Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ask People

About two years ago I met Charli Wilson at Hardees. As I remember it was at the drive-thru window. I don’t eat there often but sometimes I will grab breakfast. It is not far from the church building. Not long after that first hello I talked to her inside the restaurant during another morning breakfast. I invited her to worship. I believe we were having a special emphasis Sunday.

Soon after getting to know Charli  I met Levi Brewster. He works at McDonalds and yes, I admit it, I go there for breakfast even more than Hardees. As coincidence would have it, I discovered Levi and Charli were dating. At least once a week one of them was handing me food at the drive-thru. About a year and a half ago Levi and Charli attended worship at Willow avenue for the first time. It was a very busy Sunday and I barely got to speak to them before they left. Since they were both Tech students I was hoping to introduce them to some people their age. But I didn’t have the chance. Although expressing some interest after their first visit to Willow, they did not come back for about a year.

But as time went on I kept running into them all over town. Eventually through our talks and a little encouragement they decided to start attending Willow again. Since Hunter and Mindy Harp had started a special Sunday night study for the college age group, Levi and Charli had an opportunity to spend time with people their age and fellowship and study and build friendships. They have been studying for a few weeks now and have become regulars on Sunday night and Wednesday night. As of now their work schedule keeps them from worshiping on Sunday morning.

And then it happened. I got a phone call. What was supposed to be a premarital counseling appointment turned into something better.  Charli called me and asked if I would meet her at the building to baptize her.  Surrounded by her new college age friends and Levi she obeyed the gospel. Levi then requested to be baptized as well. They had both been thinking about this decision for quite some time, and were convinced from the teaching of the Bible to become Christians. What a wonderful day!

This all happened because they were asked. They were asked to come to worship. They were asked to study. They were asked to dinners after services.  They were asked to be a part of a group of friends who love the Lord and one another. Above all, this happened because they were asked by God to be a part of His eternal kingdom through the blood of Jesus Christ even before the foundation of the world.

Ask people. Stop hesitating. Enough with the good intentions. No more blaming your lack of evangelism on your fear of rejection. Nothing, absolutely nothing will happen if you do not ask.  Be His hands, His feet, and His mouth, and give glory to God in the church and it will grow. Have faith in God. He will give to those who ask.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Monday, August 11, 2014

Respect for the Bible

I am just going to say it. I cannot believe what I am witnessing in our 21st century world! We are living in an age in which God is more of a figment of our imagination than the enthroned Creator of the universe. There is a lack of understanding of who God is and what He has done. There is an even greater lack of respect for the authority of Scripture. Some may be offended by some things I am about to point out. But if these things offend you, please know that I love you. I merely ask you to examine the divine text and see if your beliefs measure up to God's perfect and holy word.

1. To preach various and sundry methods of salvation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. An honest examination of the conversions in the New Testament will lead a person to understand that God is not saving people by different methods. He is not requiring different people to do different things. And yet as I speak with people about their salvation they regularly tell me they went about this process in different ways. It seems for many of them, that as long as they were sincere about their decision that is does not matter what they actually did. This takes the mode of salvation out of God's hands and places it in ours. Last time I checked salvation was something God did. We should comply to what God requires in His word.

2. To call a church by any other name than a Biblical name is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. I can give you 50 different names for churches in our city. There are not 50 different names in the Bible. There are several different ways in which the church is named or described. But you will never see the church of the New Testament named after a man or a methodology. You will never see the name of the church of the Bible attribute glory or honor to anyone but deity. I cannot see how anyone who respects the words of Scripture could even begin to be a part of a church that doesn't even honor God with its very name.

3. To worship God by another method other than what is found in the New Testament and exemplified by the apostles and the church is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. People want to know why I don't worship God the way they do. This is not the correct question. The correct question is, am I worshiping God according to the commandments that He has left for His church? The responsibility lies with the one who is worshiping. Have they done all the Lord has commanded? Have they added anything? Have they left anything undone? God can and will reject our worship if it does not please Him. He has that right. Who is being worshiped here, anyway?

