Showing posts from 2020

Please Don't Let Go, We Need You

It was a red flag day in Panama City Beach, FL. Despite the warnings, a group of swimmers waded out into the water, and it was not long before they were swept away in a riptide.  As they walked along the beach, a couple realized what was happening, so they quickly called people together to get involved in the rescue .  In only a few moments, about 40 people linked arms and formed a human chain that stretched out 70 yards from shore. Despite the danger the rescue posed to themselves, the heroic volunteers risked their lives and safely pulled all seven swimmers back to shore. That's an incredible story, but let's rerun the scenario and interject a few "what if's" into the equation.  What if one of the 40 rescuers had decided to let go?  Had they done so, not only would the endangered swimmers have been lost to the riptide, but many of the rescuers would have as well.  For the rescue to be successful, every person mattered. The feet on the shore were just as importan

Old Friends

There's a Ben Rector song that celebrates the blessing of having old friends. He says, "You can grow up, make new ones, but truth is, there's nothing like old friends." A few months ago, I got a call from an old friend. We worked together on staff at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. He was traveling through our area and wanted to meet up. What was supposed to be a one hour lunch turned into an all-afternoon conversation. It was good to catch up and to reflect on some of the experiences we had together.  I left our conversation encouraged. We can't return to the past, but old friends help us to remember. Those reminders are important to our present and can influence our future. The Last Apostle John was the last living apostle. The rest had been martyred for their faith.  When Jesus was with the apostles, John was the youngest of the twelve. He was one of the three that made up Jesus' inner circle. At the last supper, it was John who leaned on Jes

Your Vote Doesn't Make A Difference in the End

I believe it is the responsibility of every American citizen to vote. I hope that you voted in our most recent elections. But the truth is that while your vote may have made a difference in the last election, it won't make a difference in the end. Allow me to explain. Revelation 8 opens with an ominous 30 minutes of silence. God is about to tear apart the world that He created. Seven angels appear before the throne of God. To each, God gives a trumpet. These angels play a role in the judgment about to unfold, but the Bible calls our attention to an eight angel. God doesn't give angel 8 a trumpet. Unlike the others, this angel doesn't come empty-handed. He holds a censer, an ash pot used for burning incense. This scene is reminiscent of the Old Testament tabernacle as the priests would use a censer to transfer burning coals from the altar of sacrifice to an altar of prayer that stood before God. And now we watch something that once took place at the tabernacle now transpire

Living in the Light

I walked into our closet and flipped the switch. Instead of light, I got a blue flash followed by a hollow pop sound. Blown bulb. I went to our utility closet and retrieved a new bulb, but I discovered another problem as I opened the light fixture. There was not one blown bulb, but three. After replacing all three bulbs, I was amazed at how much light was in our closet. Compared to the way it was before that final blown bulb, it was like standing in a tanning bed. It made me wonder, how long had we been walking into that closet to the light of only one bulb Replacing all three made me realize how it was supposed to be. It explains why I would grab a shirt, ask my wife if it matched my pants, and she would say, "I don't know, bring it out here (by the window), so I can see it better." The closet wasn't in darkness, but it was in "dimness." You can't get it right if there is not enough light. So let's propose now this scenario in a strange twist. What

Encourage - What We Build In

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the Bible calls for us to encourage and build one another up. "Build up" is about supporting someone. It's about where you put them and who you put around them. Encourage is about what we "build in" to one another. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Paul issues these commands in the context of living in the last days . These are dangerous, distracting, and discouraging times. The command to "encourage" assumes that along the way, we lose courage. Our passion begins to wane. Our commitment falters. Our faith can be fickle. We are on somewhere on the scale between excitement and exhaustion. God's people usually start with great excitement but find that serving the Lord is exhausting.  Pastor Rick Warren  lists four common causes of discouragement . Fatigue  - While a tired body can weaken your immune system and make you susceptible to infection, it can also ma

A Fight With Your Friends

I've fought my best friends. I think that's true of every little boy. No matter how good of friends you are, there comes a day when a hard foul on the basketball court turns into a brawl. Or your buddy said that his dad could take your dad one too many times. That's what boys do. We brawl. And then we're best friends. Those pushes and shoves come naturally. The subsequent apologies are important. Those bonds last forever. You know that those boys who fought with you will also fight for you for the rest of your life. As adults, it's not about fistfights, but hard conversations. Disagreements arise. Challenges are levied. Accountability isn't easy. It's irritating but life-changing. Hebrews 10:24 describes it like this: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Heb. 10:24 The word translated "stir up" is a word that is also translated in Acts 15:39 as "sharp disagreement." We might describe it as "to irrita

