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October 2009 entries

A Reason to Grieve

It was not easy to find. Very little mention anywhere on the internet. Nothing on my homepage news section. So I had to go to Foxnews.com. It was hidden deep on the page two levels under politics and obscurely worded on the White House daily agenda section like this:

1805 President Obama will host a reception to commemorate the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He will deliver brief remarks at 6:05 PM, and will be joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, civil rights community leaders and others.

Let me expand. This evening at a few minutes after 6 the president will sign the latest installment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He will be joined by lesbian, gay and transgendered activists to celebrate the occassion. These people are now the most protected minority in America. Look for lawsuits to be flying from the cubicles of ACLU lawyers as early as tomorrow morning.

As a Christian I am commanded to pray for our leaders and I do. I am told to love others and treat them as I want to be treated and I try. But it is getting harder and harder to turn the other cheek. I think of all our founding fathers and past presidents. How it would burden them to know that a country founded on a firm belief in the truth of God's Word has fallen so far from it's roots.

May I stately as firmly as I know how in the love of Christ. God loves every man, woman, boy and girl equally and abundantly. He loved us all so much that He gave the ultimate sacrifice to bring us all to a saving relationship with Himself. However, we must not forget that while His love for us was the motivation for His death on the cross; our sin was the ugly scar that made his painful death necessary. How it must grieve the heart of God when people flaunt, protect, and promote their sin openly before the world. It should grieve the heart of His children as well.  


Let's Not Give the Devil His Due

Eleven days from now it will be October 31. Halloween. The night before All Saints Day and thus All Hallows Eve. I approach this time with mixed feelings. Growing up I always looked forward to the grocery store setting up displays of children's costumes. Yes, I said grocery store. I grew up in Daisy, before it became Soddy-Daisy, and we didn't have a toy store. So you bought your costume at the grocery store. I was Casper one year. I went as Spiderman another. Not that these costumes would fool anyone mind you. They were packaged in flat boxes with the mask peering out through a sheet of cellophane. The picture on the box was not at all like the costume in the box. Kind of like that 7 foot Frankenstein in the back of comic books that you could order for $1. The cardboard creature bore little resemblance to the scary picture on the page. And just try and get your money back!!! I'm sorry, I had to let go of some childhood pent-up frustration. Anyway, I always liked the night of Halloween and as far as I can remember my church spoke little for or against it.

I even went to a few Halloween parties as an adult. I found out these parties were different from any other time of year only in that the guy passed out in the hedges was now dressed like Batman. It kind of lost it's luster. Then a few years ago I talked to a police detective who shared some info with me about this time of year. He told me of places where dis-membered cats were scattered around make-shift altars in woods around Chattanooga. He talked of suspicious vans that drove slowly through neighborhoods while children played alone. I began to look into these things for myself and found them to be true. I learned later that animal shelters ceased cat adoption in the week prior to Halloween for fear that they would be abused. I learned that both witches and devil worshipers understood the dark significance of this night even if the church chose to ignore it. As a Christian and a pastor I began to be convicted of not taking a stand during a time when death and darkness were being marketed to our children. After all the Bible says, "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." Col. 1:13 Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commanded believers to "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:11.

So it has been years since our family handed out treats at the front door. Instead we began a Fall Festival at church where we give kids an opportunity to have fun in a safe environment. A place where death and darkness are not portrayed. It has been a great success. I even deliver what many have come to call my "pumpkin smashing message" on the Wednesday night before Halloween. So mission accomplished right? I thought many of the things I used to warn parents of during this season have become non-existent. I know the old razor in the apple has proven to be an urban myth, but many of the other atrocities really took place at Halloween. And recently a very prominent story about an abducted little girl has become headline news. But not around here, right? Just this Sunday morning a concerned grand-mother asked me to share this story. Her grand-daughter and another little girl were playing less than a mile from our church when a dark truck slowed down nearby. A man in a black hoody jumped from the truck as the two girls ran screaming to a nearby neighbor's house. The mother reported to the police but no one has been detained. So the battle between darkness and light, good and eveil goes on.   

I may be a little one-sided now when it comes to my views about Halloween, but I would rather err on the side of safety than give the devil his due. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21 I hope you can be at DBBC on the 28th when I share wat the Bible says about the Christians response to the occult and the history of Halloween. See you then.    


