“Oh Be Careful Little Tongue What You Say”
May 7, 2017
I never knew his real name; he was always called by his initials. Let me just refer to him as “R.J.” He was a character from my childhood. He had joined our church before God. He was an older man as I recall (of course everyone post-thirty is old when you’re a kid), and I remember well the way people referred to him. He was, as they would say, “a bean counter.” I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, but it always came across as somewhat negative to me. There were some other things that people thought about him, too, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
R.J. held a couple of offices in our church, which surprised me somewhat. I never heard him speak well of the church, its ministries, its leaders, its worship, its doctrines, and so forth, but he always had an opinion on all those things and more. Either he was the smartest man in town or he thought he was. I have a hunch. At any rate R.J. made it his calling in life to be “a bean counter” and a purveyor of negativity. When someone said something good about someone else, or the church, or America, or any number of things, R.J. always had a negative comeback. The sad thing was . . . I liked him. He was crusty, but I couldn’t help but think down deep (for whatever reasons a child clings to about such things) he was probably a good man. But regardless of how good he may have actually been, a lot of people, most of the people I knew anyway, experienced anything but good from him.
Please understand . . . he was a church member; he claimed to be a follower of Jesus. He showed up at church, stood at the right time, opened his hymnal when the rest of us sang and always followed giving his 10% with his two cents as well, and it always made people uncomfortable. But I wanted to like him. I remember one day, after my dad became a Christian in his mid-fifties, R.J. said something snarky to him. My dad didn’t kill him; that’s when I knew my dad was really saved.
In time, R.J. passed away (that phrase makes us feel better about what it really is, right?). He died . He went to meet his Maker, as they say. At the funeral they talked about what a great man of faith he was, how much he had done for the church, how much he must have loved Jesus. By the time they were finished, I was certain Mother Teresa had been replaced. Decorum and class demand that one behaves a certain way when talking about the dead but several people couldn’t help but wonder, “All those wonderful things they’re saying about him. . .are they talking about the same guy I knew?” And that saddened me. It really did, because I thought, “I’ll bet R.J. wish he done things differently.” Then it was too late. The negative shadow had long been cast.
It could be that deep down R.J. was a good man after all. I’ll never know this side of Heaven. All I knew was the negative phlegm he spewed around our church anytime anyone would listen. I hope there really was the “other side” to the old “bean counter.” I’ll find out someday. But for whatever bad he did, he taught me a good lesson that I think is worth passing along to you. Its essence is captured in a little ditty I sang as a kid in Sunday School: “Oh be careful little tongue what you say!” Not a bad idea.
James talks about this in James 3 and Paul does, too in Ephesians 5. Jesus does, too in Matthew 12. Be careful. It may just be that somebody is listening.
Why We’re Reading the BF&M 2000
April 30, 2017
First of all, I want to say “thanks” for the way our church family participates and responds in worship. You guys are “all in” whether it’s during the musical portion of worship, praying, reciting verses, or the sermon, and I greatly appreciate it. I especially appreciate our time together when we recite portions of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. I know it’s not the same as Scripture (no Baptist should ever say it is), but it highlights some top-tier things we believe about Scripture, and that’s why it’s vitally important. Every church is one pastor or maybe a few church leaders away from abandoning their theological moorings. And I’m sure you’re aware that some who call themselves “Baptist” have done that very thing.
The Methodist Church in our community is led by a godly, Bible-believing pastor, so please don’t anyone take this as a slam against them; it’s not. I repeat . . . it’s not. Based on what I’m about to say, slamming them because they’re Methodists would be like people slamming us while looking at the lunatics at Westboro Baptist Church. One of the reasons some “Baptists” have drifted into heretical territory in terms of their theology is because they ceased an allegiance to their confessional statements, which caused them to cease their allegiance to the Scripture. The same is true for other denominations. I read this past week about Bishop Karen Oliveto, who was elected last summer to serve as a bishop in the United Methodist Church, despite being a practicing lesbian, married to her lesbian partner. Here’s what you need to know: The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Our BF&M 2000 states essentially the same thing. How could this have happened among the Methodists? The same way it happens among Baptists. Because the doctrinal statements of their denomination were ignored.
I’m firmly convinced that our rank-and-file Methodist friends agree with their doctrinal statement and side with the Scripture. The bishops from the United Methodist Church announced there would be a special session of the General Conference in February, 2019 in St. Louis to consider recommendations on how to “lead the church forward amid the impasse related to homosexuality.” What impasse? Their Book of Discipline makes it clear there’s no impasse; the issue is settled doctrinally.
This is my point. This is why we study our doctrines and recite our statements of faith. If we remind ourselves often of the commitments we’ve made, we’re more likely to continue to honor them. So remember when we recite the BF&M 2000, there’s a good reason in so doing: we’re reminded of the truths we believe. “Watch your life and doctrine closely . . .” (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV).
Take a Drive over Highway 36
April 23, 2017
It’s easy to become pessimistic, isn’t it? I mean, every time we turn on the television, check the news on the web, read the paper (some of you know what I mean when I say “read the paper”. . . if not, ask your grandparents). We all need things, people, and experiences to help us maintain perspective. I’m afforded the rich opportunity to meet a lot of people and sometimes have the chance to represent Jesus and our church in some really great places. Such was the case last Wednesday. I had the opportunity to preach at the chapel service at Hannibal LaGrange University in Hannibal, Missouri. I had to meet some people there at 9:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, so I drove up Tuesday night and they put me up in one of the houses they own close to campus. The drive was beautiful! I needed those few hours to take in the beauty of God’s creation once again. The scenery was gorgeous, I was able to put the top back on my Jeep, and to make it the perfect evening driving, I was also able to listen to baseball on the radio. Can you say “nostalgia”? Had I died right there and gone to Heaven, that would have been totally fine.
Preaching to college students is a challenge on a lot of levels; mainly, I remember as a college student how we “sized up” the speakers. Depending on the venue, collegiates are either conciliatory or combative, I suppose just like the rest of our culture, huh? At any rate, I relish the opportunity to speak to college students; I love their enthusiasm, their inquisitive nature, and often times their optimism. To say that my experience at Hannibal was a blessing would be an understatement. Every student I met on campus looked me in the eye and spoke. They were so gracious! The laughter I heard in chapel (both before I spoke and during some lighter moments in the message) was like salve to my soul. These students know they’re going to face the “real world,” but it’s apparent that they’re taking in as much of the “good stuff” of Christian fellowship as they can right now in preparation for being “sent out.” I told them and I told their President, my good friend, Dr. Anthony Allen, that Hannibal was the happiest college campus I’ve ever visited. The joy of Jesus permeated the place.
Please don’t misunderstand . . . I didn’t preach a “sugar stick.” I preached a sermon designed to move students toward full-throttled, sold-out faith for Jesus, knowing the world will hate every fiber of their being if they do so. They took it in. They paid attention. They responded. It was such a blessing! So when it starts to feel dark to you, or your hope for the future of our country or our faith begins waning, get in your car and drive over Highway 36 to Hannibal LaGrange University. You’ll see some great examples and be reminded that our future is in good hands . . .
“ Let no one despise you for your youth , but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV)
What Really Happened on the Cross?
April 16, 2017
When I was a kid, our general practitioner was actually a cardiologist named Dr. M.S. Rao. He was a very kind man and I’ll always appreciate the way he treated me as a kid and I’ll always remember how he would try to explain in great detail whatever medical situation I was facing. He would use terms and expressions that made no sense to me; he might as well have been speaking a foreign language. All I wanted to know was “What’s wrong with me?” and “How do I get better?”
For some 2,000 years theologians have debated things about the Cross of Jesus. There have been many theories posited by countless people about the Cross event. Words like Socinian and Ransom and Governmental and Substitution are connected with atonement theories. These words probably don’t cause your heart to skip a beat, but if you gain an understanding of what we refer to as the atonement , your heart is changed forever. Not caring about theological jargon and complex theories, much like me when I went to Dr. Rao, you likely just want to know “What’s wrong with me?” and “How do I get better?”
What’s wrong with me? Sin. Plain and simple. We’re born into it; every one of us. We’re sinners by nature and by choice. It’s true, you know. You never have to teach a child to do the wrong thing. Right?
“How do I get better?” By repenting (good biblical word that essentially means a changing of your mind) of your sin and believing in Jesus.
The most recognized symbol of the Christian faith is the Cross. It signifies what we’re talking about; the atonement. Atonement is defined as “reparation for an offense or injury; the reconciliation of God and humankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.” There are many nuances related to these definitions (Dr. Rao would have loved theology as a discipline) as well as the theories of atonement themselves. But what does it really matter? What really happened on the Cross? I’m glad you asked . . .
“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection; that is, Jesus’ triumph over sin and death and the grave. Jesus was crucified on the Cross, sacrificing his own life in our place, and in so doing, becoming sin for us. Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb (Friday). But Sunday morning, three days later (Friday to Saturday to Sunday) he rose from the dead and lives forevermore! Jesus took the penalty that you and I deserved. His Cross was our cross. He died for us. This is the gospel, “good news” (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And my hunch is, we could all use some good news about now . . .
A Painful Stroll
March 5, 2017
Most of the time when we speak of “taking a stroll” down memory lane, we have in mind a happy time but sometimes the “stroll” is painful. I’ve kept all my correspondence since 1983 when I started serving my first church. If you’ve sent me a nice note, I still have it. If you’ve ever sent me an ugly note (repent!), I still have it (thankfully, you guys are very kind). Looking through those file folders can bring back all kinds of memories for me; many of them really good, and frankly, some of them are quite painful. This past week while looking for something in particular, I found myself rummaging through 1998. For various reasons, that was an extremely difficult year for me. I may share more later, but here’s a bit of what I found:
-Two letters from city alderman angry with me for opposing the opening of an “Adult” store in our community.
-A letter from one of my church leaders at the time accusing me of lacking grace because I opposed the opening of the “Adult” store in our community.
-A 7 or 8 page letter questioning my commitment to Jesus, to the church I was serving, and to my family . . . because I purchased a house that didn’t have the same zip code as the church I was pastoring.
-A note from a church member making it clear that he would never consider me his pastor because I had read Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church.
-I found a suicide note from a young lady I was counseling in 1998. I was so grateful back then because she didn’t kill herself. And then I remember I wept when I found out she did kill herself in 2015 while in her early 30’s.
-There was a letter from a Church of Christ pastor who called me a heretic. I responded by saying, “Thanks for the note. When you get music and baptism figured out in your denomination then we’ll talk.” (If you don’t get that, just ask!)
Frankly, I’m not sure why I stayed . . . in that church or in ministry, for that matter. But as I read some scathing things, I was grateful to read the notes of affirmation. I read a letter from Ty. He was into occult practices. While high on mushrooms, he watched a sermon of mine on TV, came to see me the next day, gave his life to Jesus, then led his live-in girlfriend to Jesus. I performed their wedding and baptized them both. I have about 10 cards from one guy that year who just decided it was his role to be my encourager. I found some of my boys’ artwork and a letter from another church signed by about sixty people saying they were praying for Zach when he was really sick.
Sometimes I spend too much time taking a painful stroll. I’ll bet others do, too. Like I told our group Wednesday night, you don’t know how your encouragement might affect someone. In the meantime, read Joel 2:25 for perspective on painful things and restoration.
The Scandal of The Lord’s Prayer
Febraury 26, 2017
Not long ago, at a rally in Melbourne, Florida, First Lady Melania Trump did the unthinkable in public; she recited The Lord’s Prayer. I don’t know Mrs. Trump’s heart; I don’t know anybody’s heart but my own. But it is hard for me to understand the number of people criticizing a woman for publicly speaking the words of Jesus; words, by the way, that have been a significant part of the American landscape since the beginning of our nation’s history. I realize not everyone in America is Christian. And everybody is entitled to their opinion about these and other matters, but let’s step back for a moment and recognize how terribly egregious this act carried out by the First Lady actually was, compared to other issues we face as a nation.
There are people rioting in the streets because they won’t accept the Presidency of Mr. Trump. Windows have been broken, police cars have been vandalized, and citizens have been intimidated in their own neighborhoods simply because they’ve not jumped on the anti-Trump bandwagon. I’m thinking it’s a pretty good time for somebody to recite The Lord’s Prayer.
In Northhampton, Massachusetts, in an effort to positively engage children, members of the police department have been visiting an elementary school once a month to “high five” the children on their way into class. Some people (and I would frankly question their IQ, not to mention their patriotism) complained because they’re afraid the interaction “might scare children who’ve had negative experiences with police.” So the Northhampton Police Department has stopped its “High Five Friday” program. I’m thinking it’s a pretty good time for somebody to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
We have children in America who don’t receive proper nutrition, enough rest, and a decent education, but let’s take issue with the First Lady reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It’s acceptable to drop the “F-bomb” in public but not quote The Lord’s Prayer.
Children in our communities are now being used as pawns by simply saying, “Today I identify as a boy (or girl).” Bathrooms and locker rooms have become the latest battle ground for the fight between those who have functioning brains and those who don’t. And for fear of Big Brother/Uncle Sam, diversity training is taking the place of common sense. Some people defend common core; I wish some people would defend common sense. I’d like to be in health class when the teacher is explaining anatomy and says, “This is a male . . . unless of course he doesn’t feel like a male today.” And people think Christians are anti-science? I’m thinking it’s a pretty good time for somebody to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
With the current craziness among us, I’m prone to actually pray two prayers: The Lord’s Prayer and then the Apostle John’s prayer toward the close of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” And then I might add, “The sooner, the better!"
This Would Be Hilarious Except . . .
February 19, 2017
I hate to open this can of worms, but I have to. I’ve read about this and even talked with people in our church who had this experience right after the presidential election. University professors were telling their students (post-election) that their exams would be postponed and their absences from class excused because of the unbelievable trauma they faced since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I’ve not had a whole lot of trauma in my life; just the usual garden variety, I suppose. But I’ve lived through several Presidential elections in my lifetime and not surprisingly, my candidate didn’t always win. And do you know what I did the day after each election? I got up, shaved, showered, made coffee, watched the news, and went to work . . . ALL DAY. So I haven’t said much about this scenario, although I really want to say something about my cousin Jimmy. As a teenager he was truly traumatized because Uncle Sam sent him on an all-expense paid post-high school vacation to a resort called Vietnam. But I digress. I wasn’t going to even mention any of this but now I have to because this kind of nonsense is invading my world; the world of theology.
The Telegraph (UK) reported that Glasgow University is now issuing a warning to Bible students studying for ministry. They’re concerned about students studying the Bible because, as they’re telling them, the Bible “contains graphic scenes of the crucifixion.” Read that again please. The university’s leadership has noted they have “an absolute duty of care to all of our students and where it’s felt course material may cause potential upset or concern warnings may be given.” Veterinary students are being warned they will encounter dead animals and those studying contemporary society will discuss illness and violence. Wow. . . Students be warned . . .
I seldom find myself at a loss for words, but this comes pretty close. I don’t want to minimize the sensitive side that many of us human beings have; I think that’s God’s gift to us and those around us. The ability to empathize with people in their pain is a helpful trait, especially in the context of our faith. As Steve Brown used to say, “When you cry, I should taste salt.” I get that connection. But seriously . . . if one is to study Christian theology at what point does the crucifixion become a surprise event?
So, frankly I have a thought (actually lots of thoughts at this point) about all this. I know the crucifixion is troubling; so is the Old Testament, so is the Book of Revelation. But here’s my main thought: If you think people are going to be traumatized reading about the crucifixion, just imagine how traumatized the world will one day be . . .
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” –Jesus (Matthew 24:30 ESV).
Just Around the Corner
February 12, 2017
We’re fortunate in that we have a lot of different things taking place in the life of our church aimed at helping us grow in our relationship with Jesus. Whether you’re talking about children’s events, youth events, collegiate events, adult (of various ages) events, we have a lot of things to offer. And there’s a reason for that. The reason is not just to keep the lights on at church every night or keep people’s calendars filled; activities with which we’re involved are meant to have purpose. It may be for learning or fellowship or serving, etc., but activities have purpose. So let me tell you about a few things coming up and ask you to mark your calendar. . .
Youth Sunday – February 19
It has been several years since we’ve had a Youth Sunday in our church. On February 19 the students will be leading us in worship. I know you’ll want to be here to support our youth ministry. After the service is concluded, ushers will be at the door to receive an offering for our youth ministry. The offerings given will be used for helping offset expenses for youth attending camp, mission trips, etc. Thanks in advance for your support!
Men’s Chili and Dessert Cook-Off – February 26
February 26 at 6:00 P.M. the men of our church (and many of their friends) will gather in the Christian Activity Center (C.A.C.) for a time of fellowship together. This is our one of our largest men’s events of the year and you won’t want to miss it!
Spring Renewal Week – March 5-8
We have scheduled a Spring Renewal Week for Sunday, March 5 through Wednesday, March 8. In addition to our regular Sunday morning services that weekend, we’ll be meeting Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night at 7:00 P.M. Our special guest speaker for the week is Don Witzel. Don is an associate pastor in Georgia. He has considerable ministry experience as well as business experience. He has been and is a “cutting edge” leader. You will appreciate Don’s insight into Scripture, as well as his candor and sense of humor. He is a blessing (which is why I invited him)!
On Sunday morning, March 5, my good friend Teresa Brierly will be singing in our morning worship services. Teresa and I attended Missouri Baptist University together and sang in the concert choir there. After graduation, she toured with a couple of Christian singing groups and landed a permanent position singing in Branson, Missouri. Currently she teaches music in the Springfield, Missouri area. Teresa will encourage you and lead us into musical worship in a beautiful and fitting way.
“The Only Thing We Have to Fear . . .”
February 5, 2017
What makes you afraid? No . . . really. Forget the “Sunday School answer” where we all say, “Jesus is my Rock and there’s nothing in the world that ever makes me afraid (or even anxious for that matter).” You can say that if you want, but my hunch is you would be breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments if you do. Seriously, what makes you afraid?
It might be having kids; it might be not having kids. It might be something related to finances or relationships or your health. We all have things that cause consternation from time to time, don’t we? In fact, I believe this is one reason a text like Psalm 91 is included in Scripture; not to make us feel “less than spiritual” because we have anxious moments, but rather to help us lean on the One who can do something about our challenges. And knowing there is a God who loves us enough to intervene and is powerful enough to fling the stars in space (Job 38) gives us hope.
In fact the word translated refuge in verse 2 is indicative of hope. It’s the Hebrew word mahseh and can be translated “refuge” or “place of shelter,” or “place of hope,” or “place of trust.” The Psalmist is alluding to all kinds of things that in his day could be a hardship: the snare of the fowler (an allusion to some plot aimed at endangering his life), deadly pestilence (diseases, plagues). And he says very clearly in verse 3 that from these things “he [God] will deliver you.” Again, let me ask, “What makes you afraid?”
In the midst of your fear, turn to the God who has the ability to deliver you. Turn to the God who will “cover you,” where you will “find refuge under his wings.” Turn to the God who offers a refuge, a place of shelter, a place of hope, and a place of trust.
I remember reading in history class about the famous phrase from one of our nation’s former Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It was a time of great upheaval and concern in our country and it worked to help ease the tensions of the masses. I understand the power in a pithy, bumper sticker-like saying such as this, but it’s really pretty empty. It sounds great, but “Frank-ly” (pardon the pun), it’s just not true. In fact, there are thousands of things to fear in life. But in the midst of all our fears, there is One who can make a difference. And if I might use a variation of something we’ve all heard, let me say it like this: Sometimes He doesn’t take the storm away. Sometimes He doesn’t even remove us from the storm (fear). Sometimes the great comfort is that He simply stays with it in the midst of it.
