Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, Bible, Christian, church, commitment, country, courage, Don't Forget, God, help, honor, Memorial Day, Memory, Remember, Sacrifice
This last week, we celebrated, or remembered those that have died in defense of our freedom. We have held services, parades, golf tournaments and had cookouts, dinners and a day off, but do you realize that Memorial Day is a regular part of the Bible? In Joshua 4, God told Joshua to have one man from each of the 12 tribes carry a rock from the middle of the Jordan River all the way to Gilgal as a memorial of God’s activity. Additionally, he had Joshua make a pile of stones in the middle of the parted Jordan that would only be visible when the water was low. This would have made a periodic reminder of God’s mighty power on behalf of the people. God gave the people instruction that they were to tell their children about God, His activity on their behalf and His sovereignty, when they asked because they had seen the rocks.
You and I have people that we need to be asking about God’s activity as well. We need to be talking to our grandparents and great-grandparents and asking them about God’s activity in building this nation. We need them to remind us about sacrifice because someone taught us that our nation owes us a living. We need them to remind us about discipline because someone taught us everything should come from a microwave. We need them to remind us about saving because someone taught us to rely on credit cards. We need them to remind us of our responsibility because someone taught us that freedom should be free. We need them to remind us about bread lines, tire stamps and collecting animal fat because someone taught us to throw everything away because there will always be more. We need them to remind us about caring for extended family because someone taught us that nursing homes are for that. We need them to remind us about coming together to be Americans because someone taught us that we can be Native Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Pacific Island Americans. We need them to remind us about an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay because someone taught us to do as little as possible and demand as much as we can get. We need them to remind us about customer service because someone taught us that customers are an interruption to our day.
As if that were not enough, we have also been taught that freedom of religion means freedom from religion. We have been taught that the constitution does not really mean everyone is created equal. We have been taught that government’s job is to redistribute money from the rich to the poor. We have been taught that it is the state’s job to educate our children. We have been taught that a promise is more of an intention. We have been taught that a person’s character and job performance can be separated. We have been taught that you can lie, cheat and steal and call it politics. We have been taught that nothing is right or wrong just because it is right or wrong, but only if we have defined it as so. We have been taught that children are disposable interruptions to our pursuit of the good life. We have been taught that our heroes should be people famous for nothing other than being famous and that policemen and women, firemen and women, emergency medical service personnel, the National Guard and the Armed Forces are just doing what they ought to do, but a man or woman that can dunk a basketball, throw a perfect pass or hit a homerun are the ones that are worthy of our attention and praise. Oh, how we need the reminder of those that are quickly passing.
We need them to remind us that we exist to serve God. We have been taught that He exists to serve us. We need them to remind us that God is oftentimes more concerned about our holiness than our temporal happiness. We have been taught we ought to expect challenge-free, trouble-free, criticism-free lives. We need them to remind us about sacrificial giving. We have been taught that all the church wants is our money, so we ought to give it or withhold it based upon whether we agree with the type of music played or the preacher. We need them to remind us that we come to church to serve God and others. We have been taught we come to church to be coddled and catered to. We need them to remind us that church is supposed to be about reaching the world with the gospel. We have been taught it is about my personal comfort and tastes.
If there has ever been a time that we need the previous generation to remind us about God, it is now. God, let us see the rocks and let us find those that know what they mean before we lose them or, worse, lose the freedom we enjoy.
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Christ, Christian, church, faith, follower, Forgiveness, God, Grace, heart, help, hurdles, Jesus, parable, Romans, sins, teaching
One afternoon, I was at the cafeteria of our fine hospital, Southwest Medical Center. While there, I was trying to decide what I would have for lunch prior to our Liberal Ministerial Alliance meeting. I made the comment that I couldn’t decide whether I was going to be good or bad. Ann Holman, the pastor of Risen Glory, laughed and said I should write about that choice as part of my article. She is getting her wish.
So much of life is filled with choices to do what is right or do what is wrong, but sometimes things keep us from choosing right. Even Christians face these “hurdles”. In Matthew 13, there are a number of hurdles to living for Jesus with all of our hearts. The first three come in the first few verses of this rich chapter. Read Matthew 13:1-3a and verses 10-17.