4. To believe that Scripture is open to individual interpretation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. If I had a nickel for every time a person has told me, "Well you know, the Bible can be interpreted in many ways" - I would be a millionaire! No, the Bible is meant to be interpreted God's way. We do not shape the word of God, it shapes us. We must adhere to the teachings of God's transforming, Holy Spirit delivered will. If the Bible is open to individual interpretation, then throw it away. It has no power over us if the power resides in us. The truth is that the Bible as it stands is the very thing that will measure our souls in judgment. It is the bread of God. It is the breath of God.

As a Christian, I still sin daily. I have plenty of issues and problems. I am realizing as I get older just how little  I actually know. But I am confident of this one thing - The Bible is the divine and perfect word of God. It saves us all the same. It teaches us all the same. It will judge us all the same. It has not changed in 2000 years and it never will. I may do many things wrong in my life, but I will not disrespect the authority of the Bible. When I see something, anything in the Bible that is lacking in me, it is time to make a change.

"Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven." - Psalm 119:89

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thanks for Asking!

Have you ever had this passing conversation: "Hello, how are you today?" "I am doing fine, how about you?' "Doing well, thanks for asking!" We appreciate certain questions, especially when they are sincere and concern our personal well-being.

But other questions come to us that hardly have us so excited; questions that challenge our character, our knowledge, or our activity. Farm Bureau Insurance Company has a television commercial that illustrates the frustration some parents experience when their children ask them difficult questions. They present the idea that their representative has all of the answers. It is a clever piece of propaganda. But we all know the truth. Some questions are just too tough for any of us to handle well.

As a preacher, I get asked a great deal of questions. People call me, facebook message me, email me, text me, catch me after class, after worship, at the store, in the parking lot, you name it - I may get a Bible question anytime from anyone in anyplace. All I can say is 1 Pet. 3:15 is intimidating!

But from the bottom of my heart I want people to know it is an absolute honor to be asked. I am not afraid of any question. I may not know the answer, and I am not afraid to tell people I do not know the answer. But I might know it. And when I don't know it, I will promise to study and get back to them and point them to the Scriptures. Being asked questions is a privilege and I look forward to every question I receive. Here's why:

1. I am going to learn something.
2. Someone actually thinks I have something valuable to offer.
3. It keeps me on task with my responsibility of study.
4. It gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned.
5. It may lead to the saving of a soul.
6. If my attitude is right and my study diligent, God will be glorified.

If anyone ever asks you a spiritually driven question, be thankful. When this occurs, you have one task - deliver only what the Bible truly teaches. Human opinions are plentiful, but the Word of God is true and living and powerful and it saves and it will abide forever. It contains the only answers that matter eternally.

And if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask (Matt. 5:6). Something wonderful is potentially going to happen because of the question. God is looking for people who are looking for Him. Thanks for asking!

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." ~ 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A People for the House of God

God's intention for the church was in existence before the world began. In His infinite wisdom He provided for its establishment with the sacrifice of the blood of His Son. As I age in His kingdom and experience kingdom life, I learn more and more about the superior foreknowledge and design God has for His family.

In my mind today is how God has set each of the members of His body into the church just as He pleased (1 Cor. 12:18). From the widow struggling to get to worship because of health concerns, to the lawyer or doctor in his suit and tie, to the family of lesser means who needs the church to provide groceries from time to time, God has made each of us essential to the kingdom. He knows we need Him. He knows we need each other. He knows we all have something to offer to the church and that the something we each have is very special.

To illustrate, I would like to share a few thoughts that have come to me through study and conversations with other Christians this week.

1. God is interested in workers for His house. Last night I was reading 1 Kings 5 to my children before bed as a part of Bible Bowl preparation. This chapter discusses Solomon seeking out King Hiram to help him with the construction of the temple. There were 30,000 laborers summoned for the house of the Lord. There were 70,000 who carried burdens. There were 80,000 who quarried stone. There were 3,300 who supervised. All essential jobs, all essential people. All different types of work. All contributing to a house that would glorify the Lord. God wants people. God wants different people. God understands and it is by design that we are all doing something meaningful to build His house.