“First World” Perspectives
January , 2017
I’ll never forget one moment when a lesson in economics really sank in with me. Granted, I had had experiences before of witnessing other kids or other families having “things” (material possessions) that we didn’t have; newer car, bigger house, etc. And by the way, those experiences are among the best I’ve had. I learned early not everybody makes the team, not everybody wins the election, not everybody gets their way. Can I get a witness?
When I got to college (the second time) I had a real eye-opening experience. A friend of mine named David, who lived in St. Louis County (think Briarcliff or better in Kansas City) came to class in a very foul mood. Upon being questioned, he shared that the VCR (ask your parents what this means) in his private bathroom was broken and he wasn’t able to watch a recorded tape of his favorite show while he was getting ready for class. Excuse me while I get a Kleenex.
Our problems/challenges/hassles are, in many ways, relative. Not to downplay what we deal with, but a broken VCR in a private bathroom to a kid like me meant nothing; we had one bathroom for five people, my parents didn’t have cable till some five years later, and I had never seen a VCR. So David’s distress meant nothing to me. Obviously, there are things about which we should be distressed or we should share in the distress of others, but far too often we’re dealing with what we would call “First World” problems (DVR doesn’t work, GPS on my phone is slow, the chip-reader where I insert my debit card to pay for a $30 lunch isn’t functioning properly. Get it? We forget about that which is truly the “real world.”
When we let it, our First World perspective can and should influence how we deal with others in this first world and beyond. Can we fathom a child actually going to bed hungry because there isn’t enough food for him to eat? Can we imagine a real-live homeless person living on the Kansas City streets day after day, facing the elements as the weather turns cold? Can we allow our minds to consider children growing up with no parents and no relatives who are ready and willing to take them to raise them “as their own”?
It changes my perspective about my life and even about my “church life.” Think of the things with which so many Christians take issue and then think about the things with which we really ought to take issue; it’s convicting, at least, for me. These and more thoughts have made me full of gratitude at the beginning of this year. My darkest moments and most trying times, in so many ways, pale compared to the challenges of so many other people in the world. My prayer is that I will use that perspective to feel what they feel and respond accordingly.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”
(Galatians 6:2 ESV).
Just a Few Hours
January 8, 2017
I’m pretty sure a lot of our church roots for the Kansas City Royals, right? And I’m fairly certain a lot of our church is pulling for the Kansas City Chiefs, true? Sports are a great diversion; they really are. After a long day to have the opportunity to sit in your chair, prop your feet up, and watch a baseball game is awesome. The same is true for golf. If you can take two hours and play nine holes or even four hours for eighteen, that time can be used to unwind, relax, and recharge. There’s a reason God included the concept of “Sabbath” in the ebb and flow of our lives.
So let’s talk baseball as an example. I’m an avid baseball fan, so let’s say I watch 50 games a year, which would not be a stretch at all. On the conservative side of estimates, let’s say each of those games is two hours in length. During the course of a season (about six months), I’ve spent 100 hours watching baseball. That doesn’t include drive time to Kauffman (25 minutes there, 25 minutes back) or Busch Stadium (4 hours there, 4 hours back). So in a baseball season, I’m going to invest at least 100 hours of my most precious commodity: time. And as much as I enjoy a good ball game, generally, it’s not a life-changing event. It doesn’t affect how I conduct myself at work. It doesn’t change my world view. It doesn’t offer me any real hope for my life here and now, much less after life here is over. Now let me sound like a preacher . . .
It takes about 90 hours to read the Bible from the beginning (“big inning” in baseball-ease) to the end (Revelation); 90 hours . . . less time than I will spend watching baseball during a six month period. And the Bible instructs me how to conduct myself, how to experience forgiveness and offer it, how to have faith and hope, how to love others, and how to prepare myself for eternity. And last time I checked, eternity is a pretty big deal, right? The Bible has the answers for racism, sexism, egotism, and every other “ism” with which mankind will struggle. And I can learn all this in less time than I’ll invest watching baseball this year.
My sons could likely tell you about a lot of memories they have of me related to baseball. People that know me even a little know I’m an avid baseball fan. I watch games, I talk about baseball, and I have baseball memorabilia and clothing. People know what matters to us based on how we spend our time. So I always wanted my sons to see me reading my Bible, or periodically hear me talking about something related to my faith (outside of “pulpit time”).
How about making that investment? Ninety hours. If you get bogged down (and you will; I do, too), keep going! If you want to linger in a passage to gain greater insight, by all means do it.
“Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God “(Deuteronomy 12:28).
In the Fullness of Time . . .
December 25, 2016
The purposes of God often develop slowly because His grand designs are never hurried. The great New England preacher Phillips Brooks was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Mr. Brooks?” he asked.“The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t!” Ever felt that way? “I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.” Although our society is the fastest-paced ever, we don’t have anything on the Jewish people who had long been awaiting the coming of Messiah.
So what do you do during the waiting? Well, I’ve thought a lot about this; mostly reflecting back on the last few years and some personal challenges and it illustrates a principle I jotted down for my own sanity:
THERE IS A DIRECT CORRELATION BETWEEN TRUSTING GOD AND ENJOYING GOD.
In other words, the more we trust him, the more we can enjoy him. The more we want to enjoy him, the more we need to learn to trust him. I’m not Reformed in the theological sense of the word, but I’ve always appreciated The Westminster Confession. It states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
I think that begins with trust. We can’t enjoy God if we don’t trust in him like we should. So, like you, I’ve had to learn over the years to trust God with my life, with my family, and with the churches I’ve led. And even when it has felt like he’s left the building, I’ve had to keep trusting him. And here’s the thing; God always does what’s right. He can be trusted. The Jews learned that after waiting a long, long, time; you’ve learned it too, I suspect.
God comes through at just the right time. This leads me to one of my favorite texts for Christmas: Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Did you catch that? “In the fullness of time.” At just the right time; never early, never late. God won’t make a mistake. God hasn’t abandoned you. God isn’t awaiting more information to make a decision. Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say something like, “God does what he does right well and he does it right . . . well.” God is always right “on time.” Whatever you’re waiting for, remember God’s timing is perfect. Hold on because the fullness of time will come.
Don’t Complicate It
November 27, 2016
I’m a follower of Jesus; I became a Christian when I was seven years old. No one told me about baptism for about five years, so I was twelve before I experienced believer’s baptism. I came to faith in an Independent Baptist Church and then began attending a Southern Baptist Church while I was in the fifth grade. It was there someone explained the importance of baptism to me. So I’ve been attending Baptist churches for about forty-eight years. All of that to say this: I know a little about being Baptist; I know we have our own particular ways of doing things (things like congregational polity, for example). And I know that sometimes we complicate things; it’s been said it’s easier to die than to have your name removed from the membership role of a Baptist church.
Stay with me; my goal is not to be disrespectful toward other faiths, but to highlight how sometimes even well-meaning people can introduce complications to situations that should otherwise be understood more easily. I read an article this past week that explained how Pope Francis indefinitely extended the power of Catholic priests to forgive certain sins (sins that were deemed to be “grave” sins). According to the article, previously these “grave sins” could only be forgiven by bishops in the Catholic Church.
Granted, I know that the issue of sin is not simplistic, but the remedy for such sin/sins actually is. You see as much as I might love and respect our Catholic friends, the reality is this: only God can forgive sins, and this is accomplished with one great high priest (Jesus – see Hebrews 8:1-6) and his “once for all” sacrifice. Only God can forgive sins. In one sense, that sounds ominous; I mean, after all, when are we going to see God next? When are we going to run into Him? On the other hand, that sounds fabulous; if God is everywhere then it would certainly be easier to speak with him than to have to track down a mere mortal to serve as the go-between.
Don’t complicate it! Do you want forgiveness? Go directly to God. Do you want to confess something? Go to God. Like my Catholic priest friends, I want to do all I can to help people experience God’s forgiveness, but men simply cannot forgive anyone from their sins. Don’t complicate it! We don’t need yet another layer added to the issue. Go directly to God and find his acceptance, grace, and freedom. Don’t complicate it . . .
“And by that we will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).
Helping People See
November 13, 2016
With all the craziness of the last few weeks that we call “elections,” whether your candidate(s) won or lost, the good news is you won’t be getting those annoying political phone calls anymore and we won’t be watching attack ads in the middle of our favorite TV programs and you probably won’t be losing too many more Facebook friends because of your views. Can I get a witness? I’ll say what I’ve been saying every four years all of my adult life: whoever gets elected President of the United States will be my President and I will be as respectful as I can to him/her and I will pray for my President often and if/when he does something that goes against our Christian convictions I will feel the freedom to respectfully disagree and express that disagreement in a fitting way. We should always pray that our President would be a person of prayer and open to leading in a way that would honor the Lord. We should be praying he/she has vision in leadership. We’re blessed with the ability to vote our conscience and experience a peaceful transfer of power; countless nations would give anything to have this, so let’s be thankful and figure out where we go from here.
In the meantime (and aren’t you glad we can move beyond politics) let me give you an update from our Target 20/20 committee. As I do, let me remind you about a key facet of leadership. As one of my mentors used to tell us, “Leadership is helping people see what you see.” That’s a picture of people buying into “vision.” We’re in the process of developing plans related to our worship center renovation, as well as some other renovations and “housekeeping” measures we need to get in place. We realize our buildings are facilities; i.e., they give us space to “facilitate” ministry. We’re blessed with what we have because of the sacrifice of so many people who have gone before us. There will be more information forthcoming as the Target 20/20 committee continues to meet, but let me let you in on one piece of information: the renovation is going to cost some money. So let me again encourage you to continue giving to our Faith for the Journey account. We utilized this for retiring our debt and now we’re going to use it for this next chapter of ministry. The more we’re able to give prior to the renovation beginning, the less we will be borrowing to conclude the project.
You know (because you’ve always been so generous) that it takes money to accomplish ministry. As Dr. Allen, President at Midwestern Seminary has often said, “We all know the Bible says that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ It’s also true that where there is no money the vision perishes.” Touché! So looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, we know that our ministries will need funding and our building renovations will need to be paid for. So, let me encourage you to continue giving (as many of you have all along) to the Faith for the Journey account. As we gather more information about the renovation (timeline, phases, specifics, etc.) we will be sharing those with the church family. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to accomplish the renovation of the worship center, foyer, and fireside lobby at least beginning in 2017. We’ll keep you posted!
Back to the key facet of leadership mentioned above: helping others see what you see. What do I see? I see a lot of things, but mainly I see generations of people worshiping in this community of faith, loving Jesus, loving people, and serving everyone. I trust you see it, too!
More Than a Baby Dedication
October 23, 2016
This morning I’m privileged to lead a portion of our worship in which our granddaughter, Ryann Kay Parker, will be “dedicated.” Feel free to ask me mid-sermon and I will happily show you some 1,000 pictures of her! Anyway, some churches refer to this as “Child Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”; we refer to it as “Parent/Child Dedication.” That’s a good start but it doesn’t tell the whole story. We all know it’s more than a baby dedication, although the baby is being dedicated. It’s more than a parent dedication because the baby is being dedicated. In fact, parents pledge to dedicate themselves to properly raising their child with a biblical worldview and a foundation of faith. But here’s where the gravity of this whole thing should sink in with all of us. It’s actually a church dedication, too.
The parents dedicate the baby, they dedicate themselves, and then the local church agrees that we will do whatever we can to help these parents in their pursuit of Christ as well as helping their child in the pursuit of Christ. Make sense? It’s kind of a trinity (which means tri-unity) of sorts (please don’t read more into that than is present); parents, child, and church all end up being dedicated with the goal in mind of helping the parents lead their child in righteous living, which in turn requires the parents to strive to do the same and the church agrees to do its part in helping and ultimately the whole process comes full circle as the child comes to know Christ (through the influence of the parents and the church), and joins the church, thus becoming a participating member who in turn helps the next generation of parents raise their children to know Christ. I want to stop now and sing Circle of Life from the Lion King. . . okay, not really, but you get the picture? Here’s my point . . . we all have a responsibility to be vessels of love, grace, and spiritual service. We do what we do not just for us; we do it for those who are coming behind us. We give to pay for buildings and ministries and missions which may not fully benefit us but that will be used in ministry for the next generation. We sacrifice and we serve for this generation and countless generations that come behind us. This all sounds so ethereal, so let me make it more personal.
People we’ve known and loved as well as people we’ve never known have done what they could to advance the gospel through the ministry of this church. So here’s what that means. Pastor James E. Hughes (pastor here from 1868-1871) or Pastor Robert H. Jones (pastor here from 1902-1906) or Dr. H.I. Hester (pastor here from 1928-1941) and the people with whom they served didn’t know most of us, and yet their involvement and commitment to Jesus and this church has impacted each of our lives. Ryann Kay Parker is being dedicated at this church today because all the way back in 1856 on Christmas Day a little group of Christians felt God wanted to plant this church in this community and they were dedicated. They had no idea how broad their influence would be. You see, they didn’t do what they did for themselves; they did it for us and for those that are coming behind us. At the risk of sounding biblical . . . “Go and do likewise!” And when you’re ready to throw in the towel, read Isaiah 40:29-31. Now, about those pictures . . .
October 9, 2016
This morning in worship it is our honor to take the time to welcome, pray for, and recognize the crucial place “first responders” occupy in our lives. We want to simply express our gratitude to God to them and their families for the tremendous service they offer to our communities. When there’s an emergency, they’re most often the first line of help. We reach out to them and they respond. That’s an extremely noble task, don’t you agree? In some cases, these first responders literally put their lives on the line for people they don’t even know. Every time a fireman goes into a burning building or a police officer intervenes in a domestic dispute or an EMT takes life-saving equipment into a situation, they don’t know what kind of danger awaits them. So for all that (and much more) we owe respect. And we’re demonstrating that this morning.
Rather than just leave it at what I’ve said didactically, let me illustrate why I feel the way I do about these treasured people. I remember (some 40-plus years now) when a group of fireman came to our school for Fire Prevention Week and explained to us what we should do in the event of a fire. I thought those men were giants; and in many ways they were and still are! When I was a little boy, it was EMT’s and who came to our home and put my dad on a gurney and rushed him to the hospital when we thought he was having a heart attack. In the process, one of the men saw how upset I was, came to me, knelt down, put his arm around me and said, “Son, we’re going to do everything we can to take care of your dad.” As a teenager, the first time I had a car accident, it was a police officer who helped calm me down and walk me through the paces of what needed to happen next. And when my mother had experienced the amputation of one of her legs, police officers (personal friends of mine) carried her into her house and stayed long enough to make sure she and my dad were ready to begin a new normal.
We’re having this service today because Romans 13 reminds us that it is God who puts authorities in place and we’re to be subject to those authorities. In America today the only things that stand between us and full-blown anarchy are God Almighty and our law enforcement personnel. And that’s not an overstatement at all. We want to make sure these men and women know that countless people are in their corner, thankful every day for the sacrifice they make, and that right here at First Baptist Church, all first responders and their families can count on us as friends and supporters. So, in short, we give RESPECT. . .
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have instituted by God . . . Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:1, 3 ESV).
On a “Need to Know” Basis
September 25, 2016
I’m sure you’ve had this experience related to information; someone says something like, “this is on a ‘need to know’ basis.” Translated: if you need to know, I’ll tell you. There are a lot of things we “need to know” in life, aren’t there? Think about it. We need to know a lot of basics in life, and often times we take for granted that everybody already knows these things: how to brush our teeth, how to use soap and deodorant, how to shave, etc. Related to careers, we assume people know how to build a resume, how to ask for someone to serve as a reference, how to interview, and so forth. In recent days a lot of people in our community have learned the importance of checking to make sure their sump pumps are in working order (hard lesson to learn). Most of these things have to be taught; we don’t come into the world with the innate knowledge of hygiene and career pursuits and mechanical inspections, do we?
The same is true about our spiritual understanding; nobody comes into the world knowing the difference between the Old and New Testaments, the Law and the Prophets, what believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper symbolize, how to interpret the Bible, or the importance of protecting our witness. These things are learned. That’s why it’s so important that we teach the basics. It’s why we’re going to take several weeks and I’m going to preach a series of sermons on the basics; Things Everybody Needs to Know.
Our series will include:
Things Everybody Needs to Know about the Bible
Things Everybody Needs to Know about the Church
Things Everybody Needs to Know about Eternity
Things Everybody Needs to Know about Marriage
Things Everybody Needs to Know about God’s Will
We’re not finished the Matthew’s Gospel just yet, and we’ll return to it soon, but I felt for this season in our church’s life, that these “basics” should be the focus of our attention. I’m also working on a series for the spring sometime with the working title, Elephants in the Room. I want to talk about some things a lot of people (Christians included) are skittish discussing: money, sex, divorce, alcohol, immigration, Islam, and maybe even worship preferences. But for now, I think we’ll stick to the “basics”! Once the series is completed, I hope to make it available on our website, a CD/DVD set and podcast for you to pass along to friends.
I thought you might “need to know”!
Where Were You?
September 11, 2016
As a kid I remember reading about the life, presidency, and assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For a lot of reasons, he was an intriguing figure to me. I also remember hearing adults talk about that terrible day President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. So often I heard them say something like, “Where were you the day the President was killed?” Terrible events like that are burned into our memory for a lifetime. Such is the case with 9/11. Where were you? That’s a great question, but really there’s an even more important one we need to answer.
We’ve had fifteen years now in this “new America” or “new normal.” Although we vowed that terrible event of 9/11 wouldn’t change the way we live in America, it has; in fact, it had to. We have to take more precautions related to flying on airplanes. We have to be vigilant about protecting our nation from terrorists within and beyond. We have to be judicious (not prejudiced) about our borders. Like it or not, 9/11 changed us.
I distinctly remember the first few Sundays after 9/11. The media reported (imagine this today) that church attendance increased in the days following that terrible attack. People had a different and deeper sense of patriotism. Faith was openly discussed. Much of the partisan rhetoric was put on the back burner for a time and we were all “Americans”; no hyphens necessary. Don’t get me wrong; as Christians, as the writer of Hebrews notes, we “desire a better country” (Hebrews 11:16), so we’ve known America isn’t our final destination; Heaven awaits the believer in Jesus.
When we look back on 9/11, it seems to me the most important question is not “Where were you?” but rather “Where are you?” Have you allowed what happened to diminish your optimism? Did that event elevate your discomfort with people of other nations? Have you allowed prejudice to grow in your heart? What has it done to your faith? Where you were on 9/11 is less important than where you are on this 9/11/16. Remembering 9/11 makes me very sad, but I think we need reminders of it often so that as a nation we will be committed to maintain the good things in America that terrorists tried to take from us.
When someone asked me, “Pastor, where was God on 9/11?” I was able to say, “He was right there in the middle of all the pain and chaos, comforting people in their affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). ”9/11 changed us. Did it change you for the good or for the bad? It’s not so important to answer “Where were you?” It’s vitally important to ask, “Where are you?” I hope you’re closer to Jesus.
It’s Not Just What You Say
August 28, 2016
Part of my living is earned via communication. I talk. I preach. I teach. People like me are prone to spend an inordinate amount of time working hard at a twist of a phrase or polishing a transitional section of dialogue. That’s a good thing. We preachers spend a lot of time trying to say memorable things memorably. After all, the Bible is memorable and we ought to speak of it in such a way that people remember so they can put its precepts into practice. But I learned a long time ago (and for the teachers in the crowd I know what I just did beginning with the word “but” but I’m told it is acceptable in this kind of writing), much to my chagrin, that people don’t remember much of what I say. I’ve preached sermons on loving your spouse but mentioned something about arguing and had people say, “You remember that sermon on arguing you delivered?” Point well-taken. So, I’ve learned (and am learning) that my role in the world, and certainly in the church, is about much more than what I say; it’s about who I’m striving to be.
