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.

 

            


A Wild Ride

January marks an important milestone in my life. Twenty-five years ago I left my job in IT and became the pastor of Dallas Bay Southern Baptist Mission. It is now most often referred to as just "Dallas Bay."It has been an incredible journey.

I began thinking back on all the wonderful people Christ has sent my way who have helped so much. Words spoken at just the right time; cards that were left on my desk in the midst of a crisis; texts that were encouraging and uplifting; all seemed to know exactly what was happening and what I needed at the time. I'm thankful for the Holy Spirit Who knows my heart and shares it with the right people at the right time.

I think back at all the decisions I had to make that could potentially effect so many people's lives. I haven't always done the right thing. Sometimes I erred on being too harsh or demanding. Other times I erred on the side of being too soft and naive. Still sometimes, not as often as I would like to believe, I got it right. As I was reminded lately, many members of the Baseball Hall of Fame barely got a hit one out of every three times they were at bat and most struck out twice as many times as they knocked it out of the park. Tht's encouraging.

The greatest blessing has been seeing God redeem and resurrect fractured and hurting people through the ministry of Dallas Bay. What a privilege I have had being a small part in such a wonderful venue for God's amazing grace. Many of you who read this blog were receipients of His grace through this great church.  I rejoice with you for the incredible things He has done.

It is only right to reflect at such a time as this. However, it is wrong to only look to the past. I pray that God continues to bless and prosper Dallas Bay for many years to come. I hope that He allows me to enjoy this wild ride for a while longer. I hope to see you Sunday.   


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.       


The Supernatural

With Halloween tomorrow evening I am surprised the number of people who consider themselves followers of Christ who do not believe in the supernatural. One radio talk show host insisted that the protests some Christians make about celebrating Halloween is simply nonsense. Unfortunately that sentiment is echoed by Christians that have concluded the belief in demons and angels has no place in modern Christianity.

However the Word of God makes the belief in the supernatural necessary for salvation. 

Romans 10:9 (NKJV) 

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

What could be more supernatural than a dead man coming back to life and walking among the living? How can we separate the paranormal truths of a bodily reurrection of Christ and a future bodily resurrection of all believers from the other spiritual claims of the Bible?  Does modern Christianity accept the ministry of angels but delegate their fallen peers to horror and science fiction authors' fantasies?

I, for one, choose to believe in all the Bible. I believe in a literal Satan. I believe there are demonic forces directing the hands of immoral governments and radical terrorists. Paul, the same writer who claimed you could not folow Christ without beliving in His supernatural resurrection also warned us of opposing demonic forces.

 Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

I don't advocate looking for demons under every rock or around every corner. Humanity is capable of evil deeds without the direction of unseen evil forces, but that doesn't mean certain acts of violence and ungodliness aren't iniated or promoted by "spiritual hosts in the heavenly places."

If the modern church continues on this path of denying the power and involvement of evil forces in the world, can it be very long before we deny the existence of the Holy Spirit Who empowers and directs the activities true believers today. The Bible prophecies of such a day.

 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NKJV)
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,
4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

 I suppose this view will make me an alarmist in the eyes of some. But in a day when the church grows increasingly weaker and Satan is advancing faster than ever before, we cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend He doesn't exist. 

I just had to get that off my chest. 

 

 


Here's How I Remember that Day

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I was sitting at my desk around 8:30 gathering material for that week's staff meeting that would begin at 9:00. Just moments before 9 my wife calls to tell me a plane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers in NYC. I told her it was probably a suicide in a small plane or maybe a mail or cargo plane that got off course. Then only a minute or two later one of our preschool workers stuck her head in my office doorway to tell me of the plane. I shared the same opinion with her that I had with my wife; some poor tormented soul or a terrible miscalculation. I left to walk next door to the conference room for our meeting.

As we set down our youth minister was obviously shaken. He said that he had heard a second plane had hit the second tower. This woud have been only minutes after 9 a.m. He had a special connection with NYC and had returned only a short time ago from New York with many of our high school students. I assured him that news was often distorted during the first few minutes after a tragedy. I was sure it was still only one plane. After all, two planes would be hard to dismiss as an accident or suicide.