Waiting to be Moved

I want to continue the discussion I began in my last entry. If you haven't read it I will wait until you do before I continue......some of you are sure slow readers......OK that got everybody caught up? The subject is power. Not just any power, but I'm talking specifically about the power of God. I have been reading books about people's experiences and interviewing men and women about the times God has manifested Himself in their lives. I have become convinced God wants to move today as He did in the past. Too often when I hear preachers speak about the power of God it is often in the past tense. Sort of like being shown the remains of an old church as the tour guide speaks of how great things used to happen in the church centuries ago. I have even heard one Christian radio host say that we don't experience the power of God anymore because we have His Word. It's like the power and the presence of God cannot co-exist with the Word of God. I strongly disagree. I believe they work hand in hand with one another. They are two sides of the same coin if you will.

Jesus was the Word of God incarnate. In John 1 John writes, "the Word was God" speaking of Jesus. Then in verse 2 he says, "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." That's the power of God. Paul writes in Romans 1:16 that  the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." Once again associating the power of God with the Word of God. Acts 4:33 says that with "great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus". Two verses prior the Bible says that "the place where they were assembled was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke Word of God with boldness."

The two were never meant to exist in a vacuum. I believe that where the Bible is taught and preached that it should be coupled with the presence of God and where His presence is known His power will be evident. A great example is D.L. Moody. Listen how remembers a day that God manifested Himself in his life.

"My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York- oh what a day!- I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name...I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of HIs love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world."

I spoke to a gentleman just yesterday who was a student at Asbury College in Kentucky when the great move of the Spirit broke out unexpectantly years ago. It seems that during chapel service a young man asked if he could stand and give a testimony. In his testimony he confessed his sins and sought God's forgiveness. In moments hundreds of students filled the aisles weeping. It was not until 17 days later that this great move of God relented. The school held no classes for 10 days. The revival broke out in the city as well as on the campus.

I firmly believe God is going to do this again. He is waiting for true repentance and broken hearts. God has not changed. He wants to be known and experienced. His power has not diminished. Pray with me that we are a part of that movement of God. That we remain flexible enough to move when He says move. To be sensitive to His prompting and to stay pure in our motives. If we desire His presence then His power will surely follow.  


Real Power or Just Slick Packaging?

I am looking at the latest deluge of mass mailings on my desk. I have shared this with you before. Most of what I get is never read, examined, contemplated or even opened. You probably have the same problem. If all the unsolicited mail that I receive were never produced my world would be less cluttered and many more trees would populate the landscape. However, something more than just waste is the reason I'm ranting. Most things I get in the mail are Christian in nature. More than just Christian, I would call it the Christian industry. You know, books, art, music and movies. Wow, have we ever gotten good at packaging ourselves. This is slick stuff. You used to spot something inspirational in nature by the "cheesy" or cheap way it was packaged. Regardless of the product it seems there was always a lamb or a sword, or both, somewhere on the cover. Not now. I'm looking at some CD covers as I write. Hollywood or Nashville would be proud. Cool looking stuff with awsome graphics and thought provoking images. We have really learned to compete on the secular level for the almighty dollar.

Why is that with all our marketing prowess that Christianity is in decline in the countries that have the most to spend in marketing our message. I think I may have a clue. What I have discovered in my own life may be true for society in general. Marketing no longer impresses me. It is not so important that we can illustrate the gospel as it is that we demonstrate it in our lives. It is possible to produce a flashy package with no content on the inside. In my spiritual life I am more and more discontent with fluff. I'm looking for substance. Paul writes, "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power." 1 Corinthians 4:20 Mere words are not enough. Just to be fluid or persuasive in speech no longer satisfies. I'm looking for the manifest presence of God to show up in my life. I want to know that we are not just proficient at marketing the message but that the power of God in our lives convinces unbelievers that our God is real. Luke records that it was the power of God displayed in the apostles lives that led unbelievers to be saved. "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33

When faced with great trials as I know many of you are, it is the presence and power of God that gives us strength to face the uncertain. My prayer for you and me is best expressed in the prayer of Paul for the Christians at Ephesus, "that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power."  That is powerful stuff, indeed.


