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#Dead#Alive#YouChoose

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

As I wrote that title I couldn’t help but think of Bon Jovi’s song Dead or Alive. My sermon this morning was on the postcard to the church at Sardis. I called it “To the Dead Church.”  One of the ideas I tried to stress was that we need to see this letter as more than one sent to a church body, but we also need to apply it to ourselves as individuals.  One of the thoughts during the message was asking the question When is a church dead? The answers are jarring, but I also want to apply them to us as individuals. So, I’m going to put the four answers I gave to that question and then allow you to make the personal application. I have already done that as I prepared; misery loves company so join me! 🙂  When is a church dead?

#1- When it is content to rest on its past laurels.  Many churches have banners and plaques throughout their building which testify of their past. It’s like little Johnny who was being shown through the church building by his father when they came upon a plaque with names. He asked his dad what that was for and his father said, “They are the names of the men and women who died in the service.” He asked, “Which one-morning or evening?” We chuckle but sadly that is way too often true. (Nowadays it is first or second not morning or evening).

#2- When it is more concerned with form than spiritual reality. We make sure we fit into a mold. The pastor can’t speak too long we have things to do, places to go. Besides, we want to beat the other churches to lunch.  This can be especially harrowing in a small town where options are limited. We make sure we have communion, take offering, sing all hymns or no hymns, offer an invitation. Seriously? That shows a church is alive?

#3- When it focuses more on social ills and politics than changing people’s hearts and minds through the life-changing message of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with being socially aware and conscious, but the church does not exist to change the environment. We exist to carry the message of the God’s life-changing message.

#4- When it is more concerned with material things than spiritual things. “Nuff said. When we hired Ryan one of my first words to him were “People over programs.” We have reminded ourselves of that often. Another: “People over buildings.”  We had a dream of an adult worship center but it was cost-prohibitive.  I was so proud of our leadership when they said, “No” to the building and put things on hold.  God made it possible to pay off our mortgage early as well as build the youth addition debt-free.  We are now in the dreaming stage again and will remember the adage: “People over buildings.”

I think you can see how those can apply to individuals. But it is one thing to see; it another to do. Let’s do it! Let’s not be caught in the “Sardis cycle.”

 

#WrongRoad#Weakness

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

This morning (Sunday) I preached on the letter to the church at Thyatira and I approached it from the aspect of tolerance. I’ll state it right off the bat: no matter what our culture says and even what other “churches” tell us, tolerance is never mentioned in Scripture.  Another word some may be more familiar with is Compromise.  I’d like to take this blog space and talk about that a bit.

In the letter to the church at Thyatira Jesus commends them for their works, love, faith, service, patient endurance and that their latter works exceeded the first (I think that means they were maturing and growing and not stagnant). BUT the church was an immoral cesspool (v.20). That “train” was led by a woman He names Jezebel. I seriously doubt that is her real name. I mean…what parent in their right mind would name their daughter Jezebel, or even Delilah? Be that as it may, my research seems to indicate two possibilities she was teaching:

  1. Gnosticism.  Gnosticism taught that the physical universe was evil and the spiritual was good. This led to what is called Dualism. Today is it is seen in those who teach Jesus was not fully human and fully divine.  A popular brand of this is Jesus was human until His baptism when He became divine and then somewhere before His crucifixion He became human again. One of the most prominent teachers of this heresy is the false “apostle” Bill Johnson and those associated with Bethel Church and the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) movement.
  2. Antinomianism. It is a combination of two words: Anti which means “No” and nomian which means “Law.” Hence, No Law. This teaches you can do whatever you want as long as you invoke God’s grace when you are done. This is taught by….just about everyone. I believe God’s forgiveness is complete and His grace covers any sin, but I also believe He wants us to be holy, not acting however we want then constantly seeking God’s grace for forgiveness.

Tolerance is a slippery slope we want to avoid. We will be called all sorts of names.  We will be looked on as a three-headed monster. But God’s truth stands and we are much better taking “heat” from our culture than taking “heat” from God.

Those are some of my thoughts. What do you think?