His name was Leonard Van Camp. Dr. Van Camp was my choral director during my first year of college when I attended the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I did not grasp the magnitude of his accomplishments until years later while serving as worship leader in a local church. Dr. Van Camp had an international reputation and had written, among other things, an authoritative book about how to perform Handel’s Messiah. I remember several of the quips and quotes that Dr. Van Camp shared with our chorale during the year I was at SIU-E, but frankly I don’t remember a lot of what he said. I’m sure this fact can be attributed to the reality that I was a confused college student on the back side of adolescence unprepared for the great big adult world, and the only prerequisite for my anger being expressed toward people was that they were breathing. At any rate, I don’t remember a lot of what he said. Let me tell you what I do remember.
One day after chorale, while I was walking down a massive hall in a big building on a university campus, Dr. Van Camp took the initiative to encourage me. He saw I was a young man struggling to find my way. He intuitively knew that I was struggling to determine not only what I would be but how I would be as a person. And he came alongside me, put his hand on my shoulder and said something like, “Ken, I don’t know all you’re dealing with, but I know this: God hasn’t brought you into this world and gifted you to throw it all away. I think it’s time you dedicated yourself to the kind of life you want to build for yourself, don’t you? And you can do this! You have what it takes. It may be scary, but you’ll do well once you determine in your heart what you really need to do.” It was like the old Life Saver commercials on steroids when Dr. VC spoke into my life. And in a way that I’ll never comprehend, his concern in that moment did more to point me in the right direction than anything else. It wasn’t just his words; it was him! He took an interest in students. He enjoyed life. He was open about his belief in God. He demonstrated how a man should love his wife. And day after day we learned more about life than music from Dr. Leonard Van Camp. Thank you Dr. VC and all the teachers who care enough about students to invest in them. Thanks for “a word fitly spoken” and a life suitably lived (see Proverbs 25:11).
A Good Walk . . . Not Spoiled
August 21, 2016
Crisp, cool fall air or warm summer sun and walking on beautifully-manicured grass; I love to golf. Think about what one experiences in an afternoon of golf. You have the opportunity to either be accompanied by friends with whom you like to share time, or you might even enjoy a solitary walk of nine holes in an attempt to clear your head. You might be on vacation and find yourself paired up with an older newlywed couple who bend your ear for four hours about how hard it is to be a widow/widower and how grateful they are for their new relationship (and yes, I was paired with them and they were delightful). Playing golf gives you the chance to see some of nature’s most beautiful scenes. I love golf because it’s a “gentleman’s game”; one calls penalties on himself when there’s an infraction of the rules. It’s still a civil sport and teaches many ancillary life lessons (“play it as it lies”/”take it as it comes,” deal with adversity, etc.). Mark Twain is credited as having said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” I couldn’t disagree more! But something is happening to this “good walk” that really bugs me and it’s happening in the rest of life, too. The golfing “establishment” is seeking to speed up play to an unhealthy degree. If the golfing “powers that be” keep pushing for faster rounds, they’re going to ruin the most important aspect of the game . . . that it provides a relaxing “time away” even if one isn’t “away.” Do we really need yet another activity through which to rush?
I played golf with a friend in Warrensburg the other day. We played eighteen holes in just over three hours. We kept pace with the group ahead of us (which is what you’re supposed to do) and we still had two guys behind us that kept pushing us. When we were in the fairway at one point and the group ahead of us was on the green, the guys behind us came up and said, “Could you guys pick up the pace a little?” and I said, “No, we really can’t, considering that the group ahead of us is on the green and the green is about 150 yards away and they’re keeping pace with the group ahead of them. . .” After they left I repented of all kinds of things I thought. But here’s my point: Everybody is rushing, even through experiences that, by design, aren’t supposed to be rushed! We rush through work, through recreation, through meals, through conversations, and on and on. While I’m glad ambulances and police cars rush, if it takes three minutes to get your cheeseburger at McDonald’s or almost four hours to play a round of golf, the world hasn’t stopped spinning. Life will go on! Enjoy the “walk”! When we rush through life, we miss the sunsets. When we hurry through our days, we miss the smiles. When we don’t take the time to check on a friend because “we’re too busy,” we miss the opportunity to make a difference and that means we are “too busy.” Enjoy your life. Enjoy relationships. Enjoy “a good walk not spoiled”!
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun and the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” –Solomon (Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV).
It Just Doesn’t Work
August 14, 2016
There are some things that just “don’t work”; that is, they don’t seem to go together. Do you know what I mean? We determine things go together or don’t go together based on our opinions. The challenge, however, in determining what “works well” is rooted in the reality that it’s typically just an opinion (not objective) that determines what “works well” or “goes well” together. And opinions are like crazy relatives . . . we all have them! Twenty years ago blue slacks and brown shoes were “out”; today, they’re “in.” Just opinions, and opinions always change.
Last week I went to Quick Trip, which is by the way, the eighth “Wonder of the World.” And on the door going into QT they were advertising a “Maple – Bacon Quickshake.” Somebody had the notion that maple and bacon and ice cream go together. The only people who would think that mixture goes together are people who imbibe the mixture of Jack Daniels and Coke in excess. I like bacon and I like maple and I like ice cream . . . provided they all stay in their respective places; put them together and “it just doesn’t work.” I know; it’s just my opinion. Some of you might actually like such an awful concoction. And if you do, for the record, I’m worried about you.
Some things just don’t work. Last year, while on vacation, Lori and I encountered a very odd couple; odd in the sense that to me, they just didn’t fit. He was uglier than I am (which says a lot). He was older than I am (which says something). And he was grumpier than I am (I’m not saying a word). She made Christie Brinkley look like a “2” on a scale of 1 to 10; she should have been a model. She was young enough to be my daughter, so don’t think I was sinning; I wasn’t. He was old enough to be her grandpa and I guess I was sinning when I thought, “How could he?” But here’s the thing: that’s my opinion. In my mind, that “just doesn’t work.” Who knows? They might be the happiest couple on the planet.
So here’s the thing as Christians: while we all have opinions, other people have opinions, too. And they have opinions about us. And some of what they see in us (me) just “doesn’t work” in their eyes, and we need to give that fact careful consideration. Do we speak or act in ways that sometimes cause people to think, “That just doesn’t work for a Christian”? I’m going to step aside and let the Spirit do His work (He’s better at being the Holy Spirit than I am). Sometimes we say things that “just don’t work” with our faith. Sometimes we do things that “just don’t work” with our faith. And it’s always easier to point out things in others that “just don’t work” than to see those things in our own life.
The Apostle Paul says it much more eloquently than I ever could. So to really understand what I mean, read Romans 14 with an open heart and simply ask God to show you things in your life that “just don’t work” as a believer. And don’t bother asking about the “Maple – Bacon Quickshake”; God agrees with me . . .
If It Seems Life is Unraveling ...
July 17, 2016
We spent our time together last week talking about our response as believers to the unrest within our nation; specifically we dealt with the tragedy in Dallas and the need for racial reconciliation. We know there’s a lot of work to be done. Further, we Christians know we must be on the forefront of the work. Whether it’s needing a sense of calm in the midst of chaos or developing respect among races in the midst of a racial divide, the people of God ought to be leading the way because, at the risk of sounding arrogant, we’re the only ones who really have answers. And in those situations we face where we don’t readily have the answers, we have the assurance of knowing we’re in touch with the God who does!
The last couple of weeks have been difficult. I grieve over the loss of life; it’s so tragic. It has been upsetting as I’ve watched people demonizing one another. And personally, we were jolted just a bit again with news that my dad is now having to deal with a third kind of cancer. We received preliminary results from the biopsy he had a couple of weeks ago and it indicates the presence of another form of cancer in his body. Doctors are weighing his options and seeking to determine what the best course of action might be. As I’ve told you, we know we’re in the “bonus round,” and we’re grateful to God for every minute we have together. My dad and I are close and we don’t have “unspoken” things between us, and for that I’m thankful. My dad knows Jesus; he’s lived almost 88 years and sometimes I think he’s tired and ready to go “Home.” But even with the promises of God and the reality of Heaven and perfect peace before us, sometimes it seems life is unraveling, doesn’t it?
Can we talk? It’s okay to have some moments of being overwhelmed; you are, after all, a mere mortal, right? And struggling in the moment to sustain faith and cling to optimism isn’t an indication that you’re lacking faith; it’s a reminder that you’re human. Can I get a witness? Remember, faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is your hope when things aren’t going well and you don’t see a flicker of light in the darkness. Faith is not simply the “warm fuzzies” you feel when your family is all together, your health is intact, and there’s a little extra money in the bank. I dare say we understand more about faith when we’re straining through hard situations in life than when we’re “at ease in Zion.”
Faith is choosing to trust in Jesus, even when things don’t go as you had hoped. Faith is the realization that even if your life is unraveling, you know who is holding the skein of yarn. When I was a kid we sang the following lyrics:
Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know He holds my hand.
I still believe it!
Look Both Ways
July 10, 2016
Recently Lori and I were at a vacation spot that is teeming with tourists. Everywhere you turned, walked, drove, or rode, there were people . . . walking, talking, jogging, looking at their cell phone while they walked in our way, etc. . . Americana, you know? Anyway, while driving, at every crosswalk I noted a road sign that said, “Yield to Pedestrians.” I had driver education back in the day when we understood that it mattered as much to teach kids something they would actually use as opposed to Algebra (I’m 50 and pie only signals one thing to me, not 3.14 something but rather the need for a cup of coffee; moreover I’ve driven most every day since I was 16).
So we’re driving along (not doing math equations) and noticing the pedestrians and the signs that say “Yield to Pedestrians.” And every once in a while, without warning, without a signal, without anything, some family with a death wish would suddenly jump out from my peripheral vision right in front of my rental car (which thankfully was so slow we had to lean in order to go uphill). And I thought, “What are you people doing? Are you crazy?” And they didn’t care. At any given moment, they would veer left from my right, often times to a crosswalk of their own making (as in, without a sign, striping on the street, or any other markers). And then I remembered, “Yield to Pedestrians.” It’s a universal thing. No matter what happens or is happening in any given moment, every driver is responsible to “Yield to Pedestrians” no matter what they do! But here’s the thing. . . if I had been driving say 35 mph and someone decided, “He has to yield no matter what” and walked out into the street in front of my car that would have had a tragic ending. In fact, no matter how much I might have wanted to stop, I couldn’t. So much was/is out of my control. Now, the person who jumped in front of my car could have said, “But you have to yield” but he might have been saying it on his deathbed.
Here’s the point: So many of us say, “God, you have to ______________” (and you fill in the blank). We even say this based upon God’s proven and unchangeable attributes. But sometimes when we do this, it’s like the pedestrian assuming every driver will yield. There are countless things about which we know nothing affecting situations. And when something doesn’t go the way we think it should, we blame God. Just as there are things going on in the driver’s mind that we don’t understand and will never know, there are things going on in God’s mind that we don’t understand and will never know. So our best plan is to partner with him, following the rules as we know them, and trusting God to do his part. See Isaiah 55:8-9 and look both ways before you cross the street okay?
For the Record
June 26, 2016
Christians love people. We have to. In fact, to consider one’s self a Christian is to make a commitment to love people; all people, even those you might consider your enemy. You cannot finesse that; you cannot explain it away. Try as we might, there’s really no loophole to this. It simply “is what it is.” But it’s not enough to give lip service to loving others. We can say whatever we want to, but it’s most often our actions that speak louder than our words. Right?
I was saddened by the killings not long ago in Orlando. The fact that 49 people died and many others were wounded is tragic. I don’t care if they’re gay, straight, in-between, red, yellow, black, white, or any other color of the rainbow. I’ll still love you if you’re LGBT, OCD, AWOL, or just Type A. I don’t have to tell you that we love people with whom we disagree. If we only loved people who agreed with us on everything, it wouldn’t be long we wouldn’t love ourselves anymore (I disagree with myself from a previous time in my life, don’t you?).
But let me tell you what grieves me almost as much as the death and wounding of so many people in Orlando: the fact that some ignorant “Baptist” “pastor” named Roger Jimenez in Sacramento said he was upset that more people didn’t die. Listen friends, that’s not the heart of Jesus. And for the record, this so-called “preacher” does not represent Christians or Baptists properly. While complex, the issue about the lifestyle of many of those who were killed isn’t the debatable point at all; on this issue the Bible trumpets a clear call. But make no mistake, the Bible also trumpets a clear call about how we’re to love others and how (wait for it . . . it’s politically incorrect to say this I know . . . ) ALL LIVES MATTER! Can I get a witness?
Look, I get the need to preach like a prophet, and I’m all for it. But the true test of a prophet is his accuracy in what he says and Roger Jimenez isn’t truthfully speaking for God at this point. While his belief that homosexuality or sodomy (yes, it’s a biblical word so deal with it) is wrong, it is equally as wrong to be sorrowful that more people in this particular lifestyle (isn’t it easy to be self-righteous when talking about a sin that’s not your own) didn’t die.
So how do we respond to this tragedy? Love people. . . regardless of their lifestyle (they’re confused). Love people . . . regardless of their words (even falsely claiming to speak for God). It’s not an abandonment of our convictions if we love people with whom we disagree; it’s a living illustration of our convictions. A good friend of mine once said it this way . . .
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” –Jesus (John 13:35).
They’re Not the Enemy
June 12, 2016
A little over a week ago thousands of people went to the National Mall for the 2016 Reason Rally. It was billed as the largest-ever national event for atheists, agnostics, and advocates for a radicalized version of the separation of church and state. It was anticipated that some 30,000 people would be in attendance, but the reports indicated attendance fell woefully short of the anticipated number. I watched a portion of interviews with some who were there and it was enlightening (not to be confused with “Enlightenment”). At any rate, there are some misconceptions I think believers have of atheists in general. This struck me as I watched them being interviewed, so let me share a few thoughts about what I noted, and why these observations might be important to us.
1.) Not all atheists are morally bankrupt. I’m not implying that their good works qualify them for “redeemed status”; I’m simply saying there are a lot of atheists who marry, don’t break the law, don’t cheat on their spouses or their taxes, etc. We can debate the merits of why they choose to be law-abiding, etc., but suffice it to say, for whatever reason, many atheists strive to be morally upright people.
2.) Not all atheists believe science has the answers to all of life’s questions. That’s good to know on so many levels; mainly because we know how science is an ever-changing discipline, interpreted by human beings who change their minds often, unlike our Savior Jesus, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
3.) Not all atheists are angry. They’re not all rabid in their hatred toward people of faith. Granted some are, but not all are. I’m grateful Christians have never been hateful toward people who don’t believe like we do, aren’t you? Yes, that’s sarcasm. Neither are all atheists sad. They frame their thinking so they believe this life is “it” and they choose to make the best of it, unconcerned about what happens after death.
4.) Not all atheists are closed to the truth of the gospel. In many cases they’ve not trusted in Jesus because they’ve not been told about Jesus. As Gary Taylor used to say, “We Christians have turned the ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ into ‘The Greatest Story Never Told.’” Some just have never heard; others have heard but because of hypocrisy within believers have surmised the Gospel isn’t all that effective as a change-agent.
I could go on, but the point is this. Atheists aren’t our enemy. They just don’t believe as we do. Satan is the enemy. Our role is to express love and concern to all people with whom we come into contact, whether they believe or not. Love them. Be kind to them. Share Jesus with them. They’re not the enemy. (See 1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
Why a Biblical Worldview Matters
June 5, 2016
A lot of people don’t understand why it’s important to develop, understand, and embrace a biblical worldview. I realize “worldview” is kind of a passé buzzword (as is “buzzword,” but let me finish), but it really does matter. A worldview can be defined as “an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” One thing that makes Christians far different than the rest of the world is that because of our faith we see all of history going somewhere; in other words, there is a “day” coming that we know as the “day of the Lord,” the “consummation of the ages.” We don’t just watch the news to catch up on the day’s events; we watch the news knowing that the day’s events are part of a much larger narrative that is heading a specific direction to the culmination of the complete rule of King Jesus.
Ok, Ken, so what’s your point? My point is that a biblical worldview actually informs our decisions in everyday living. For example, those with a biblical worldview recognize the importance of human life. In no way has our culture’s mixed-up worldview been more evident than in the story of the little boy who climbed a fence and fell into a gorilla enclosure in the Cincinnati Zoo just over a week ago. By now, you likely know that the little three-year-old boy, Isiah Dickerson, was dragged around like a doll by the 400-pound, 17 year-old silverback gorilla named Herambe. After 10 minutes (can you imagine?) of the boy being in the gorilla’s space the dangerous animal team from the zoo fatally shot Herambe, believing it to be the best option for saving the child’s life.
I love animals, but people are created in the image of God (biblical worldview). I am grateful the dangerous animal team was able to rescue the child, even though it forced them to take the life of a beautiful and majestic animal (biblical worldview understands people matter more than spotted owls, rainforests, etc.). The number of people who were saying the zoo should have let “nature take its course” and allow the “survival of the fittest” to determine the outcome is astounding; a little boy against a 400-pound-gorilla? The reason the gorilla is so lauded is because our kids are growing up in a culture that teaches the gorilla is their close ancestor; mom and dad and the rest of us come from a long line of gorillas. Brilliant! So the default response is a willingness to protect the gorilla as much as the little boy. A biblical worldview quickly recognizes that a human being’s life is of greater importance than an animal’s life. The only thing that surprises me about this whole thing is that nobody has been questioning which locker room Herambe should have used, or whether or not he self-identified as a human.
Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College recently noted, “In the last five days 700 refugees drowned off Greece, 9,000 babies were aborted in the U.S., and 68 people were shot in Chicago . . . and a gorilla dominated the news.” See 2 Timothy 3 . . .
When Being United Isn’t Best
May 29, 2016
We Baptists are no strangers to controversy. In fact, in many ways, it has been our insistence on being biblical that has caused us great turmoil, sometimes within our ranks and certainly with the wider so-called Christian family. We are not without our issues as some of our former Southern Baptist Convention entities have drifted from their roots (just google Baylor University football assaults). Beginning back in 1979, our denomination began to undergo what is now famously called “The Conservative Resurgence.” Had that resurgence not occurred, we would be but a blip on the historical radar screen of evangelicalism. Unity is important; but if a group chooses to be united about the wrong things or to the neglect of standing for the right things, unity isn’t preferable. It’s better to divide over truth than unite around falsehood.
The United Methodist Church has 12.7 million members worldwide. In the United States it is the third-largest faith group. Just over a week ago delegates at the Methodist General Conference, meeting in Portland, Oregon, voted 428-405 to delay consideration of LGBT-related proposals. Rather than consider the proposals, delegates created a commission that will spend at least two years reviewing policy on the subject contained in the Methodist Book of Discipline. The end result of the policy perusal should be the development of a plan to address the differences within the denomination. The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. already have abandoned Scripture and approved same-sex marriages. Our United Methodist friends, however, have been able to uphold their policy adopted back in 1972 that says same-gender romantic relations are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The recent meeting contained buzz about a potential breakup into three groups: conservative, centrists, and liberals. A recent survey by the church found 54% of U.S. pastors and “lay people” in leadership roles agreed with the church’s present stand; only 41% of congregational members held to that view. Translated, 59% of church members either had no opinion or felt as if the ban on same-sex marriage should be lifted, according to Rachel Zoll of Associated Press. Troubling to say the least. Rev. Adam Hamilton, who leads Church of the Resurrection, a leading Methodist church based in Leawood, Kansas, estimates that two-thirds of Methodists are centrists who could live with the differences among denominational members. Frankly, that’s troubling, too.
