Doing Nothing is not an Option

“Were you the one that was there the night he passed away?” It was a haunting question. I am a local church Pastor and Chaplain for more than one First Responder Units. As such my ministry has allowed me to be the “one who was there” many times. It is not an easy role but it is a needed role.

It had been ten days since he passed away- an unexpected heart-attack took him instantly. Who could be prepared? They were not. Mid-fifties, wife, high school son soon to graduate. He, still in shock, is a temporary sofa surfer because he just can’t face going home. She was bearing a heavy load. They had no family of faith to lean on during that time.

She came looking for me. We met that night through the haze of shock and tears. The responders are always as helpful as they can be. But in the end it is a grim task. I try to connect at a deeper level but in that moment all is a blur. I left my card and contact so she could connect if needed. That is exactly what happened.

Do you wonder what to do? Do you wonder what to say? Do you choose to do nothing because you don’t have answers, don’t know what to expect, or are just plain scared? Would you reconsider your position for a moment? What if you could be the one? What if you could step up and offer encouragement? What if you had a better understanding of what to do? Could you be used of God in such a moment to touch the life of a friend, family, or even a complete stranger?

Death is one common denominator of life. Death is a great equalizer. Even if you know a loved one is dying you are never quite prepared for it. Death comes as a shock. It places us under tremendous pressure. It forces us to face certain realities. It forces us to make certain decisions very quickly. Death is life on overload.

What if I gave you the “magic bullet”… words that could make it instantly better. Guess what… those words don’t exist. It is a tragic moment! No words diminish the impact. Even if you had the loveliest words they will likely not be heard or remembered. The mind is in shock. Very little sticks in that moment. People won’t remember what you say. They will remember you were there. It is a ministry of presence.

The key to this and every ministry is to be used by God. We feel ill-equipped so we become paralyzed fear and do nothing. If He will use you (yes, He will) He will equip you for the moment. He isn’t seeking your ability but your availability. We make ministry too hard. Just be a usable vessel. Seize the moment.

The reward came that day. I got to hear her needs, meet a couple of them, and make a few referrals to other helping resources. Most importantly I was able to have a serious discussion about her own personal spiritual need. She was in church the next Sunday because the connections made were to her points of need. The story is just beginning. Our church is prepared to love her through her sorrow. How did we get this opportunity? Someone knew that doing nothing was not an option.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you,” 1 Peter 5:7. He often cares through others.

Someone knew the church must break out.

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Doing Good

I love the life lesson revealed in Galatians 6:9… “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up,” (ESV).

Doing good should be part of every person’s daily list of to-dos. Doing good makes a difference in the lives of others and in your life as well. I was reminded of this fact recently. Someone came by the church… I rarely see this someone, I hardly know this someone, and haven’t seen this someone in about three years. But in the course of our conversation this someone began thanking me profusely for something I did the last time we met. It was nothing special… it was a simple visit, a supportive prayer, an offer of help, a sympathetic ear, time spent with someone going through a difficult patch.

I did nothing that any ordinary “friend” wouldn’t do. But wow, the gratitude expressed made it seem like I performed some mighty act. I did not- nor am I capable of such. I didn’t even remember the episode until several details came to light.

That is when Galatians 6:9 came to mind! The simple act of “doing good” made a huge difference in the life of a family! God used me that day! I was not especially aware of it. It probably happens more often than we realize. But this was different because God, for some reason, thought I needed to be reminded. I am grateful. I have been re-encouraged to go out of my way- to do simple acts of kindness- because they make a difference. A difference in self and a difference for others. Truly, we rarely know how God may have used simple encounters to make a difference for another.

I encourage you to let God use you! Simple “good acts” both demonstrate and reinforce faith. They require little from you, pay huge dividends toward another, and according to Galatians 6:9, they will come back to bless you.

Finally, don’t give up! Keep going. Keep doing. Be generous. Reach out. Befriend others. Give in the simplest ways. Give of yourself. God will use your endurance to be a blessing and a witness to others. God can and will reveal His work through you.

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WHO or WHAT do you serve, O Church, O Believer? We each serve something or someone. The question seems so simple since we serve God. But do we in fact? The truth is that we ultimately serve whatever is most important to us.In Leviticus 25:55 God says, “for to Me the children of Israel are servants… My servants… who I brought out of the land of Egypt” (paraphrased).A “servant” is “one in obedience to another.” To “serve” is to “voluntarily answer the requirements of another.” So who do you obey? Who do you voluntarily serve? It is an important “breaking out” question for every church and Believer.To serve the Lord is not as simple as saying we do. Serving the Lord is not the same as going to church although your attendance pays the homage He asks (Hebrews 10:25).