It was decided that we should bring a TV from one of the classrooms into the conference room just to get the facts clear. There was a somber atmosphere in the room which was a marked contrast from the laughter that usually permeated the air, at least at the beginning of these weekly meetings. We all sat stunned as the news ran replays time after time of the first and second towers being targeted by commercial airliners. The rest of the meeting and the workday is a blur. I'm not sure we got anything accomplished that day other than prayer for our country. We all went home early as did millions of other Americans and watched the tragedy unfold before us.

My last memory of that day is with my wife on the front porch of our home. We lived only a few miles beyond a nuclear plant. The night sky was clear. The roads were eerily silent as I supposed most people were huddled with family around the TV. My wife and I had spent much of the day assuring the boys that we were going to be ok. As Marilyn and I instinctively looked at the beautiful night sky above us we could see planes passing overhead. I told her that those had to be military aircraft because all civilian flights had been grounded in the United States. Then we noticed the pattern of the planes. The trails they left behind them made it look as if they were playng tic-tac-toe in the night sky. I then realized they were flying a grid pattern above the nuclear plant nearby. That's when it hit me. A thought began to form that sent a chill down my spine. I looked at my wife and said, "Things from this day forward will never be the same. America has been attacked on our own soil. This changes everything."

I thank God, as I'm sure you do as well, for the men and women who have prevented such attacks from being repeated. You know events like 9/11 have been thwarted time and time again since that horrible day. I also know that God has protected our nation from harm. Let's not let up from our prayers for His divine protection. Let's remain vigilant to protect our freedom and may we never take that freedom for granted.

"He is my rock and my refuge, My God in whom I will trust." Psalm 91:2           


My Reaction to our New Mission Leader and What His Election Means

I wish to remain as objective as I can and choose my words carefully as I write. Only a few minutes ago did I learn the identity of the new prsident of the Southern Baptist's International Mision Board. He is David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingaham, Al. David is an author, husband and devoted father. He has a heart for the underprivileged of the world and has made more than just shallow gestures and has shown intense concern followed by personal action. His book, Radical, has caused a lot of people to reconsider their materialistic lifestyles and look to get involved in caring for the hurting. His heart and his integrity are not what concern me.

What does concern me is that David is at the forefront of the Calvinistic reformation of the Southern Baptist Convention. His close association with men like Al Mohler, John Piper and Mark Dever place him squarely in the camp of those trying to shape SBC polity and doctrine. The fact that Pastor Platt was elected by the trustees of the IMB says that the weight of influence has now swung in the favor of those who teach God's predertimantion over the free election of man in salvation. This is not the same denomination I have been a part of for over 30 years. Gone are the days of Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, and W.A. Criswell. Gone soon will be  the days of pleading with men to accept the free offer of salvation. Fearful if they were to leave without making a decision to follow Christ they may be eternally lost without Him. My heart breaks for our denomination. My heart breaks for the lost.

I want to state as clearly as I know how that the God I serve would never condemn any man, woman, girl or boy to hell. I will preach that until my last breath regardless of the direction the SBC takes from this day forward. Lord, help us all!     


Oh, How Things Have Changed

Disclaimer: If you read this blog for deep spiritual insight only you should leave this page immediately. For those who are one day older today than you were yesterday; read on.

After two weeks of painful spasms and burning in my lower back my wife and I ventured out (slowly) Saturday to purchase a new mattress. Our old one is turning 8 years old and is only a shadow of its former self. Following my strict dogma of getting at least two prices for any major purchase we left the first store and headed toward another. The second was to be a mere formality to justify my legalistic rule mentioned above. We had already determined to buy a similar mattress as 8 years before and were surprised at the reasonable cost. We had found it at the first store and were pleased with the pleasant demeanor of the salesman.

Expecting to spend only a few moments in the second store before ordering our mattress from the first, I walked into the showroom already half bent over in pain. The short ride from one store to the next had sent my pain level into the red zone.