There have been various Methodist pastors I’ve held in high regard. Our community’s current Methodist pastor is a godly man committed to the truth of the Scripture. We should join together with our Methodist friends who are striving to keep their denomination anchored to Word of God and pray that those in positions of leadership will have the spiritual fortitude to “stay the course” and remain committed to the Bible. I pray the United Methodists will be united around the Bible. But if the liberal elements win the day, I pray the godly pastors will cease being “United Methodists” and stay together as “United Biblicists” regardless of whatever they choose to call themselves. See 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-8.
May 8, 2016
My theology hasn’t gone crazy, and I know my mother can’t read this from Heaven. But if I could write a letter to her today,
here’s what I would say . . .
There’s so much I’d like to tell you. You can’t believe all that has happened in just the last several years. Lori is doing well and still has that smile that lights up a room. Both of the boys are doing well; I’ll tell you more in a minute. We’re serving a great church just north of Kansas City. We’re doing what we can to tell the story of Jesus and the people have been open to all kinds of great ministry opportunities. You’d like them; they make pastoring fun again! You’d love the town and the people and I know you would think the stained glass is beautiful, too. You would be happy; they’ve been really good to us.
Zach and Luke are both grown now; it’s really hard to believe and I’m not sure when that happened. It seems like so much of life was taking place just yesterday. Luke still laughs about the time he came down the steps at your house wearing your wig and how much the two of you laughed about that and Zach still remembers the cases of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup you and Dad kept in the pantry for him. They remember the house on Kinder, too, and Kubbie Bear and the tanks (I mean cars) Dad always drove. They both remember. Lori has done a great job of passing along the peanut butter pie recipe to them, too.
You would be proud of them, I know. And I know you’d worry . . . and pray. Luke is in law enforcement. He’s a full-time sheriff’s deputy in a neighboring county and a part-time police officer in our community. Police officers these days are (pardon the pun) “under the gun” (but I’ll save that subject for another time, Mom). Zach drives a delivery truck and he’s married now to a wonderful young lady named Chloe. They have the most beautiful daughter named Ryann. You would want to squeeze her little cheeks! Most importantly, you’d be glad to know they’re making sure Ryann has the opportunity to know Jesus.
You wouldn’t believe how crazy the world has become. That verse you taught me from Isaiah 5, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,” has unfortunately come in handy the last few years. Thanks for loving me enough to tell me about Jesus. He’s the only hope we have. I’m sure Heaven is awesome; probably great peanut butter pie, huh? While I’m happy for you, I miss you. Today is Mother’s Day and I wish I could tell you one more time how much I love you. But . . . I’m pretty sure you know.
I Have a Confession to Make . . .
May 1, 2016
Relax . . . it’s not the kind of confession that will get me on the evening news. I probably shouldn’t say, “I have a confession to make.” Maybe I should say, “I have a confession to share.” But it’s a different kind of confession; it’s our confession-al statement as Baptists. I won’t take your time with all the details, but suffice it to say, Southern Baptist Convention churches have had some basic confessional statements as part of their history. This includes the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, a 1925 Baptist Faith & Message, a 1963 Baptist Faith & Message, and our latest, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. Why so many? Simple. Times have changed and the way we reflect what we believe to a changing world has to be clarified with different generations. In 1833 and 1925 and even 1963 ideas about gay “marriage” or legalized abortion or the acceptance of changing one’s gender weren’t on the horizon. By 2000, that had all changed.
So I bring this up to simply remind us of something very important: the Bible speaks to the hot-button issues of our day. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not an archaic, dusty collection of writing that brings no real light to bear upon the enlightened intelligentsia of our era; quite the contrary! The Bible is vitally important in order for humankind to grasp how we’re to live in a way that pleases our Creator. If we want to know God, the Bible is of primary importance. If we want to know how to live, the Bible is of primary importance. Please understand, as our Baptist Faith & Message 2000 notes, our forefathers recognized that any Baptist confessional statement should not be regarded as “having any quality of finality or infallibility . . . the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” Confessions are “statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.” So, not only does the Bible speak to these issues, but for centuries Baptists have extrapolated precepts from the Scriptures to speak clearly to our society about the various issues of our day.
So when someone says (about today’s current debate), “Gender isn’t such a big deal,” we should know that Baptists believe to the contrary. In fact, our Baptist Faith & Message 2000 states that “The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” We say this based on what Moses wrote in Genesis 2:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” I realize there are those who struggle with gender dysphoria and there are “intersex” individuals (see the excellent article by Dr. Paul McHugh on my Dr. Ken Parker Facebook page), but rather than aid these individuals in harming themselves, society should seek to resolve the psychosocial conflicts involved and not assume that one’s self-reporting of gender (especially if one’s physique demonstrates otherwise) is tantamount to being “right.” In other words, gender is a gift from God not to be abandoned.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16a ESV). Either it is and we follow or it isn’t and we are to be pitied above all.
The Intolerance of the Tolerant
April 24, 2016
Baseball great Curt Schilling was fired recently from ESPN because he wrote, “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves,” and “Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.” We can debate a lot of different things about this scenario, I’m sure. In fact, the fact that ESPN fired him isn’t really the big deal in my mind. ESPN is a company that has the right to have their employees follow their company’s social media policy and/or publicly reflect the company’s “values.” What bothers me is the fact that so many people think Curt Schilling is wrong. I don’t know all he said. He may have said a lot of other very offensive things. I’ve been told his Facebook meme was the last straw. But at the end of it all, in defending what he said, Schilling said this: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves,” and “Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.” I’m not bucking for another job myself, but even if it costs me my job I’d have to say I agree with Mr. Schilling on the aforementioned quote.
Bear in mind, this is the same group that awarded Bruce Jenner/Caitlynn Jenner the “woman of the year” award, which if I were a woman (which I’m not, neither do I self-identify as one, nor do I plan to use a women’s restroom anytime soon) would be highly offensive to me. Bruce Jenner knows what it’s like to live in a mental state of confusion (and for this I’m very sorry for him), but he doesn’t know what it’s really like to be a woman. He knows only what it’s like to dress like a woman, pretend to act like a woman (at some level), and take hormones and have some procedures (not fully transitioning) that make him appear to be a woman. And Curt Schilling is the one branded crazy because he thinks “a man is a man no matter what they call themselves.” The irony, however in all this is the fact that in the name of “tolerance” a company fired a man because others were “intolerant” of his views. I kind of liked the world better when I knew which bathroom to use, not to mention which one my kids would be using. Has the world gone mad? Yes. Yes, they have. But here again, this should come as no surprise to us.
From the “sexual revolution” to the Roe v. Wade debacle, to changing the definition of marriage that has been held since time began, this new phase isn’t a stretch. Get ready for it. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, there is an agenda at work here. And the agenda is to undermine everything that demonstrates civility, common sense, freedom, and certainly religious liberty. But don’t fret; we knew these days would be coming, right? And we also know who is coming back, right?
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV)
Keeping the Endgame in Mind
April 17, 2016
It’s related to a chess match but the term Endgame is defined as “the stage of a chess game after a major reduction of forces” or “the final stage of some action or process.” We typically use it to describe the latter scenario; the final stage or process. I want to encourage you as believers this morning. Here’s my encouraging word to you: We have to keep the “endgame” in mind. It’s easy to get distracted by so much going on these days; things that are troublesome and mostly out of our control.
I’m sure you’ve been following the news about the use public bathrooms. What our forefathers called common sense (males using a public restroom for males and females using a public restroom for women) today’s culture calls discrimination. If you’re a man but you self-identify as a woman many in our culture say you can use the women’s restroom. This is not rocket science friends. In any other area of life this so-called “logic” would be shot down.
If I show up at NASA headquarters tomorrow and say “I’ve been a pastor a lot of years but now I self-identify as a rocket scientist,” do you think they’ll let me in? I play golf as often as I possibly can but I’ve never shot a round under par. If I show up at Augusta National and say, “Look, I’m a weekend golfer but now I self-identify as a pro,” do you think they would have let me play?
And what makes this even sadder is that Bruce Springsteen has a better chance to affect public policy than most any trained theologian. And Springsteen isn’t as dangerous as the Pope these days. That’s our world. But it’s ok. We Christians have to keep the “endgame” in mind. We’re in a lot of darkness these days, but listen, morning is coming. We’re experiencing a lot of chaos these days, but listen, peace is coming. There are a lot of people who don’t like the demands of Jesus. There are a lot of people who don’t like those of us who choose to accept the demands of Jesus. Now I think we ought to do what we can to protect our religious liberties, but keep the “endgame” in mind.
We can get all wound up about all that’s going on and wring our hands in fear or we can live for Jesus, be faithful to share Jesus, and realize, frankly, the rest of the world is just . . . wrong! They won’t know that today or tomorrow. But sadly, someday, they’ll know it: All along they were wrong.
“. . . so at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 ESV).
April 10, 2016
I know you can’t read this yet and in fact you don’t even need to, but I need to write it. There’s something about a baby’s birth that brings a sense of optimism and hope to the world. Maybe that’s one reason our world is so pessimistic; in our country the way your “class” (babies) has been treated is shameful, so maybe we’re just missing the hope babies bring to our world. I don’t know. I can’t imagine how I would feel if you hadn’t been allowed to be born. In just over a week you’ve already brought such joy to your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and the rest of your family. It sounds kind of funny, but you really haven’t done anything except make baby noises, and open your eyes every once in a while in between those monster naps that make your grandpa really jealous. But you’re here and already bring such joy!
Your grandma (not sure what you’re going to call her just yet) is already smitten with you. Having raised two sons, this “girl-thing” is a whole new experience for us and we love it. We’re grateful that your mom and dad are going to take you to church with them. We think that’s really important. You’ll come to understand just how important that is to us and your other grandparents the older you get. And, just like we did when we all gathered around you the first time we met, I continue to pray that as you grow up and learn about Jesus you’ll believe in Him. That really gives me great hope for the future. There’s a lot going on in the world right now. There are some things that I fear. I know, I probably shouldn’t tell you that because for a while you might think grown-ups aren’t afraid of anything. I could tell you I’m afraid about the world I’ll be leaving you, the political climate, terrorism, immorality, health care, retirement issues, and on and on. But let’s not worry about that now, ok? Your biggest worry is eating, being changed, and how long to nap. And that’s just the way it should be because somehow that makes the rest of us think less about things that are out of our control and think more about people we love.
Listen carefully now, ok? Your dad is going to tell you all kinds of things about me that aren’t true. He’s liable to tell you I was tough on him at times or that I told him I walked to school uphill in the snow. He might tell you I cry easily. Who knows? He might even tell you I believe what a lot of us believe: Grandkids are God’s gift to people who didn’t kill their own kids during their teenage years, even when it was justified. When you do something wrong (which I can’t imagine that ever happening) he’s going to say, “If I had done that when I was a kid, my dad would have . . .” Don’t believe him! Although he’s younger than I am, his memory is fuzzy sometimes. Anyway, Ryann, I believe you are God’s little gift to us. And because you’re here I’m even more optimistic than usual. I’ve got to go now; Grandma wants to go shopping . . . for you . . . again . . . I love you! By the way are you left or right-handed? I’ve got my eye on some golf clubs . . .
“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged . . .” (Proverbs 17:6a ESV).
Power in the Blood
April 3, 2016
Last week I read an interesting article in a periodical published by Pure Life Ministries that told the story of a young man by the name of Dan Leach. Like many people, it seems that Dan was able to hold on to and cover up his sin . . . for a while. I won’t ask for a show of hands but I suspect we can all understand something of that kind of human behavior; the idea of protecting “self” resonates with us, although we’re reticent to admit it. Once a friend of mine was caught in a lie as he was trying to cover up his marital infidelity. After the truth came to light someone said, “I can’t believe he would do that.” I said, “I can. It’s the default mode of humanity; self-protection.” Can I get a witness? I’m not saying it’s right but typically right after the first sin comes the second sin (which is usually lying to cover up the first).
Dan Leach “methodically and meticulously” carried out the murder of his 19-year-old girlfriend. Believing she was pregnant with his baby, Leach killed his girlfriend and manipulated the crime scene in an attempt to make her murder look like a suicide. Rather than taking responsibility for two lives he chose to take two lives instead. It reminds me of the old preacher’s adage: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Touché! And we hear a tragic story like this and say, “It could never happen to me.” I would simply say sin is no respecter of persons and you might be amazed at how easily we can give in if we don’t continually guard our heart and walk with Jesus.
Dan Leach watched a movie one day that changed his life; or rather the subject of the movie changed his life. After viewing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Leach became convicted about his sin. He later said he desperately “wanted redemption.” Overwhelmed by the theme of the movie, Leach felt his only alternative was to confess. And this he did immediately. He said he couldn’t stand to live another day under the weight of his crime.
The odds are most of us won’t have a portfolio of sin that would include murder. But the principle is the same: There is power in the blood! The same blood that makes forgiveness for my sins possible and forgiveness for your sins possible makes Dan Leach’s forgiveness possible, too. That’s powerful! I don’t want to get into a sin-ranking discussion, but suffice it to say if Christ’s blood is powerful enough to make a cold-blooded killer justified, and it is (Dan Leach and The Apostle Paul), it’s powerful enough for all the other sins we can think of, as well. In fact, here’s a sobering thought: Jesus endured the Cross not only for what people call “big sins” but for every sin. That means Jesus’s death on the Cross was just as necessary for my sins (and no, I’m not confessing this morning) as it was for Dan Leach’s sin of murder. In reality, my sin is no better.
“. . . and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22b ESV).
Pay Attention to Jesus
March 27, 2016
A couple of weeks ago, as we’ve been studying the Gospel of Matthew on Sunday mornings, we looked at Matthew 11:19. The last sentence of the verse records the words of Jesus as follows: “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” In other words, “the proof is in the pudding,” as we might say today. Real wisdom will give birth to positive, helpful actions. Real wisdom changes us and causes us to help others change through the positive, life-giving truth of the gospel (good news) of Jesus. So today we celebrate Easter. Christians all around the world will gather for worship; they will sing and pray and give and learn from the Bible. And most importantly, they (we) take the time to honor Jesus for his death on the Cross and for his resurrection. Because he died, we don’t have to be separated from God for all of eternity. He died in our place (what theologians refer to as the “substitutionary atonement”).
I know that each year a lot of people, even people marginally associated with a church, will attend worship on Easter. They’ll give Jesus the nod for the day and then too many of us just go back to business as usual. That’s not life changing at all! And Jesus came to change people’s lives! The event we celebrate today (resurrection after Jesus’ dying on the Cross) changes everything! The real question is, “Have you let it change you?” People say, “I don’t want to get involved with a church. There are too many hypocrites in the church.” And they’re right. In fact, we’re all hypocrites to some degree and we’re confessing as much when we choose to come to church. We know we need forgiveness from sin; that’s why we’re here! So my point is this: PAY ATTENTION TO JESUS! Every follower of Jesus will let you down at some point. Every church corporately will sometimes miss the mark. Every religious institution or movement has its shortcomings but Jesus . . . well, Jesus doesn’t!
I’m grateful for the Church. The Church has followed the commands of Jesus and we’ve sought to teach, preach, educate, and heal our broken world through the centuries. That’s why Christians have been so involved with the Church (teaching/preaching), the establishment of various schools and universities (education), as well as orphanages and hospitals (healing). We haven’t always “gotten it right,” but we’ve tried. And frankly, that’s more than all the naysayers against the Church have done. But forget about us: PAY ATTENTION TO JESUS! He lived a perfect life. He died a substitutionary death. He was raised from the dead, and one day you and I will stand before Him. He is either your Lord or your Judge and you get to decide. I know a lot of people are against the Church these days and they say we’re wrong. But think about it . . . what if we’re right?
If you’ve never believed in Jesus, I would encourage you to do so today. The Bible simply says, “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV). In other words, pay attention to Jesus . . .
March 13, 2016
Evangelicals are a funny lot in so many ways. In some cases evangelicals will fight for the Bible, argue about the Bible, demand that the Bible be read in school or its verses posted in public places. Sometimes evangelicals are willing to do most anything . . . except actually read the Bible! Does anyone else find that disconcerting?
I’ve found through the years that sometimes what I would call “relaxed reading” is the best in terms of comprehension. Let me explain. Since the plan this year is to read the New Testament through four times (once every three months), we have the chance to digest different things from the biblical text each time we read it. Sometimes when I study the Bible, I have a tendency to “miss the forest for the trees,” as they say. In other words, I’m so focused on trying to understand a verse or a phrase or a word that I easily miss the “big picture” of what God is communicating.
For example, let’s say you’re reading Luke 15. My tendency is to dissect each parable; the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I can fixate on the details of each account, seeking to squeeze out all the meaning I possibly can (that’s a hazard of my job). While that may be fine, if I’m not careful to read the “big picture,” I’ll neglect to see that these three parables are connected: something very valuable is lost and whatever is needed to “find” that which is lost is what the characters in each parable will do. Make sense?
By reading the New Testament through four times this year, we can vary the way in which we read. This is where the “relaxed reading” concept comes in. At least one of the four times you read the New Testament, as counter-intuitive as this may sound, don’t mark a thing! Just read. Read the books like you would read a book. Don’t do any cross-referencing. Don’t try to see what Matthew says about that similar text you find in Mark, etc. Just read. For some reason, sometimes this kind of “relaxed reading” (no pens, highlighters, Bible dictionaries, notepads, etc.) allows us to be immersed in the full text and gain an understanding of the “big picture,” even if there are little pieces of the textual puzzle we don’t fully understand.
We’ll never let the Word work in our lives if we don’t read it. We’ll never share the Word with others if we don’t read it for ourselves. The Word will never be “stored up” in our lives if we don’t read it. So . . . just read!
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”
(Psalm 119:11 ESV).
No Big Surprise
February 28, 2016
The Bible is right. The Bible is right about a lot of things. In fact, I think the Bible is right about everything. For people of faith, that’s really no big surprise, is it? From time to time some “expert” in one of many “fields” will determine that he/she has discovered something to disprove what the Bible has said. Funny thing . . . these instances of the Bible being “wrong” never stick. Let me say that again, “Never.” They never stick. Did I say “Never”? Don’t misread me; the Bible isn’t a human physiology book or a science text or a philosophical tome; it’s a book that tells the story of God. One of the greatest quotes I ever received while in seminary came from my Old Testament professor, Dr. Al Bean (he is a human Christian version of Star Wars’ Yoda that we affectionately called the “Baptist monk”). Students were trying to placate the professor by offering deep insights as to the nature of the Holy Scriptures. They were waxing eloquently about all kinds of facets of the Bible’s beauty and the unbelievable entanglements of his highest creation: man. Dr. Bean finally said, “Class. . . don’t miss this! The Bible is a book about God.” But I digress.
I love to laugh. I really do. In fact, if I feel myself dropping into some inner darkness for whatever reason, I seek out something that will make laugh. I find humor in a lot of situations. Most things that are supposed to make people laugh don’t make me laugh. I think I could sit through most movies that are comedies (I’ve seen maybe five in my whole life) and never crack a smile. But put me on a golf course with people I like or around the kitchen table with good friends and I can quickly be transported to “laughter heaven.”