  • To serve Him is to place His priorities above your own.
  • To serve Him is to set out daily to live out His standard.
  • To serve Him is to obey His wishes.
  • To serve Him is be “others” minded.
  • To serve Him is conduct your life in such a way that any and all know you are ultimately about the work of the Kingdom.

Servanthood is a demeaning concept to many. Some think you should serve no one other than self. Jesus neither taught nor exemplified that!Apostles James and John asked Jesus for a favor- that one might sit on His right and one on His left in the Kingdom. They were about self-promotion rather than servanthood. Jesus did not grant the request but ended the discussion by citing His own example, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. Jesus would have liked to avoid certain obstacles in His path (the cross for example) but chose instead to continue His servanthood, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done,” Luke 22:42.Jesus servanthood is exemplified in Ephesians 5:25, “Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her.”Kingdom Servanthood is neither easy nor natural but it is right. In our servanthood we are to seek “first His Kingdom and His righteousness” Matthew 6:33. The church cannot break out otherwise.

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You Have Your Assignment in the Kingdom! Do It!

Mark is the gospel filled with action. Mark 5:1-20 tells of Jesus’ visit to the country of the Gadarenes. Jesus barely stepped ashore before encountering a demon-possessed man. We never learn his name- but we learn he is possessed by a demon named, Legion. Mark wove great details into twenty short verses. Verses 1-5 provides graphic background information. Verses 6-13 tells of the encounters between Jesus, the man, and the demon. 14-20 tell of Jesus’ departure from Gadara.

Mark provides several points worthy of study. For example, the demon possessed man bowed in worship, implored Jesus not to “torment” him, and to not force them from the country. Jesus engaged the demon and learned there were many of them. Jesus ordered them to leave the man. They did! In the process 2000 pigs were drowned as demons overtook them. The pig keepers told their story in town and Jesus was asked to leave.

Verse 15 focuses our attention back upon the work of Jesus. Much had happened but Mark wrote that the one out of whom Legion had been cast was “sitting and clothed, and in his right mind.” It is possible to get so caught up in the whir of exciting things around us that we forget that life’s most important engagements are with Jesus. The real story was that a certain well-know demon-possessed man was changed completely. That was the real story!

But moreso, after that life-changing encounter with Jesus, don’t we find ourselves (even as he) being so grateful that we want to sign-up and go with Jesus (verses 18-20)?

Missionary service in New Orleans had many exciting elements. One great uncomfortable struggle was often witnessed. So many seminary students were introduced to our ministry. They were looking for volunteer hours, interviews, internships, jobs, preaching opportunities, or class credits. But they all came wide-eyed not knowing what to expect among our homeless and addicted population. Some discovered very quickly this work was not for them. Understandable. I too visited many ministry points before I heard what Jesus told this man. Others found their place of service among us.

If you could pick your ministry, what would it be? This young man tried to do that. He wanted to join the band in the boat. Jesus said no. It was not that he couldn’t serve Jesus. It was that Jesus already had an assignment for him. He was to stay home and tell the story of what Jesus did for him. The man did with great success!

Don’t miss YOUR call. No one can do what Jesus calls you to do… and you cannot do the job Jesus has called someone else to do! If you seek it you will find it. When you find it you will be gratified in your service to the Lord far beyond anything you can imagine.

The church breaks out as church members find their place and begin doing what God calls and gifts them to do. Where is your Decapolis?

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People Hear What They Listen For

Two men walked along a crowded city sidewalk. One man said: "Listen! Do you hear that cricket?"

"Cricket? What cricket? How can you hear a cricket over the noise of the city."

The first man, a zoologist, trained himself to hear the sounds of nature. He demonstrated this to his friend by reaching into his pocket and dropping a half-dollar coin onto the sidewalk. They watched as several people began looking for the coin over the sounds of the city.

He turned to his friend and said, "See. People hear what they listen for."

Abraham was a man, husband, and father who was tuned to hearing God.

As a man I can confess that too many of our kind don't want to listen to anybody about anything… but the reality of being a "man" is that good listening, good counsel, good advice fuels life.