Aim at Restoration

Several years ago, I attended a leadership retreat where we got an opportunity to spend a few days with Army Special Forces Green Berets. One of the demonstrations was of a team sniper shot. With a sniper team, one soldier handles the weapon while the other calls the shot. The soldier with the firearm is locked and loaded. With his finger on the trigger, he aims at the target downrange. The other soldier makes calculations and adjustments. He uses a high powered scope to observe blades of grass blowing in the breeze or maybe how a piece of clothing hangs on a distant line. He's calculating distance, caliber, wind direction, and speed. It's a work of making constant adjustments. Finally, the sighting soldier gives clearance for the shot. And with the pull of a trigger, the target, hundreds of yards away, falls. 2 Corinthians is the final letter in a sometimes tense exchange between the Apostle Paul and a struggling church in the risque city of Corinth. In these letters, Paul con

You Can't Quit Your Way to the Top

On his podcast, leadership guru John Maxwell recently shared  lessons he learned from his dad .  One lesson was to "never give up and never give in." Maxwell often heard his dad say, "I've never met a successful man who quit his way to the top." My dad never let me quit. He would not allow me to blame coaches, teachers, or leaders for my lack of opportunity. If the coach didn't play me, dad told me to get better so that the coach can't keep me on the bench. No excuses. To this day, there has never been something I wanted to quit as bad as baseball. The year I moved from coach pitch to fastpitch was miserable. I was the youngest kid on the team, developmentally behind, and I could not hit the ball. I was obligatory batter #11. Not everyone gets to play, but everyone gets to bat - even Brian. Because I could not get a hit, the coach knew that me getting hit was my only shot at getting on base.  Since then, I've learned that I have astigmatism. My eyes

Cultivate Disciples for Fruit that Won't Spoil

Peaches are one of my favorite fruits. Every summer, make a pilgrimage to a mountain orchard for one of the world's best BBQ sandwiches and a giant bag of peaches. A few weeks ago, as we paid for our peaches, the lady at the counter warned her not to keep them in the bag because they would quickly rot. Her warning was a reminder of a sad reality of good fruit. It won't last forever. We were in a race against rot. Over the next few days, we ate peaches like Jeff Gordon drove NASCAR. We went through a couple of gallons of vanilla ice cream covered in peaches. Peaches make ice cream more healthy, right? But there was only so much we could do. Inevitably, as the prophetic woman at the orchard predicted, the last few began to spoil. We had to throw them away. Vanilla ice cream lost a great friend. Imagine for a moment, a magical alternative offered by the lady at the orchard. What if we had approached the checkout counter, and heard these words, "That's a lot of peaches. Yo

Are You An Investor or Are You Involved?

It was early afternoon when one of our members stormed into the room. I was setting up a ping pong table in the fellowship hall when he walked in. For 30 minutes, he scolded me about how our church spends most of its money on youth and children, while senior adults gave most of it. I explained to him the reason for the disproportionate giving from our children's department was because they weren't hiring many 3rd graders at the rubber plant. My smart mouth didn't help the situation, and so he slapped the ping-pong table, shook his finger in my face and said, "I'm telling you preacher, if we don't start getting some things for the senior adults we are going to stop giving. I want to see where all of this money is going." At least the man expressed what a lot of church people are wondering. "Where is all of that money going?" I would encourage you to watch the offering. But if you want to see where it goes, you're going to have to follow it fur

Don't Blink, The Blessing of Pushing Past our Prejudice

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The truth of the matter is that you barely get a chance to make a first impression.  According to  research at MIT , we make a judgment call about a person in 80 milliseconds. That means that you and I make decisions about a person four times faster than the blink of an eye. It may be natural for us to make split-second decisions about people, but the gospel calls for us to work to redeem our human nature. Our propensity to define people is the reason much of our society is segmented and segregated . We tend to gather with people most like us, and we have a hard time giving others a chance. Unfortunately, our propensity to make these snap judgments makes its way into the church.  In James 2, a passionate pastor addresses the economic partiality he sees taking place in his church. My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James 2:1 One of the challenges of the chu