#Calling#Shepherd#Presence

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

This post is a little bit of both worlds: the world of the “big church” and the world of “I’m a shepherd.” They will intertwine so I hope I don’t totally confused you. 🙂

When I started on my journey as a pastor while I was still in college (1972), I admit to total “duncity.” I know that is not a word but that is the way I would describe myself. Clueless might make more sense. What did I know? It was the summer following my Sophomore year and I was asked to preach at a country church-Mt Camel Christian Church in Mt. Sterling, KY. It was 100 miles away from the school. I worked all week and then would head down either sometime Saturday or very early Sunday morning. It was aptly named…it was at the top of a mountain.

As I graduated and became more acclimated to the pastor’s life, I began to see that I was to be a shepherd of the people. I took that seriously, sometimes too seriously, at the sake of my family. I was gone a lot. I didn’t know any better, plus that was the day and age of the visiting pastor. Office work all morning and visiting in the afternoon and many evenings. In my mind I was shepherding my people.

Then came Church, Inc. That was the time in the 90s when being a pastor switched gears. We were no longer shepherds; we were CEO’s. How can I say this? EPIC FAIL for me. And in my mind EPIC FAIL for the church as a whole. I’m not going to mention any names of the gurus, but being a pastor was no longer about being a shepherd but being the “chief vision-giver” of the church. Frankly, I despise that moniker. For one, I don’t work well in a vacuum. I dream best when surrounded by others who can dream as well. Batting ideas off each other. Seeking God’s purpose and plan more than my own.  Not doing things and making decisions unilaterally (although I sometimes have too) but including others in the dreaming and planning process.

Somewhere along the line I came full circle. The best part? I became a shepherd again. Granted I don’t go like I used to. Safety issues (translate that #MeToo, etc)  have changed the way I do ministry. I no longer see females alone, in my office or in their house or at a meal in a restaurant. If they can’t say it with Jo around, they don’t need to be telling me. (She or someone will at least be in the building if I meet with them at the office). But being a shepherd has allowed me to once again adopt something I read from Skye Jethani’s book, Immeasurable:

When I enter the room, I represent the presence of God.

That is especially true of visitation in a hospital or nursing home. I am Jesus to many- and honestly?- that is a very scary thought. But it is true. I am their shepherd and I represent Jesus. No CEO type pastor who sits in an ivory tower; is isolated from people; or looks down on people from “the sacred office” can say that.  I had to learn the hard way that I was wired to be a shepherd.

I would rather represent Jesus any day than some stuffy Church, Inc organization. You can’t put a price on people’s lives and hearts. No matter how badly Church, Inc wants to do that. So leave me out of the Global Leadership Summit and other Church, Inc gatherings. “Father, give me a heart for the people of OVCF.”

I apologize for the length of this “rant.” Thanks for reading this far.  If you have gone this far, I’d sure like to know what your thoughts are.

#Caring#Empathy

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

I have been a pastor for over 45 years. In those years if I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times (and wish I had asked for $1 every time I did! I could retire and live off the interest. 🙂 ). The statement I have heard often from both nurses and even doctors is “Doctors and nurses make the worst patients.” I’ve seen cool, calm and collected nurses under extreme pressure melt when it comes to their own treatment.  I’m guessing it is one of those “I know too much” kind of deals. You know…they know what all could go wrong.

When I had my bike wreck in February of 2017 I spent 8 hours in the hallway of the Bloomington Hospital ER. Even though I had gotten there mid afternoon, I waited. It was a Friday in IU town. Although in and out of it due to pain, I was aware of the screaming person in one of the rooms due to drugs. I was aware I was put off for treatment or x-rays because a college student came in high and had an accident. And while I have my thoughts about being pushed aside for stupidity, I found something else.

E.M.P.A.T.H.Y

I was on the receiving end of delayed treatment. I laid in that hallway for 8 hours being pushed aside for others. Broken collarbone. 3 broken ribs. Multiple contusions to my face and hands and legs, i.e. road rash (but fortunately not a head injury due to my helmet which was split in 3 places). I now know what it is like when people tell me they sat or laid in the ER for hours waiting for treatment. Been there done that.