Robert Provine, in an article on laughter for Psychology Today (stay with me) noted “The irresistibility of others’ laughter has its roots in the neurological mechanism of laugh detection.” He explains how the brain responds to laughter via an auditory laugh detector, much like we experience “contagious yawning” (when someone else yawns and we see it, we have the sudden urge to yawn). Provine also notes some things related to the placement of laughter in our conversations; it usually is at a phrase break and not mid-sentence. He doesn’t explore the healing properties of laughter, and doesn’t mention anything of what the Bible says about it. I hope you’ve had (like I have) moments in life when your laughter was uncontrollable. That is one of the most beautiful human experiences . . . to share joy and frivolity with other people.
I think there are a lot of emotions we can fake, but I don’t think we can do very well at faking laughter. When life is hectic and challenging, it seems very few things can do more to lift our spirits than enjoying the company of others and experiencing laughter together. And again, I remind us . . . the Bible is right. No Big Surprise.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV).
Looking Past the Weekend
February 14, 2016
One of the challenges we seem to have in our nation these days is that policies are set, laws are passed, and changes made without “looking past the weekend.” What I mean is that many of our leaders (in both parties) have the tendency to embrace concepts without fully considering their long-term ramifications. Our culture in general is doing the same thing. Nobody seems to be looking past the weekend.
For example, the country applauds when Bruce Jenner, a celebrated male athlete determines he’s actually a woman trapped in a man’s body and decides to “transition” (although his body parts would still be identified as “male”). He’s given the “woman of the year” award and everybody lifts a glass in his honor; never mind the fact that he was born as a male and still possesses male body parts. But since he identifies as a woman, the culture says he is. I’d like to now self-identify as a multi-millionaire pro-golfer. Wait for it . . . wait for it.
Fast forward just a bit. Since gender is viewed as a disposable commodity, now it’s been determined that women (as in your daughters and wives) are eligible for combat in the United States Armed Forces. Translated: If they’re eligible for combat and a draft is ever instituted again, they will be eligible for the draft, as well. Please understand Christians believe God created male and female and they are both equally valuable, but equipped with different physiques and overall constitutions that make one gender more suitable to some tasks than others. That’s not sexist for me to state this; it’s biblical. In fact, our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reminds us that, “The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation” (Article III). Read the whole document for the full biblical rationale for that statement.
Among others, Marine Commander General Neller has vocally opposed the Obama’s administration’s declarations in this regard. The Marine Corps adamantly opposed the Obama Administration’s desire to add women to the Marine Corps combat units. The Administration continues this push even after extensive tests were conducted which showed that women were not as capable in combat roles as men. Again, no one is saying men are more valuable or superior; it’s just that men and women are different.
As Grant Castleberry aptly notes, “The Christian worldview offers something so much better than gender-neutral experiments. The church constituted in the name of a self-sacrificial savior calls men to lay down their lives for women and children. We men gladly put ourselves on the line because we are following our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificially laid down his life for his people.” It’s time to be looking past the weekend, don’t you think?
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV).
What Faith Is Really All About
February 7, 2016
His name is Mike. He lives with his wife of forty some-odd years outside of St. Louis. He’s been my friend since 1987 when I, as a twenty-one-year-old kid, started serving the church he had grown up attending. Mike and his wife have visited our church a few times through the years when they’ve been traveling through Kansas City. He sang in an ensemble I directed for eight years. We rehearsed every Tuesday night from 7:00-9:30 with the group we called Assurance. Together we sang in our church and in many other churches and venues around the state. I liked him immediately and for 13 years we were part of the same church; sharing life at many levels.
We’ve talked about Jesus, the church, family life, politics, classic cars, and firearms.
Mike is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He doesn’t care much what people think about him; he wears cowboy boots with suits. He is a man of con-viction as well as compassion. Now, while only in his early 60’s, barring a miracle from God, he’s been told cancer will take him within six months. He’s a tough guy; a real “man’s man.” He’s the kind of guy that would have hung out with Marshal Dillon in Dodge City. Mike has been a sheriff’s depu-ty since he was in his early twenties, and has a great track record in his field.
He called me the other night to plan his funeral. I know you know this, but pastors aren’t robots; we have feelings and I have to tell you it was a hard conversation for me personally. I hurt for Mike and his family. And frankly, I hurt for me. But he reiterated on the phone what he told me several weeks ago. He said, “Ken, I trusted in Jesus as a little boy and I’m not about to quit trusting him now. In fact, I’m sure my faith in Jesus is stronger right now than ever before in my life.” “When the time comes,” he said, “I want you to talk and I also want you to sing It is Well with My Soul because for me it is.” And then he said, “I’m fine. I know where I’m going and after all, isn’t this what faith is really all about?”
It’s easy to have faith when the news is good, the economy is strong, and your family is healthy. But we desperately need faith when it comes to matters of life and death. Seldom does an atheist appear courageous in death. You never hear an unbeliever speak of death in nonchalant ways, do you? There’s usually an angry edge or at the very least, a sense of disbelief (“How could this happen to me?”). Yet, for believers, we know it’s coming but we know where we’re going. It still hurts, but when a Christian dies it’s different. Mike knows God hasn’t let him down. I hope when my time comes I’m still trusting Jesus fully. That is, after all, what faith is really all about.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
Using Your Influence
January 31, 2016
About twenty years ago in the dead of winter I was at a mall in St. Louis on my day off. My winter routine back then was to take a book and sit in the St. Louis Bread Company (better known as Panera everywhere else in the world), drink coffee and read; I know I live on “the edge.” I met some interesting characters back in those days; most notably the chief weather person at one of the St. Louis network TV stations, and a TV preacher named Joyce Meyer. In fairness to Joyce Meyer, she was very friendly and to be quite candid I have only one issue with her: what she teaches is often unbiblical. But I digress.
After several cups of coffee and several chapters of Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf, I made my way to . . . the bookstore in the mall. There I was met by a nice young guy (I was young then, too) who struck up a conversation with me that included talk about golf, family, politics, and faith. Everything was fine until he asked for my phone number and told me he’d like to talk about my future. I pressed him for where he was headed with this and he eventually told me he was an Amway distributor. He told me that as a pastor I would be in a perfect position to help young couples experience financial security by getting them to buy into the Amway “way.” Charles Stanley did it, he told me (which turned out to be true), and other pastors, as well, had used their influence to move people Amway’s direction.
Not surprisingly, I turned down the offer. I’m not anti-Amway per se, but I’m loathe to use my influence, whatever little bit I may have, to promote things other than Jesus and maybe the Waffle House occasionally. While I think that it is important for me as a pastor to carefully steward my influence, I think that’s important for all believers. This is just one reason (among many) that I think it’s detrimental for Christians to cling to anything political as the next “hope of the world.”
While I feel very confident and comfortable in telling you that I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, etc., I’m not going to be telling you who to vote for any time soon. While I’d enjoy talking politics with you (for about 5 minutes or less), I’m much more enthusiastic talking about Jesus with you. And frankly, that’s where I want to spend my effort and energy. Don’t misread me; I watch the debates, I have strong opinions, and typically I think there’s one candidate that more closely reflects my values. But God isn’t a donkey or an elephant and I’m called to pray for whoever is in authority over me: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV).
I’ll leave you with the words of Jim Eliff who said, “My first criterion for a political officer is some kind of genuine fear of God, without which we can have no expectation of wisdom.”
Fourthly and Finally . . . Philippians 1:3
January 17, 2016
Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Obviously, I’m not an apostle like Paul and God didn’t use me to write any of the New Testament. But when I read what Paul wrote about people he loved and served, I wholeheartedly agree. I thank God every time I remember you. I’m grateful for the encouraging words, the handshakes, the hugs, and the conversations. Most of all, thank you for inviting us into sacred spaces in your life.
Last Sunday morning and evening as we had the opportunity to reflect on ten years of ministry together, I was deeply moved for so many reasons. We have experienced a lot of things together, and it’s been a time of great joy and great learning. We’ve come a long way in our relationship since that very first time Lori and I walked into the church building to be greeted by the pastor search committee. We’re grateful for all of you.
Again, let me say thanks to our staff, all of our deacons with whom I’ve served, the various ministry teams and committees; you’ve been a blessing! Again, thank you to the pastor search committee who believed in me. Special thanks to our Personnel Committee for the anniversary fellowship. Lori and I were deeply touched. I especially have to say thank you for the thoughtfulness related to having my writings published in the book, Fourthly and Finally. Preachers are typically never at a loss for words (like I’m telling you something you don’t already know), but receiving that gift last Sunday night, I came pretty close. I can’t believe how thoughtful that was!
The book is such a blessing in so many ways to me. First, I’m deeply honored that anybody would think anything I’ve written should be made available in print to more people. That’s humbling. Secondly, reading through the articles allowed me to take a more in-depth stroll down this memory lane we’ve been walking together. Thirdly, I’m grateful that I will have something in print to give to my kids and granddaughter (coming in April) that reflects my heart and views about the world and its Creator. Fourthly and finally (pun intended), having the book will be a constant reminder of the beautiful first ten years we’ve spent together. Like Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” and the book will certainly help me do that.
Maybe I should call the next book, “In Conclusion.” Nah! Nobody ever believes a preacher when he says that, right?
You’re a Blessing!
Liberty for Us, Too
January 10, 2016
Unless you attended a Baptist university or seminary, you probably have not had occasion to spend a whole lot of time studying Baptist history. There are all kinds of fascinating things to learn about Baptists, but let me take this space to tell you about just one of them. Baptists have been champions of religious liberty from the beginning of our history. The reason is because Baptists had to fight government intervention to be able to practice our faith according to our understanding of Scripture. This is why when America was founded the issue of “Separation of Church and State” was stressed as such a big deal; our founding fathers had lived under the hand of a married church/state system and wanted Americans to have the freedom to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and avoid governmental interference.
Military chaplains are being told they can’t speak of Jesus and pastors are being threatened if they speak the truth about marriage. I won’t belabor the point but suffice it to say, we need to take a stand for religious liberty. The Coalition on Religious Liberty has put together a petition and I encourage you to sign it. Here is part of it:
We unite with thousands of our fellow Missourians, of all faith traditions and with many who hold to no such tradition, in the conviction that if the liberty of any is deprived to live and worship according to the dictates of conscience or to refuse to bow the knee in worship, then the liberty of all is diminished.
Please take the time to stop by the computer station in the Fireside Lobby. It will take less than a minute for you to sign the petition electronically. Helpers are available there to make sure you’re able to sign it if you’d like. Join us in doing what we can to defend the religious liberty of all Missourians. If you’re unable to sign here, you can go to mobaptist.org. The petition can be accessed in the lower left corner of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s website.
November 29, 2015
Why Another Offering?
We’re a part of a “missions-minded church” in a “missions-minded denomination.” Our International Mission Board oversees the work of our international missionaries. In addition to helping with basic salary, housing, education, and transportation needs for our missionaries and providing missionaries with Bibles and gospel videos or other technology tools to distribute, the Lottie Moon Christmas offering also helps with the following:
Job Training – one way missionaries get access to areas closed to the gospel is by providing skills and job training.
Deaf Leader Training – missionaries train deaf believers so they can take the gospel in sign language to their friends and families.
Refugee Assistance – missionaries help refugees displaced by war and ethnic cleansing. They help with hot meals, diapers, sleeping mats, and a small heater for a family’s home.
Church Planting – Missionaries help local believers become trained in how to begin and sustain and multiply new churches.
Medical Supplies – missionaries provide medical resources to unreached people groups who don’t have healthcare.
Here’s another great reason to give: 100% of your gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering go to support missionaries and their ministries. Last year they reported:
1.75 million people heard a gospel witness
275,000 became new believers.
14,000 new churches and 4,000 new groups were formed
21,000 leaders were trained to start new churches
444,263 nationals met in ongoing Bible studies
It’s a privilege to be part of such a large missions endeavor. Thank you for sacrificially giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It is making a difference in eternity!
Psalm 96:3 – “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”
November 15, 2015
Ultimatums . . . or Else!
I’m not in a position to debate the recent actions that have occurred on the campus of the University of Missouri, but I do think there are some important questions for us to ask. I don’t know the former President or Chancellor. I don’t know the head football coach. I don’t know any of the young men who play football for the university. I do know that while ultimatums may accomplish their intended goals, unless they’re from God, ultimatums in any form can be a slippery slope, even if they periodically achieve their purposes. Is it ever healthy to give students that much influence over an entire university administration or was there a better way that would have dealt with the issues but avoided the slippery slope? Would the ultimatum have had the same effect if it didn’t affect the “bottom line”? I don’t have the answers; I’m just asking the questions. I’m not judging the guys or their motives but I do think it’s noteworthy that there are other facets to be considered when it comes to issuing ultimatums. So read the rest of this . . . or else . . .
According to ESPN News the University of Missouri did not investigate or tell law enforcement officials about the alleged rape of Sasha Menu Courey, reportedly by one or more members of the university’s football team, despite the fact that administrators were informed of the incident that allegedly occurred in 2010. Courey, a member of the swim team, committed suicide in 2011. According to Courey’s journal, she shared her secret with a campus nurse, two doctors, and an athletic department administrator. Where was the outrage? Where were the ultimatums? Did anybody go on a hunger strike to see that this young woman received justice?
According to Missouri Life News Mizzou has recently taken their long-standing relationship with Planned Parenthood deeper. Dr. Marjorie Sable, a Department Director of the School of Social Work at MU (who serves as the Secretary of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri) is “acting as an advisor to a student involved in a study that will provide information to Planned Parenthood on how to increase their return of clients for abortions after the 72 hour reflection period.” Your tax dollars at work. Where is the outrage? Where are the ultimatums? How about a hunger strike? I do have the answer to these questions: Our country thinks racism is “bad,” sexism is “less-bad,” and the taking of innocent life is “not bad at all.”
So let me remind you of an ultimatum a good Jewish friend of mine once issued. It’s the only answer to the chaos on a college campus, in a home, and in the human heart and it’s for everybody: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17b).
October 25, 2015
A Perspective on Heroes
I think everybody needs a hero, don’t you? Dr. Steve Brown (one of my heroes incidentally), used to say, “Make sure all your heroes are dead; that way they’ll never disappoint you.” Time certainly does have a way of taking the sting out of our heroes’ shortfalls, but Dr. Brown’s statement might be a bit drastic. At any rate, just last week I was privileged to participate in the dedication of the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary. Most every preacher I know has read Spurgeon, quoted Spurgeon, and in some ways probably envied Spurgeon. To say he was a giant of the faith would be an understatement. If I gave you statistical data alone related to his ministry you would be overwhelmed. Spurgeon, also known as the “Prince of Preachers,” was the greatest Baptist preacher in history. He is my hero, and I’m not alone in that assessment. Let me just share a few things Spurgeon said that has caused so many Christians to be enamored with him for decades:
“The faith which does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit.”
“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”
"If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
“Life and death and eternity and worlds unknown may hang on the preaching and hearing of one sermon.”
Every once in a while I allow myself to despair because when I read Spurgeon (among others) I’m struck by white-hot spirituality, keen intellect, ability to articulate, immense vocabulary, and the list goes on. Spurgeon is my hero. I know I’ll never be C. H. Spurgeon but I confess sometimes I wish I could have that kind of intellect and influence. Maybe I need a different perspective on heroes.
Last week at the dedication ceremony for The Spurgeon Library we had the opportunity to hear from some of Spurgeon’s descendants. His great-great-granddaughter said something that changed my perspective (and I paraphrase): “Spurgeon was a great man. But while he was a great man let’s not lose sight of the fact that he was a great man because he had a great God.”
That sure seems like a good perspective to me . . .
October 15, 2015
Dr. Ken Parker grew up just outside of St. Louis in Cahokia, Illinois (where he could see the St. Louis Gateway Arch from his street). He became a follower of Jesus at the age of seven during Vacation Bible School and began sensing a call to vocational ministry during his last year of high school. He attended Southern Illinois
University at Edwardsville and graduated from Missouri Baptist College with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Vocal Performance and Church Music (‘88). He went on to earn a Master of Divinity (‘95), Doctor of Ministry (‘02), and Master of Arts in Counseling (‘13) from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He currently serves as the First-Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees and as an adjunct professor at the seminary.
Pastor Ken served churches as an associate pastor through college and seminary and served two churches as a senior pastor before planting a church in 2002. He and his wife, Lori (married since 1988) came to serve First Baptist Church in January 2006. They have two sons, Zach (23) and Luke (21) who both reside in the Kansas City area.
Dr. Parker loves golfing and is an avid baseball fan (rooting for two teams from both side of the state ). His favorite preaching heroes are Dr. Adrian Rogers, Charles Spurgeon, Dr. Steve Brown, and Alistair Begg. His favorite baseball player is Lou Brock of the St Louis Cardinals, who he was able to meet a couple of years ago when he golfed in the Lou Brock Classic. Pastor Ken currently serves as the President of the Clay-Platte Baptist Association and the First Vice-President of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
September 27, 2015
Special Guests and Special Opportunities
This morning we’re pleased to have as our special guest Dr. Tony Preston. Dr. Preston is the Director of Missions of the Clay-Platte Baptist Association (of which we’re a part) and a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Kansas City. He is finishing his first year leading our association. In addition to pastoral ministry experience, he has been a professor for many years (including MBTS and Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar). Dr. Preston has served many churches (including ours) as a very effective and strategic interim pastor.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Dr. Tony and Brenda Preston for ten years now. They are a wonderful encouragement to me, to our church, and to many pastors and their families around the country. More important to me than all of his “official duties” is the fact that I get to call Dr. Preston “friend.” He brings a scholar’s mind and a pastor’s heart to the task of preaching and I know you will hear him gladly and be blessed!
I’m thankful that so many of you remind me often of your prayers for me and my family. I covet your prayers today as I have the opportunity to preach for the first time at the Maplewood Park Baptist Church in Cahokia, Illinois. Maplewood Park is the church I attended growing up. I had the privilege of being baptized there, and I’m grateful for the healthy “home church” experiences I had as a child and adolescent. The church is hosting a reunion/homecoming of sorts and I am honored to have been invited to preach there this morning among people who had tremendous influence over my formative years in the faith. I was eighteen years old when I left there to begin vocational ministry. Suffice it to say, the people there hold a special place in my heart.
This evening I’m preaching at the First Baptist Church of Washington, Missouri for the 125th Anniversary of the Franklin County Baptist Association. I was part of the association there while serving at First Baptist Church of Union, Missouri for thirteen years. There I made lifelong friendships, met Lori, married, graduated from college and then seminary. While preaching here each week is certainly my greatest honor, it is a great privilege to preach to a gathering of fellow Baptists for such an important event in their history.
Thank you for praying! I look forward to being back with you next week.
September 20, 2015
The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail
We’re all familiar (I hope) with the text of Scripture in Matthew 16:18 that reminds us in no uncertain terms that the church universal will survive. Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Those are certainly reassuring words in the uncertain era in which we live. Last Sunday night I happened to be watching TV when I caught a brief segment on “60 Minutes” about Christians in Iraq.
The reporter noted: “There are few places on earth where Christianity is as old as it is in Iraq. Christians there trace their history to the first century apostles. But today, their existence has been threatened by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. More than 125,000 Christians -- men, women and children -- have been forced from their homes over the past year. The Islamic State -- or ISIS -- stormed into Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, just over a year ago and took control. From there, it pushed into the neighboring villages and towns across this region, known as the Nineveh Plains, a vast area that's been home to Christians since the first century after Christ.
