Religion

Could It Have Been Divine Protection?

I have been researching a current spiritual awakening in our world. God is appearing to Muslims all over the world in dreams and visions. The stories are incredible. In countries where the gospel is not allowed to enter, or in countries where Christianity is only moderately tolerated; Christ is appearing to men and women in dreams and visions.

I first learned of this when the past president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board spoke at Dallas Bay. At Dinner I asked him what was the most amazing thing God was doing in the world of missions. He said that Muslims were coming to our missionaries asking about this man in shining robes who was appearing to them in dreams. That was nearly 10 years ago and it seems to be proliferating.  

While reading the most recent edition of the "Voice of the Martyrs" magazine I saw a book advertised. It was on this very subject written by Tom Doyle who has been the head of another mission organization in the Middle East for many years. He has been told these stories for the last decade. He estimates in his book that as many as 1 out of 3 new converts to Christianity from Islam are having these visits by Jesus before converting to faith in Christ. In the dreams He comes to them in their sleep, but in visions Jesus is literally appearing to them to speak or warn them of impending doom. I read these stories with particular interest since a similar, but different thing happened to me last November. Here's my story:

I had traveled with a friend to Las Vegas to make a major check off my bucket list. I am a huge car guy and I have wanted to go to the SEMA show for years. This is the biggest after market auto accessories show in the world by far. There are customized cars as far as the eye can see. It takes days to just see a portion of it and over 100,000 people attend each year. Well there I was in Vegas with one friend who traveled with me and was meeting another the next day. So the second day in town the other friend arrived and we went straight to the show and then hours later to dinner. When we finally got back to the room the other two guys were ready to call it a night. I, however, was still pumped full of adrenaline and could not sleep. So I told the guys that I was going to walk down the street further than we had yet ventured and see what we might have missed. (Contrary to popular belief there is not a strip club on every corner. But there are beautiful buildings, fountains, art and some of the strangest people on the street than you have ever seen.)

I walked out of our hotel and took a right. I merged with the flow of pedestrians and set out for sights unknown. It happened in a split second. I heard someone coming up behind me making one of those strange mid-eastern vocalizations "yidee-yidee-yidee." (Say that as fast as you can repeatedly and it begins to resemble what I'm talking about.)  Then before I could turn around it got even stranger. Someone jumped on my back. I instinctively grabbed the persons legs and held on as they wrapped around my waist. Being the father of two boys I was conditioned to respond to this action to keep the boys from falling on their back. Then it registered that no one I knew was anywhere near me. I actually walked several feet holding on to this unknown rider.

When I finally turned around to see this person on my back I came face to face with someone of obvious middle eastern descent. He was a young man who appeared to be in his early thirties with dark hair and dark eyes. What was strange was that on his face was a huge smile. There was no smell of cigarettes or of alcohol on his breath. He smiled at me, dropped to the ground and turned to merge with fellow pedestrians. In a moment he had disappeared into the crowd. I stood there stunned for a moment and then began to do what most of you would do. I checked for my wallet and phone. I wasn't concerned because of his appearance; I was suspicious of his strange behavior. Patting my back pocket I was relieved to find that my wallet was still there. Reaching into my front pocket I felt for my cell phone. It was there too. Nothing had been stolen. I checked my hands for blood as I wiped them across my neck and arms and lower back. No blood. I hadn't been attacked.

Sort of in a daze I began slowly walking on the path I was taking before the strange incident had occurred. I stopped in just a few steps. The place all this had happened just a few moments ago was still clearly in view. I began to realize another strange thing. No one else had reacted to the bizarre event. They walked on by as if they had seen nothing or no one. I began  walking back the opposite way back to my hotel. As I passed by a security guard in front of one of the casinos I stopped to ask how often something like this happened on the strip. He told me he had never heard of such a thing before. His only advice was if it were to happen again I should "deck the guy."

