Monthly Archives: June 2010

Helping the Helpless

Ryan A Smith (Minister of Worship, Media, Social Justice, etc.) and I went to a benevolence meeting for pastors and staff to talk about how we could work together to meet the needs of people in Stillwater. Mindy (our office manager) fields weekly calls from people who need help with food, gas, diapers, electric bills, etc. To give some perspective on how great the need is in Stillwater, it was estimated from a conglomerate of churches and agencies (Salvation Army, etc.) that 600 hours weekly was given to addressing benevolence requests.

Unfortunately many of the people who seek help have legitimate needs. After all, it is a tough time right now with the economy not doing well. And when jobs are down, needs go up.

It is unfortunate as well that there are many people who have needs but choose to have needs and want help but don’t want to help themselves. Here is where the tension lies in trying to meet the legitimate needs of people in Stillwater; how do you meet real needs without being taken advantage of by people who choose to be needy?

Thanks to the leadership of Quinn Schipper and Terry Carpenter, many churches and agencies in Stillwater have come together to try to legitimately meet the needs of people and help them get out of the trouble.

Of course we want to help all people and extend the love of Christ to all people, but we are not helping people by enabling them to consume resources when they have no intention of helping themselves so they can in turn help others. Here are a few quotes from some of the speakers at the lunch that help summarize what I have already mentioned.

  • “I am not going to work harder than you are willing to work.” If a person wants to be helped for the long term rather than just getting a hand-out, they will be willing to do what they need to do to help themselves with the help of others. But if they person who is helping them is working harder than they are, it is likely the person who is in a crunch has no intentions of changing.
  • “If we do for others what they can do for themselves, we are telling them they can’t do it.” The application for this statement goes way beyond benevolence. This could apply to parenting and it can also apply to ministry. If we do everything for people they will never learn to be independent of our help and we will have to baby them. Not good.
  • “For most of us as Christians, we want to do the fastest things so we can walk away.” This may be why we have so many baby Christians, and this is one of the reasons there are so few disciples making disciples. People, including you and me, are hard work. People are messy and require persistent effort and nurturing. The quick-fix mentality that so many possess is antithetical to everything that discipleship requires. I am convinced that it is this mentality along with some bad theology that has left our churches full of anemic baby Christians. Some or a lot may not be Christians at all. And it is probably why we see so few people come to Christ. The whole gospel takes time to sink into the mind and heart (Acts 20:25-35).

What Eagle Heights Does

Eagle Heights is striving to be a loving church family. We have a benevolence fund that our deacons utilize to meet needs in our church. I have never known our church to deny a need that was made known to us and legitimate. We are also working with these others churches and agencies to help people physically, so they can be changed through a relationship with Jesus. In both ways we hope that by loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ we can demonstrate to the world that we are disciples of Christ for God’s glory (John 13:34-35). This is the end for which we strive to help the helpless in Stillwater.

Plain and Simple, Salvation Is a Miracle

The high priest and all his associates laid hands on the apostles and put them in public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life. Acts 5:17-20

And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole  purpose of God. Acts 20:25-27

I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with a young lady today who earnestly wanted to know how to be a better Christian. We started at the beginning and asked whether or not she was a Christian at all. She went home with a conversation in mind, books and Bible in hand and some specific verses to read. I pray that she contemplates seriously whether she is in Christ, because it is deadly serious whether she is or not.

She had many good questions and she also had several preexisting misunderstandings. She asked why Jesus got so much attention instead of God. She did not know whether she wanted to get cleaned up or give up some things so she could come to Jesus. We talked a lot about salvation being the source or root of our wanting to do good works and how that is evidence of our faith in Christ, but not the cause of our salvation. She was dealing with many of the concerns and misconceptions that so many people deal with that keep them from coming to Christ. I commend her for being willing to deal with the hard questions.