As it seeks to erase Christianity from the landscape, the Islamic state allows no Christian symbols. And nothing is sacred. ISIS blew up this mosque just over a month after taking here -- it's a site holy to both Christians and Muslims because the Old Testament prophet Jonah was said to be buried inside. Just like the Nazis marked the property of Jews, Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It's the Arabic letter N - for Nasara - an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax or face the sword.”
There are Christians around the world, and certainly the “western world” who don’t give much thought to our brothers and sisters in far flung lands such as Iraq, but we should. What has been happening to the church universal around the world ought to make us weep. And when our brothers and sisters in another region weep over the plight they’re facing, we ought to taste salt.
We have to pay attention to the world scene. Don’t sell all your stuff and go hide out in an underground bunker, but rather boldly proclaim your faith that Jesus is Lord! While local churches and even Christian groups of all stripes will come and go you can take comfort in knowing the “gates of hell shall not prevail” against the church. We may be martyred in the process and we’ll certainly lose prominence in our country but rest assured Jesus will take care of His bride. As Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf said of the current atrocities in Iraq, “They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.”
That sure seems like a good perspective to me . . .
September 6, 2015
The Power of Connections
One day a week or so ago, the intercom rang in my study and I was told a man named Mark Cato was on the line. I haven’t talked to Mark in some 35 years. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen him since I was in junior high school. I wondered if this call was coming from that Mark Cato, or was it somebody else. I picked up my phone and said, “This is Ken.” He said, “Ken . . . this is Mark Cato. . . from Maplewood Park.” Maplewood Park Baptist Church in Cahokia, Illinois is my home church (and I get to preach there later this fall for the first time in my life). Mark is about ten years older than I am and we first became acquainted when he was playing piano for the kid’s choir I was a part of in elementary school. He went on to serve with distinction in the United States Air Force. Now remember, we haven’t talked in 35 years.
So Mark asked how I was and I asked how he was. His voice seemed a little strained and he quickly got to the point. He said, “Ken, I watched your sermon from your 50th birthday and was really touched by it.” Then he said, “My doctor has given me 3 to 6 months to live.” I said, “Mark, I’m so sorry. Tell me about it.” He explained he had been healthy, had a checkup not long ago and everything looked good. Then came a nagging cough, then a doctor’s appointment, then the diagnosis: cancer. I know, we all hate that word, and we should.
Mark talked about some things I had said in my sermon from July 19th; especially about marriage and family and telling people you love them. And then came the surprise. He said, “I loved what you said about baseball.” The point about baseball had been that God gives us simple activities in life to enjoy. And then he said, “After I watched that sermon, I knew what I had to do. I’m sending you my autographed
picture of Stan Musial because I know you’ll appreciate it and get its significance.” I told him I did on both counts. But then I said, “I want you to know I’ll cherish it, but not because it’s Stan Musial’s picture, but because you gave it to me.” Mark was going through his stuff and giving away his personal belongings preparing to die. Frankly, that really hurt me.
Then came the awkward pauses when two people who haven’t talked in 35 years are suddenly talking about life and death and old times in a mutual hometown. Mark and I have very little in common. I’m not military. I don’t live on a farm. I don’t live in his state. I don’t share most of his interests. But what we do have in common is powerful! We both grew up in the same community (idyllic like “The Wonder Years” back then). We both love baseball (and yes, we make it a habit to root for that team on the east side of the state). And then (most importantly) there’s Jesus (who is the Savior to both of us). I got to talk with and pray for a man I haven’t seen in a long, long time and we connected. And Jesus is the only way that kind of thing could ever happen.
Don’t doubt the power of connections, especially if Jesus is involved. How might he want you to connect with someone today? You never know who might call you in 35 years.
August 30, 2015
“Do Not Be Hasty. . .”
Tucked away in the midst of admonitions for the church to take care of those who lead them in ministry, and instructions on how to deal with various age levels and economic challenges of those within the church, Paul tells Timothy (and by inference the whole church), “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands . . .” (1 Timothy 5:22a). What’s this all about anyway?
Certainly, like many passages in Scripture, there are various opinions and interpretations. There is, however, strong support for the belief that this concept is descriptive of the process of setting aside an individual church leader for specific purpose (elder, deacon, missionary service) and what we have come to understand as ordination. In fact, I believe this is exactly what Paul is talking about. We can debate it over coffee sometime if you’d like . . . We believe that a call by God, the recognition of a local church, a commitment to prepare for service in ministry, and a commitment to actually doing ministry are what’s necessary to move forward with ordination.
At any rate, the universal church has always had some way to call out the “called” or recognize those who are called for specific ministries. We recognize ordination as a local church privilege, so we see those among us or we call men into service with us and we literally lay hands on them, signifying our belief that they have been called by God for specific ministry service. In our tradition, we recognize elder/pastor/bishop/overseer as one office of the church (utilizing different titles but charged with the ministry of the Word and shepherding the church), and deacon (those servants of the church who help the elders in a myriad of ways, including tending to many needs within the church so that the pastor[s] can dedicate their time to study, preaching, witnessing, praying, and equipping). Makes total sense!
We have the privilege of ordaining two men to the Gospel Ministry today; Tyson Branizor (our associate pastor/youth & recreation) and Don Hamlin (our associate pastor/education & outreach). These men have been examined thoroughly by an ordination council comprised of pastors and deacons. They have proven they are men of good character and striving to live as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 commands an elder to live. They’re dedicated to Jesus, their families, the universal church, and this local church. They’re good guys! And we have the great joy of having them serve as part of our church leadership.
So this morning (at our 10:45 service), as the ordained men come to lay hands on these two, they are doing it symbolizing the church’s recognition that Tyson and Don have been called by God, surrendered to God, and continually will be striving to please God as followers of Jesus and leaders in the church. It is a joy to serve with these men, all of our staff, and all of our deacons, and all of our many volunteers to the glory of God!
August 9, 2015
Where Do We Go from Here?
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of vacation is taking a bit of vacation from the news. One’s system can only tolerate so many politicians lying on the big screen, followed by news “experts” telling him what he should think, how he should think, and what he should do about what and how he thinks. It is a reminder about how unintelligent we’re becoming in America (having to have people tell us how we should interpret the news). But I digress (I do that a lot, don’t I?).
One segment of news I saw during our time away struck a tremendous ironic chord with me. Back and forth for an entire hour or so I watched as people bemoaned the death of Cecil the Lion half a world away and then lamented the fact that Planned Parenthood employees were caught giving rationale for the sale of body parts of aborted babies. Note: they didn’t lament the fact that our culture has stooped to the ungodly degree that this would occur; no, their grief was over the fact that someone had the audacity to record such an exchange and play it to the wider world. By the way, someone talking about the good things Planned Parenthood has done is like someone talking about the positive qualities Hitler possessed. But as sad as all this makes me (and it does make me sad), we have to ask the question . . . “Where do we go from here?” I’m glad you asked! There is hope for our world, our nation, and our homes! In fact, some of what we’re seeing, as tragic as it is, will be what makes the Christian faith shine all the more in generations to come. So, we go toward the hope!
Dr. Russ Moore, President of our denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said there are people who approach him after church and ask whether Christianity is dying. Moore notes, “Behind that question is an assumption that Christianity is a sub-culture of American life. I think what is dying is cultural, nominal Christianity, and I don’t think we should panic about that. I think we should see that as an act of God’s grace.” I couldn’t agree more! Now that our political clout is wavering, our popularity is gone by the wayside, and leading political figures feel free to throw us to the proverbial lions (as long as Cecil is protected, it’s all good), we have the opportunity to stand for one thing: not a political party, not a nation, not an ideology, not a particular form of economics; no, the one thing we have the chance to stand for is the very thing we were supposed to be standing for all along . . . (drum roll please) . . . the Gospel of Jesus.
Does it bug me that America as I knew it is gone? Sure. And I could park here all day. But if saying goodbye to America as we once knew it means ushering in a time of radical Christianity that will flourish in the wider world because it has as its laser focus Jesus Christ and his gospel message only to change the world, it will be fine.
“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3-4 ESV).
July 26, 2015
I want to take just a moment to express my gratitude to each of you for making last Sunday such a great day! I was so encouraged and blessed by each of you last week; you played integral part in making the day such a joy! The Royals won, and the Cardinals fought for eighteen innings before they lost (but I di-gress). There were so many things that were extremely special to me; I’m cer-tain I couldn’t list them all. I was blessed to have both my sons and my in-laws with us in worship. Bob choosing my favorite song (and there is a long and meaningful story behind why it’s my favorite), What a Faithful God Have I, was awesome. I had a hard time maintaining my composure. I appreciated the kind words, the birthday video (thanks to Montana Miller for putting it together and everyone who spoke), the cupcakes, all the cards, and on and on. Most im-portantly, I appreciated the opportunity to share a little piece of my life with you. For me, that was priceless! As you do every week, you gave your attention and that is a gift to every pastor.
Some of you have asked about the video. It will be available on the church web-site and the church Facebook page. It really blew me away. And I’m so grateful you guys now know how smart Maggie the Great really is (yeah, you have to catch the video for that to make sense). I mentioned my dad’s appointment last week. Nothing new came from the appointment after all. Basically, the doctors are going to examine him again in a few weeks to see how they think the radia-tion has affected his cancer and discuss what the future looks like. Thanks so much for asking and for praying for him; I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
Anyway, you’ve been a blessing for ten years and I cherished the time together last weekend. Most importantly, let me thank you for allowing me to be “me”; warts and all, terrible sense of humor and all, St. Louis Cardinals fan and all. That is a great gift you give to me each week. I know I don’t have to pretend to be someone or something I can’t be. So, thank you!
Remember I reminded us last week to tell those we love that we love them. I love you guys! Thanks for everything.
And for the record, I’ll be applying for Chicago Cubs season tickets before I apply for an AARP card.
July 19, 2015
Enough Really is Enough
I’ve been holding back. I’ve tried my whole life to be reserved with what I say. I’m turning 50 today, so I think it’s time I go ahead and speak my mind. Ok, I just lied; not about turning 50 but about being reserved with what I say. Lori has often said, “I wish I had your wit.” I always respond with, “No, you don’t; it’s a curse.” You’d be amazed at the things I don’t say. So for the record, I do have filters. But having said that, I have to tell you I think we all (me included) need to say more. It’s my contention that there still is a somewhat “silent majority” in America that still has brains somewhere in their heads. Can I get a witness? Enough is enough.
This country is going crazy! Now your insurance provider (not your doctor) determines quality of life issues and treatment for you. And your healthcare (regardless of the tripe we’re being fed) is governed (that’s my kind word for “dictated”) by corrupt people in Washington, D.C. who don’t have to grovel to their doctors and insurance companies like you do. Parenthetically, with this being the “new normal,” don’t be surprised one day if you’re older and not feeling well and your doctor says, “Have you considered assisted suicide?” Really not much of a treatment plan, is it? The “gods” at the Supreme Court have now determined they (along with the occupant of the White House) know better than God Himself. So, the foundation upon which civilization has been built (family) is whatever you want it to be. And for those who lack the sense to connect the dots of Scripture and culture (you know, that whole Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 issue where the Creator has the audacity to disagree with the American elites), don’t be shocked when the government is forcing your church to host same-sex unions. And while we’re parked here, let me point out for all Americans who think they’re not complicit in such behavior, Romans 1:32 notes the accountability of those who not only practice such sin but who give approval to those who practice such sin. What that means is if we’re okay putting people into places of authority who sign off on making immorality legal and acceptable, we’re just as guilty as those who are practicing the immoral behavior. Let that thought sink in. Enough is enough.
Planned Parenthood. Really it should be called Planned Infanticide. Did you see the video that was taken of one of the doctors? Dr. Deborah Nucatola said, "We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I'm not going to CRUSH that part, I'm going to CRUSH below, I'm going to CRUSH above, and I'm gonna see if I can get it all intact.” Listening to someone talk about crushing a baby while eating salad is gut-wrenching. Enough is Enough.
We’re “Bible people” in this church; not perfect, but His. And we believe what He says is true, regardless of who thinks Washington, D.C. is the New Jerusalem. We know we’re longing for a “better city” (Hebrews 13:14). I’m 50 now, so I think I’ll start speaking my mind. Just kidding; I was doing that even before I had something to say.
May 31, 2015
Roses in December
Just a few weeks ago, my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The reason I’m being so forthright in saying it so bluntly is not for shock value or attention, but I want you to know so you can join me in praying. He’s had tumors removed previously, but we’re told it’s now in the wall of his bladder. Many of you have been down this road before and unfortunately, many more of us will travel it. My dad is 86 years old (87 in October). For just over 30 years now he’s been walking with Christ, so eternity isn’t in question, but other questions come, anxious mo-ments linger, and sometimes it just hurts.
When the diagnosis came, they offered Dad two options (chemo is out): radiation and surgery. There is hope that radiation might keep the disease at bay for a while. Surgery could “cure” him, but in a moment of utmost candor, the surgeon said it could kill him, too. In a somewhat odd way, I felt sorry for the doctor hav-ing to deliver such grim news; he looked like he couldn’t be a day over 17 and had a kind demeanor about him. Last week, with a lift in his voice, Dad called to tell me he had decided to pursue radiation. According to his oncologist, there will be some less-than-joyful moments taking this road, too. But it gives us hope and hope is something everybody needs, right? So, that’s where we are and we would appreciate your prayers. We were people of faith before this and this experience, we trust, will deepen our faith. Remember that great text about the sting of death and the victory through Jesus. Either way, victory is sure. I really believe that!
While awaiting his diagnosis, my dad said to me, “Son, God knows how this is going to all work out, so I think however it works out is what God deems best.” I’m grateful for his disposition. My dad has taught me a lot about life and these days I catch myself daydreaming about fishing at Carlyle Lake or learning how to throw a baseball, housebreaking a puppy or cutting the grass. Great memories. Great gifts.
Just like you, I want to keep the people I love as close as I can for as long as I can. I want to savor each second and cling to the calendar in an attempt to make time stand still. I have so many things I’d like to say about my dad. Writing is a catharsis for me, so I’ve begun the process of penning my thoughts about all this. Some thoughts I’d like to share with you; others are, I’m sure, too tender for me to even pass along.
I know Dad is in the winter of his life and that fills me with all kinds of emotions, but mainly it fills my heart with gratitude. I’ve been thinking about three words: gratitude, hope, and comfort. I’m so grateful that when our winter ends here, we awaken in a new land, a new home; I like to think it’s springtime in Heaven as if winter’s cold gray skies will one day be replaced with warmth, sunshine, and the promise of new life. Although I don’t remember the source, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes: “God gives us memories that we might have roses in De-cember.”
And I’m grateful for the roses . . . anytime.
May 24 , 2015
Connecting the Dots
For those who think the Supreme Court’s ruling about same-sex marriage won’t affect Christians, let’s connect the dots, shall we? First of all, let me remind us of a beautiful quote by G. K. Chesterton that sets the stage for our Memorial Day weekend thoughts: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” One of the many things our soldiers have loved has been the religious liberty we Americans have long enjoyed; that foundation of religious freedom behind us. And while I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, mark it down, dear friends, our religious liberty is very much hanging in the balance as the Supreme Court prepares to offer a ruling about same-sex marriage. Now, let’s connect the dots.
How will this ruling affect churches or religious institutions (and by extension, individual believers)? When asked by Justice Samuel Alito about a religious institution’s right to maintain tax-exempt status if they opposed same-sex marriages, the Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrili, said, “You know, I – I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I – I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is – going to be an issue.”
The burden of property taxes and the loss of charitable support (for churches and religious institutions) in some cases will cripple their ability to maintain their mission. Specifically, think of what this might do for tuition rates for faith-based universities and seminaries. And as Chief Justice John Roberts asked the Solicitor General, “Would a religious school that has married housing be required to afford such housing to same-sex couples?” The Solicitor General said the federal government doesn’t have a law banning discrimination in such matters but essentially much of this will be up to the states and what accommodations they will allow under State law (translated: he didn’t say “No”).
As Dr. Albert Mohler notes about this response, “Make no mistake. The Solicitor General of the United States just announced that the rights of a religious school to operate on the basis of its own religious faith will survive only as an ‘accommodation’ on a state by state basis, and only until the federal government passes its own legislation, with whatever ‘accommodation’ might be included in that law. Note also that the President he represented in court has called for the very legislation Verrilli said does not exist . . . for now. Verilli’s answer puts the nation’s religious institutions, including Christian colleges, schools, and seminaries, on notice.”
This issue is about even more than the acceptance of another’s lifestyle; it is about abdicating the religious liberties that men and women gave their lives to protect (what we’re remembering on Memorial Day). And when you connect the dots, you’ll find a picture being drawn that ought to make people of all religious faiths concerned about religious freedom in America, because what is occurring now is painting over what we used to hold dear . . . The First Amendment.
May 17, 2015
The Truth, the Whole Truth, Etc.
I’m always a bit amused when graduation time rolls around. Let me clarify; I’m so very proud of our graduates (high school, college, trade school, academies, ad infinitum). What amuses me however, are not the graduates themselves, but the way some people respond to the achievements of the graduates. And, I don’t mean parents and siblings and grandparents, etc., expressing pride in a job well-done; we all ought to do that with the young people who are celebrating their achievements during this season. I love the optimism and inquisitiveness they express. I love the fact that they ask “Why?” about so many things that my generation and previous generations have taken for granted. That’s great because it makes us all think a little more about why certain things are the way they are in the world. I love the fact that graduates have hopes and dreams. Now, let me explain my amusement . . .
Invariably, other people will project all kinds of things on graduates. For example, they will act as if because a young person has graduated from college or in some cases even high school, that he (or she) knows what he wants to do for the rest of his life. Imagine? I’m also amused at the “rainbow speeches” that are given at so many graduation events. Someone striving to wax eloquently will tell young people that the nations are waiting for them, the world is their oyster, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, world peace rests in their hands, and all the terrible diseases will now be cured because this generation is finally arriving on the scene. Now, let me tell the truth, the whole truth, etc. . .
Young people can change the world. These graduates are bright, articulate, dedicated, and driven. In fact, these graduates have unprecedented opportunities to be difference-makers on the world stage. But here’s the catch . . . most of the differences that are made don’t happen on the world stage; they happen in one home at a time, in one neighborhood at a time, one workplace at a time, one family at a time. I hope one of these young men or young women (I know, that’s politically incorrect to recognize gender these days, but I’m kind of set in my ways) can lead us to world peace, but the odds are greater that they’ll help with the turmoil in one family. Maybe they can’t bring about racial reconciliation nationwide, but they can help ease the tension in one office suite. The odds are not good that one of our graduates will discover the cure for Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, but I would bet the proverbial farm they can ease the pain of a person or two along the way.
So here’s what somebody needs to say: Now is the time to start making a difference! If you wait until you have the world stage to impact, you’ll be waiting forever. Changing the world starts with changing your world; the people and circumstances in your sphere of influence. It begins by going to college or trade school or getting a job or marrying your sweetheart. Change is brought about in the everyday lives of every day “regular people.” That’s wisdom! And the good news for all of us is that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:27a).
May 10, 2015
Moms Have “It”
I won’t bore you with all the details but I recently rearranged my study here at church. As you probably know, I love coffee. Coffee makes everything more enjoyable, but I digress. A lot of the people I talk with during the course of a week drink coffee, too. So, I thought about tracking down some kind of serving set to put in my study. Then I remembered I have the silver serving set that belonged to my mom. I polished it up nicely and began using it this past week. Now, what’s the point in using something like that? I mean, is there something wrong with throwing a Mr. Coffee in the corner? Why mess with it? Simply put, because it’s nice. I don’t mean extravagant, sinfully expensive, or ostentatious; I just mean nice. I’ve determined one of the things we’re often missing in Western culture these days is nice (meaning: things with class, dignity, elegance, and attention to detail, etc.).