Genesis 22 reveals Abraham's Close Encounter with God. Abraham helps us see that men need to listen to God. This particular episode in Abraham's life shows us that fathers face great tests in life.

Here is what Fathers can learn from Abraham.

1. Dads need to know God! Verse 1 tells us that Abraham heard God's voice and responded, "Here I am!" God was foremost in Abraham's life!

2. Dads are tested! Verse 1 tells us also that God tested Abraham. Why? Because faith, if it is genuine faith, gets tested. Abraham's test indicates that those closest to the Lord may endure the most grueling tests. Funny how we enjoy "the big tests" on tv or the sports arena but we shun them like crazy in real life. Dad, you will be tested!

3. Dads must do the hard things! Verse 2 tells us what God wanted from Abraham. Bottom line, God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). In reality, God did not want Isaac's life but He absolutely wanted an undivided heart in Abraham. Dad, what is most important to you?

4. Dads must obey with immediacy! Life pushes hard. Choices are tough. Time is short. Children grow quickly. Obey God with haste so you have no regrets. Abraham did not delay when he heard from God.

5. Dads must depend upon God! Verse 8 shows us that Abraham had learned this important lesson already. Dad, you can lean hard into God… in fact, you must.

6. Dads need to know that God never fails! Verses 13-14 provide one of the greatest "names" of God… Jehovah Jireh… He is the God who provides.

So, dad, what are you listening for? Are you tuned in to God or some far more trivial voice? Dads, don't let fake motivators or even "good" things subvert what is best and most important. Go for maximum, eternal impact in the life of your children and family! Let God speak and use you in the way He wants to today. God can and will maximize your influence in your family beyond measure.

Let Him.

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What Does a 105th Church Anniversary Look Like?

That was the very question I was asked last week by a church planter. They were celebrating 10 years to our 105. Our plan looked radically different than theirs. I pray their plan worked out. Our celebration was off the charts!

In brief, we planned a very normal looking Sunday with small group Bible Study and morning worship. Special elements were included such as the baptism, a special proclamation by the Mayor, a sermon delivered by our highly regarded Pastor Emeritus, lunch for all, a Reminiscing Service, and a reception with cake and punch to end the day. Every aspect of the day was intended to worship and honor the Lord and NOT to worship our church. By all measures it was a success. However…

God brought things to the table today that were unexpected, unplanned, unmanageable, undeniable.

It began with our Men's Prayer Group. This blessed troop is determined to do all they can to plead God's visitation upon His church. They pray for God-anointed, Spirit infused preaching- doing all they can to ward-off bad preaching. My friend Joe McKeever set off a "thought-bomb" in my mind last week when he wrote, "Bad preaching is God's judgement upon a non-praying church." Wow! Keep it up guys!

But before that I ever got to church this morning I learned that our small town had been touched by the suicide of a high school senior. I spent a few minutes trying to speak to our youth group about it. Some were stoic, some emotional. All seemed hungry to know more about what to do, or to say, that might help the family members. Sadly they seemed to understand intuitively the desperation that may have led to his demise. Such a sad event on such a joyous day.

Families began to fill our 200 seat sanctuary. I had been waiting patiently for Bud to arrive. He would be our oldest member that day, at 92. I wanted so badly to get a photo of Bud holding our youngest baby, Ava. I knew Bud would love it and I hoped Ava would tolerate it! But something was off as Bud and Yvonne came in. They were not their normal well-dress, perky, confident selves. Bud was unshaven… very unlike this retired Air Force Pilot from WW2. They were homeless! Their house had been struck by lightning and had been made uninhabitable by fire. This was another tragedy on this momentous day.

Worship was glorious though tinged by two tough things. Dee was back for the first time after having suffered a stroke, undergoing hospitalization, and rehab. She is doing quite well. A praise. Tim wanted to thank the church for doing what churches do.

Baptism added to our worship as Lulu was immersed. Her real name is Alzilda Louise which means, "the famous warrior powerful and complete." She came to faith in Christ through a literacy ministry that taught her to read the Bible…. Thank you Sandy Landry.

Then Pastor Alvin King Waller, Pastor Emeritus extraordinaire filled the pulpit. He has only done so twice since his retirement five years ago after a forty-year run as Pastor of FBC. He remains a full and complete blessing to this church and to THIS Pastor. He reminded us of God's faithfulness and purposefulness to transform us into the likeness of Jesus through each and every event in our daily lives. He gave example from his own life.