These questions and concerns led us to consider many areas of bible and theology. We talked about:

  • The Trinity.
  • The perfect righteous standard of a creator God.
  • Jesus deity and sinless life.
  • Jesus death, burial and resurrection.
  • Substitutionary atonement.
  • Imputation of Righteousness and Sin.
  • Sanctification.
  • The deposit of the Holy Spirit as our guarantee of our salvation in Christ.
  • How people get saved (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 10).

I didn’t throw out some of these words but we did talk about them because this is what composes the whole gospel. Unfortunately, many have reduced the gospel to four or five verses in Romans. (By the way, I gave her the Roman Road, but only in the context of the whole gospel.) I want to be faithful just as the apostles in Acts were to give the whole life of Jesus. I want to give the whole gospel.

But as I was explaining the whole gospel with many terms and illustrations and stories, I wondered, “How did I get saved? How does anyone understand this and get saved? How is God going to use this mess of words that I have created to be an understandable and believable message for salvation by repentance from sin to belief in Christ?”

This is all I want to say:

We are to be faithful stewards of God’s word. We are to be clear and as thorough as possible with the whole story.

But it is the Spirit that uses God’s word and guides people in truth and causes them to be born again so that they might respond with saving repentance and faith (John 16:5-11; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Before Elijah (our 4 year-old) was to be born we went to see the doctor who was to perform the delivery. I’ll never forget what she said to Lacey and I:

“It is a miracle anyone is born.”

Physical birth is a miracle, but spiritual rebirth may be the greatest miracle of all (John 3). That God would take His perfect word and give it to us as the instrument the Spirit uses to save fallen and sinful people is a miracle; plain and simple. But we must give people the whole gospel. God will do His part. Will we do ours?

Monday Morning Pastor – Vacation Reflections

This past week from Sunday to Sunday the family and I went to Galveston, Texas for our annual summer vacation. I can’t remember needing some time away more than I needed this one. I was just tired emotionally and mentally. Vacations are supposed to be times of getting away for relaxation and leaving the grind of everyday life behind. Real life doesn’t work that way though. Vacation might afford us a change of scenery, and that is helpful, but life never stops and it especially never stops when you have little boys.

Vacation is for Focused Time With Family

But that was one of the beauties of this vacation, spending almost uninterrupted time with my little guys and the woman I love more than anything this side of heaven. In hindsight I greatly appreciated the chance to be with my family without a computer and things to do. Of course I will pay for it in the days to come as I try to catch up, but not being able to keep appointments and write sermons has major advantages when it comes to investing in the most important relationships I have.

I Love My Wife and Love Being With Her

Not a lot needs to be said here. There is just simply no one else on earth that I would rather spend time with.

I Missed Our Church Family

Don’t get me wrong though, ministry never stops. I might not have had a computer to turn on, but I couldn’t turn off my mind. Extended periods of time on vacation and in the car only reinforce this to be absolutely true.

I found myself constantly thinking in small spurts about the people of Eagle Heights and what I need to do as a leader to take care of myself so I can help God’s people become devoted disciples in every area of life. This is a good thing. It is extra good because my thoughts were about people, not tasks and numbers and all the others things that pastors sometimes become fixated on. Ministry is about people and it was the people I remained concerned about and missed.

I Am Expendable

There is something else that is healthy about missing people and not organizational details. It means that I have confidence in the people who are in our church to do what needs to be done. I want to be there but don’t have to be there for worship gatherings and office work to go. I am constantly thankful for the staff and lay leaders of Eagle Heights. Vacation gives me cause to thankful when I remember this. It also reminds me that I am expendable and that God doesn’t need me and that keeps me humble. (Acts 17:24-25)

Vacation is for Learning From Others

Not only was my mind on the people God has given me to shepherd with His word, but I did take books to read. That didn’t go too well. I mean I didn’t get a lot of reading done, but what I read was helpful.

When I get a Sunday off, which I did this time, I also like to go to other churches. So on Sunday Morning I didn’t just go to one church service, but two.