I like to keep my vehicles clean (inside and out). Why? Because it’s nice; I enjoy driving a clean vehicle more than a dirty one. I did the same thing when I was driving my ’73 Ford LTD. I like the feel of a freshly starched shirt and I enjoy cuff links. Why? I just think it’s . . . well . . . nice. Or, as a friend of mine once said, “Cuff links say, ‘I mean it.’” I have an appreciation for a well-manicured lawn. I like a close shave. I never buy generic picture frames; I buy a frame to match the picture its framing. You say, “Ken, you’re one fry shy of a full Happy Meal.” I am, but listen . . . these things are nice. The material things I have on earth wouldn’t be coveted by many people because they’re not necessarily worth much monetarily; they’re simply things that mean something to me. I think they’re . . . wait for it . . . nice!
I’m convinced that plastic forks will be the ruination of our society (okay, a little overstated). But isn’t it nice to use regular silverware? By always taking the easier route, we miss the enjoyment of some of life’s “niceties.” I wouldn’t want to use cloth napkins all the time, but isn’t it nice when we utilize them? So, what’s the point? The point is this: Moms have “it.” They understand nice. They’re the driving force behind all the things that are done in society that seem to go the “extra mile.” Generally speaking it is mom who takes care in how the table is set, how the house looks, how the clothes are washed and ironed. Most men think a napkin ring is a Super Bowl ring that lost the stone from the top! Moms just have a way of making things nice as they demonstrate care, excellence, and class.
Most importantly, moms so often take great care in helping children pursue Jesus with excellence. Moms have “it.” Intuitively, they know how to deal with a child; when to be firm and when to be lax. And they know how to deal with a husband; when to “shoot straight” and when to “cut him some slack.” Come to think of it, the Proverbs remind us of this kind of woman: “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:27-28 ESV).
May 3, 2015
Pull Up a Chair . . . Let’s Talk
Not long ago (just before we started our study “Understanding Islam” on Wednesday nights), we concluded a series of teachings about Heaven. There are so many things I think we Christians don’t “get right” about Heaven; namely, the reality that Heaven is going to be a lot more like Earth than what most people realize. . . but I digress. There’s one thing I’m convinced that won’t be a part of our existence in Heaven: fear. Think about it. Think of all the crazy things going on in our world and the changes we’ve experienced at breakneck speed as of late. Baltimore resembles a civil war zone. Nightly news broadcasts images of the very people charged with keeping order being ordered to back up while criminals hurl bottles, rocks, and explosives directly at them. Bruce Jenner, at one time arguably the world’s greatest male athlete, says he is “asexual,” even as he is undergoing treatment to transition to being a female. The Supreme Court is deciding whether or not the primary foundational building block of our society (marriage/family) should still be recognized or not. I just read an interview where some of my heroes, men like Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Jerry Johnson (remember he preached here a few years ago), and Franklin Graham are already talking about civil disobedience of Bible-believing pastors when forced to officiate gay marriages. Imagine that. . . James Dobson and civil disobedience? It’s like imagining Mr. Rogers experiencing road rage.
So with all that said, here’s the thing . . . pull up a chair . . . let’s talk . . . we need each other. Whether Christians realize it or not, we need each other. I need a “soft place” to land, and so do you. We need to be able to count on each other. Believers everywhere need to forget about tertiary trivialities and focus on gaining gospel ground. We need to encourage one another, “and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). I’m reminded of the story of Jesus in Luke 10 as he went to visit Mary and Martha. Jesus desired a “soft place” to land; a place where he could kick off his sandals, share meal, and recharge for battles of eternal proportion. He needed (as a man) a place to be known and loved and comfortable. If he did, how much more so do we?
So pull up a chair . . . let’s talk. Let’s encourage one another. Let’s talk about Jesus; how we came to know him, how we’ve learned to trust him through the tumultuous terrain of life, and how our faith has been tested and grown walking through the valley of discouragement. Let’s talk about our belief that whatever is happening in the world, there are no beads of sweat forming on Jesus’ forehead! Let’s remind each other of how we’ve been washed and made clean because of the Cross of Calvary. Let’s tell each other the “old, old story” that we have “loved so long.” In short, let’s preach the gospel to one another. I’ve got a newsflash for FOX, CNN, and every other network and news outlet: the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final word on anything. I’m not being anti-American when I say that; I’m being “pro-Heaven.”
So pull up a chair . . . let’s talk. And at some point in our conversation, I’m going to remind you as my good friend Job often reminds me: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25 ESV).
April 26, 2015
Jeeps and Jet Planes
You may have heard recently that Atlanta-area (College Park, Georgia) pastor, Dr. Creflo Dollar of the World Changers Church International, told his congregation that he needed a new jet, a $65 million dollar jet. The ministry in which the pastor is involved takes him to all “corners of the world,” so to speak. Am I opposed to a man flying? No. The issue is not so much the flying, but rather the way in which one flies. I just can’t square the image of the humble Galilean carpenter with a $65 million dollar jet; the itinerant preacher who had “no place to lay his head” contrasted against pleas for a $65 million dollar jet.
Here’s the thing: the church (universal or World Changers International Church) could very likely send a lot of pastors and staff and volunteers to these various “corners of the world” to put down roots and live among the people they’re seeking to reach. I’ve heard Creflo Dollar “preach” (and at the risk of sounding more arrogant than I actually am), and I’m confident there are a lot of other gifted communicators of Scripture who could live among the people and tell them the old, old story. None of us are that important. God can raise up a person at any time to take the place of any one of us (celebrity pastors as well as the rest of us mere mortals who strive to fill pulpits and lead churches each week). Resources, quite frankly, could be better allocated. What I know for sure is this: while I don’t think pastors should be sent to “poor house” (and thank you for providing for our family), neither do I think they should own $65 million dollar jets. The problem is that Dollar’s “gospel” is more about dollars than deity.
Sour grapes on my part? Nope! Jealous that I can’t have a jet? Not at all! A long time ago I came to the realization that my priorities as a leader cannot be compromised because people think I’m chasing a dollar (or 65 million of them for that matter). And churches’ priorities cannot be compromised because people think “all the church wants is my money.” You’ll notice we have no solid gold faucets and air-conditioned dog houses on premises.
Somewhere along the line too many people have determined that the gospel is an entrepreneurial enterprise and not a movement of God. Big mistake! Almost like buying a $65 million dollar jet. “Celebrity Christian leader” just doesn’t square with the concept of “take up your cross.” For the record, I drive a Jeep. It’s a Jeep Patriot. It’s listed by automotive publications and websites as “the most economical SUV in its class.” Translated: It’s not a jet. I didn’t even spring for power windows. Now I’ve lost my humility award for bragging that I’m cheap. I’m not any happier today than I was when I was driving my ’73 Ford LTD ($600) that was a bilious green tank of a car and drank gas like Mrs. Olson drank Folger’s Coffee.
The moral of the story/rant: Don’t forget the prize! It’s not a jet, a car, or a house. It’s Heaven, and it cost Jesus way more than a cool $65 million. Hope to see you there!
April 12, 2015
In the March 13 edition, the Kansas City Business Journal projected Kearney to be the fastest growing city in Missouri. Evidently, we’re projected to be the fastest growing city through 2019. Granted, there are a lot of variables involved with these kinds of projections, but suffice it to say our area is growing significantly. So, what exactly does that mean for our church? Glad you asked! It means ministry opportunity.
We saw a glimpse, in many ways, of what “can be” in terms of ministry just last Sunday. Please understand, I’m a realist and I’m not having “visions of grandeur” related to what happens next in our ministry. But here’s the thing . . . in a community with a population of some 8,500 people within just our city limits (and the great news is we have people as part of our church family who come from all over our region), our count for Easter Sunday was 1,065. Now before someone worries that numbers are all that matters to me (or us), let me say numbers do matter because each number represents a person and we know people matter, right? But I recognize we’re shepherding people, not herding cattle. We never lose sight of people and the recognition that people matter to God, so they matter to us.
So let me cut to the chase. Whether people have wanted Kearney to grow or not, it is growing and that’s going to continue and from my perspective as a pastor growth signals opportunity; the more people around the more people with whom to share the gospel. We have and will continue to have a tremendous opportunity to be a key influence for good in our area. We know we can’t predict the “winds of the Spirit,” but as someone has said, “we can hoist our sails.” In other words, we can’t predict a Sovereign move of God, but we can position ourselves to be ready should God choose to use us. Make sense?
So what am I saying? One of my good friends and former professors, Dr. Bill Miller used to say, “The most important function of leadership is making people see what you see.” So here’s what I see: Unprecedented opportunities before us! You’ll be hearing more about this through what will become the ongoing work of our newly formed Target 2020 strategic planning team. They will be bringing information, observations, and recommendations to our church family related to what we will need to be doing (present tense and future tense) as a church in order to “hoist the sails” in preparation for the “winds of Spirit.”
So what could be in ministry? A lot of things; things we’ve done already and some things we’ve never even considered. Remember, we serve a God “who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20 HCSB).
I’m excited to be on the journey with you!
March 8, 2015
Periodically someone will ask me, “Pastor, what’s the vision for our church?” or “What’s your vision for our church?” I’ll confess to you that during my formative years as a pastor, I quickly grew tired of all the “vision talk.” One reason was because that’s all it ever was . . . talk! The term caught on in the business world and then made its way back into the church but it’s a somewhat nebulous word; one man’s “vision” is another man’s “every day.” The reason I grew tired of the talk is not because I don’t believe we should pray, strategize, plan, and evaluate; I just believe if you’re going to say that something from God (i.e. a “vision”), you’d better make sure it’s from God. If we’re looking for marching orders to do what God wants us to do, I don’t think one can improve on the Great Commission. It would be better to explain that a spiritual leader’s vision is simply how he envisions various ways to carry out the Great Commission. Having said that, I could designate a vision campaign and call it something catchy like, “To Boldly Go Where No Man has Gone Before,” but I think that’s been taken, and I’m pretty sure if I told you my vision/hope, it wouldn’t sell on the bigger market. I have my vision statement down to one word. This is the one thing we need to do in order to be involved with effective ministry for Jesus in the local church. Maybe I’ll put it on a bumper sticker and see if it sells. Here’s my vision: OBEDIENCE. Catchy, huh?
Not long enough? There’s a part two that I could share with you and launch a campaign within another year. How’s this: FAITHFULNESS. Catchy, huh? Talking about vision may create some heat but it doesn’t generate change. Change occurs through obedience and faithfulness to Christ.
Among the main texts used to talk about vision is Proverbs 29:18a. In the King James Version it reads: “Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .” The ESV renders it, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” We’ve all heard pastors or “visionaries” utilize this text to talk about the church’s next phase of ministry. If they’re building a building or starting a new program, the word “vision” is sure to be attached. Proverbs 29:18 isn’t about that at all. It’s a restatement of the fact that where God is ignored and God’s principles are ignored, chaos ensues (watch any news station for illustrative material here).
Part of the problem is that the idea of contemporary vision is often attached to growth and not character. I’m convinced that circumvents God’s process. I think we need more focus on church health and then growth will come. Here’s what I mean. Maybe we need more prophets and less visionaries, but I digress. I’m in favor of “forward thinking” leadership. I’m in favor of people willing to risk in order to be effective. I just don’t think in the midst of “forward thinking” or “risk taking” we can set aside the basic formula for service to King Jesus: Obedience and faithfulness. Call it “Operation Faithful Obedience” if you want to; I’m content to call it “biblical.”
February 22, 2015
A Foolish Grandpa
Recently a good friend of mine sent out a message that he was going to become a grandfather. I sent him the usual response that people send: “Congratulations! I can’t believe you’re old enough to become a grandpa!” etc. I really wanted to send him a different message; something a little edgier; something that I really meant; something truthful from my heart. Here’s what I wanted to say:
Dear Kurt (not his real name):
Congratulations on the news that you will soon become a grandpa. I’m thinking about how lucky you (and your son) are . . . literally, lucky! Just think, if this pregnancy goes essentially like the millions of pregnancies that have preceded it, in less than nine months (and how cool is that for an arbitrary time?), your grandson will make his way into the world. In all likelihood (and I know there are some rare exceptions), he’ll be born with two legs, two arms, eight fingers, two thumbs, and ten toes. He’ll have two ears, two eyes, one nose, etc. And he will probably cry (most babies gravitate toward that behavior at some point as I recall). And he will resemble his parents and maybe even his grandparents. Some of his mannerisms would look eerily familiar to you if you take the time to really pay attention.
He will grow and develop. He’ll learn things and ask a lot of questions. Soon he’ll be walking and talking, just like millions of other kids, by mere chance, have done for thousands of years. Then you’ll be teaching him to play baseball, and all kinds of other “grandpa things.” You’ll blink and he’ll be shaving (and isn’t it funny how just random “chance” causes all guys’ beards to grow basically in the same place?). He’ll figure out what he wants to do for a career, probably meet a young lady, choose to love her and hopefully marry her. And then maybe, if the planets keep lining up right, and if fate continues to have its way, maybe they’ll have a child and the process will repeat itself, almost identically. Isn’t it amazing how all these things just happen? No rhyme or reason. The cycle just repeats itself; almost perfectly, over and over again.
It’s great to realize this is all due to the big bang that happened millions of years ago. Thankfully, our ancestors had enough grunt power to walk out of the primordial ooze, into an ocean, lose the fins, gills, and tails, walk into the jungle (after making a Geico commercial), and eventually decide to walk to the city where they just realized out of the blue they could build cities and hospitals, universities and philanthropic institutions. How cool is that? And it all just happened! By chance; cosmic coincidence, right? Isn’t it amazing, your grandson’s twinkle in his eye is due to the way a monkey (your “family”) fortunately evolved?
Did I mention Kurt is a strident atheist? He thinks we’re all intellectually stunted
because we believe there is actually a God who brought order from chaos and mea
ing to life. He believes the things I said in sarcasm above. But I’d really like to just
say, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1 ESV).
February 15, 2015
There’s Only One Thing Missing
Last Wednesday at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama took the occasion to tell Christians that Islam is not the only religion that has inspired violence and terror. According to a Business Insider article by Colin Campbell, the President said, “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ . . . And in our home country, slavery, and Jim Crow, all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Mr. Obama cited Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Scripture and tried to verbally draw parallels between these various faith groups. He included a comment about the similarities (of spirit) between Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. After invoking the name of Gandhi and talking about how we’re all one united “Family of God,” the President talked a bit about his own particular brand of “faith.” He said, “This prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.” Mr. Obama noted that the “Holy Bible tells us to ‘put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that same Holy Bible tells us that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father [God] except through him (John 14).
While I can certainly appreciate the spirit of a cross-faith gathering (though praying together would be problematic), I think we need to make a distinction (based on distinctly Christian/biblical theology) between Christianity and every other faith group:
It’s not proper to appeal to Scripture for authority about one thing but then dismiss the Scripture about something else; a proper understanding and acceptance of hermeneutics (interpretation) still applies (2 Timothy 2:15).
While we’re all creations of God, we’re not all children of God . . . unless of course the Apostle John, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, got it wrong (John 1:12).
While we should (and would) defend the rights of people to believe as they choose, it is theological error to put Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims in the same room praying and assume we’re all talking to the same God (Ephesians 4:5-6).
Anybody can reference “The Almighty,” and the “Good Lord”; Jesus is the label that makes the difference (Acts 4:12).
Initially, I was insulted at the comparisons between Christians today and those of the Inquisition and the Crusades (history sheds some great light on that). But in the end, after reading the transcript of Mr. Obama’s remarks, I was even more insulted. There’s really only one thing missing. For all the talk of faith and prayer in the moment, the only thing missing was Jesus.
February 8, 2015
Please . . . Read!
How important is it for believer’s to know the Bible? I know you agree, it’s a big deal and we Christians (as “people of the Book”) should dedicate our-selves to gaining knowledge and insight into the Scriptures. Not long ago I was reading a post by someone who was bashing a Christian who, as he shared his views, was essentially restating what the Bible clearly states about a “hot topic” these days. And then this person (who was much more interested in being an antagonist than a learner) proceeded to talk about what the Old Testament said about a subject and then what the New Testament said about the same subject. And then the antagonist said something like, “You stupid Christians should know that Latin, the ‘original language’ of the Old Testament isn’t clear about this particular text.” Now, raise your hand if you know Latin isn’t the “original language” of the Old Testament! My point is, there were a bunch of people reading this per-son’s comments that said, “Wow! Christians don’t even know the Bible was originally penned in Latin,” and they will think the antagonist got one over on us.
It’s vital that we take the time to study . . . Almost every time I meet someone new and the conversation turns to things of faith, they say, “Now, when you say you’re a Christian, you don’t mean one of ‘those’?” What they mean is, “You don’t really believe the Bible is from God and you don’t really believe God created all there is and you don’t really think that 21st century Americans should be concerned with what an ancient, outdated book says about morality? You’re not one of ‘those’ are you?” And I grin. Let me be clear, if we really believe the Bible is God’s Word, that should cause us to behave in ways that are anything but narrow-minded and hateful. Just because we choose to believe what God says in His Word about a particular subject doesn’t mean we’re narrow-minded (in the pejorative sense) or hateful. I’m not angry with people who don’t believe the Bible; I’m in fear for them. I cringe when I hear so much blasphemy now being touted as “mainstream” in America. I fear for those who are willing to say some of what they say.
My greater fear is that Christians will grow tired of standing up and decide to throw in the towel. There are things that churches accept and believe today that twenty years ago nobody would have thought possible. And the more bankrupt our nation grows spiritually, the more tempting it will be for individual believers and entire churches to give in to the Siren Song of the day. Listen to me Christian friend . . . those of us who have the audacity to believe the Word of God . . . we’re not ignorant backwoods hillbillies who awakened one day and determined we needed to place our faith in a myth to satisfy our search for meaning. Christians have been among the brightest and most influential people in the world. Don’t allow the world’s caricature of us as simpletons to take hold. Read the Bible, know the Bible, memorize the Bible, teach the Bible, stand firm on the truths of the Bible. Please . . . Read!
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).
February 1, 2015
Paint the Corners
The story is told that when Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, at one point he was painting in a corner that was essentially out of the view of most everyone who would have visited the Chapel. According to the story, someone said he should just forget giving attention to that small area because “nobody can see it anyway.” Michelangelo is said to have responded, “But I know it’s there.”
We are prone to neglect areas of our life that we know (at least for a time) no one can see. This is faulty thinking for countless reasons. Let’s consider this for a moment. We all live in a fallen/broken/sinful world; that fact isn’t on the table for debate; it’s reality. Although there are countless good things that occur in our world and there are many people who show kindness to others on the planet, the fact remains we are sinners by nature and by choice so our world is a sinful world. This is why the message of Jesus (gospel) is good news! There is hope! And even once we’ve experienced the grace of God in Christ, it’s my contention (and I’m in good company by the way; remember the Apostle Paul. . . Romans 7:21-25) that we still have to fight the urge to think sinful thoughts, do sinful things, and maintain pride in the midst of them both. Can I get a witness? Although the war for your soul was won at the Cross (for those who believe), the battle against evil in our lives continues every day.