I told my friends about it the next morning. We all had a good laugh. But in the back of my mind I kept asking what this was all about. I had almost forgotten about the event until I read in the book "Dreams and Visions" about Christ coming to certain  people to warn them of impending trouble. I began to piece the scenario together again. There I was alone walking on a street I had never been before. I did not know what was around the next corner. Was there someone there waiting for a person obviously alone? Could I have been walking into trouble? Could it be that He really is my ever present help in time of trouble even when I don't know the trouble is just around the next turn?

I do not presume to know exactly what happened and who, or Whom, that person was. I only know they did no harm. They could have done me a great deal of good. And I will always remeber the smiling face over my shoulder.

Hebrews 13:2 (NKJV)
2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

 

            


Christmas from a Father's Perspective

Rising early, as I do nowadays almost every morning, I sat in a corner chair by the fireplace and strolled down memory lane. As I sipped on strong black coffee I remembered a Christmas 26 years ago.

It was just after Christmas and we were in Memphis Tenessee. Our only son had just had surgery that morning and my wife and I were supposed to take turns being with our son in intensive care. He was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor from behind his heart and lungs. They had cut him open from the center of his back all the way to the center of his his chest. Our son had literally been cut in half.

Marilyn took the first watch while I fitfully tried to rest on a vinyl covered couch down th hallway of the hospital. after several hours she came back in the missle of the night and informed me it was my time to stand watch over our son. I don't remember if this was something we were told to do by the hospital, or just something we had to do as parents. I trudged down the hallway to sit near our 18 month old son. He was hooked to tubes and wires. There were bandages around his body. He shifted uncomfortably in the tiny bed as the drug induced sleep kept he horrible pain at bay.

I could only take it for a few minutes. I struggled to breath as I watched our little angel gasp deeply for each breath. I winced as I saw each breath bring his little body pain even though the nerves were dulled, but not elimintaed, through the medicine. I left the room and begged for my wife's forgiveness. I just couldn't stand to watch my little boy suffer like that.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it must have been hard for heaven to let Him go. God knew that the silence of the shephers fields would give way to a mocking and blood-thirsty crowd. This litle child would hang on the cross. His body racked with pain. Each breath a struggle. How hard it must have been for the Father to watch each painful breath. Even Christ's Heavenly Father could only watch His Son suffer for so long. The world turned dark at midday as the Father had to turn His face away. He could endure the suffering of His innocet Child no more.

Christmas is so much more that we ever dare to contemplate. It is a gift of unfathomable riches. It is a gift so precious because it cost so much. Thank God today that He loved us so much that He gave us His Son. Merry Christmas.       


December 26 thoughts...

It's the day after Christmas. This used to be the most dreadful day of the year. As a child, Christmas was so long anticipated that it consumed your every thought since Thanksgiving Day. The let down afterwards was like the deep depression you spiral into 30 minutes after you have eaten half a box of Krispy-Kremes. Not that I would know personally, but I've heard others talk about it. However, the good thing about being an adult is the day after Christmas isn't such a horrible thing. It's actually sort of resfreshing. The hectic pace of my job before Christmas becomes more tolerable after the holiday.

Now I can sit back and count my blessings. I was able to spend time with my family during all the chaos and I can testify that they all still claim to love me despite my faults. The church is in better financial shape than it has been in years. My staff is working well together. We have a great new guy coming on board in two weeks to take over the middle school ministry. The Christmas program was a big success and the Christmas Eve service was the best ever. And above it all; the world did not end on December 21. I'm glad.

That might surprise some of you. Aren't we Christians supposed to want to go home? In some ways I do, but in other ways I want to hang around. There's just too many people who need to trust in Christ that God may allow me to have some small part in their salvation. I have a few wrongs I would like to correct. There are people I have pushed away that deserve better from me. I want time to meet my grandson and help him grow to love my Lord. There are so many sermons I could have preached better with more conviction. I want some time to grow in wisdom. I want to mentor more young preachers. I want to be carried away in the Spirit before I am carried away to the Spirit. I want time to become the person I know God designed me to be.

So on this day after Christmas I'm glad God chose not to abide by the Mayan calendar and stuck to His own. Thank's God for the extra time. Help me spend it wisely.     


