Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Sunday - Finding Your Lifelong Companion

We have walked with Abraham for the last fourteen weeks (covering a span of six decades of his life).  We have seen him at his best and also at his worst.  We’ve come to appreciate him more and more as the years stack up.  

This Sunday, in Genesis 23, we find him calmly accepting Sarah’s death, mourning his lifelong companion’s departure, then burying her with dignity.  At this pivot, he realizes it’s time for his son Isaac to have a wife.  So Abraham helps his son find his own lifelong companion.

There is an encounter at the well....

What follows is a beautiful story that describes how the Lord led the entire process, ultimately bringing Rebekah to Isaac’s side, the bride God chose for him.  Hidden between the lines of this love story are some all-important guidelines that are as helpful for us today as they were in their ancient, original context.

Are you looking for a lifelong companion?  Do you have children who are dating badly?  On the verge of marriage? 

In this message you will discover from God’s Word (not the latest best seller) the kind of qualities to look for in a lifelong companion.  And btw, those qualities are not merely skin deep.

I have a feeling this message might be the best of the entire series.

PS – Time change is this Saturday night.  Set your clocks backward one hour.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Audience Feedback Means – Especially to Preachers

Billy Joel gets it.

This veteran entertainer does something I find fascinating. 

According to The New Yorker (October 27, 2014), Joel “grew tired of having to look out at the fat cats in the two front rows, the guys who’d bought the best seats, and then sat there projecting a look of boredom that says…. ‘Entertain me, Piano Man.’”

It was dampening his own enthusiasm, and that of his band, to have the non-responsive types on the front two rows.  He wanted the fans nearest him to be enthusiastic participants in the evening’s activities.

That’s why “Joel’s people stopped selling the two front rows and instead send the crew into the cheap seats before the show to hand out tickets to people of their choosing.”

“Joel believes it helps buck up the band.”

I believe that.

Every preacher knows.

Preachers pour their heart into the message over which they have labored and prayed.  We really want our listeners to “get it.”  As my eyes roam over the room, my gaze fixes upon the most responsive church members.

The stand out.

In one section, two or three people are delighting in God’s message, their eyes are literally alive with joy and appreciation.  In another, someone’s facial expression says they are enthralled, as caught-up in this message from the Lord as I am.  Over here, a woman is weeping and in this section, a man fist-pumps.  Some anonymous person calls out, “Amen!”

Last Sunday, for instance, was such an example.  The favorable response was off the chart.

They have no idea of knowing the positive effect their response has upon me, the preacher.

Later, I almost feel like seeking them out to thank them.  But I do not do this, because the sermon is not about me.  I’m not trying to win them over to myself, but to the Lord.  I don’t want to make them feel overly self-conscious about the effect they have on me while I'm in the pulpit, lest it influences them in the future.

I want them to worship God, and draw near to the Lord Jesus.  That really is my (and any pastor's) highest motivation.

Yet, in another sense, the frowners and naysayers in the congregation have almost as strong a negative effect upon me as the faithful have in a positive way.  

But not quite.

Why?  This is not a concert and I am not Billy Joel.

I am called by God to preach His Word regardless of the response.  I am to pour my heart into it no matter what kind of visual or oral response I receive.  However people respond – favorably or otherwise – my job is to faithfully discharge my responsibility.

If I stick close to the Scripture and some naysayers object, their controversy is with God, not me.  

It's very liberating to realize that.

Before becoming a pastor I spent a few years preaching in jails to inmates and in nursing homes to the residents.  As I spoke to the hardest men in the place, or those out of their minds, I labored to be heard over the foot-stamping and the chorus of throat-clearing, and the smell of urine hanging in the air.  I was young.  It was where I cut my teeth so to speak.  I wondered if I was “casting my pearls before the swine,” to use the Lord’s unforgettable metaphor.  Or, did I do the right thing by continuing the message for the sake of the few who were straining to hear.  It’s hard to know for certain.

After I entered the pastorate, I experienced the same disrespect in, of all places, church.  I know first-hand what it’s like to encounter church members who seem to be dedicated to undermining the preacher.  They are easy to spot:  arms folded and a scowl across their face throughout the entire message.  

Once, I even watched a man clip his fingernails in the pew while I was speaking.  And yes, the clicking sound could be heard throughout the sanctuary as his nasty nails were being severed and fell to the floor.

It was the height of indecency.  

I used to be an associate pastor on staff in a church in Pensacola.  The head deacon would sit in a chair (high back throne) on the platform behind me when I was preaching.  He also did this with the senior pastor.  It was horrible.  As I taught, people in the congregation would look at him – reading his facial expressions – to decide whether or not to ‘buy in’ to the message.  If he was smiling and nodding up and down, great!  If he was scowling or shaking his head back and forth in a negative manner, it was like throwing cold water on the entire service.