I went to the 9 a.m. worship gathering at Henderson Hills in Edmond and then the 10:50 a.m. worship gathering at Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

I was able to see some people, meet some people and get some ideas about enhancing the way Eagle Heights does things. I was also most importantly encouraged by the word of God spoken by other brothers in Christ. Pastors need to be fed the word of God too. I value times in other churches immensely.

A Never Before Experienced Church Experience – Fire Drill Dismissal

Some churches call their gatherings “Experiences.” I was at a church who provided a truly unique experience – at least for me. I was at Northwest and the pastor dismissed the church with a fire drill. The Oklahoma City Fire Marshall asked that the church do a fire drill because their building gets used so much. It was strange, but what a testament to their body that their facility is being used to reach out to the community that the Fire Marshall was concerned about how so many people would evacuate their facility in case of a fire. Brad Johnson saw my tweet about it on Facebook and said, “That church must be on fire.” If only more were.

Daily I Need to Give my Life to Jesus

I haven’t been slacking. I haven’t been lazy. At least in a disturbing way. But our vacation did afford me the subtle reminder that walking with Christ is a daily call to give my life to Him. I have to give my life to Jesus before I can give it to others. He is my source and my strength and energy. He is everything. I need to pray more, because I need God more than anything that I can produce in and of myself. I need to eliminate distractions that compete with spending time with Jesus in prayer and reading of the word. I need to exercise more. I believe that when I get lazy physically, I also get lazy in mind and heart. I need to be more intentional about so many things including sharing the gospel. My life is a constant work in progress of trusting Jesus with all of my life.

Some Humorous Moments

The boys on a WWII destroyer at Seawolf Park in Galveston.

Hours in the car produce some memorable moments. Some good and some that I wish I could forget.

  • Elijah has become fond of saying, “You’re driving me nuts/crazy!” It’s funny the way he says it.
  • Only Elijah. We were at the beach and Elijah was wading in with me and he started screaming. I grabbed his foot and felt something in between his toes and was concerned he had been cut by a piece of glass or a shell. I pulled him out of the water and there attached to one of his toes was a baby crab, locked on. I told Elijah the crab thought his toe was a hot dog. He thought that was funny – a day later.
  • My father-in-law nearly got us killed on the way to pick up some food. He had his blinker on to turn and kept going straight. When the person coming out onto the road tried to pull out as we kept on going, we were greeted with some sort of angry yell. My father-in-law gave me this memorable line: “These people are driving me crazy. I know where I am going and they don’t.” Hmmmmmm.
  • We travel 9 plus hours to go to the ocean and Elijah buys a stuffed kitty-cat that he names Coffee. Luke buys a leopard that he names Maya.
  • By the way, I despise the Rain Forrest Cafe.  Just FYI.
  • I am a stubborn man who won’t learn a simple life lesson; Use sunscreen. When am I going to learn to put on sunscreen? I am paying for it even now. I look like I have leprosy.

Glad to be Home

It is good to get away, but I am so glad to be home and so is the rest of the family. Vacation reminds me how much I value having a place to call home and people to call friends. I am thankful.

What a Father Does

I’m a father 365 days a year so I don’t put a lot of stock in “Father’s Day.” Every day should be “Father’s Day”. Additionally, there is a day for just about everything now. Just follow Yahoo News on Twitter and you will soon learn that each day is a special day for 10 others things. Recently it was Donald Duck Day and before that Star Wars Day, to name a few.

But one good thing about a day like “Father’s Day” is that it gives us cause to pause and think and reflect and be thankful.

I was thinking about being a father and what that means and here is what I came up with as it relates to my personal experience.

