Reflection


It has been quite a few months (and even more some significant developments) since last I sat to compose an article.  Many, I am yet discovering, have no knowledge of the transition.  The not-so-new news is the Lord has reassigned me to the Springdale Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That’s right!  In July 2011, I received the invitation to serve as its new pastor, and by September, I was moving.  It is still overwhelming to me that I actually was summoned away from a people with whom I had been in relationship for precisely 22 years (since 1989).  Omaha, Nebraska, was home to me through a full generation—over two decades—of family ministry, changing seasons, rites of passage, personal experiences, and more.  I must admit it was one of the most difficult decisions with which I have ever been faced.  It continues to be difficult for me and them.  Yes, I am sure Memphis is where God (alone) sent me to serve, but I miss the kind people of Antioch dearly.  Pray for us!

 

Recently, I was extended an invitation to be a sky box guest in one of the suites at the FedEx Forum—the home court to the Memphis Grizzlies.  I would only need my ID to retrieve my tickets to be able to see the game that hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers.  A number of glitches occurred with this invitation; and not the least of which found me ticketless and outside the ticket window (and gate) for several minutes.  After making a phone call, two tickets were delivered to me, and we—me and my assistant—made our way into the Forum.  Upon locating the section of the arena that held our assigned seats, we made our way to the row and aisle, and proceeded to sit down before the game started.  In a matter of moments, I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said to him in a calm voice, “This can’t be the accommodations to which we were invited.  Something must be wrong.”  We got up and went back into the corridor and I registered another phone call and was told to just remain still until the host showed up.  Within minutes, my host arrived, apologized, and escorted us to some elevators that took us up to the concierge level to a suite where others were gathered to enjoy the evening’s event.  He left.

 

Quietly we sat inside the suite, until approximately 5 minutes later the host returned and told me (us) to gather our belongings and to follow him.  We got up and walked a good distance to a completely empty suite in which we would be occupants.  I was told these would be our accommodations and that no one else would be joining us.  We were shown the layout—the easy chair, the big screen TV, the stadium seats and the bar—and invited to enjoy some hot food that was at our disposal.  Once we got our plates, we sat down and relaxed; and gratefully enjoyed our meal and the game.  While eating, our eyes met as we sat at the counter, and we smiled.  I said to him, “Now this is more like it; I’m about to feel like this is why we came.”  He chuckled and agreed.  Incidentally, the Grizzlies won!

 

Now some may say it seems somewhat ungrateful to have been dissatisfied with the original seats we found when first we arrived at the complex.  At least we were invited to the game.  I beg to differ!  We were extremely grateful, even though we were equally disappointed.  Yes, I said it, “Disappointed!”  And there’s a legitimate reason why.  We simply were not satisfied with the accommodations we were given, because we were promised something more!  Too many believers settle for less than God’s best.  We settle in relationships, we settle when it comes to jobs; we even settle when it comes to our expectations and performances at work and in our service to the Christ.  Well, I’m just a messenger from heaven who wishes to report that God has already promised us better, and we actually may be insulting Him when we settle for less.  After all, He has gone to great lengths to make sure things ready for your and my arrival.  Don’t settle!  There’s something better in store.  There’s something greater awaiting those of us who can trust Him.  There’s a whole lot more that is ours to enjoy; if we can choose no longer to settle, and believe God when He tells us that He’s got more!

 

One final note!  In one moment, we were standing at one location; experiencing life at a level with several others; when all of a sudden an escort came and took us to a higher elevation!  It soon will happen again, brothers and sisters!  God has more; and something better ahead for those of us who truly love Him.  Don’t settle!