Jesus began to teach the crowds in parables. The word, parable, comes from a combination of two Greek words: ballo – meaning to throw and para – meaning alongside. Putting the two together, a parable is meant to throw an earthly story alongside a heavenly truth for the purpose of both revealing and concealing its meaning. According to Mark’s version of this event, the disciples came to Jesus after the crowds dispersed and inquired why He taught people in parables. Jesus response just might shake some of us up a bit. He said that the truths of the parables were meant for the disciples, but not for the crowds. He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 in saying that God’s truth goes out to all, but is not understood or received by all. The first hurdle that some people face, that keeps them from following Christ with all of their hearts, is they are not part of the Kingdom of Heaven. By Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus did not mean that they are not in Heaven yet. That would be all of us reading this article. Neither did He mean that they were outside of God’s sovereign rule over the universe. This applies to all of us reading this as well. What He meant was that Kingdom that was initiated with Jesus’ first coming and will continue until there is a new Heaven and new Earth. Some people are not in that Kingdom and never will be. Paul said they could not receive truth because it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14) Since Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6), they cannot follow Jesus with all of their heart because they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).
The second hurdle in this passage comes from the observation that some people cannot follow Jesus with all of their hearts because they simply don’t care. This applies to believers as well as non-believers. For believers, this comes in the form of comfort. Like Paul in Romans 5, they think, because Jesus has forgiven all of their sins, past, present and future, then it really does not matter how they live or whether or not they grow as a believer. Paul responded best to this in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died in sin still live in it?” In other words, people that become complacent or apathetic in their Christian devotion to the Savior that saved them, are living in sin and must either show their faith by their actions (James 2:18) or admit “they were never of us” (1 John 2:19). Apathy can be a major hurdle in the lives of believers that have become enamored with the things of this world because Jesus told us, “Where are treasure is, there will our hearts be also” (Matthew 6:21).
The last hurdle in this passage that keeps us from following Christ with all of our hearts is related to the last hurdle. The crowds went on about their ways because they were distracted by other pursuits other than following Christ. They had care for what they would eat, wear, drink and do. These distractions kept them apathetic towards Christ. In our town, we run this same risk. So many people in our community do so many things to provide the excellent environment in which we live that many of them often find themselves so busy in service organizations and promoting special events, that they have no time for Christ. They would like to do better and often set goals to do so at the beginning of the year, but fail because everything else comes first. Let us not be those that see, but don’t see. Let us not be those that hear, but don’t hear. Perhaps we need to focus on Christ. That’s right…FOCUS ON JESUS!
Which of these hurdles affect you the most? Do you have a relationship with Christ? Are you focused on and interested in growing in your faith? Do you see signs that your faith is growing? Perhaps we had better apply the words of 2 Corinthians 13:5, but only if we are sure we have that relationship. Perhaps then we will make better decisions about whether to be good or bad. Thanks Ann.
Filed under: Articles | Tags: appreciation, cancer, Christ, death, faith, friends, God, Goodbye, hope, Jesus, life, patience, suffering, thankfulness
Early this morning, we lost a great example. Let me explain. Virgil E. McWilliams, Jr., known to most of us as “Mac” passed away this morning. No, this is not his obituary. That will be coming later from the family. As I have reflected on Mac’s life, I realized that I have just witnessed a man who died well.
First, Mac was diagnosed with a form of cancer that usually leads to a very painful and debilitating death. This was the path that Mac went down and that makes the way he endured all the more amazing and inspirational. He was in tremendous pain and endured not being able to eat and all of the unpleasantness that comes with it. Even with the pain and suffering, Mac and I visited last Friday for a few hours and he said something that is very rare to hear in our day. He said, “I have no complaints. I have had a good life. I have a good wife. I have an amazing family. I have traveled and experienced much of this world and all it has to offer. But most of all, I have the Lord on my side and that is more than I could have hoped for.” In spite of all he was going through, he was thankful to God.