I've Got To Vent

OK, so I've kept my thoughts to myself as long as I can. But I have to speak up for the church. After all, I've given most of my waking hours for the last 21 years thinking about, working at, preparing or praying for the church. Why do I feel compelled to finally speak up? One more article in the local newspaper. It is about another church in our community that is supposed to appeal to those who do not like church. Supposedly, at this place (I'm trying not to use the C word), you can be of any religion and attend. In this place, that is more theatre than sanctuary, there will be no offering taken. All the trademarks of that outdated institution called the local church are not present at this establishment. Well praise the Lord! What a concept! (I hope you get the sarcasm in those statements.) It seems every other new..uh..uh..letmesee... non-religious place where non-religious people gather to practice religion is begun for the poor lost soul who doesn't like church. Well cry me a river. I don't like doctors or hospitals either, but I will go because I know that is where I can get quality medical care. You can call the waiting room an arcade and the operating room a theatre for all I care. It still doesn't make me want to go for the fun of it. I don't go until I know I need help.

(Take a deep breath Ken. Don't lose your witness over this.) [Words in quotes are the calming words of my wife that I hear in my head when she's not here to advise me.] I don't suspect the honest and genuine intentions of my brothers and sisters in Christ who begin these non-church churches. This latest attempt is being undertaken by a fellow I love dearly in the faith. He may have even taken some of his clues from me. No, I don't wear a suit to preach. I believe ties cut off circulation to the brain, and I need all the brainpower I can muster. I have no problem making the church building comfortable. The most uncomfortable seating in the world, besides the backseat of a Yugo, is a pew. I have the same philosophy with pews as I do snakes, "Never had them, never will!" But I hope I never gave the impression that I don't believe in the church.

In the article my friend made the statement that people of all races and colors will be welcomed at his place. Implied in that is they are not welcome in other churches. Except for a very few, and there are plenty reasons not to attend those besides prejudice, churches I know love and welcome people from every race and color. We are all God's creation.

The reason people are turned off from church is not the word "church" nor the physical environment. They are not cold toward the church because we take an offering. I am convinced it is not even the style of worship. They are turned off by the way they see Christians act when they are not at church. They see our judgmental and hypocritical lives. We want to remove the speck in their eye while we disregard the 2 x 4 in our own. They don't believe church can help them, because they don't see an improvement in us. If we would allow God to transform us we would not have to transform the church!

And about the offering. If we eliminate giving of of our finances we fail to teach people to put God first in every area of our lives. Besides, I have never seen the offering taken at gunpoint. People have the right to refuse to give just as they have the right to give abundantly. God doesn't want our money, just our heart. Christ established the church. He called it "My church." People will go to church for the very same reason I go to the hospital. That's where I know I can find help. In the hospital I find physical help. At church, I expect to find help for my spirit. If there's no help there, I won't go. I don't care if you offer diet Coke and Raisinettes! There, I feel better.


Netflix Insight

I am trying to get a grip on why some people attend one church, or another, or none at all. There are few weeks when we either don't enlist people into our fellowship or grant their membership elsewhere. With all the churches there are to choose from, what criteria do people use to choose whether to stay or go on? This is difficult for me since as a pastor I do not have the freedom to shop. My congregation tends to look negatively toward me joining or even attending elsewhere. :)

I am convinced it is not always about worship style. That has been debated since the first upright piano was placed carefully on the church platform where once only the pulpit was allowed. People's tastes will always favor one style over another, but I am convinced it is not the primary reason for people to choose a church. Too many people move from one church to another that has the same style of worship for that to be a major concern.

Sometimes, we preachers of the Word, want to believe it is the skill or passion of the preacher. The problem with that is that I have seen strong growing fellowships with only adequate preachers. I really believe God empowers His Word regardless of the skill of the pastor if his heart is inclined toward truth. Conversely, there are some gifted preachers who are not winning people to Christ, nor serving in growing churches, because of a proud spirit that God will not bless.

This morning I heard a wealthy Christian businessman make a profound statement that helped put my thoughts into proper perspective. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick fil a said; "I do not remember the price I paid the last time I visited a Chick fil a, but I do remember how I was treated."