 

Some time ago I sat in a familiar chair to have my shoes polished on my way to a funeral. As I sat there to negotiate this experience, I paid close attention as my shoes underwent a necessary transformation. The skilled craftsman quietly began by brushing away any loose dirt or debris, and followed with some saddle soap and water to thoroughly clean the leather. Afterwards, he took an old cloth to wipe away the excess moisture and dried the leather before applying the polish. He then took his crooked fingers and carefully patted the small can of Kiwi held in his left hand, and slowly started rubbing the wax solution onto the shoe’s surface. After brushing his application into the shoe, it left a simple flat black hue on my nice monk straps. Thankfully, he wasn’t finished. He then applied a second coat to ensure it was adequately absorbed within the leather and began brushing it into the shoe. Slowly, a faint luster began to emerge on the shoe’s surface. In patient form, the quiet gentleman took a soft finishing rag and began popping it across the ball of my shoe; around the sides and on the back of the heels. Eventually, a rich black glossy finish sparkled at my feet as he concluded his work by nicely dressing the soles.

Interestingly, when the shoe shine man started out, he was undaunted by the fact that my shoes were unclean; a bit scuffed, and clearly needed attention. Even as he went through his procedure for cleaning and buffing, he remained undeterred by his assignment though no major change occurred. He was determined to keep working and did not stop until the end he desired emerged. This keen man stuck with his task and was able to get a shine out of the shoe because he knew there was a shine “in the shoe.”

Our Lord, Jesus (our Shine Man), likewise would never have told us to allow our lives (lights) to “shine” had He not known there was “shine” potential and possibility already within us. He firmly said that you and I are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 16). And we are encouraged by the Lord to allow His light to shine through us so others may see our good works and give glory to the Father in heaven.

Today, why not make this your new commitment? In fact, you should sing it aloud:

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine;
Everywhere I go, I’m going to let it shine;
Jesus gave it to me; I’m going to let it shine;
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Having lived in the Midwest over twenty years, something completely unexpected happened to me a couple of Wednesdays ago that I will never forget. I was exiting my office door onto the wrought iron stair case that leads down to our church’s parking. Wednesday night’s Bible study had just ended and I was collecting my gear—my brief case, clutch, keys, a bottle of distilled water, etc.—and had donned my coat to enter into the smoky gray dusk of the night.

Just as I opened the door to walk out, I stepped onto the landing—an approximate four-foot square iron bottom deck—and recognized something soft (rather spongy) as I stepped out. In my mind, I curiously wondered if it was a sponge, a carelessly discarded food item, or something else I needed to remove. As I looked down in the darkness, I was alarmed to find an 18-inch garter snake uncoiling from under my foot. I jumped back into my office and screamed, “It’s a snake!” Our associate minister was behind me and he was equally surprised at the discovery. Others in the inner office heard the commotion and yelled in disbelief saying, “You’re lying?” Incredibly, I had to report to them it was true. We were all startled and amazed!

The small visitor has negotiated the rail adjacent to the 10 wrought iron steps that rise upward to my private entrance. When I took my weight off of it, it quickly moved away to escape and instinctively curled its tail around one of the rails on the stair case floor. It soon dropped in fear down onto the asphalt parking lot floor. My associate minister and I ran down the steps to the ground and made certain we carefully disposed of it. It was a most harrowing experience.

Upon leaving the church and reflecting over the night’s surprise turn-of-events, I heard (in my spirit) a clear message from God He wanted me to gain. I considered it so critical (and especially at this juncture in Christian history with all that’s going on), that I wanted to share it with others (even you). The message is this: “That old serpent (the devil) is not just trying to gain access into the church through any ordinary door. No, he is especially seeking to get in through the office of the pastor.”

My word of warning to every pastor, every teacher, and every servant in every capacity in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is this: “Beware! Watch out! Do not be ignorant of his schemes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), and take heed. Whatever else you do, don’t let him in!”

My prayers are with you all!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Our national body met this week in Kansas City for its 130th Annual Session. KC is less than 200 miles away and since I have some level of familiarity with the area, quite naturally I drove the distance. It was good to share fellowship with colleagues and friends from all over the country.

A pastor and friend from the DC area caught a ride with me to and from the downtown Convention Center daily since he had no car. As we were riding back to our hotels one evening, he verbalized it appeared as if I was headed in the wrong direction. In all actuality, we were taking a different route, but we were still going to our same destinations. Quietly, I ignored his concern. Finally, he repeated himself, and in a rather humorous manner I looked at my friend and gave him this somewhat typical response: “Man, I’ve got this thing!” Soon we were arriving at our destination and he conceded (with surprise and delight) he really didn’t think we were going to make it.