Special Fatherly Duties

  • Booger Sanitation. This is one of things that made me think of writing what I do as a father, but this morning my 4 year-old came to me out of the blue and said, “Daddy, I have a booger.” Lacey was right there and I was right there, but when it comes to disposal of boogers, I get the call.
  • Chocolate Milk and Snack Patrol. For some strange reason, maybe repetition, my 4 year-old must have chocolate milk made by daddy and only daddy. This produces the unfortunate result of almost never getting to sleep past seven a.m. My day typically starts at about 6:30 a.m. with a call from the living room, “Daddy, I am ready for chocolate milk and snack.”
  • Midnight Comforter. Both boys almost always call for me to sleep with them when there is a bad dream or a loud storm. I kind of like this one, but not so much when we are sleeping on a twin bed and I am hanging off with a knee in my back.
  • Raging Bull. This is when I get on the floor and snort like a bull, tackle them, and do it until I have to rest. They like to get rough and I like to get rough with them.
  • Man Time. Man time is when mommy leaves for any extended period of time, which could be a few hours or a couple of days. Man time usually means that the ban on sugar drinks gets lifted, there will be lots of fast-food and at least one visit to Braum’s, and a trip to Wal-Mart to look at toys is inevitable. Also, baths and teeth brushing are optional.
  • Ultimate Responsibility to the Heavenly Father. Being a father comes with unique challenges and I’m glad I have been given the blessing of being a father. Being a father makes me thankful for all the stuff my father endured and did for me, and ultimately being a father reminds me that I have a perfect heavenly Father who made a perfect way through His perfect Son, Jesus. There are many good things that come from being and thinking about being a father. But whatever a father does for his children, the best thing he can do is tell his children about Jesus and live for Jesus. This is every fathers primary responsibility and greatest privilege (Deuteronomy 6; Psalms 78). Everything else (including games, man time, chocolate milk, etc.) is a means to this end. What does a good father do? Pointing his children to the Heavenly Father through Jesus; this is what a good father does. (Matthew 5:16; Matthew 7:7-11)

I hope and pray that Father’s Day will be a day of thankfulness for all fathers, but ultimately I hope it is a day of thankfulness to the Father in heaven, because He has made a way through Jesus by which earthly fathers can point their children to Him.

A SBC Motion By Rhyme – It’s Worth the Time

This video was taken at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. I like this guy. Not too long and not too short and very memorable. I might go next year, if we keep getting gospel unifying motions like this one.

A Theology of Rain

It’s been raining a lot lately. All spring it has rained and it seems like every time it rains it rains two or three inches. I thought we were done with rain and lo and behold it rained again this morning, but only about a quarter of an inch.

Now if you talk to someone living in the Oklahoma City Metro Area, they are  going to say they have had enough. In some areas there it rained over 10 inches and people’s houses were flooded and  possessions destroyed. Rain at that point would be undesirable.

On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying all the rain. I live on a hill where the wind dries the ground out quickly, and I’m trying to get some Bermuda Grass to grow. I’ll take a reasonable amount of rain every day.

I suppose what I’ve noticed is that rain, like so many things in this life, can be a blessing and a curse. Rain can be a good and thing. If there is no rain, no water, then there will be no life. We have to have water. But too much water can lead to flooding and destruction and death.

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus uses rain as an example of God’s love for His enemies. Grace, according to Jesus, is an act of  grace for evil people. We call this common grace because it is an act of grace by God that is common to all people. Because God is gracious with rain, which is needed for life, we should also give grace to evil and unrighteous people so that they might have life. Rain is an act of love and we should be loving as the heavenly Father is loving.

But in Matthew 7:25 and 27, rain that sustains life causes flooding that potentially destroys lives. Is flooding an act of grace? Is God now ungraceful since He is the one who causes it to rain on the righteous and unrighteous?

Notice that God gives grace to the righteous and unrighteous, but in this fallen world He also lets disaster strike both. God’s gives common grace to all people but He also gives common disaster, but the sustaining grace is that of Jesus Christ and all they He did and said. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the act of grace that saves and cannot fail (7:24-25).

All acts of common grace by God, including rain, are acts that should point us to God through Jesus, even when good things become bad. In a fallen world the only sure thing is the hope we have in the finished work of Jesus. When we trust and treasure Jesus and His words and respond with obedience to them we can be confident that no matter what comes we have something better and something that will not wash away (Hebrews 10:32-39).