All this sounds so dramatic and “big.” But be careful; it’s the “little foxes that spoil the vineyards” (Song of Solomon 2:15). You’ll get a phone call and discover that your best friend who has been married for twenty-five years has run off with his high school flame. A prominent Christian leader is arrested for soliciting a prostitute. A well-respected local church leader is arrested for misappropriation of funds. How in the world does this happen? Because we become complacent about “painting the corners.” We let a little thing in our life go unchecked because we alibi, “Nobody can see it anyway.” And the next thing you know, everybody sees it because it’s made the newspaper, the evening news, or at the very least, the social media circuit. Little foxes spoil the vineyards. It’s the little, pesky things that we allow to crumble our foundations of faith. It can start with something as simple as taking credit you don’t deserve or thinking you’re a little better than the poor guy over there who seemingly isn’t doing as well as you are. It happens when we rush to judgment over someone else’s situation. It happens when a man gives a woman (not his wife) a second look or someone says, “I’ll try just one of these,” or “Surely this one little click of the mouse won’t hurt.” Little foxes creep in and spoil the vineyards.
David, the Psalmist, wrote in Psalm 20:13 (ESV): “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”
December 21, 2014
It Could Be Good or Bad . . .
Whether something is good or bad is often debatable . . . it really depends upon one’s per-spective. Several years ago when Ford was having terrible difficulty and receiving awful press because of the problems they had with a certain kind of tire, I knew two guys who viewed the situation with completely different opinions. My friend that worked for Ford thought it was terrible; my other friend worked for a rival tire company and thought it was great. Perspective is everything.
There are a lot of things that have happened this year that seem really bad (I know, “Merry Christmas to you, too Pastor Ken”). But if we think about them differently (read to the end), it may change our perspective. For example, poverty is rampant, the national debt continues to skyrocket out of control, America has lost its ranking (at least according to some) as the number one nation in the world. Politicians and judges have determined they know more about marriage than God Himself, and even some formerly effective “mainline” denominations have agreed with the judges’ “Never mind what the Scripture says” approach. Many so-called “Christian groups” are celebrating what they used to call debauchery. Racial tensions continue to rise. In several instances that have the possibility of fueling even greater tensions, some have said, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; I have my mind made up about what happened.” Shall I go on?
Let’s see, two iconic television dads are “under the gun” (Bill Cosby/Dr. Huxtable from “The Cosby Show” and Stephen Collins/Rev. Eric Camden from “7th Heaven”) for alleged immoral behavior of monumental proportion. Identity theft is on the rise. Terrorists are still inflicting terror, and as the experts tell us, there’s no way to circumvent all their plots. “Wow! Now I’m depressed, Ken . . . thanks!”
Stay with me and let’s travel to a stable in Bethlehem; for there in the crude surroundings lies the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he’s the only one that fix anything! And because of Christmas, in the midst of the darkness in our world, a light is shining. We can help the poor. We can demonstrate that as much as we love our country, we know we’re looking for a better one someday (Hebrews 11:16). We can firmly, but lovingly stand our ground on the sanctity of marriage. We can be among those leading the charge toward racial reconciliation and eradicating sexism, living out the truth of the Scripture that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and neither male or female (Galatians 3:28); meaning “Everybody matters to God!” As much as we’ve loved “TV dads,” we can remind ourselves that only one person will never disappoint us. And as far as terror goes, we know that “weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5). For believers, better things are coming!
I’m an eternal optimist. I believe God can take all the bad and turn it for good (Romans 8:28). That’s really the hope of Christmas. So take heart. All of the aforementioned challenges give us the opportunity to let our lives count for something; let the light shine! Now is the time to “take up your cross daily” and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). So don’t worry. Don’t fret. Trust in Jesus and sleep well; God will stay awake.
December 7, 2014
A McDonald’s Moment
When I was in high school I got a job at McDonald’s. I worked for Ronald and his Golden Arches for about five years. During that time I went from a “crew mem-ber” to a “swing manager” to an “assistant manager.” There was a time I almost dropped out of college because I was offered my own “store” to manage (think about how much money $30,000 annually was to a 20-year-old kid in 1985). I loved the job. I could talk for hours about lessons I learned related to dealing with people (hungry people in a hurry). But one of the main lessons I learned revolved around a key distinction I discovered. I was working on a project my boss had given me and came up with an alternative way to accomplish the task. She said, “That’s great, Ken, but that’s not the way McDonald’s has done it before.” The distinction I dis-covered is that there is a noticeable difference between managers and leaders. Of course, many managers can be leaders, but not every manager is necessarily a leader.
I determined back then that I was much less interested in “managing” (and by inference playing it safe) and much more interested in “leading” (taking risks for the greater good of the organization). The truth of the matter is nobody wants “HE NEVER THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX” (pun intended) on his tombstone. Can I get a witness? While naturally leaders should be smart and listen to others, work through proper channels, and of course in the spiritual realm always pray about decisions that need to be made, leadership involves some discomfort because people (all of us) are creatures of habit; change is hard. But at times I’ve been tempted to play it safe in my roles of leadership I’ve always imagined how terrible it would be to get to Heaven and hear God say, “If you had been willing to risk, you would have accomplished so much more.” I’m grateful that during my leadership years pastoring here that our church has recognized pastors aren’t called only to preach but also to lead.
So what’s your point, Pastor? Glad you asked! As a church family, we have some important things with which to deal this next year. In addition to the appointment of a Long-Range Planning Committee in January, we will be looking at facility needs (renovation of the worship center and baptistery area and funding mechanisms necessary to accomplish the updates), some general updating of our facilities (painting and some furnishings), changing the Director of Children and Missions Ministries from part-time status to full-time status (as part of our 2015 Budget), some updating related to our technology needs and utilization, and determining some directional strategies related to increased effectiveness in developing disciples (including outreach, evangelism, worship life, positive spiritual/emotional well-being, etc.). So, there’s a lot to be done.
We could play it safe, but that’s not been our church’s modus operandi . . . and aren’t you glad? In fact a good carpenter friend of mine had much to say about in-vesting for the Kingdom, even if the outcome seems uncertain at the time (Matthew 25:14-30).
October 19, 2014
“Houston, We Have a Constitution”
I borrowed that phrase from Dr. Russell Moore (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), who wrote an article utilizing that title. You may have heard by now that attorneys for the city of Houston, Texas recently issued subpoenas to pastors who have preached against, talked against, or written against Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This particular ordinance deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. The subpoenas that have been issued to the pastors state they are after “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
So what might the purpose of these subpoenas be? There’s only one reason Houston’s lesbian mayor would be pushing this: to silence the true church. I say “true” because we need to make the distinction these days. Those assemblies that do not recognize what the Scripture clearly teaches cannot be counted among “true” churches. That’s not me saying, “We’re the only ones going to Heaven.” It’s me reminding us that the Bible notes “All Scripture is breathed out by God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). This includes the sections that contain material that isn’t in keeping with our so-called “progressive agendas” today.
Please note this is not occurring in a far flung land without benefit of a Constitution to govern the nation; this is occurring in Houston, Texas. Can Kansas City, St. Louis, New York, Los Angeles, and so forth be far behind? This scenario in Houston is exactly why the Separation of Church and State has been highlighted from early on in our nation’s history: to keep the government from intimidating, bullying, or interfering in the free practice of one’s faith, not to keep pastors/preachers from speaking truth to power.
Christians in general and pastors in particular would much rather spend time talking about things besides homosexuality but since the President came out in support of gay marriage, the proverbial floodgates have opened and that has necessitated more biblical teaching on the subject. We all bear the responsibility of holding the line on Christian principles. Please don’t miss the reality that a sitting mayor of a major city in America is now pushing to intimidate pastors because they had the audacity to speak the truth in keeping with their faith. This is not an inconsequential issue for us; this could be you and me.
Houston, we have a Constitution. But let me hasten to say, “Church, we have a Bible. And our allegiance to the Savior trumps our allegiance to any other entity on the planet.” The church will not be silenced. Pastors will not be silenced. In the end, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church; in the meantime we’re in a spiritual battle and we must speak the truth in love, whether our speech is subpoenaed or not.
“. . . Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV).
October 12, 2014
Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling
There is great power in community, especially in the context of believers; something happens when people come together to share together. I know you recognize there are a lot of hurting people in our world, our community, and our church family (for all kinds of reasons). Philips Brooks once said essentially “If you preach to hurting people, you’ll always have an audience.” There’s a lot of hurt in our world, and I want to do more to alleviate it in our corner of the world. So, beginning Monday, November 10, I’m going to be facilitating what we’re call-ing a “Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling” time.
The purpose of the Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling will be to help each other work through the burdens, challenges, hurts, and hang ups of life. The number of people who decide to participate will determine some things about our schedule. At this point the Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling will be open to those dealing with grief and loss, relationship challenges, addiction issues, substance issues, etc. If we have enough participants, we will eventually split the group into two or three groups if necessary.
The Word of God is our “True North,” and we appeal to it for answers. The Bible will be our guide for our time together as we talk through the difficulties we face. I have learned through education and experience there is great power in community and bearing each other’s burdens in a group context (thus Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). “Burdens” are challenges people have; great difficulties with which they’re dealing. “Bear” means to carry something with endurance. We’re going to help one another deal with the challenges life has brought us.
So how does this work? Glad you asked! The group will meet weekly beginning November 10 from 7-9 P.M. A person does not have to be a church member to attend (or even a believer in Christ for that matter). Obviously, there’s no charge for this. The main requirement will be the signing of a confidentiality agreement by each participant. This allows people to be more open to share, knowing it will not be passed along to anyone else. If confidentiality is broken, the person who breaks it will, by necessity, be excluded from the group. At the point, the plan is to have the Galatians 6:2 Group Counseling meet until December 22 (the holidays offer such challenges, it will be helpful to have a group operating like this during this time). We’ll evaluate the process after that and see what comes next. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV).
September 7, 2014
Almost Nothing Surprises Me Anymore
Almost nothing surprises me anymore, and I hate that. I can still remember a time when something would be said or done that would cause me (in my some-what naïve way) to think, “I’m really surprised by that.” Recently something did surprise me, but it’s not a pleasant surprise. PBS is set to air a documentary this month on the life of Dr. George Tiller. I haven’t watched the program (and I don’t plan to), but the information released by PBS is enough for me. It appears as if they’re making Tiller into an American hero; he’s not. Here’s the promo:
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's “After Tiller” is a deeply humanizing and probing portrait of the only four doctors in the United States still openly per-forming third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas—and in the face of intense protest from abor-tion opponents. It is also an examination of the desperate reasons women seek late abortions. Rather than offering solutions, “After Tiller” presents the com-plexities of these women's difficult decisions and the compassion and ethical dilemmas of the doctors and staff who fear for their own lives as they treat their patients.
While I think it’s essential to contemplate the complexities surrounding challeng-ing or surprising pregnancies (in an effort to offer grace and ministry), I don’t think lauding doctors (who took an oath to save lives) who perform third-trimester abortions is “celebration-worthy.” It’s really hard for me to view Tiller (who made a fortune in the abortion industry) as an American icon, worthy of emulation or celebration. Please understand, the same sanctity of life belief that leads me to stand in opposition to abortion is what leads me to believe Tiller’s life shouldn’t have been taken in the way that it was.
I don’t know all the particulars, and in one sense, that doesn’t matter; what matters is that PBS receives federal funding and therefore, those Americans who are decidedly pro-life are funding a broadcast that favors something with which we have a moral/spiritual/ethical disagreement. Dr. George Tiller pioneered a method for late term abortions that he claimed was painless for the baby (“fetus” is I’m sure the term he used) and safe for the mother. He injected the baby with a fatal dose of Digoxin which was originally utilized to fight heart disease. In this case, it was used to induce a massive heart attack in the baby. And this is the man the PBS documentary
is portraying as a hero.
This isn’t the kind of story Christians would typically want their tax dollars sup-porting. But then again . . .
almost nothing surprises me anymore.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV).
August 10, 2014
Apples of Gold
A few weeks ago while we were in Orlando, we attended worship at the First Baptist Church where Dr. David Uth is pastor. While it’s always a little strange, frankly, for us to worship somewhere besides our home church, and while we miss our church family while we’re gone, Lori and I usually are encouraged when we’re out of town and we worship elsewhere. In some ways, I think it’s easier for me to just “go-with-the flow” in worship in places I’m not leading. Think about it; if I’m a guest at another church and the room is too hot or cold or the computer/PowerPoint isn’t in-sync, I don’t have to give it a second thought; it’s not my responsibility. I don’t have to concern myself with what I’m going to say because I’m not going to say anything. Add to this the reality that I don’t know about the personal lives and group dynamics in the place. So, in many ways it’s a lot easier to focus on worship. Don’t misread me; what I do miss is context and connection and it would be unhealthy to be a “forever guest.” By design, God’s people are supposed to link arms in community with more of God’s people. But when we visit we don’t know people and we’re not known by people, and I have no context really from which to understand what’s going on in the church. But sometimes, even in those settings, God uses people to touch our lives in ways that are quite surprising.
At the conclusion of the worship at First Baptist Orlando (which was a beautiful experience), Lori and I decided to just stay seated to allow the bulk of the crowd (I’m estimating 3,500 or so) to make their way to their cars and out of the parking lot; it’s easier to sit in an air-conditioned worship center and wait a few minutes than to sit in a parking lot jam. I could see her approaching from several yards away, her eyes locked on Lori and me. This very dear, kind-eyed saint, probably about 50 to 55 years old, approached us and began to talk. She wasn’t weird and it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I’m not a mystic. I don’t consider myself to be charismatic in personality or theology. I don’t speak in tongues, and I’ve never raised anybody from the dead. But there in the middle of our time off in the middle of a Baptist church this lady gave to us what some would categorize as a “word of knowledge” (1 Corinthians 12) and others would simply say was a word of encouragement. We can debate the merits of each interpretation sometime over coffee. However you choose to categorize it, I can tell you it was a “word fitly spoken” like “apples of gold” in a “setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
It’s not that an encouragement from the Lord has to bring tears, but this one did. It’s not that an encouraging word from the Lord has to be dramatic complete with angels singing and harps playing. No, sometimes God uses the quiet voices of beautiful saints to simply speak life into others, helping to give rest to a sometimes weary traveler. I don’t believe in that experience we “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13); I do believe we encountered another believer who was very aware. I believe this lady was a messenger from the Lord to bring encouragement to us. And while God essentially isn’t obligated to ever give us encouragement or anything else, it certainly is a great pleasure when he does.
August 3, 2014
The Power of Influence
There are many variations on the following story, but according to William J. Federer and his research of A.E. Winship’s A Study in Education and Heredity (1900), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) had a tremendously positive influence on his descendents. He was known to have studied thirteen hours a day and, in spite of his busy schedule of writing, teaching, and pastoring, he made it a habit to come home and spend an hour each day with his children. He also saw to it that his children were in church every Sunday. This 1900 study revealed that Ed-wards’ descendants included:
1 U.S. Vice-President 3 U.S. Senators 3 governors 3 mayors 13 college presidents 30 judges 65 professors 80 public office holders 100 lawyers 100 missionaries
Edwards’ family, by all accounts made a major contribution to society.
This same study from 1900 examined a family known as “Jukes.” In 1877, while visiting New York’s prisons, Richard Dugdale found inmates with 42 differ-ent last names, all supposedly descending from one man: Max Jukes. He was born around 1720. He was a hard drinker, idle, and irreverent. Jukes’ descend-ants included:
7 murderers 60 thieves 50 women of debauchery (prostitutes) 130 other convicts 310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses 400 physically wrecked by indulgent living
The “Jukes” descendants cost the state more than $1,250,000.
Think of the power of influence. Now, think of the countless generations that your life might affect. Think of the power inherent in how we choose to live. The people in Old Testament and New Testament times had a choice to make; we do, too.
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24:15 ESV)
July 27, 2014
It’s Pretty Simple, Isn’t It?
Years ago McDonald’s had a commercial jingle that said, “You deserve a break today!” I know we all feel like we need a break from time to time. Stepping away from the routine (even as good as many routines are) is a healthy thing. In fact, Jesus modeled a lot about hard work but also about stepping back and “refueling.” Every year about this time I take stock of several things in my life, and not surprisingly, one of the things I give a good bit of thought to is ministry. When I’m away for a few days, I ask the hard questions, “Am I being effective?” “What can be done better?” “What difference are we making in our world?” You get the picture.
Vocational ministry is a joyful place to serve. Every vocation, career, and individual job has ups and downs, but in the big scheme of things pastoring a church is a joy. I love to celebrate weddings, baptisms, graduations, and other positive experiences with families. And I’m grateful to be invited into sacred spaces when families go through the process of death, loss, and grief for all kinds of reasons. This last year has been a great blessing to us for many reasons, but I’ve realized some things on the cultural front have been greatly disturbing to me. And one of the things that disturbs me most is the realization that apart from sharing the gospel and preaching the Bible and praying, it’s out of my control. I can’t fix the immoral milieu that has become America, and neither can you . . . but we can be faithful to Jesus who will change it all one day!
It’s easy to look at the world scene, recognize the decline of evangelicalism, even note some of the downward trends in our own denomination and give in to discouragement. Don’t do it! Here’s a reminder I give myself often: God really is Sovereign. He really is in charge. He really is King. You and I have the great privilege of working in concert with His Holy Spirit and cooperating with God for the good of the Kingdom, but you and I can’t change much of anything and we certainly can’t change people; only God can do that. Now, you can either let that thought bug you or you can be liberated by it and get some sleep tonight.
The story has been told for years about the theologian Karl Barth. Dr. Barth had traveled, written, and lectured extensively. He was a leading thinker of his day. As the story goes, when asked what he had learned in all of his travels, contemplation's, and studies, he said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? When we peel back the layers of all of our challenges, problems, etc., when we think about all the facets of our faith, here’s what it comes down to: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
I think Jesus wants to remind all of us about this fact. So remind each other, and remind me, too. And if I start to act like it all depends on me, somebody remind me, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I’ll do the same for you. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases . . .” (Lamentations 3:22a ESV)
July 6, 2014
If It Really is a “Treasure Book . . .”
One of the things people have repeated to me through the years is their desire to grow spiritually. People say, “I want to know more about God,” or “I want to be more effective in my service to Jesus.” Years ago I read a quote by Dallas Willard. He said, “I almost never meet someone in spiritual coldness, perplexity, distress, and failure who is regular in the use of those spiritual exercises that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of the New Testament.” Translated, if we want to grow spiritually, we stick to some basic spiritual disciplines; one of which would be reading the Bible.
According to Caleb Bell of Religion News Service, more than half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline, yet only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, according to a new survey.
“More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) think the nation's morality is headed downhill, according to a new survey from American Bible Society. The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles. If the Bible is so commonplace in America, wouldn’t its moral teachings counteract the downward trend? Almost a third of respondents said moral decline was a result of people not reading the Bible, while 29 percent cited the ‘negative influence of America’ and one in four cited corporate corruption. Doug Birdsall, president of American Bible Society, said he sees a reason for why the Bible isn’t connecting with people. ‘I see the problem as analogous to obesity in America. We have an awful lot of people who realize they're overweight, but they don't follow a diet,’ Birdsall said. ‘People realize the Bible has values that would help us in our spiritual health, but they just don't read it.’ If they do read it, the majority (57 percent) only read their Bibles four times a year or less. Only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week).”
As I say so often, “It’s not rocket science.” If we want to grow in our walk with Jesus, if we want to be more faithful as followers of Jesus, we simply cannot neglect time in His Word. This is the very reason we’re in the midst of our 180 Day challenge to read the New Testament. I’m in the midst of reading the New Testament again along with many of you. I can tell you this much: my personal spiritual growth is directly tied to my time spent reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). If it really is a “treasure book,” we’ll read it. And all God’s people said, “Amen!”