Reflecting on our riding exchange, I thought whenever riding in someone else’s vehicle, you simply have to trust that person to get you to your goal. Interestingly, and what he didn’t know (and I didn’t tell him) was that I had been that way before.

This reality is true of Christians. We are often concerned about whether or not the path we are taking is the right one, or the given direction we are traveling can get us to our goal. Often delays and unfamiliar scenery will challenge our comfort zones and make us quite naturally uneasy. Let me tell you, my dear brothers and sisters, don’t let these concerns worry you! We have a few comforts along this journey called faith that should put us at ease.

First, we should always remember that Someone else is doing the driving. While we at times are prone to forget (as did my friend), we must keep in mind we are simply the passengers. Secondly, He (God) knows exactly what He is doing, and too, where He is going. It may not look like it or even seem like it to us, but faith says He does. That means we’ve got to trust Him. Thirdly, even though it appears He may be (at times) ignoring us, there is one other truth we must never forget: He’s been this way before! Over two-thousand years ago, our Lord traveled this same trail. In fact, when He left, He sent us a Tour Guide (a personal Driver) to make sure we will reach our goal.

Job expressed it best at Chapter 23 and verse 10 of his journal: “But He knows the way that I take; and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”

Enjoy the ride, dear friends! God’s got this thing!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

Correct doctrine is essential for every believer’s health and witness. Unfortunately (at times), a given people’s methodology—the way they do things—gets in the way of the clear message of the gospel, and becomes more of a hindrance to effective ministry than a help. Our adversary—the devil—has successfully complicated the matter of faith along these noticeably skewed lines (denominationalism). In fact, a closer look at the spelling of the word “denomination,” clearly reveals it resembles the word “demonization” (or of the devil). In my view, denominationalism has been for too long a confusing weapon used to divide the body of Christ than a creative witness to show its diversity.

Some churches today are even deleting their group’s label from the marquis in an effort to more effectively champion the simple gospel of Jesus. Wisely, they yet hold true to those core values that lay the foundation for their persuasion. Their strategy is to present Christ without prejudice or any particular predisposition that publishing a denominational brand may create.

A man just called me as he was driving in the Dallas area approaching an entrance ramp to get onto I-635. An unsettling spiritual concern prompted his call, and after offering my view, I asked him the question, “How many lanes are there on the interstate in front of you?” He replied, “Six!” I asked further, “What kind of vehicle are you in?” He told me the make and model of the one he was driving. Finally, I said to him, “It really does not matter what vehicle you drive, or which of those six lanes you choose, as long as you’re heading in the right direction.” He said kindly, “Man, thanks; I got it!”

Some churches are liturgical, others are loud. Some worshipers are shouters, while others are clearly solemn. Some atmospheres are rather reticent; still others lean toward a more open response. When it’s all said and done, the critical issues for encouraging a nurturing faith and an effective witness are this: (1) the ministry must be Christocentric—that is, Christ is at the center; and (2) YOU (personally) must be heading in the right direction. If these two things are clearly the case, by the grace of God, you should do just fine.

Make sure you’re on-the-right-road, dear friends, and enjoy the ride!

A rather cavalier regard for the things of God prevails in our society today. Few have distinguished themselves as even possessing the “zeal for God” that Israel had in the first century (read Romans 10:2). One would have to laud them at least for having passion—a rare commodity in the twenty-first century church. Post modern spirituality (and especially the “gosperity message”) has sadly reduced God to nothing more than a Cosmic Valet and Heavenly Paramedic or convenient EMS. As a result, many have no need for God except in an emergency.

Clearly many lack authentic spiritual passion. So called church goers are more content just to “have a good time,” than to have a transformative encounter with God that would result in active engagement of ministry. If this malady were a medical problem, some drug conglomerate would have already manufactured a remedy. How I wish it were that simple!