An experience today may have helped me further determine at least a contributing factor why people choose one church over another. I cancelled my subscription to Netflix. I expected the hassle I had from AOL several years ago. Instead, they had a button to push on their customer service page to cancel my membership. The only delay was an additional button that would allow me to pause my subscription instead of cancel it. I chose to cancel by hitting the next button and was promptly sent to a page declaring my membership had been canceled. They said they hoped I would reconsider someday, but for now our relationship had been terminated. That was it. I wasn't told what a bad person I was for depriving my family of quality movies. They did not make me wait for another billing cycle. They were just as prompt to let me go as when I had joined. It was actually a pleasant experience.

Now what if we treated people at church with the same kind of dignity? What if we treated them as nicely after they were there for a year as we did the first week they came. At Dallas Bay you get a letter from me the first week you visit and then again the first week you join. You will also receive a phone call from another staff person on each of these two occassions. After that we encourage you to pick up a newsletter to hear what is going on around here. We encourage you from the pulpit to get involved in a small group, but we have no way of knowing if you ever did. We encourage you to support the church financially, but we rarely ever tell how that money is being used to help the Kingdom.

Personal touch is not easy in a big church, but is often the reason the church grew large in the first place. I don't want to become a victim of our own success. I'm not sure how I'm going to fix these things, but I am committed to meet them head on. I have some ideas, but they are pretty radical. Let's just see where the Lord leads on this one. I'll keep you informed. Hey, even if I haven't talked to you personally lately, please know that I love you and am praying for you. God bless, Pastor Ken.


Who Will Deliver Us?

I am a people watcher by nature and observing our society is becoming more painful every day. The city of New York established a "clergy free" zone at the World Trade Center site during the memorial service, while evangelical Christian leaders were not allowed to address the crowd at the National Cathedral in Washington. But on that same platform a Muslim cleric was asked to speak.

Locally, men of God are falling into temptation at an alarming rate.

Nationally, the most notable Christian leaders are being investigated for their luxurious lifestyles leading to government regulations that will make it difficult for humble ministers and churches that barely make ends meet to just survive.

Recently an influential newspaper compared a candidate's belief in God to believing in aliens.

Does anyone feel like I do? Our country is going to hell in a handbasket!

We have sought out material wealth and the pursuit of pleasure so long that we have neglected the righteous pursuit of God. Now God is allowing us to turn to them for our deliverance. He allowed the ancient Israelites to do the same.

Judges 10:11-14 (NKJV)
11 So the Lord said to the children of Israel, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines?
12 Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand.
13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more.
14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress."

God's character is consistent throughout the ages. If this was His word to the Israelites when they turned their back on Him, why would we believe He will not do the same to us.

Will Washington deliver us?

Will Wall Street deliver us?

Will Hollywood deliver us?

To turn to any of these human institutions is to turn our back on the only One who can truly deliver America. The solution is to turn back to the Lord and admit our sin. If we come together and admit our sins, stop turning to the institutions of this world for deliverance and call on the God of heaven for help, perhaps He will grieve with us over our fallen condition.

Judges 10:15-16 (NKJV)
15 And the children of Israel said to the Lord, "We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray."
16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

It is not too late to put away the foreign gods among us, but the time is growing short. May God hear the cry of the remnant who would turn America's heart back to God!


The Pin Wasn't the Problem

A couple of days ago my wife and I stood waiting for a table in a local restaurant. I am accustomed to people staring, because a lot of people have seen me while visiting Dallas Bay, but never up close and personal. But this time I heard them talking before I saw them stare. I heard a fellow at the booth say, "That's the pastor down there at Dallas Bay Baptist." (In the south, everything is down there.) I didn't want to immediately turn around, because I don't want to ever make people feel uncomfortable. In a few seconds I heard him say my name and just a part of a statement to the girl across from him that began, "He's the one that..." With that I couldn't help to turn towards them. When I did he was looking me square in the face. "Hey, how are you?', is all I could think to say to avoid a silent and awkward moment. Then the terrible words I dread to hear. "You remember me don't you?" I usually come up with a lame statement like, "No, I'm sorry. I can't remember my children's names half the time."