So yes, floods that are caused by the common grace of rain, which are caused by God, are an act of grace by which we see that Jesus is better than any other grace there is, because it is saving and eternal grace. Even if God is using a destructive thing to show us the best thing, then ultimately it is a loving and good thing that He has done. God is a creative lover of His people, using all circumstances and means to love us in a fallen world. After all, He took His only begotten Son and sent Him to earth so that He might live to die for our sins. There is nothing more graceful and loving than what Jesus did for God’s glory and our joy.

Rain is an example of how a sovereign God can work all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. He uses rain and even floods to point us to Jesus, the foundation that never fails.

Why I Love to Cherish My Wife

I cherish my wife because she was given by God.

Why is she perfect for me? Because God gave us to each other as a part of His plan for marriage (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6).

I cherish my wife because she is beautiful.

What makes her beautiful? “The hidden person of the heart that exhibits the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:4)

I cherish my wife because she loves me for the sake of the gospel.

How does she love me for Jesus’ sake? By grace through faith in Jesus, she submits herself to me as to the Lord in everything as a picture of Christ and the church, for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 5:22, 24, 32 ).

I cherish my wife as a mother to our sons.

Why is she a great mother? Because I trust her with our most valuable God-given gifts and she knows that our greatest task is to live and tell the gospel of Jesus to our boys with all of our lives (Deuteronomy 6:1-6).

I love to cherish my wife. She is evidence of Gods grace to me, which is why I cherish my God all the more.

Watch and Be Frightened

This is a frightening video, but not every false prophet/teacher is this obvious. Most false teachers look good, they look like a sheep, but they are really a ravenous wolf (Matthew 7:15). The most frightening part about this guy is not what he believes, there are crazy people everywhere, but that so many people are so easily deceived and willing to believe so easily. If people will believe this lunacy, what will they believe that looks like it is real but is really demonic. True disciples must know Jesus and His teaching well enough to know a crazy man when they see one. Heresy is cunning and deceitful, disciples should know it when they see it.

Monday Morning Pastor; The Reward of the Hard Way and The Irony of the Easy Way

The Reward of the Hard Way

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus never said that the way of following would be easy. He said many times that discipleship is hard and will require your life and will demand your allegiance to all that He commanded (Matthew 5:48; Matthew 28:20; Mark 8:34-35). Matthew 7:13-14 only reinforces this truth that is taught repetitively in the Bible by Jesus and those who followed Him. When Jesus commanded or demanded that we enter the narrow gate and follow the narrow way, He meant that we are to follow and obey all that He commanded and in the context of the Sermon on the Mount that means loving your enemy instead of hating your enemy. It means being pure in your thoughts and not just outwardly. It means loving others the way you love yourself. Frankly, it would be easier, though eternally costly, to say it can’t be done and just be true to yourself, which is the life motto and philosophy of so many in the world by which they justify any and every thought and action.

But for the follower of Christ the hard way (John 14:6) is the only way because striving to obey all that He commanded is the evidence of trusting Him for eternal life. Yes salvation is by grace through faith alone, but true believing produces glad obedience for the glory of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Here’s the payoff though, the narrow gate and way is worth it. It is worth it, follower of Jesus! Trouble is inevitable in this life and not just for Christians but for every person, but there will be trouble for those who follow Jesus and it is worth it (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12). There is a reward for those who persevere and follow Jesus and obey all that He commanded.

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if He shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Hebrews 10:32-39

What is the payoff for those who choose the narrow way and are mistreated for the gospel? A better possession than anything this earth has to offer and one that will last (v. 34). Whatever we give up in this life in the way of comfort and ease that the wide gate and the broad path have to offer, it can not match the eternal joy of obeying God and being with Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus never said the hard way, the narrow gate and road, would be easy, but He did say it would be worth it. If you have trusted Jesus for your salvation then continue to trust Him with your obedience which shows you have life.