"Well hello ya'll I'll be with you in just a second" a resounding voice said from the back of the store. Withing seconds the sweet lady was extending her hand toward my wife and me. She introduced herself and quickly led us to a bed asking all the while about my back. She said "We'll start right here on this Cadillac. I don't expect you will buy this one but it's where I always start. Go on get up in that bed. Don't worry about taking your shoes off neither. That's what that thing right there's for" she said as she pointed at a cloth cover on the foot of the bed. Marilyn and I climbed in. It felt a lot like ours did before 8 years of wear and tear. Then she did it. Without knowing it my feet began to raise. Then my head. In just moments my feet were slightly above my heart and something miraculous took place. For the first time in more than two weeks my back no longer hurt.  

The saleslady smiled when she saw the relief on my face. She had been hiding a remote behind her back the whole time. This girl was good. Then she said, "Now I'm going to let the bed back down, honey." As the bed became more horizontal my pain began to return. I accused her of going beyond horizontal because now it felt awkward to lay there. "No, honey it's just like the bed you sleep on at home. It's not a hard mattress you need. You've just been sleeping in the wrong position." She returned the bed to it's position with my head and feet elevated. I handed the credit card to my wife. Sold!

Now I am anxiously awaiting the beds arrival on Wednesday. To say that I'm excited would be a gross understatement. I could not be more excited if I were being given a new Ferrari. Sad isn't it. My youngest son called it a nursing home bed. He asked would it also turn, elevate and help me ourt of bed. I clearly explained to him that we did not purchase that option. However, it could be added later. As we get older different things excite us than when we were younger. The mountains are more appealing than the beach. (It's a bathing suit thing.) Comfort is more exciting than speed. Men's waistbands get higher as women's hems get lower. And I'll opt for a good home cooked meal any day over a fancy restaurant because the conversation is more important than the food when you get my age.

So I'm counting the minutes until the bed arrives. Wednesday night heavens bells are going to chime..... Did I mention it vibrates too?        


Gravity

It is unsettling to see so many public figures spiraling out of control. Their lives are fodder for nightly entertainment programs, blogs and podcasts that prosper by exposing and  dispersing their unfortunate public exhibitions of stupidity. This is particularly true as it relates to young men and women whose gifts and talents position them to do so much good in this world if they were able to remain intact. I believe God has a unique purpose for each of  us. He gifts some with great personal attributes so that they may do great things according to His divine plans. This is why the enemy works overtime to destroy or discredit these young lives before their potential is ever realized. What happens to cause such senseless waste of potential?

I propose one way such a tragedy takes place. In God's economy He has created the irrefutable law of gravity. Things that have mass have gravity. The greater the mass the greater the gravity. This law not only relates to inanimate objects but to people as well. So as a person's life becomes increasingly large he or she will draw more people around themselves. Jesus said, "And I, If I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself." (John 12:32) Jesus was of course talking about His death. When we magnify Jesus by sharing His great love for us then people will be drawn to Him. As He becomes greater He draws multitudes as a gravitational pull to His side.

So, as these talented and promising young stars get more attention and fame their mass increases. In essence they are "lifted up" in the eyes of millions who live vicariously through their misadventures. With gravity comes influence. It is intriguing to consider that although the moon is much smaller than the earth it greatly affects the way the earth behaves. So it is with us as our lives become more publicly exploited. Before long, these gifted young talents are acting in ways contrary to their nature and resembling more of those who have been attracted by their fame. Parents are replaced by managers and high school friends are squeezed out in favor of admiring fans.

I have also seen this is my world. Christian leaders, in a much smaller way than the music or movie industry, increase in popularity and influence. As their mass increases (no fat preacher jokes here please, I know what you are thinking) so does the number of followers. Before long the temptation is to change one's behavior according to the expectations of their admirers. Gravity is not a bad thing at all. After all God created the concept so it must have purpose. I have found that a large church has mass. The larger the church the greater the gravity. There is literally not a week out of the year where we are not visited by people who have never walked in the doors of our church. Each week we are seen in dozens of countries and 40 states over the internet. Our mass draws people. The question I have to ask is, "Who are we drawing them to?" If I draw them to myself then I am setting my life to spiral downward and waste the precious gifts He has given me for His glory. Yet, some Christian leaders do just that. They are often at the pinnacle of their success when they suddenly self destruct.

When Christian leaders fail the results are catastrophic. How do we guard against such catastrophic failure? By following the example set by the John the Baptist. He knew of gravity and the danger of allowing people to be drawn into orbit around himself. That is why he declared, 


29 "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease."  John 3:29-30 (NKJV) 

 Paul knew the danger of gravity as well.