Even the congregation picks up on front-row fat cats.

Billy Joel gets it.

And that, we might say, is why scowling members do not sit on the platform at PCC when God’s Word is being preached.  In fact, no one (except the speaker of the day) (not always me) is on the platform when God’s Word is being declared.  It minimizes distractions and the influence of naysayers.

As much as possible, we try to create an environment where God's Word is unencumbered; so that it might accomplish its intended purposes.

And it works.

It’s also why we have some of our best bright-eyed, Jesus-loving, Word-hungry men and women sitting on the front row!

The same hold true for our greeters and ushers.  

Only the radiant need apply.

Fall Garden Update

My garden is finally taking off.  The weather is supposed to get cooler this week which will sweeten these vegetables.  I'll probably pick/cook some of them after the cold snap. 

In this picture (beginning at the closest row) is mustard greens, next row is kale, the next two rows are turnips, and the final two rows are collards.

Collards in this picture.  My grandson helped me plant them.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This Sunday - When God Says "Let Go!" (Part 14)

Our lives revolve around the people we love and the things we enjoy.  Among them are our spouses, children, special friends… our homes, work, vocation, some treasured possession, even our hopes and dreams. 

These things form the pillars of our life – the things that are most important to us.

Yet, there are times when – out of the blue – God says, “Let that go!”   When that happens, the framework of our lives starts coming apart, fracturing our peace and calm.

There came a day in Abraham’s life when that occurred.  He had known numerous tests before, but none like this one…

“Place your son on the altar and sacrifice him to Me.”

It was the greatest test of his life.

But it isn't simply Abraham’s story.  It’s our story too as we will learn the value of letting go rather than getting caught in the grip of the gift.  Our worship is to the Giver of gifts.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Some Sermons are Different

Some sermons are different than others.  Sure, all good sermons are Biblically based, doctrinally sound, and Christ exalting.  In that sense, all sermons are the same.  But every now and then a sermon comes along that connects (with a large part of the congregation) differently than the others.

Today was such an example.

From the text, we talked about:
  • The forgiveness of “all” sin
  • The lingering consequences of “some” sins
  • Domestic disturbances in the family
  • Anger issues
  • Tough teenagers in the home
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Blended families and step-siblings
  • Children conceived (not in love) but by carnal acts
  • Beersheba – the place of loneliness
  • Single parenthood
  • God’s intervention even when we make a mess of things
  • And so much more….

I kid you not, as I was teaching I could see God doing things.  By reading the body language of people in the congregation I could tell this story deeply resonated (and related) with a lot of folk.

Some where deeply moved.  

And why not?  Families today are dealing with the same kind of issues that occurred four thousand years ago.

After service each Sunday I linger at the front (after dismissal) to speak with anyone who chooses to come forward to speak with me.  For a solid hour today (after service was dismissed) I was still talking with people about the message, their own situation, the timing of God’s Word, and His marvelous grace.

Things were different today.  A lot different.

It was totally a God-thing.


On to other things………………

Due to the perfect fall weather a number of families (about 15) were out.  i.e., Travel, camping, car races, vacation, etc.

Yet our attendance was WAY UP for such a Sunday.

Did you see ALL THE NEW people in service today?  God just keeps SENDING THEM in.  Mostly young adults and young families.

It’s another God-thing.

…. and we do no advertising, no marketing, or any YMCA type programs.

What we do is worship and the Bible.

Such a format is good enough for God.

And it seems to be good enough for people who want the “better things” – worship and God’s Word.  Right now I’m thinking of Mary who chose the better part over her sister Martha.

And don’t forget what Jesus said…..

“IT IS ENOUGH for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matthew 10:25a)

An AUTHENTIC follower of Jesus Christ simply WANTS to BE LIKE his LORD – and for him/her IT IS ENOUGH.  There’s no need for him/her to have their church to become an recreational center or entertainment venue. 

Jesus is enough.

God’s Word is enough. 

To be like your teacher is enough.

To be like your master is enough.

I take great comfort in that verse, because it reaffirms for me that my main job as a pastor is POINT PEOPLE TOWARD JESUS CHRIST and TEACH them His Word; NOT turn myself in an activity director or emcee.

Church should not be so complicated.

In God’s eyes it’s not. 

It’s important that we keep the main thing, the main thing.

The mission of the church is to make disciples.  There is no Plan B.


Personal stuff….

My fall garden is really coming along.  I get a lot of enjoyment from this hobby.  It’s very fulfilling for me.