The Irony of The Easy Way

Following and obeying Jesus is hard. In this broken world it is often counter-intuitive and a temporary disadvantage to do so. It may even seem logical to set aside the standard of righteousness to make life easier and more bearable.

The irony though is that Jesus teaches us that if we try to take the easy road, which is the wide gate and broad way, life may be more bearable for a little while but in the end we will reap destruction.

  • If you choose the easy way, it will lead you to destruction. Not fair and even harsh, one might say. CS Lewis responds, “All God does in the end is give people what they most want including freedom from Himself. What can be more fair?”
  • If you choose the restrictive and pressed-in way, which is the small gate and narrow way, it will lead you to life everlasting. If you take the difficult way, you will in the end find comfort and joy and peace, and it will not end.

A Qualifying Statement

If you read this you may be inclined to wonder whether I am advocating a works salvation. No, no I am most certainly not. I don’t think that we can earn the favor of God by obeying or doing any righteous deed. Our righteousness and favor before God was earned decisively by Jesus on the cross. Period. But I absolutely believe that to truly trust Him for the forgiveness of your sins is to also to continue to strive to trust Jesus in everything that He said. Obedience after conversion does not save but it is the evidence that you are saved. I don’t see how any person can trust Christ as savior and ignore Him as Lord as though a person were ordering Jesus off of a menu and deciding what they  want and don’t want with their customized savior. The person of Jesus who lived and died to save is the same Jesus that commanded us to obey all that He commanded. People who believe in Jesus will have some desire to obey Jesus. That’s all. Read this article for further clarification: How Can I become a Christian?

Are You a Sinkhole Waiting To Happen?

Tropical Storm Agatha recently caused a lot of damage in Guatemala City, Guatemala, (See an article from June 1) including flooding that opened up a large sinkhole right in the middle of the city. As you can see from the picture, this sinkhole was particularly damaging.

The frightening part about a sinkhole is that it can be a disaster waiting to happen, but no one knows it is there until a flood comes a long and exposes the hidden danger.  I wonder how many people are sink holes waiting to happen? I wonder how many people look healthy on the surface but just beyond what the eye can see they are hollow and their foundation is eroding away?

I have given the staff at Eagle Heights a list of staff values and expectations and one of these values I call “soul care.” The description says, “You must be disciplined to care for your own soul. You must read the bible and pray and worship and rest, because if you don’t you won’t be able to help others if your soul is atrophied from self-neglect.”

I am afraid many people do not care for their own soul and consequently cannot care for the relationships they have with others, and when a life-storm washes over them it exposes cracks and holes that leads to lots of damage in the their own life and the lives of others. What about you, does everything look good on the outside but on the inside is your foundation is slowly washing away? Here are some questions to ask to help you identify if you are a sinkhole waiting to happen.

  • Have you neglected your relationship with Jesus by not spending intentional time praying and reading God’s word? Have you replaced personal time with Jesus with activities that you do only to ease your conscience?
  • Have you let little sin wedges be driven into your life that make you feel guilty and far from God? Have you confessed your sins to God through Jesus and then vowed to wage war against your sinful flesh?
  • Are you being too passive and apathetic about sin and allowed it to creep in and take root in your life?
  • Are you neglecting important relationships like your marriage? Are there problem areas that you simply do not want to deal with because you know they are going to be uncomfortable and require change?
  • What is it that you know is just not right but you are not addressing head on with urgency?

Don’t wait. The longer you wait the bigger the whole gets and the harder it is to repair the damage. You and I may well make our lives look good for a while, but  life is hard (John 16:33) and eventually this broken world will bring a storm and it will expose the true condition of your life. Jesus did not die so that you could live like everything is okay when it isn’t. Jesus died to take away sin so that you could live to righteousness and kill sin in your life (1 Peter 2:24). Don’t be a sinkhole waiting to happen. Take care of your life in Christ so a hole in your soul won’t take you out.