Empathy is a great gift. It allows one to know what another is going through and to feel with them. I’m reminded of the Scripture which says, “He was in all points tempted like we are yet without sin.” Imagine that! Jesus, the perfect, divine, virgin born Son of God knows what I am going through and how I struggle with sin.  He is not some far-off or far-out dude; He is the “close by and I understand what you are experiencing” Savior.

How are you with empathy? Do you feel it when others hurt? Do you take the time to let them know you are thinking of them (without telling your whole story)? As a follower of Christ we are told to cry when others cry; to laugh when others laugh; and to feel when others feel.  How well are you doing?

#LoveLost#FirstLove

Saturday, September 14th, 2019

My sincere apologies for not getting this posted sooner. As many of you know we spent September 2-10 on our trip to Alaska. We arrived home after midnight on the 10th and I played catch-up the rest of the week. But tomorrow is Sunday and I have to be ready to go! I am…in principle. Now all I have to do is get my head and heart in the game. 🙂

I start a new series this week which I am calling Postcards. It will be a seven week series on the 7 churches of Revelation and the letters, i.e. postcards Jesus sent to each of them. Ryan did a great job of introducing God’s idea of the church last week as a lead-in to this series. I’m glad I have someone like him who is so dependable and able to present God’s Word. He’s a good one. 🙂

This week I have titled the sermon “To the Loveless Church.” The city of Ephesus had so much going for it as being one of the greatest cities to live in at that time. Economically. Culturally. Historically. Religiously (even though it was pagan).

The church at Ephesus had a lot going for it also. As you read Revelation 2:1-7 you can’t help but be struck by the commendation heaped upon them: their work, toil and patient endurance; they didn’t tolerate evil men; they hated the works of the Nicolaitans; and their motivation was spot on.

B…..U……T…..

The condemnation far outweighed the commendation. It is very clear. They left their first love. While they had all the outward show of being alive, they were dead inside. Their love for Jesus had grown cold. Their motivation should have been what Paul wrote: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14). It wasn’t, and therefore they were told in no uncertain terms “to repent or else.” Unfortunately, the “or else” happened and there is no longer a church in Ephesus.

Fighting this battle for “first place” is an ongoing one.  I hope to challenge all of us to renew our first love for Jesus.  I plan to play this song to help emphasize my point.

#Insignificant#Fulfilled#MediaPerception

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

It will seem strange to many of you who know me that I would actually write about social media. I have made no secret of the fact that I do not do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the other “stuff” that is out there.  Years ago when Jo started up on FB to keep up with our daughters, I said something about maybe I ought to. She said, “No, you have your blog. I’ll do FB.” She was right about that. I do have this blog. Actually, now I have two. The other is called LivingintheShadow and it is a daily devotion I write.  And yes, you can subscribe!  Hint! Hint! 🙂  But as I’ve looked back and then observed all the junk going around, Jo was more prophetic than she dreamed.  While there were times I wished I was on FB and other social media, I now realize I’m not missing a thing. Not only do I spend enough time on my two blogs, I simply cannot imagine how much time I would be throwing away aimlessly gazing at a scrolling screen. I hear enough snarky, snide remarks made by other media and people that I can graciously plead innocence to when asked if I passed something along or if I saw this post or that comment. Please understand I am not against FB but the abuse of it (and certainly some of the restrictions they are imposing, especially on followers of Christ).

I’ve also noticed how much emphasis and self-worth is placed on the number of readers, tweeters, instagrammers (I know that is not a word), and other media counting efforts to know how many people put their significance on that number. UGH!  There are some who hit the despondency button if their post or tweet is not passed on or commented on by a certain number of people. And please don’t get me started on the amount of bullying and vicious remarks that are made which devastate people because of the faceless presence one can assume.

I get my fill of hearing or reading about celebrities with big mouths (please go ahead and do us all a favor and leave the country if you don’t like living here); who do outlandish things; brag about their exploits; etc. But we idolize them as though they have “the life.” The last I looked the life of the Christ-follower is much more significant than some celluloid hero who acts the part of a superhero but lives the life of a lost soul. I’m thinking the animated film Balto actually is a more accurate story of life on the screen than any Marvel Universe project ever is.