We will be in full harvest for greens by Thanksgiving.  Can’t wait.

I especially enjoying having my grandson (Nolan) hang with me at the garden.  He helps me plant and enjoys the tractor rides.

He’s at the age that he really enjoys being around his grandparents right now, so I’m taking full advantage while it lasts. 

I can’t wait to take him fishing.  He’s too young right now (meaning it’s too dangerous to take him out in my boat).

I’d like to teach him how to throw a cast net too.

Since the weather is SO PERFECT right now, I hope to go fishing one day this week.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Garden

My fall garden is coming along.  Nothing is ready to harvest yet, but is well established.  This photo shows only a part of the garden (the sun was very bright so I had to shoot in this direction).   I have collards, turnips, kale, and mustard planted.  Will start picking collards in a week or two, and we'll have more than enough (of everything) by Thanksgiving and the Holidays.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This Sunday's Message: Forgiven – But with Lingering Consequences

Thankfully, God forgives us when we sin.  Because of His grace, He gives us hope, relief, and encouragement to press on.  As far as “the east is from the west” He “removes our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:3a, 12).

However, there is another side to this battle with sin.  Some sins, although forgiven, have lingering consequences that can follow us for a lifetime.  The effects and the backwash continue to stalk some people long after the sin has been forgiven.

This is a sobering truth.  Yet, it's one we need to hear.  You almost never hear this taught in churches and it leaves people unprepared for the harsh realities of cause-and-effect.

The reality of this sin/consequence syndrome comes to the surface in Abraham’s life.  His previous compromise with his maid, Hagar, seventeen years earlier, not only caused immediate disharmony in his home between him and his wife, Sarah, it lingered beyond the birth of Isaac.  Unquestionably, Abraham’s sin was forgiven – but the haunting tentacles of that carnal act wrapped themselves around him, bringing anguish to him, as well as his entire family.

Fortunately, God’s grace helps us even in the midst of these lingering consequences, as it did with Abraham.  And that is the beauty of this story from God’s Word.  Yes, we will learn that sin has consequences, but then we will hear the good new of Jesus Christ:  those consequences don’t have to conquer us or cripple us!

The message this Sunday will be one of the most redemptive and encouraging sermons from the entire series.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Don’t Mistake “Liking Church” for Being a Believer

When I preach/teach at PCC, I do so in a manner to make it understandable (to anyone regardless of age or spiritual background).  I'm not responsible  to make God's Word relevant. My job as an expositor is to show people how relevant it already is.  I am not permitted to dull its edge because some might find its message as sharp as a razor.  And because the Bible is literally God-breathed, I can count on it to speak for itself.  There is no guarantee that people will like or agree with the sermon since I strive to teach whatever the text is saying regardless of its potential receptivity.  But, we do call it a “win” if people understand and receive what is being proclaimed.  And I'm glad to say that hundreds of people each week find this to be a positive experience at PCC.

Having stated that, our goal is not to find people who – don’t like church –  and get them to like church.  Our goal is to preach Word and make disciples.  Besides, most disciples will like church automatically because church is where they worship God, fellowship with saints, and learn the Word. 

If, on they other hand, our goal is to find people who don’t like church and get them to like church, we have to do something different.  We have to remove the things the don’t like and replace it with things they do like.

For now, it appears there are a handful of themes that will do the job.  Many people who are cold to church are nonetheless warm to self-improvement regarding marriage, family, communication skills, relationship conflict, sex, money, and occupation.  As a result, such themes can be marketed year after year because they are inoffensively therapeutic.

My concern is the attitude which is assumed by all parties:  If people come to church it means they love Jesus.

That’s simply not true. 

For example, many of the themes churches are using to get people to “like church” are NOT anchored directly in the core message of God’s Word.

The Top 7 Themes to attract people who don’t like church are:
  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Sex
  • Money
  • Occupation
Yet, the content of those seven themes is usually not rooted in what Jesus actually said about them.  More often than not, it’s a 35 minute talk of soft psychology (where the work of a specialist, therapist, or author is used) with a few scriptures sprinkled in.  Or the listeners might be given a homework assignment for self improvement (create a date night, have sex twice a week, try giving 1% and see what happens, etc), with a few more scriptures thrown in.

It’s just enough of the Good Book to make it feel like church, but not so much that people are confronted by the Bad News that gives them a need for the Good News.

From this sort of nonsense, one could, in all sincerity, “like church” because it’s not really church, leading people to believe that they love Jesus, when in fact, they don’t!

But when confronted with the core of Jesus’ gospel, such people would gag worse than a thirsty man in a desert trying to swallow a horse pill with a case of Arizona dry-mouth:

“23 If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26

This is Jesus’ unequivocal message in less than 100 words.  And I might add, this is the only message that saves.