Next, Mac was appreciative of everything and everyone. Even the day I visited with him, it took a toll on him, but he wanted me to stay and visit. As we sat on his back porch, he talked about how thankful he was to God for all of the things I listed above. He talked about how thankful he was for his Sunday School class and the fellowship they share. He talked about how thankful he was for his wife. He did not think he would ever find anyone like Margaret and vastly enjoyed being married to her. Even she said there was not a day that went by without Mac telling her how much he appreciated her, how lovely she is, or how much he loved her. He was thankful for his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. He was thankful for his house. He was thankful because the doctor had said he had three months to live and it had been something like fourteen months ago! Even in pain and suffering, Mac was appreciative of others and all he had.
Mac was also selfless. Every time I visited with Mac, at church, in the car, or at home, he was always offering me something. He wanted to make sure people were taken care of. If it was not offering me his famous peanut brittle, it was produce from his amazing and bountiful garden, books from his library, or any other manner of things he thought would benefit me. This last Friday, he even offered to get up and go into the house and get me a Diet Coke. Here he was less than a week from death and in great pain and he was concerned because it was a little warm and I did not have a cold drink. That was Mac. He was that way with the granddaughters. He wanted to make sure they were safe and that they got an education, but also that they had what they needed. He would fix wind chimes, lawn mowers, bicycles, toys, or anything else they needed because he wanted to make sure they were taken care of.
Lastly, Mac was positive, but also realistic. Over the last year or so, after being diagnosed, Mac would always say that he was thankful for the time he had, but that it was somewhat borrowed time. He would say that the doctors had given him three months, but that the doctors are not God. God knew the plans He had for Mac and for Mac’s life. Early on, Mac would say he felt okay, but that he knew it was going to get worse. Mac would even say that he looked forward to heaven, but that he wanted to make sure those left behind did not have to hurt. He talked about his faith in God and how he knew he was forgiven, but that he knew that he had much to be forgiven for. We even talked about some family relationships that Mac wished were different, but knew that people have to do things their own way.
While there is more that can and will be said about Mac McWilliams, about his life, travels, career as a Veterinarian, military service, oil field work, etc., I guess I am most thankful in this moment that Mac has shown me what it is to die well. That may sound strange, but Mac has shown me how to die well. To die with dignity, thankfulness, hope, realism, compassion, appreciation, but most of all with the confidence that comes from a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. When I die, I hope I can face death with that same understanding, hope, and dignity. Thanks, Mac for showing me,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NASB95).
We could all learn from him.
Filed under: Articles | Tags: assistance, Bible, Christ, church, Decisions, God, help, impact, Jesus, right, rightandwrong, work
There is a story that takes up the last part of the book of Judges. This is not probably a story that you studied in Sunday School as it is pretty graphic in nature. It is not a story you have probably studied in Church as it has some difficult subjects to consider. It is a story; nevertheless, that God has included and preserved in His word, so it bears considering. But, what do we learn from this story? I am glad you asked.
Allow me to hit the highlights (or lowlights) of the story in order for us to understand what we can learn. A Levite staying in the remote part of the hill county of Ephraim took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah. After a while, the concubine ran away and went back home to her father’s house. The Levite went to get her and, after talking her into returning, prepared to return home. His father-in-law talked him into staying for three days of feasting and drinking. On the fourth day, the Levite tried to leave, but was talked into staying another night. On the fifth day, after giving in for most of the day, the Levite, his servant and his concubine started for home.
Later on that night, the man had passed through Jebus (which later would be conquered and renamed Jerusalem) and decided to spend the night at Gibeah in the territory given to Benjamin. After waiting in the town square for someone to take him into their home for the night, finally, a man arrived and was very concerned that the man was going to spend the night in the square, so he took him home.
After they had settled in for the evening, some of the men of city surrounded the house in which the Levite was staying and demanded that the owner send the man out in order that the men of the city could have sex with him. He man, and the Levite, bargained their way out of it by sending the Levite’s concubine outside instead. The men of the city raped and abused her all night until she died early in the morning.
