won't fix a kid. The only way a human heart can be healed and a life made right is with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can bring light into darkness. Only Jesus can give a life purpose and peace. It is love and forgiveness that we all need. And when we get it, we get life.

What camp and for that matter church, small groups, and youth activities do is put kids in a place to be exposed to Jesus in a way they can understand and receive Him. The most important thing a parent can do is expose their child to Jesus. They must do it first at home. Mom and dad must make their child a disciple (Deuteronomy 6:1-9), but the church can help.

My advice is to train your child in Scripture and get them involved in church. They may be resistant at times. Remember that you send your child to school, the doctor, and a multitude of other places because it is best for them. Getting them involved in the student ministry is best for them. They will find friends and build an enduring faith. It may take time, but they will. And they will have fun doing it.