We wrapped up by thanking all and asking a blessing upon the food we would enjoy. That is when a third unscripted moment came my way. It was Wesley. He wanted to know about inviting Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Truth is that Wesley, at 12, had already made that decision the night before. He was just letting me know! I counseled him about what he did and believe that he exercised the child-like faith needed to be saved.

Lunch went as planned except that I had a fourth blessing. Joe is in the hospital and has been given three weeks. I had been keeping up with Joe but had yet to visit him or even to meet him. But now, in the hospital, he is asking for a Pastor. I live for moments like this. I would go to Joe after our Reminiscing Service and Reception.

The Reminiscing Service came as a great blessing as it always does. With 105 years under the bridge there is much to remember ! Such was the case today. Some funny stories. Some serious stories. Some spiritually significant milestones. It was clear that we stand today upon the shoulder of our forebears. It is clear that we need to serve faithfully for those who come after us.

I made my way to see Joe after the Reception. I wanted Joe to be certain of his final, eternal destiny. That is what Joe wanted too. We talked and prayed. He had confidence in his salvation but little confidence in his ability to live a holy life. I will be seeing a lot of Joe over the next few weeks.

A 105th Anniversary is a glorious thing. It was all we expected. But God had more. I will always choose His plan over mine. So will any smart Believer or wise Church. Today I saw the needless wasting of a young life who saw no other way out. I saw old tried and true saints (Bud & Yvonne) being tested at this late day in their lives… or is it a test to see if the church will be the church. I saw a new life marked with baptism (Lulu.) I saw a new-born child come into the family of God (Wesley.) I saw a brother on the last few steps of his journey making sure that he was ready to be greeted in eternity. God is always faithful and never finished.

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What Stands Between You and Belief? (5)

FINALLY, HOW IS THE BATTLE FOR BELIEF WON? (Luke 24:12;29-31;33-35;52-53)

Luke makes it abundantly clear! Luke shows that the BATTLE FOR BELIEF is won by communing, meditating, spending time with Jesus!

Luke 24:12- "But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened." Peter could not take anyone's word for it! He had to get up and find out on his own. You cannot have a second-hand or hand-me-down faith! You to must find out for yourself.

Luke 24:29-31- "But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight." Two men walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, fellowshipped with Jesus. It is a requirement for Believers.

Luke 24:33-35- "So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread." They supported each other, encouraged, and followed together. Is that a reality in your life?

Luke 24:52-53- "And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen." This is one of the most convicting truths for Believers who fail to worship with other Believers. Disciples are expected to be faithful in worship.


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What Stands Between You and Belief (4)

IGNORANCE OF THE WORD (Luke 24:25-27;32;44-49)

This is a biggie!

Three times in Luke 24 Jesus specifically pointed back to the Word- back to His previous teaching- back to what they already knew. He did so in order to reframe the thoughts and spirits of His followers.
Let’s read these together:

Luke 24:25-27; "Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." Scripture tells us about Jesus! Lack of knowledge of Scripture keeps us from knowing Him.

Luke 24:32: "And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”" Failure to hear the words of Jesus keeps us in disbelief.

Luke 24:44-45: "Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures." We find a reminder here that the entirety of God's Word, even from the Law, points toward Jesus. Failure to see the whole picture enhances disbelief.

The importance of God’s Word cannot be overstated. Baptists are people of the Word. It is HIGH PRAISE. There are other main-stream Christian denominations out there that do not place the Word of God in their top three as being authoritative and instructive for their faith. Some even place their own religious tradition above the Word of God.

Jesus makes it clear in His repeated responses that His followers must keep the Word near and dear and authoritative and instructive as a manual for daily living.

Psa119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

Heb4:12 says, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”


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Birthdays are an Amazing Thing!

Sunday was my birthday. Not a big deal… at least, not usually. But I guess I have reached the age at which people seem to take a little extra notice of things like my "seniority."

It began to unfold a few days early. I was in a store to buy a chamois to use in washing my cars (I am a car guy). As I was trying to decide which brand I dropped one of them. The container bounced on the floor and a nice young man turned and said, "Oh, let me get that for you sir." I was a little astonished and said thank you- not really knowing if I meant it or not. It made me think.

