Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I was re-reading my blog, which is kind of a time capsule reminding me of the work of God and my understanding of it at the time in my life.  I saw my post, "Pregnant Dreams" from 2014, where we envisioned rebuilding the stage in our sanctuary at Here's Hope in anticipation of God doing something special, perhaps rebuilding a house of worship in our midst. 

Fast forward:  2015 - Lee Road Baptist Church Mission team came up for the second year in a row, and assisted us with our Faith Camp along with a Mobile Home outreach.  Some helped us by repainting the sanctuary and doing some much needed repairs.  As a consequence, our worship team began to change as well, as we prayed and sought God's leading for our future.  We began to train a worship leader and a bass guitarist came forward with an idea for a worship band.  We spent the early part of 2016 implementing some of this, as our band and worship team began to take shape.

2016 - Lee Road returned, and demolished and completely reconstructed our sound booth and helped prep our sanctuary for new carpet which was installed a week later.  Our sanctuary looks brand new.  Our worship feels new too.  Our worship band "Reaching Higher" began their first live session the week that Lee Road mission team arrived.  We have seen numerous new people come in with fresh vigor and excitement.  Now we wait for the fruit of salvations, conversions, changed lives and families with children and youth to press in. 

We feel as if we are giving birth RIGHT NOW.  God is doing His work in our midst.  Go God!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Fresh Insight into Evangelism

Had an interesting conversation yesterday at Faith Camp with an adult helper from one of our partner churches.  She was sharing her political views pretty forcefully, and I struggled to try to keep finding common ground so as not to alienate her.  After about a half an hour of conversation, she made a broad statement that I felt that I had to challenge.  She was talking about Muslims and said, "we all worship the same God."  I was tempted to shoot her down and correct her, but felt led instead to ask her a question instead.  I asked her "why do you feel they are the same?" Her response?  "Well they all prayer toward heaven."  The question and her subsequent answer opened a dialogue that led her to admit she really didn't know the bible very well, or even really what she believed as a Christian.  We talked about the fact that Mohammad and Allah didn't give their only son to bear the sins of the world; that Buddha and Hare Krishna and the Hindu deities didn't either.  I encouraged her to read the book of Romans as it explains some of the misconceptions she had. 

I came away from this conversation with a fresh insight into evangelism for my own life:  Build rapport and look for common ground with every person - don't directly challenge their mistaken beliefs, but instead, ask them to explain them along with the reasons why they hold those beliefs.  I have to admit, my experience over the past 2 years in sales has helped me to hold dialogues with people over what they believe and hold value for. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pregnant Dreams

Several days ago i had a dream that my youngest daughter was pregnant (before she was married) and that she wasn't "showing" yet.  It was an odd dream, because she was engaged to be married in just a few weeks.  As I shared this with Jennifer, she was able to grasp the imagry of pregnancy with expentency and hope...hope for change, hope for a fruitful future and a turnaround in our fortunes in ministry.  

It seems like our ministry since our mission trip in 2012 suffered a serious setback.  I equate it to the damage done to my raspberry plants this winter.  They were frozen so far back that we lost several years of growth and productivity and consequently, fruit. That is what happened as a result of the disruptive exodus of a handful of key members of our church who took offense at something that didn't exist.  The devil is like a cold front that robs, steals, kills and destroys.  And we have suffered some diffiiculties as a result.  The hardest part has been getting my eyes off of the problem and back onto The Lord.  After nearly 2 years, we are seeing momentum shifting and our ministry growing again.  

Back to the dream:  Today, I was reading in a book about hope written by Dutch Sheets.  In it he was talkiing about the blessing that the French give to a pregnant woman:  "I congratulate you on your hope."  Even though we are in the "first trimester" of our pregnancy of hope, we do not yet see the results or the fruit but we have the hope that is ours in Christ.  We do know that God's word is planted deep in us and that we will see delivery of change.  