The Levite, intending to return home, found her dead and took her home on his donkey, where he cut her into 12 pieces and sent a part to each of the tribes of Israel to tell them of the horrendous behavior of the men of Gibeah. The nation gathered for war and , after a few days of fighting, in which over 70,000 men lost their lives, nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin was wiped out. Feeling sorry for wiping them out, the men of Israel concocted a plan whereby they kidnapped women and gave them to the Benjaminites as wives to keep their tribe name going.
Whew! If you are still reading, you are ready for the lesson, no doubt. It is simply this. The Levite was supposed to be a man of God. He was of the tribe of Levi and was given the designation of serving God through care for the temple and leading in worship. God had warned the people against multiple wives, but he decided to get another woman with whom to have intimate relations, other than his wife. What did that one decision cost him? The girl’s life. Over 70,000 dead Israelites, the breaking up of hundreds of families and a black mark on the Name of God. A single decision led to lasting ramifications.
If you are a Christian, your decisions can have incredible ramifications as well. You might think it no big deal to have a drink at an office party, but you have no idea how that decision can affect others. You might think it is innocent fun to flirt with the new guy a the water cooler, but have no idea where that encounter might lead. You might think, “But I am not hurting anyone.” You don’t know that because you do not understand the full impact that your decisions might have on someone else. The Levite man may have thought that everyone else was doing it, but that did not make it right or lessen the impact.
The next time you are presented with a chance to sin, ask yourself what effect this might have on others. As a matter of fact, it might not even seem like sin, but if it affects others, you might want to reconsider.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Christ, church, generosity, God, greed, help, Jesus, money, Proverbs, provision, struggle, tithe
I am preparing to preach a message on finances this Sunday. Before you close your browser and say, “It knew it! All churches care about is money!” That could not be further from the truth. Actually, in over 20 years of ministry, the only time I have ever preached on finances has been as they are encountered in whatever book of the Bible I happened to be preaching through at the time. This message is the latest in a series of message entitled, “Transformed Living”. We have looked at Spiritual Transformation, Physical Transformation, Emotional Transformation, Mental Transformation, and Relational Transformation. This week, Lord willing, we will look at various Proverbs that give us God’s plan for our finances. Next week, we will look at Vocational Transformation. As each area is a key component of life, it naturally fit that something as ubiquitous as finances should be included.
Anyway, as I have been preparing for this message, I became very disturbed with the apparent contradiction between what I was reading and what I have experienced and have seen others experience. I read Proverbs that talk about the diligent succeeding and the lazy having poverty. I thought about how I have known many people that were very diligent and didn’t seem to have much and I have known many lazy people that constantly need help with the necessities of life.
As I read this, and struggled in prayer, I turned to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 6 when He told those listening that they should not worry about what they would eat or wear, but that they should seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things would be added to them. As I thought about these words, I was struck that I have known many believers around the world that have literally starved to death. I have known pastors that struggle to just have a Bible and enough food to feed their family. I have known Christians that have had to go about nearly naked because they did not enough money for clothing and food at the same time. Did they not seek God or His Kingdom or His righteousness enough? Did they not have enough faith? Hardly!
As I thought more about this, a number of thoughts occurred to me. First, what is the definition of enough? Many of us in North America think of not having enough money in terms of enough to do everything we want to do. We complain because we don’t have enough money to make our house payment, car payment(s), electric bill, water bill, garbage bill, internet bill, cell phone bill, retirement fund, eating out, groceries, new clothing, etc. We think we don’t have enough because we don’t have as much as others. But have we stopped to ask the question, “What if I stopped thinking about my plans and thought about God’s plans?” Maybe I don’t have enough to do all I want, but the Bible seems to indicate that I will have enough to accomplish God’s plans. Ephesians 1 says that we have been given every spiritual blessing under heaven. That means we already have what we need to do God’s will which is to glorify Him.