2. God is interested in the lesser even more than the greater. Paul said to the Corinthians in his description of the church, "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor..." (1 Cor. 12:23). We overemphasize the preachers, the teachers, the elders, and the deacons. They get a great deal of praise and are the subject of many public prayers. Certainly we are thankful for their work and the prayers are much needed. But the backbone of the church is comprised of the people who do all of the things we call "little things" that in God's mind are not little at all. A friend of mine said to me this week that we are probably teaching the wrong idea to our young people sometimes. We have made them think that unless they go to Africa and do mission work they cannot be spiritual giants. The fact is that there is something to be said for a person who wants to get married, become a part of a local community with a regular job, and raise a Christian family. This type of dream made the America of the past a beacon and it is what has made the church the last great hope on earth.

3. The senders are as important as those who are sent. As a preacher, I want to personally thank every individual who contributes to the spread of the gospel. If you participate in the public offering each week for the work of the local church, you are contributing to the greatest work that is going on in the world. Paul reminded the church at Rome, "...And how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14b-15a). Not every person will publicly proclaim the gospel of Christ. But every person has ownership in gospel preaching who supports it by hearing, seeking, learning, doing, giving, and sending. Those who preach will be forever indebted to those who support preaching. Those who are saved by the message preached can give glory to God for every person who had a part in the name of Christ and the plan of salvation coming to their ears.

Church, let me tell you - you matter! Every single one of us matters. God sent His Son to die for us both collectively and individually. He created a house for His people and a people for His house. If you have become one of those people, praise His name. Do your part and be thankful. He is preparing an eternal city for you.

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where the Heart Is

 
David Livingstone was born in England in 1813. He spent most of his life exploring Africa and bringing his knowledge of Christ to the people of that country. In 1873, Livingstone died among the people he had grown to love. His body was shipped back to Great Britain for burial, but not his heart. The villagers dug a hole at the base of a mvula tree in Africa. They buried David Livingstone's heart in its rightful place. His heart, his life, and his every desire remained in the country and among the people to which he had given himself completely.

The Bible tells us a great deal about the desires of the heart. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7). "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:18-20a). "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

One cannot hide the treasures of the heart. Sooner or later, given time and opportunity, the truth about the desires of the heart will be known. We will go wherever our heart leads us. Thus we must shape our individual human heart to conform to the heart of God. God's heart is in our salvation and our sanctification. His desire is our spiritual transformation to His superior will in everything, which will demand all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

This leads to a revealing question, a question that demands honesty and humility and self-examination. If you were to die, where would your heart be buried? Would it be located at some place where you work, since you spent all of your waking hours and overtime in that place? Would it be buried at the bank? Would it be buried in the couch next to the remote control? Would it be buried at the field where all those sporting events took place? Would it be buried at the lake, at the store, or some vacation spot? Would it be buried in a place where your family could think of you and give thanks because you had lived an unselfish, honorable, and godly life?

At our very essence we are whatever our heart is. God knows us completely. He looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He searches the heart (Jer. 17:10). He weighs the heart (Prov. 21:2). He knows the desires of our heart.

"Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way." - Proverbs 23:19
"O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways." - Proverbs 23:26
"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Land of No "Goodbyes."

 
Being a member of the Lord's church is sometimes bitter sweet. There are no people on earth that compare to the people in God's spiritual family. The closest relationships we will ever know in this life will be found with the Lord's people. We share our deepest anxieties and feelings. We work alongside each other. We spend our social time together in friendships. We travel around the world together, staying in intimate settings, spreading the gospel of Christ. We laugh together. We cry together. We even disagree and have hurt feelings and fight and make up. We dream together. We do life together.