Today, I felt like God gave me insight into new plans for our church this fall.  All beginning with the construction of our new stage (place of praise) that begins on the 13th of July.  We will be revamping our praise and worship, focusing and implementing younger music to fulfill our mission statement of "reaching the next generation."  No more just talking about it.  It is time for action.  The next things include:  Small discipleship groups to start this fall in homes.  Membership changing to Partnership.  We need our next wave of new people to be partners and not just members/attenders.  Partners own ministry, they own the program, they belong.  God has brought our church numerous Pre-believers recently, and we must engage them one family at a time, integrating them and leading them to an encounter with Christ.  And finally, raising up new leaders.  Beginning July 12th, I am meeting with the men who are under 40 years of age once a month to call them into Godliy living and to raise them up as future Oaks of Righteousness.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The nature of God

This past week I preached on the concept of hunger and used the passage from Exodus where God fed the Israelites in the desert with manna.  After a time period of eating manna burgers, manna bars, manna souffl├ęs, and manna bananas, they got tired of the same old manna, and began to complain about not having leeks and onions and garlic and melon and cukecumbers to eat like they had back during their good old days in Egypt.  So God sent them quail and promised it would come out of their nostrils, which it eventually did when they vomited it as a result of "a plague God sent upon them" for their demanding meat (and rejecting His provision).  

There are a ton of applications in the passage, and we explored many of them, but there was that one statement that kind of hung in the air:  "God sent a plague."  Throughout the Old Testament, the bible often refers to illnesses and disease and death having their origin in God...while in the New Testament, Jesus clearly ascribes them to the work of the devil.  Which are we to believe?  God didn't change.  But perhaps the perspective of people did.  In the OT, it was common to attribute to God as the prime "cause" behind everything that occurred.   Little mention was given to intermediary causes, such as "consequential action" (reaping what you sow).  When you did wrong, and disaster struck, it was God who was punishing you.  This eventually led to a questioning by these very same bible writers (David, Solomon and others) about why the wicked often prosper and don't seem to get punished.  

When Jesus arrives upon the scene, we get a picture of the exact nature of God.  In fact, in Jesus we see the exact representation of the Father.  (If you have seen me, you have seen the Father).  Jesus is perfect theology.  When Jesus said "I only do what I see the Father doing" He was affirming that He did and said nothing that was not consistent with His Father's nature and will.  So, when He healed people from sickness, being lame, blind, etc. and said, "this person was held captive for #years by the devil" He was emphatically saying that "My Father isn't responsible for this sickness" all while saying, "My Father will get glory from this." 

As a result of having the New Testament, Jesus, and the Old Testament, we can fully see the nature of our God, a loving Father, whose patience is nearly unlimited, whose grace is amazing, whose love is unfathomable, and yet, who is perfectly holy, just and sovereign.  Some may think it is an affront to the sovereignty of God to say that God doesn't send disease (because God has the final word in whatever happens to us.  By and large, God has "delegated" His sovereignty to other instruments, such as angelic beings (Satan), men and even the constructs of nature, leaving a huge swath of free will and choice in the wake of our lives that we live here.  

Imagine that the church has the power to heal in Jesus name, to move mountains in Jesus name, to feed the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons...and does not use that power and authority it has been delegated.  We shouldn't have to imagine.  It is there in red letters in the words of Jesus.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is Healing God's Will?

I recently attended a service in which the speaker called himself a "healing evangelist" who uses signs and wonders to attract people to the Gospel.  While I agree with most of his statements, several left quite an impression upon me.  

1. If it is God's will that people be sick, then why didn't Jesus make people sick?  (Jesus is the perfect representation of the Father, fully revealing the Father in His will, character and plan).  This act of taking a piece of logic to its logical conclusion made me think.  Jesus only healed people.  Most of the quotations people excerpt from the bible defending their belief that God "allows" sickness are from the Old Testament.  I do recall from my theology classes and Old Testament survey classes, that in the Old Testament, that everything that occurs originates with God.  Therefore that makes God responsible for sickness, etc.  By this stream of logic, God would be ultimately responsible for evil in the world, since He created Satan and "knew" that Satan would rebel and be cast down to the earth, tempt and cause the first couple to sin, and ultimately cost God's only Son to die upon the cross.  In a strange sense, that may be true, but only from the position of causation.  

Let's look at a few true statements:  God is perfect love.  He is perfect justice.  He is full of Grace and He is full of Truth.  There is no darkness or shadow of evil in Him at all.  Evil exists because of free will, and free will that rejects the Goodness of God embraces that evil...evil is like darkness, it is the absence of goodness; the same that darkness is the absence of light.  Evil is permitted for a time in our world because every human being is being given a choice, by the mercy of God to choose God's love over evil.  