Simple Faith

While my wife and I were away at a conference in the Smokey Mountains we heard an author speak about the basic pinciples of his book. I had already read his work, Simple Church, and knew mostly what he was to say. Basically, he suggests the church has become too complex and is trying to do more things than it was ever intended to do. His contention, and I think an accurate one, is that too many things done does not allow any to be done well. That core strengths are sacrificed to support areas of weakness. Resources, particularly time, are limited and  we should spend those resources doing what we have been called by God to do. I was not on the edge of my seat. Not because I do not agree, I do. It's just that I have tried to follow that same lolgic for years at DBBC and for the most part it is a viable and efficient way to do church. It's kind of like the "purpose driven" concept written about from Rick Warren. Many churches, including Dallas Bay, were following the purpose driven model before Pastor Rick made the term well known. Unfortunately, none of the rest of us had the spiritual foresight to make it into a best selling book. If I had we would not be meeting for multiple services in a overcrowded worship center, our mission teams would never have to delay trips because of lack of funds and our staff would be better compensated. But I digress. Back to the simple church. While the church I pastor does a pretty good job of keeping ministry simple, I'm learning in my spiritual journey that I have gotten too complex in my thinking. Let me explain.

Just a few days ago our small group met at my home for dinner and a study. We are discussing Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven." It's a good book and Mr. Alcorn is a competent author and scholar. What should be a learning time for all of us sometimes becomes a time of confusion when we we try and determine the differences between the "past heaven, "present heaven (intermediate heaven if you like)", and the future or "eternal heaven" which is also called the "new heaven and new earth." Or we try and determine if there is a body unlike the body we have today but before our glorified resurrected body that we inhabit after the grave and before the resurrection. (If you got confused after that sentence then you probably belong to our small group.) Do we eat in heaven? Do we work? What about people who are alive when the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth begins? What happens to them? Can they get saved? Why does God release Satan one last time anyway? The discussion leads us to places where we need to drop breadcrumbs just to find our way back to the book. The problem is I am the facilitator and I often lead us into these shadowlands by my own questions. You know what I have found. While pursuing the answers to our questions is intellectually challenging they do nothing to build me spiritually. Sometimes I find my faith strained by unanswered questions that nag at the back of my spiritual mind. Enter God.

God, knowing I was being eaten alive by spiritual minnows of my own making was all the while protecting me from the sharks in "heavenly places" that sought to destroy me, had me sick enough to stay home from work for the next few days. While resting on the couch in front of the big screen I turned to a 30 minute Billy Graham Evangelistic Association program. I usually don't watch BG programs. Instead I lean toward the more "heady" stuff. You know the stuff that makes you think; like apologetics or eschatology. But God entered. He had me watch this program where Franklin Graham joind with several contemporary groups to hold a concert under the arch in St. Louis. I thought I would listen while the groups sang and turn the channel when Franklin began to preach. By his own admission it would only be a 5 to 10 minute simple gospel message. I was intrigued as the thousands of kids and adults entered the grounds and began to rock to the music. They had followed some of the kids there and for the most part they were runaways living on the street. When Franklin Graham walked to center stage wearing a ball cap and holding a microphone I reached for the remote. His first words, "God loves you!" He repeated it several times. He told the kids God wanted all of them to know Him and live with Him forever. It didn't matter if they were involved in drugs, sex, or alcohol. God still loved them and died for them. I was captured by the simplicity of the message. I put the remote down. The camera began to pan across the faces of the people in the audience. They were captivated by the thought. God loved them. They listened. They watched him speak as if they were mesmerized by every word. Mr. Graham was honest in his appraisal of his message. It was simple and brief. He concluded as his father had done for decades by asking them to come forward and speak to counselors at the big screens. I watched with eyes filling with tears as kids, preteens, teens and young adults came forward with their eyes filled with the same tears. I saw grateful parents with their hands in the air praising God for answered prayers. I watched as teen counselors opened their Bibles and led their peers to Christ. At that moment I don't think anyone there was concerned whether Jesus was returning at the beginning of the tribulation or in the middle. Or if we eat or play golf in heaven. And neither did I. I was reminded what is most important about my faith. Jesus loves. God entered.