When We Wobble

Jenga is a game consisting of 54 wooden blocks stacked three wide and 17 rows high. Each player takes a turn taking a block from a lower tier of the tower and stacking it on top. As the game goes along, the tower becomes unstable. At some point, the tower falls, and the last player to take a turn loses the game. The game is pretty casual through the first several rounds, but it gets exciting when the tower begins to wobble. When things start to wobble, the players tend to slow down and become much more careful in their placement of each piece. Life wobbles. Marriage, family, finances , friendships, even your faith wobbles at times. The author of Hebrews penned his message for some people who were wobbling. At the time of writing, they are only about 30 years after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, but they are struggling to keep the faith due to the pressure of persecution. So the author shared some truths that would help them stabilize the situation. Let us hold fast the confess

Even After a Bad Experience Get Back In Church

You may have had a bad church experience and don't want to go back - to any church . I had a bad experience in a restaurant one time, but I still eat. I got sick from some bad tacos. The next few days were the most vicious way a human can lose ten pounds. My response to that experience has been to avoid that particular fast-food chain. Though I have no plans to eat THERE, I do still plan to eat! You may have had a bad experience in a church . If you haven't, give it time, and you'll get church hurt. And there is no way to adequately describe or diminish the pain of church hurt. When you have loved, worshiped, sacrificed, and experienced Jesus with a group of people, they become closer than family. The introduction of betrayal, division, gossip, and forsakenness into such closeness brings about a wound that is not easily healed. But it happens. In Ephesians 4, Paul spoke into a potentially ugly church situation. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander b

An Honest Lesson From a Dishonest Man

Jesus tells a story about a dishonest man. His application of the story is unexpected. According to Jesus, we need to be more like the dishonest man. "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' And the manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another . . . The master commended t

Secular and Sacred

A library in Massachusetts posted a picture of a Chuck E. Cheese token with the following caption. "This summer we've had a surge of folks attempting to pay fines and printing fees with tokens. Since they are not legal tender, we cannot accept them." It's like trying to pay rent with Monopoly money. Some things have value in a game, but they won't work in the real world. Sometimes faith feels like it works in the spiritual world but not in the real world. I believe, but I have bills. I pray, but I've got to pay. I worship on Sunday, but I have to work on Monday. Our Separation of Secular and Sacred When faith feels like it doesn't work well in the real world, we separate the secular (regular life stuff) from the sacred (God stuff). The Bible sees no separation between the two. In an interesting passage about navigating spiritual decisions in real-world situations, Paul bookends his instruction with two critical observations. For "the earth is the Lord

Don't Just Read the Bible, Do the Bible

Each new cadet at West Point receives a small book entitled  Bugle Notes . Bugle Notes  covers everything from information about miliary tradition to the academy's code of conduct. It contains 11 leadership principles, 66 Legends of the Corps, 100 words of army slang, and 20 quotes from iconic figures from Ronald Reagan to Robert E. Lee. Each new cadet, or Plebe, must memorize  Bugle Notes  perfectly, word for word. If an upperclassman asks a Plebe, "How many lights in Culman Hall?" The Plebe must answer, "340 lights in Culman Hall, sir." If an upperclassman asks a Plebe, "How's the cow?" The Plebe must answer, "Sir, she walks, she talks, she's full of chalk, the lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the nth degree."  What's the purpose of memorizing such an assortment of information, historical facts, and seemingly pointless statements about cows? It's a test of commitment.  A gra

God Never Wastes a Hurt

Our culture seeks to create a painless utopia in which everyone wins, there is never a loss, sickness is alleviated, and evil is eliminated. The problem with culture is that it has a limited amount to tools with which to work. If laws were able to achieve utopia, then we are subjected to an endless list of restrictions and regulations. The problem with law is that humans are rebels by nature. Is utopia achieved through economics? If so, then every person is subjected to the "same." We each get the same amount of provision, we live the same, make the same, and work the same. The problem with "same" is that we are all different. We are equal, but we are not the same. One day we will enter the ideal, but not by the regulation of law nor the limitation of economics. A world free of sickness, loss, and evil only will come about by redemption and renewal. It is through the sacrificial death of Christ, His resurrection, and triumphant return that we will enter a New Heaven