I did seem to remember this guy's face from the not too distant past though. He told me his name and the name of his parents. He had attended the church where I used to belong and was first called to preach. That was more years ago than I like to remember. He introduced me to his wife and said they had been thinking about attending Dallas Bay. I told him that was great, but I didn't want to take him from his church. He said they don't go to church very often and had tried a few places when they had gone. He then looked at his wife and said, "He's the one who caused mom to take the pin off my shirt one night after church." Do what? He went on to recall how I had preached a message against rock-and-roll and got him in trouble with his mom. It seems he had worn a Rolling Stones pin on his shirt to church that night. You may remember the one he was talking about. You know the one with the lips and the dangling tongue. She yanked it off and told him he could never wear it again. I remember that sermon. It attacked everyone from Ozzie to Alice. (Osborne and Cooper for those of you not of my generation.) I talked about the Satanic beat of Santana and the back tracked words of Led Zeppelin. The parents loved it and the kids wouldn't speak to me afterwards.

I assured the young man that I was sorry. I told him that if you walk into my office today you might find me listening to Eric Clapton while working on Sunday's message. Music is just as bad today as it was then, but I don't find myself being led to write messages condemning music anymore. I have come to realize music is a symptom, not an illness. It is easy to criticize things you can see when they are not the problem at all. I have also come to believe real problems are deep not as easy to detect as song lyrics. They lie deep inside where they can be hidden from public view. Kids rebelled with music when I was a teen for the same reason they do today. They are looking for things with eternal meaning and value and can't find them in the things of this world. Illicit sex and the use of drugs were popular themes of music then and still are today. We just tried to mask it with clever words and today's music is more direct. The problem was, and is, a sin problem and not a music problem at all. Jesus referred to the hypocisy of only condemning the outside while the inside was really the problem as He confronted the Pharisees. I'm sure they preached against music too while they were rotten to the core on the inside. Probably closet Molly Hatchet fans!

I have changed the way I preach since I caused that young man to lose his rock-and-roll pin. I still think a lot of music is just nasty. It is trashy and vulgar. It was when I was a kid, and it is today, but there is a deeper problem to deal with. When we just verbally assault songs and singers, or movies and actors, or writers and their stories, we do not come near solving the problem. People need Jesus. I know that is cliche, but it has never been more true. They, like many Christians, are just using the gifts God gave them in an unwise fashion. The answer is to offer the same grace to these folks as God offered to us. Grace that can forgive and transform. When they come to Christ they won't need me, or you, to tell them what kind of music to listen to. His Spirit will lead them into making positive entertainment choices. The conviction of the Spirit is more powerful than the loudest preacher. I'm not saying the pin was a good thing to wear to church. It probably wasn't, given the messages in that album. I'm just saying it wasn't the problem.


God's Breadcrumbs

I am very interested in Biblical archaeology. I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to old scrolls, pieces of pottery and ancient ruins. While in Israel I am often left standing alone in front of a dig while others are heading to the bus or souvenir shop. I love what these old artifacts tell us about the world of Moses, Isaiah or Jesus.

One of the most fascinating relics to me is the ossuary (bone box) with the inscription of the occupying bones as "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus." This 2,000 year old burial box is a possible link to our Savior. Of course we cannot prove it is the "Jesus" of our Bible. It was a popular name in those days. But the fact that he was also the son of Joseph is fascinating. That coupled with the fact that the brother is mentioned at all is compelling. Usually, siblings were not mentioned, especially if there were several and only one is mentioned. In that case, the brother mentioned would have to be important.

Recently I came across another great find. About 10 years ago an oil lamp dated in the 1st century surfaced that is just now being published for the public to see. It is unusual in several respects. First, it is carved from stone and not molded from clay. This is very rare and uually indicates it is for ritual use since clay is given to impurities. You might remember that we are regarded as clay in the potters hands and that Jesus is the "rock" that the builders rejected. Simon was renamed Peter, that is rock, by Jesus when he showed signs that he was becoming sensitive to the voice of God. Second, it is large. It is about 9 inches acrosses and weighs 4 pounds. That is huge for an ancient artifact. Thirdly, and I find this the most fascinating, it has seven spouts where flames would be lit. Most oil lamps have one. Rare lamps have two. This is incredibly rare.