2. So is health God's will?  If sickness is NOT from God, and God is not the author of sickness or evil, then it only goes to show that health and wholeness is God's will.  Sin exists in our world and it corrupts not only our physical bodies, but influences our mind, will and emotions to such a degree that our thinking and our faith is contaminated by it.  Jesus healed EVERYONE who came to Him.  He rejected no one.  Yet in a very strange way, sometimes Jesus only went to certain people to heal them.  At the pool of Siloam He passed by dozens of other sick people to seek out a long-time paralytic.  He complimented the faith of people who approached him, and some, like the woman with the flow of blood, tapped into His power to heal without even His expressed consent!  

3. If healing is God's will, why isn't everyone healed that we pray for?  Bill Johnson says that we must be careful not to form our theology from our experience but from the Word of God.  I agree.  We have to admit we don't have all the answers, that some answers will come in heaven.  

4.  I have to believe that there are conditions for healing (grace, unworthiness, faith, humility, brokenness, communion, compassion) that we can't put into an equation or formula.  Jesus was in perfect harmony with the Father, all of the time.  Yet, he willingly gave up, set aside His divine rights to divinity, and operated like a man, a fully righteous man, unmarred by sin, unlimited by sin or its effects, and operated in the full and unlimited power of the Holy Spirit.  Unlike us.  Yet, He bought for us the inheritance to operate in the same realms, the same righteousness, the same Holy Spirit.  

5.  So, God's will can be confidently prayed for, knowing it IS GOD'S will to heal.  Jesus himself said, "these signs shall follow those who believe...in my name the sick will be healed..."  He sent out disciples with instructions to "heal the sick, raise the dead..."  He hasn't changed.  "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever."  He operated by compassion on the sick, healing all who came with Him.  He hasn't changed.  He lives in us and His compassion still is exuding from His presence.  His ministry remains our ministry.  He hasn't changed.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hearing God

As I prepare to do my second sermon on "hearing God" i thought it would be prudent to read some things that other pastors and teachers have said on the subject.  What surprised me was that there are those who say that they have never heard God speak to them (John MacArthur is a notable example).  While I differ with MacArthur's cessationist views, I wasn't expecting to hear him say he had never heard God's voice.  

Perhaps there was a difference in terminology, maybe he thought the person who posed the question meant "audibly."  But as I scanned my memory of conversations with pastors and others over the years, I can distinctly remember a group of folks who would say that "God has said all He is going to say, and it is written in His word."

So, to what do they ascribe direction in daily life, divine appointments, answers to prayer, impressions in one's spirit, specific choices that one submit's to God for approval or direction?  Is not the reason we pray is to get an answer?  Is not an answer to prayer a "reply" from the One to whom we have asked?  To what do we ascribe a specific impression, dream or word in our head that leads us to be a catalytic answer to a divine problem if not the "voice of God."  

Very early on in my walk as a Christian (and I was discipled by a group of non-Charismatic, Bible Chapel fundamentalists) I was taught to discern the voice of God.  In fact, their church services resembled a Quaker service from the 1800's in which no one presided over the service, but a person would stand up and announce a song from the hymnbook that all would join in.  Then another would do the same.  After a while another person would read a scripture, and perhaps someone else would expound on that bible passage with an exhortation.  All throughout, you could see a red thread tying each action, each song, each activity together in a meaningful and cohesive flow.  Even with making allowances for one's fleshly attempts to make it work, you could still see a supernatural Hand directing the message.  You could almost "hear" the voice of God beneath the surface of all that you saw and heard.  

Later, as a result of my Charismatic brethren, I was introduced to more direct means of hearing God, but no less requiring discernment and the need to filter with the Word of God.  It was in this first year of my journey with God that I literally saw scripture passages leap off the pages of the bible into my heart, writing searing corrections, giving sound direction and great encouragement to my life.  