And then, in a moment, someone we've gotten so close to has to leave. They have to go somewhere else and do the Lord's work. The kingdom of God is bigger than any of us individually. When I decided to work full-time for the Lord I knew it would mean living in different cities and having no permanent, life-long hometown. But I am completely alright with that. The new Jerusalem is supposed to be my hometown anyway (Heb. 11:13-16; Phil. 3:20).

Christians who know agape love - "God love" - the altruistic (your needs are above my needs) love, experience a supreme fondness for others which brings a sense of loss upon separation, and at the same time they can cheer for those who leave them behind for the sake of the kingdom. That is what is so bitter sweet. You can learn to love someone completely, as family, and at the same time you can root for them when they leave home, though they are most likely never to return.

There is an inexpressible yearning of the heart that longs to be communicated with those we love who leave. No words can be spoken to explain the level of our thanksgiving to the people who have loved us and made our lives better by their presence and their sacrifice. There is rarely enough time to express it anyway, because we blink and they are gone. We have all had loved ones leave us. They have taken their last earthly breath and have stepped into eternity. How we long from time to time to tell them they are loved and they are missed! Oh, how we want them to know they remain so close to us inside our thoughts and within our hearts!

As James and Whitney Lane leave us here for the next chapter in their lives, I cannot help but admit that I am sad they are going. But it is a good kind of sad. It means they have done well here. It means they have loved and are loved. It means they have made a difference. It means they have done what God would have wanted them to do in His church. And what makes this acceptable is the place God is preparing for us that will be beyond our comprehension. It is God's prescribed location for the eternal family reunion, at the banquet table of our Lord, for all of the children of God. It is a land without sorrow, death, pain, or tears. It is a land of love and joy and peace. It is a land of "hello" and "welcome home forever." It is a land of no goodbyes.

"...in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." ~ Ephesians 2:22

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Winning by Losing

Phil Wilson was a man of integrity. He was most of all kind and generous. He was soft-spoken and respectable. In business he was not only visionary, but he worked hard, always multitasked, and he treated his employees with respect and consideration. In fact, he treated them in such a way as to always tip the scales in their favor. If there was ever a need he would go the extra mile. Phil Wilson graduated this past week from this earthly life into eternity. I will always have fond memories of his genuine compassion and sincerity as well as his kindness and friendship and support which he expressed to me directly.

Phil used to say that if he were to ever write a book about his life it would be entitled, “Winning by Losing.” When those close to him were trying to understand why he sacrificed so much and often took losses to bless others, they were prone to wondering why Phil would be willing to go to such lengths. But Phil Wilson had discovered the key to living a life free from guilt and regret. He made sure to not leave any room for doubt concerning his love for the Lord and for people. He was the perfect example of what it meant to be an honorable businessman.

It occurs to me that when our Savior walked the earth he perfected the art of winning by losing. From His humble birth to his persecution and death, and every minute in between, His life was a constant series of losses. His family mocked him and thought he was crazy when he began His ministry. He traveled long dusty roads and depended on others for his sustenance. He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) He chose the prime years of his life to teach 12 men how to win by losing. He was ridiculed, reviled, and rebutted every day. Eventually he was friendless, rejected by His people, and hanging on the cross as the scourge of all humanity.

When others would have taken vengeance, He forgave. When others would have accepted praise, He retreated to seclusion. When others would have used such power to become famous, he said, “Tell no one.” When others would have used such wisdom to promote their greatness, He simply responded with questions to cause people to grow. The little that He had in the physical realm He shared or gave away. He was even willing to remain on the cross when those who were killing Him challenged Him to prove Himself by coming down.

If we are truly disciples of Christ, our lives will be models of how we can win by losing. We will think of the needs of others above our own. We will love people according to their best interest. We will deny ourselves to supply others. We will take pleasure in our losses when it results in somebody else’s gain.

Phil’s son-in-law remarked about this book that never had been put to paper, that had it been written it would have been a best seller. He is probably correct. But in a sense it has been written. It was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But it was not about the life of Phil Wilson. It was about the physical life of the one and only Son of God. Jesus gave it all. All to Him I owe. He won by losing. So will I.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25