And while I am on this whole social media rant, what is this thing that children and adults are glued to their screens, even at a meal? Dudes (and dudettes) put the screens away. Look someone in the eye and talk to them. I have to admit that my job as a pastor keeps me near my phone but I silence it during a meal. If it rings and is not important it can either go to voice mail or I can text later. Only three people do I respond to: Jo, Tami and Janna. Braden is in school so I don’t have to worry, but if his or Jason’s name shows up I will answer it.

Maybe it is time we practice what Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary once said: “Wherever you are, be all there.” I wonder what he would say today to gadgets he would not even had dreamed about!

I’d like to hear what your thoughts are.

#Test#HardestTask#MajorRoadblock

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

In your mind, what is the hardest thing you have done or need to do?  I’m not going to beat around the bush on that question. I think one of the hardest things anyone has to do is to learn to forgive.

I have heard this quote or some variation of it for years:

To err is human, to forgive, divine-to forgive and forget supernatural.

Some of you may be old enough to remember the movie called Love Story, which starred a very young Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw.  It was a blockbuster hit for those days (1970) and was actually the first date Jo and I had (it didn’t end well). It contained one of the dumbest statements that I think has ever been made: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Now…that statement assumes that a real relationship will never require saying, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness should just happen. There should be no special initiative on the part of either party.

But I beg to differ.  I hope we are all smart enough to realize any relationship takes time. Marriage. Friendship. Pastor/sheep. And I would be remiss if I left out the part forgiveness plays in any relationship. Forgiveness is never easy, especially when a great wrong has been done to you.  Makes you wonder about Joseph doesn’t it?

I believe this may have been his hardest task. This week’s sermon covers that time of his life when his brothers come seeking grain because of the famine. He recognizes them immediately but they don’t recognize him. There is quite an exchange which takes place until his “great revelation.” It will be a challenging sermon for all of us. I’d appreciate your prayers as I prepare.  Thanks.

#Prison#PrisonLife#NoLongerSlaves

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Talk of prison and people’s thoughts will immediately go to Alcatraz, some military prison, or some form of incarceration. When Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her and he put Joseph in prison, it wasn’t a 5-star hotel. The Scripture specifically tells us he put Joseph where Pharaoh’s enemies were put. True to his nature and God’s blessing on his life, Joseph excelled. He overcame his prison life.

In truth, most people will never see the inside of a prison cell. They just live in a prison. Due to circumstances, expectations of others, guilt, pessimism or some other “bothersome” issue, they live in a prison of their own making, one without physical bars.

I’m going to focus on that kind of prison this week during my sermon. As followers of Christ we are no longer slaves to fear or to the enemy or his efforts to keep us down. I’ll be working on very short rest and am anticipating with a very tired body. I’d appreciate your prayers.

Here is a song for your enjoyment: https://youtu.be/2QigyB50yGw

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After waiting for almost 8 months the BikeMS ride is this weekend in Lebanon, IN. Dave (from 3 Feet Please) is coming from Arizona to ride with me and his two adult children are coming to volunteer.  Jo and I left Thursday for Indy to spend the night in the hotel in Indy and to meet up with them. Jo plans to also help with the volunteer table for 3FP. Dave and I plan to do the 65 mile portion of the ride.  This is a fundraiser for MS and thanks to many of you and your generosity, I have been able to raise $1100 this year. Thank you so much!!  I do appreciate it more than you know but will appreciate your prayers even more. 65 miles will be double what I have been able to do (due to time constraints) at one time this year. Safety and health or my primary concerns. Thanks.  Here are pictures of the partners in crime.

#Consumers#WeAreGoingElsewhere#Discouraging

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

I think every pastor on the planet has at one time or another experienced someone coming to them and saying, “We are leaving and going to another church. Church XYZ has a program that is better suited for our kids. They have more things to do.” I have been on the other end of that stick and it doesn’t feel very good. It hurts even more when the decision has already been made and their mind is made up even before talking with me about it.