On the way home I stopped at a fast food place to get a few tacos to take home for dinner that night. It was raining. I rushed in and got in line. It was kind of a long line. As I got closer I found myself standing right inside the door. As I stood there another customer came rushing in from the rain exactly as I had done! He was a big burly oilfield looking guy. He almost plowed right into me as he burst in! He was a very kind and gentle man, at least that is what I thought until he began to apologize! His apology included the word, "Pop." I wondered if perhaps I was wearing a casket that day. Again, it made me think.

I am a Pastor. I don't view myself as old. But maybe I am becoming a little sensitive about it.

I stopped in to see one of our more aged parishioners. I make this same mistake every time I visit him and he always calls me on it. I made the same mistake yesterday. I called him, "Mr. Santo." He swatted my hand as he always does and said, "MISTER? That makes me feel like I am old!" Well, he IS old for in the next breath he told me he is 87 but doesn't feel like it.

I am a Pastor. My birthday was last Sunday. It was my first Sunday birthday as a Pastor. I have managed to keep my July 30 birthday under wraps… until this year. My phone began to ding shortly after midnight Sunday morning. I knew pretty quickly that the cat was out of the bag! I was up at 4. Arrived at the church at 4:15 to prepare the baptistry for baptisms, making certificates, studying a little, meditating, praying, and preparing for what is the biggest day in the week of any Pastor.

At 8:30 I went to our standard Men's Prayer Meeting to find the best birthday gift ever. Our men's gathering was tripled! The most kind and thoughtful man I have ever known had verified my birthday with Cathy, my life-mate. He rallied the troops knowing exactly how to bless his Pastor. Wow! Thanks men!

I heard several renditions of Happy Birthday, received a passel of cards, and a gift or two (see attached pic).

Then came the Children's Message, done each week by our Children's Minister, the highly animated Stephanie Cline. She called me up to sit in the middle of our 22 children gathered for the moment. She asked them how old they thought I was. I cringed! The consensus was that I was 21 after the loud and boisterous Susan shouted out that gleeful number! Stephanie asked the kids to surround me and to place their hands on me as she led in prayer for the service, and for her Pastor. A few snickers were heard as Kelly reached up from behind to place her hand upon my small (not) bald spot.

I was accused all day long of being 85. It is an amazing number! That would make me older than my dad! So each time 85 came up I claimed it to be the year I was born!

Dear church, you have the power to bless. In fact, "to bless" is a fresh way to restate the mission of the church. We have the power to bless! Not only the power but the obligation, the responsibility. That blessing is to share, to tell, to love, to invite, to embrace, to forgive, to reach out, to befriend. HE is the blessing which we possess. HE is the blessing which is ours to share. HE is the blessing with which we bless others.

I needed to be reminded of THE FOLLOWING WORDS which were written on a Guest Info slip Sunday- "I am thirsty for God's Words. I feel at home again. Thank you for the sermon on Gideon and thank you for making me feel closer to God." Obviously God is at work in the life of this one. Obviously church, we did our work as this one was blessed.

WE have the power to bless!
We have the POWER to bless!
We have the power to BLESS!

Dear church, you have the power to bless. Thank you for blessing me Sunday. Thank you for making it a great day in every way… with a special prayer meeting, immense numbers of well-wishes, the celebration and baptism of Becca Fleming, two preaching opportunities, four decisions during the invitation, a dozen guests, and an anointing service for Tom to end the day! Let us never forget that this special power extends far beyond these four walls and is to go into the community in which walls need to be destroyed and dismantled. We have the power to bless.

I can't believe it. I am already looking forward to July 30, 2018!

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What Stands Between You and Belief? (3)

In Luke 24, a third element stood between the followers of Jesus and belief. HUMAN REASONING. We see it verses 13-21.

Two men traveled the road to Emmaus. They were joined by Jesus Himself although they didn't recognize Him immediately. They thought they had it figured out. They had preconceived notions about who Jesus was, what He was about, and His ultimate purpose. They had placed Jesus in their own mold. They were locked out of true belief by their own faulty, finite reasoning.

Many (all) people have preconceived and misguided notions about Jesus that keep them from experiencing Him fully.

Human reasoning asks questions about God like these…

"If there is a God, why do we have suffering, disasters, diseases, hunger, and poverty?"

"If there is a God, why was that two-year-old girl crushed a truck?"

Good questions perhaps. But these are questions from human brains of limited intellect.

The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, recorded these words that remind us of the shallowness of human reasoning, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings." Jeremiah 17:9-10

Do not let your own human reasoning defeat you in your battle for belief.

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