It’s easy to love church when it’s merely a religious version of the Jay Leno show.   But it’s a different thing to love Jesus (as He truly is) and the Church He died for.

To  be a follower of Jesus means you love the things He loves, hate the things He hates, and delight in the full council of His Word.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Best Way to Have a Family Friendly Church is to Stop Having a Biblically Comitted One

The Bible is not G-rated.  Think about it.  Even the “kids stories” of Adam & Eve, Noah & The Flood, David & Goliath, or Jesus & the apostles get into some R-rated material if they are accurately and fully told; including things like nakedness, jealously, killing, drowning, and beheading.  If you want your children to learn the 10 Commandments, then you’re going to have to talk about swearing, murder, and sex.

Then there's Sodom & Gomorrah, Lot and his two daughters in the cave, King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and that guy in the New Testament who was committing incest while actively attending church. 

And let's not forget, the Bible contains some of the most graphic stories of violence of any book in the wold.   Did you know there’s a story of a young woman being murdered, cut into pieces, and her body parts sent to different regions throughout the nation resulting in a bloody civil war?

If truth be told, the entire narrative of the Bible is dealing with sin, rebellion, wickedness, and how God solves those issues through Jesus Christ, the Cross, and His Word.

From all of this, the only way to be family friendly in a Sunday service is to EDIT and SANITIZE much of what the Bible actually says in order to make more acceptable for a G-Rated expectation.  Or skip it altogether.

And to do that would do violence to what God has revealed.

Not to mention creating flannel graph church members of genteel refinement who are more versed in bumper sticker Christian slogans than actual Biblical knowledge.  

Our job is to proclaim the full council of God.  We are not free to be editors, but proclaimers.  We don’t  possess the authority to write or erase the Word; we merely proclaim it as it is.

Major portions of the Bible make us squirm because the content is offensive.  But sin is what makes the Truth, (even the ugly truth), necessary.

And the Truth is what makes us free.

Friday, October 10, 2014

This Sunday - Old Habits Die Hard

Who hasn’t felt the sting of repeating the same sin over again… and then, again?  Who has struggled with a lingering habit that just won’t let go?  Let’s face it, bad habits and sinful actions are bad enough the first time around, but a “repeat performance” is downright humiliating!  In fact, many of the issues we wrestle with in our younger years often resurface in midlife causing relapses.

Abraham fell into this cycle, repeating the same sins over again, and failing again.  The record of his repeated failure is permanently etched in Holy Scripture and preserved for our learning.

In this message we will learn why we should never flirt around with our weaknesses, depend on our crutches, or lean to our own understanding.  And, as always, we we be reminded of God's amazing grace.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Relationships & Churches - the Product of Labor

One of the greatest death-blows to relationships is that "happiness" is something to be “found.”  In this fairy tale idea, fulfillment is simply out there – somewhere – waiting to be discovered like Prince Charming finding Cinderella.  All you have to do is find the right person, join the right group, get the right job, or join the right church.  It’s kind of an “Over the Rainbow” thing; it’s not here, so it must be “over” there.

Which is why so many people – and you’ve seen them, and probably flirted with it yourself – go from relationship to relationship, city to city, job to job, or church to church looking for the happiness they believe is just around the corner.  “Oh, if I could only find the right people and the right place.”  The idea is that relational authenticity simply exists, somewhere, and all we have to do is tap into it.  It’s not something you have to work at; in fact, if you have to work at it, then it should be abandoned. 

This mindset runs rampant.  If you have to work at your marriage, you must not be right for each other.  If you have to work at getting along with people at work, you’ve got a bad boss, or bad co-workers, or a bad structure.  If you have to work on things with other people at church, well, there are obviously some serious problems with the church, or its leadership, or… yep, it’s “community.”

I cannot stress strongly enough how unrealistic, much less unbiblical, this is.  Community is not something you find, it’s something you “build.”   What you are longing for isn’t about finding the right mate, the right job, the right group, or the right church – it’s about MAKING your marriage, MAKING your job, MAKING your group, and MAKING your church to be what God wants it do be.

Good marriages, good relationships, and good churches are not something discovered.  They are forged.  I don’t mean to suggest all relationships are designed for depth, or that there aren’t dysfunctional communities you should flee from.  My point is that all relationships of any worth are the product of labor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Smoker

Bought this smoker last Friday.  Seasoned it over the weekend (rubbed it down with peanut oil and heated it up).  Then I smoked a Boston butt roast Monday night.  Worked beautifully.  My smoking skills even impressed my wife.   Looking forward to much use in the future.