The reason I think this is so hard of a concept for many is that thinking of God’s plan means humbling ourselves and putting Him first. Was this not what Jesus said? I think it is also hard because it means we are not in control. We certainly like to think we are! It is also hard because it means that we have to see God as the source and supply of all we have and surrender to give Him the right to use all of it. That strikes at the heart of our pride to say, “We earned it. We worked hard for that money. It is mine!”
So, this Sunday, we will talk about money. Many people will be uncomfortable. Some might even get mad, walk out, and leave. Others might want to argue. While I do not have all of the answers and certainly have not learned to live out the truth perfectly, I want to invite you to join me in asking, “How much is enough?”
Filed under: Articles | Tags: adult, Bible, children, Christ, Christian, church, Discipleship, God, growth, Jesus, maturity, parents, Small Groups, spiritual growth
The staff at First Southern Baptist Church in Liberal have been wrestling with a question for the last several months. “How do you get people to love Jesus more?” We provide opportunities for people to grow spiritually, but many don’t seem interested. While most of the people at our church would call themselves mature followers of Christ, what does that even mean? And how do you get people to want to move further along the continuum of growth? How do you (or they, for that matter) know where they are in their Christian growth? At a recent meeting of the Liberal Ministerial Alliance, the pastors were talking and we all pretty much agreed that we all want Christians to mature in their faith. What does THAT mean?
As I have wrestled with this issue, I have come across a great little resource that at least attempts to quantify the life signs of believers at the various stages of growth. While we can certainly disagree about exactly what characteristics go where, Jim Putman at least begins the conversation in a way I found helpful. In his book, Real-Life Discipleship, he lays out spiritual growth with the following paradigm:
Stage 1: Spiritually Dead. This means someone who is not born again. They are alienated from God, opposed to God, and unable to understand the things of God. (Revelation 20:14, John 3:3-5)
Stage 2: Spiritual Infant. As a new believer, they are excited and eager to learn. They know something has changed, but really don’t know what it means. They are quick to mention their new faith to all who will listen, but they tend to make messes because they really don’t understand how their new faith works.
Stage 3. Spiritual Child. Having moved past the infancy of their newfound faith, they understand the basics of the faith. They can be excited about their faith in ways that many others consider cute. They often act childish and often characterized by childish behavior like only do what they should when threatened or rewarded. They are often self-centered in their interaction with church and want their way and comfort to be paramount. They can sometimes give in and allows others to get their way if they are recognized for doing so, but this often is short-lived.
Stage 4. Spiritual Young Adult. By this stage, they have grown immensely from where they started. They are eager to serve and think independently, but they have not yet learned to embrace their responsibilities as a follower of Jesus Christ. They still have a lot to learn about meeting the spiritual needs of others. They serve intentionally, but don’t share their faith intentionally.
Stage 5. Spiritual Parent. This final stage of development is when they are mature enough to reproduce disciples that will reproduce disciples. By definition, they are reproducing. They are not merely able to do so. They actually do. They actively engage in evangelism and carry through to discipleship. They are strategic in their thinking and their lives.
If Jim Putman is right, or at least mostly right, how old are you spiritually? Have you been born again? Have you willingly and knowingly accepted that Jesus really is God the Son? Has that realization caused you to reflect upon who rules your life? Have that reflection led you to seek forgiveness for the choices you have made as though you were in charge? Have you surrendered your life to the leadership of God through His Son? If so, congratulations. You might be a spiritual infant. If not, you are still spiritually dead.
Are you excited about being a follower of Jesus, but not really sure of the difference between Christianity and other religions except that Christianity works for you? You might be a spiritual infant.
Have you grown in your faith, but find yourself preferring your way all of the time? Do you despise the new music, find yourself envious of others that get to have things their way? You might be a spiritual child.
Have you grown in your faith, feel other-centered, and feel as though you have a pretty good relationship with God, but don’t have a strategic plan for evangelizing and discipling so that you are reproducing? You might be a spiritual young adult.
Are you regularly leading people into and deeper into a relationship with Christ? Do you find your greatest fulfillment in seeing others grow into maturity and reproduce using their Spiritual Gifts? You might be a spiritual parent.
So…how old are you spiritually?