 
14 "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.  1 Corinthians 1:14-17 (NKJV)

 So wherever God has placed you to excel, be careful to point others to Him. He is the one who prospers you so that you may be protected and that His name be exalted!

        

 


Do We Need the Spirit to Empower Our Churches?

Richard Bargas addressing the 2013 annual meeting of the Evangelical Homiletics Society said, "Nowhere does the Bible command ministers to seek God's unction for empowering the preaching of the Word." He concluded by stating, "When Christ is preached from the pulpit with prayer, passion and precision, there is power."

Let me respond with a thoughtful theological Christian response: that's stupid, idiotic, and downright dangerous. I hope that was dignified enough for my readers. Once again we have a supposed contemporary church expert devalue the work of the Holy Spirit. If you don't understand unction, it is simply the empowerment of the Spirit of God to the preacher in order to supernaturally accomplish what he humanly speaking cannot. Thankfully Mr. Bargas did not eliminate prayer from his prescription for preaching with power. He did, however, totally exclude the Holy Spirit.

I will not defend my assessment of his proclamation as stupid or idiotic except to remind my readers that Jesus Himself was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) and He instructed His disciples to wait for power before beginning their preaching ministry. (Luke 24:9) That power came in Acts 2 with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I will explain my assessment of his proclamation as dangerous. This way of thinking, and it is growing, is replacing a dependency on the Holy Spirit with passion and precision. Young pastors are entering into pulpits today having been taught that one preaching method is superior to another. They are being influenced by people they respect to eliminate emotion from their preaching and worship services. I for one have to say that there are times when I enter into a time of preaching with very little passion. I have to turn to the Spirit of God just to give me strength to preach. In many of these instances God shows up in the message in ways that results in sinners being saved, bondage being broken and people being delivered.   I have entered into preaching on other occassions when I thought that the message was precise and powerful because of its content. I have often left for home on those Sundays asking why the message fell on deaf ears.

If the next generation of preachers is characterized by precise, passionate, yes even prayerful preaching, without the Spirit's empowerment then we will be left with an empty faith that has been replaced with lifeless orthodoxy. We will have beautiful empty buildings. Perhaps Europeans will visit out great cathedrals so that their admission price can pay to maintain our buildings.

 Romans 8:10 (NKJV)
10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

 

            


Will We Have Belly Buttons in Heaven?

I'm taking a moment to come up for air. I have been deeply submerged in thought as I have formulated my thoughts for the last message on heaven to be delivered this Sunday. Much of my study has been born out of questions offered by people on the church's Facebook page concerning a believer's life after death. Their questions have unearthed some questions of my own. One that just hit me out of the blue. It occurred to me as I was thinking about our immortal bodies and how they will differ from our earthly bodies. Will our heavenly body have a belly button? Deep, right? As I pondered this deep theological thought it became less ridiculous the further I explored.

Why do we have belly buttons (umbilicus) anyway? Why are they there? They are constant reminders that we have a beginning and a past. The umbilicus is the remnant of the cord that transfered life giving nutrients from our mother when we were totally dependant upon her for life. What was in her, both good and bad, was transported into us before we were born.

It's interesting to observe that other mammals do not have a visible belly button. Sometimes they are just thin spots in the skin or tiny bumps. Why are ours so pronounced. Could it be that we are to be reminded of our inheritance. We not only inherited our physical features from our parents, but we also have their propensity for rebellion against God and His will. Animals do not need to be reminded, but we do. So as you contemplate your navel you may think about your need for forgiveness.

I have another reason to believe that physical marks on the body have spiritual significance. The scars on Jesus hands and His side. Why do you think Jesus retained the scars in His resurrected body? Shouldn't they have been erased by His resurrection? I suppose they could have been, but Christ allowed them to remain so that they might be a perpetual reminder of His suffering.  Just as our belly buttons are a sign of our inherited sinful nature the scars are a reminder that they have been forgiven completely and eternally. Thank you Jesus!

Now onto the next question. Since Adam and Eve were initially unclothed, will be naked in heaven. Oh brother, this one is going to take a while.