For today’s commentary, I have only one (rhetorical) question: Is there an impotency drug for the church? Too many believers desperately need help with impotence and dysfunctionality!

Quite honestly, there is a prescription. Solomon said God prescribed a simple remedy for this condition—being spiritually impotent and dysfunctional. In fact, the Great Physician included a sure guarantee—His promise. Here it is: “If my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Sounds like there is medicine available for our ills! All we need do is take it.

Take the medication, my dear friends, and be blessed today!

The other day the control panel in my car sounded and revealed the specific (visual) message, “Check Brake Linings.” Right on cue, my technician discovered it was time for the front rotors and pads to be replaced. I must say I yet marvel at the miracle of technology. Daily we are blown away with newer advances and even more modern measures designed to enhance the quality of our lives. With the creation of telematics—the transmission of data communications between systems and devices—manufacturers can monitor safety, security, and provide information services for consumers where ever they may be via remote control. From a centralized location these observe speed, tire pressure, oil life, brake systems, fluid levels, plus engine and transmission performance. Too, they offer remote access, crash assistance, and can provide turn-by-turn navigation when one needs directions, among other things. Without question, these advances are simply ingenious!

One should not ignore the great possibility that God has allowed humans to make such remarkable technological advances to reveal as well the “High” tech Genius with which we—human beings—have been similarly made (by God). Some continue to complain about knowing God’s will and finding life’s purpose, and without ever realizing a unique monitoring system which allows for the transmission of critical information between us and God. This spiritual system is called faith. It enables proper communication between humanity and God so we can readily experience His safety, security, and the information services He readily provides. Once the faith journey begins, God is appreciably more able to monitor speed and direction, give valuable insight and information, and provide His safety and security no matter what circumstances in life we face. In fact, God mysteriously employs distinct spiritual alarms—like an inner disturb or the absence of peace, restlessness, sleeplessness, uneasiness about decisions, adamant burdens, and more, to let us know something may be wrong or also the best course of action in a given dilemma. These given sacred signals alert at God-directed moments to apprise us of things to which we otherwise may not respond.

What’s the point? By faith, you should enter into a more meaningful relationship with God and begin to pay closer attention to your control panel (your spirit). Learn to recognize the spiritual prompts that alert when things are not right or may be headed contrary to the divine will. If you will keep looking, listening, and learning, God will plainly show you areas where crucial changes need to be made and what you can do to enjoy a better quality of life. Discover how God’s system is far more advanced than humankind’s. Human systems are located miles away from their consumers; but God is “…a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Human-made systems afford access from a remote location; but God is only a prayer away; and He said if you will come near Him (get close), He will in turn come near to you (see James 4:8). Don’t ever think God would allow a human-made system to exceed the genius with which He has already created us. The Psalmist has clearly stated we have been “…fearfully and wonderfully made…” (139:14)

Become more spiritual today! Do it now? It will surely enhance the quality of your life! I promise you!

I needed a quick bite to eat prior to Prayer Meeting and Bible Study, but wanted to be certain to get something healthy. I went to a nearby deli and got a salad and a cup of soup to boot. The manager, a friend of mine, came over from the register to talk and then went into the back room. As customers continued down the line to check out, an amazing thing happened. The store manager was attending customers when first I came in. Unavailable (for the moment), the operation did not fail to miss a beat. A different person arose from a booth nearby and graciously received payment for each patron’s items; and there was no interruption. Business went on as usual and the customers were met with satisfaction.

I could not help but think about the church. Why does the church often experience such a huge lag in its operation when someone is out-of-pocket or unable to function? If a teacher or ministry leader is absent, many times there is a tremendous glitch because few seem to ever step-up-to-the-plate and in turn handle-the-business. The church must do better!

God deserves and desires just as much excellence (if not more) as does the corporate sector! He is an excellent God, and He prefers excellent service. The sooner the church realizes this it may be we could reach more people who subsequently would see we mean business, and that our love for God and commitment to serve God is real.

Can I get a witness?

Next Page »