Picture

My mind immediately raced to the opening chapters of Revelation. Jesus is said to be in the midst of seven golden lampstands. You may note that the opening where the oil would be placed in this ancient lamp is in the middle of the lamp between the seven spouts. Oil in the Bible stands for the presence of God's Holy Spirit. In Revelation 1:14 John declares "His eyes were like a flame of fire." Flames of fire would have surrounded this oil lamp when lit. The text goes on to emphasize the importance of the number 7. There are seven stars, seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls and seven angels.

Could it be that this rare and ancient article, most probably used in Temple worship in Jerusalem, was the basis for the symbolism of God's revelations to John. Could it be that it has been found in the last days to remind us that He is coming soon? I believe God leaves us breadcrumbs so that we may not lose our way. Maybe, these two recent finds in Israel are God's breadcrumbs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sooner than Later

I had to respond to an article I just read on my iPad Fox News app. Iran has moved some of its nuclear centrifuge machines to an underground mountain location in Fordo. They claim the centrifuges are being used to produce radioisotopes for cancer patients.

Iran has openly declared their intentions to destroy Israel. The enriched uranium not only can be used for medical purposes, but it is also the key ingredient to producing a powerful nuclear weapon. The President of Iran has indicated in previous speeches that he feels it is his mission to see both Israel and the United States defeated. Sooner than later is his declared time frame.

The cavernous facility near the holy city of Qom is nearing completion. For believers it is clear that God's intentions are nearing completion as well. Soon we will hear the trump of God and the voice of the archangel. I believe it is sooner than later. Look up for our redempion draws near.


Maybe It's the Heat

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's because I am about 10 days out from summer vacation with the family. Or maybe it's because I'm on edge about a doctor's appointment on Friday. But I'm in a sorry mood. The staff are keeping their distance. The family waits for me to speak first when I get home and the dogs run the other way when I pull into the driveway. You know what's ticking me off now. Some religious group, who appears to speak for all of us evangelicals, is telling people to not participate in a call to prayer this Saturday in Texas.

It seems Governor Perry of Texas is calling for people of faith to come together this weekend.  He is going to lead out in prayer for this country. There are no T-shirts being sold. No concession stands. Just prayer and reading from God's Word. So why is this religious group opposed. Here are a few of the headlines they have sent to me. "Texas Governor's August 6th Prayer Event Includes Cult Members",   "How the Church of Rome, Protestants, Hindus, and All the World’s Religions Are Becoming One", and "God Cannot and Will Not Bless this Event or Our Nation for being Unequally Yoked with Unbelievers." It seems some of the group are not of the same denomonation as the fundamentalist group reporting these headlines. Thus they are unbelivers.

Do you think that God might be wise enough to discern whether a prayer is coming from an unbeliever or one of His children? Would it be better to boycott an event because not everyone is of our faith, or by being a part bring the presence of the Holy Spirit with us? Come on. Can't we just applaud a politician for standing up for his faith? Do we have to alienate every unbeliever on the planet because we are so isolated we cannot speak without our face turning blood red with indignation and self righteousness. Here me well. I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. I believe the Bible is true from cover to cover. There is a real heaven and a real hell. But I do not believe any one group of Christians has exclusive rights nor have the right to condemn other believers who are not as right or as left as they are. Being a Southern Baptist I can attest to the truth of that. When we secured our seminaries from the hands of liberal professors and adminisrtators, we then proceeded to hunt down those who were not conservative enough. It has led to a decline in our denomination and baptisms. We need to get over ourselves. (I told you I was in a sorry mood!)

Thank you Governor Perry for calling your state to prayer. I wish we had faithful national leaders who would do the same. I am praying for you and your event. I would encourage you to do the same.