That is not happening right now. It has and I’m sure it will again. When someone leaves because of doctrinal reasons (they like Bill Johnson and Bethel Redding, for example, and my preaching is nowhere close to his heresy) I’m okay with that. It recently happened and I now see God sparing us from a very divisive issue. When someone leaves because they are moving over 45 minutes away (as someone very close to me did two years ago), it hurts, but I understand. I just won’t talk to him anymore (except when we get together to go out to eat). 🙂  I can get behind both of those reasons.

If a family leaves because I don’t see things as narrow as they do and leave accusing me of being liberal and compromising on issues like homosexuality, pornography, sexual conduct, abortion, and other issues, I can see there is something else underlying it. It is also so not true.

But for someone to simply pack up and leave because another church offers something we don’t, that hurts.  I don’t use the “su**s” word but I sure want to.  I’m confused. Flabbergasted. It’s like all the time and effort put into their family, their marriage, their lives means absolutely nothing.

Church-going is seen more like a shopping event than a worship event. We have become a nation of consumers, content on shopping around for the best bargain, the one (ready for it?) “that meets my needs the best.” That is certainly the one thing the seeker movement has taught us: have your felt needs met-go to the church that best meets your needs.  I’ll be honest: I despise shopping at the mall. I know everything is there under one roof. 100 different clothing stores. 30 different shoe stores. All the mobile phone kiosks. Toy stores. Lingerie stores.  Jewelry stores. (I mean, let’s face it. How many different pieces of jewelry can there be and how can one diamond store be more “real” than another?) Even a food court for your choice of food.  What the mall offers is all these stores under one roof, offering tons of the same items, still over-priced.

When it comes to the church, people lose sight of the “why” of going. They miss the “I am being fed by a man of God who uses the Word of God uncompromisingly.” Too often we determine our like or dislike by the music; the lights/camera/action; the activities going on; the entertainment value; and so on. Christ, and glorifying Him, is not king; the consumer/customer is. What does he/she need?

Granted, “feel good” positive thinking messages (I can’t call them sermons) should have us looking elsewhere. Entertainment-driven “worship events” should tire us. An endless calendar which gives us no time for family should be a yellow flag. But to leave just to leave, to feel better, to play sports or whatever, is just wrong.  Ironically, the desire for more selections and variety is what has helped create the megachurch.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

#Temptation#RequirementstoDefeat

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Sunday I preached on Joseph’s battle against the temptation Potiphar’s wife presented. Two phrases I used several times were these:

With greater success comes greater measure of trust.  We can read how Potiphar trusted Joseph.

With greater measure of success comes a greater measure of vulnerability.  We can also see how his success made him vulnerable to attacks. The enemy came at him with laser-like accuracy.

What  would Joseph do? Well, with the benefit of hindsight we know Joseph said no, fled, but then was falsely accused by a woman who was scorned.

How can we do the same? Temptation is common to all of us. How can we defeat it? I hesitate giving an easy “Four Step Plan” because most of those don’t work, but Chuck Swindoll gave some great advice in his book on Joseph. As promised here, I’d like to give you his words.  The main thoughts are his; the commentary is mine.

1. Don’t be weakened by the situation. The Scripture says, “Day after day” Potiphar’s wife went after Joseph. Not one and done. Day after day. Fatigue often sets in during the battle. Don’t be weakened.

2. Don’t be deceived by the persuasion. I have heard my share of excuses, as I’m sure you have, when people fall. “No one will know.” “My husband or wife doesn’t meet my needs.” “I’m lonely.” “Just this once. Never again.”  Be careful of justification.

3. Don’t be gentle with your emotions.  Many soft-hearted people are drawn in by their compassion. I think that is one reason for not having mixed sex “gripe” sessions. Too often what started as innocent becomes the downfall for many. “But I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”  You are not being rude or insensitive by saying no.

4. Don’t be confused by the immediate results. Joseph was falsely accused and ended up in prison. We often cannot see the forest for the trees. Immediate results can be deceptive.

There you have it. Four simple ideas about defeating temptation. They aren’t steps to take; they are advice to heed.

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