One of the most telling experiences as a young Christian occurred one night as I drove home from my job at Nabisco in Houston, Texas.  I had no air conditioning in my car, so i drove with my windows open and was stopped at the light at Fondren and Braeswood Boulevards.  I heard the sound of gunshots to my left and looked to see several figures running across the parking lot of a grocery store. An impulse stronger than any I had felt before filled my heart and ran against the voice of reason and self preservation.  That impulse led me to drive across several lanes of traffic and pull into the parking lot of the store.  I got out of my car, and saw a black man lying on the ground, bleeding from the back of his head.  A very large hand gun lay nearby.  He was moaning and semiconscious.  I asked the crowd that was gathering who he was.  They said, "Oh, he is our security guard, an off duty policeman."  After hearing this I felt that God would have me pray for him, so I approached his feet and heard a correction in my spirit, almost shout at me, "no, go to his face".  So i cautiously approached his face and he looked me straight in my eyes.  I asked him (not expecting an answer) if he wanted me to pray with him.   He replied, "yes."  So we prayed, I would say a few words and he would repeat them.  (I was convinced he was a Christian by the way he responded, but still led him in a sinner's prayer.)  After what seemed like forever, LifeFlight landed and they let me stay by his side until he was loaded on the copter.  (during the whole time I held his hand in one hand, and his head in the other.) 
I heard later that he had survived the injury.   

As I look back on this seminal experience in practically obeying the "voice of God" I realized that God had clearly and distinctly spoken to me, to be a comfort and an encourager to a brother in need.  His voice sounded like my own.  But His voice defied reason and self-preservation, self-comfort, convenience, and required faith to respond and obey.  Even subtle directions like "move to his face" were God's words in my heart calling me to listen and obey.

In closing, I have to say that hearing God's voice gets easier as we listen and obey.  The more we shut Him out, the more we refuse to obey or take steps of faith in response to His voice, the more we will become hard of hearing.  Not surprisingly, Jesus said, "let those who have ears to hear, let them hear."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reflection on 2013

It has been a full year since the  "exodus" of several influential families from our church.  It has been a hard year, and yet also a year full of surprises and revelation and new opportunities.  As 2013 dawned, Jennifer and I felt that we were starting over at the church.  11 years serving at Here's Hope and we were basically back where we started from in attendance, giving and ministry.  But God had plans for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, and the journey into new fields was just beginning.

In late spring, I got an invitation from our local baptist association to take my wife to Amish country, for a free weekend with some other pastors from our association.  But when we arrived, the dozen or so pastors were ALL church planters.  We were the only couple who were not church planters.  We remembered what God had whispered to us about "starting over" and felt as if God was giving us instruction on how to do so.  Our church was the size of a church plant we had been a part of way back in 1987 when at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth TX called out a group to start a mission church.  We joined as lay servants and were a part of the church growing to over 600 people in just a few years. This memory was significant, because Here's Hope was only about 60 strong now, which meant we had to develop a mentality of church planters.  So, as we talked with the church planters on the weekend, we heard many ideas and strategies for growing a young small church.

When we returned home, I felt as if we were to do the things that one would do if we were starting over.  The first thing that God showed me was that I was to "get into the community and develop new relationships with unchurched folks."  So that is what I did.  During the summer of 2013, I joined the Senior Center in Madison and began joining a group of senior citizens for a lunch twice a week.  Before long, I had people coming up to me during lunch for prayer.  Then, in late summer, one of our church members who works at the Madison Library shared with me that the new High School next to the library lets the kids out and they flock to the library after school with nothing to do.  So, on a step of faith, I began visiting the library on Thursdays at 3pm, and just walking around talking to students.  Before long, I had several students who i met and established a rapport with.  Then in December, while at McDonalds, I saw one of the students who was there with his parents.  It opened up a dialogue with his family.  

During this same time, i met with a church planter and shared my vision of reaching the unchurched in our community.  God must have planted something inside of his heart, because he contacted the head chaplain for the county YMCA and that person invited me to become a chaplain for the Madison Y.  As I met for the first time withe the Madison director, she asked me if i thought if our church could conduct a VBS at the Y in 2014.  Wow.  We had decided in 2013 not to hold a VBS at our church for 2014 because it doesn't tend to attract unchurched kids.  But at the Y...if we branded it an evening camp with a Christian emphasis, we would have no trouble reaching unchurched kids.  

So, here we are, in the first Sunday of 2014, looking back and not feeling all that great about the struggles, but also looking forward to a year of promise.  What we see is opportunities to build relationships, reach people who are unchurched, disconnected, and without God in their lives, and to bring hope for the hurting and salvation to the lost.