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.

DO NOT LET YOUR SHORTAGE OF TIME SPENT WITH JESUS DEFEAT YOU IN YOUR BATTLE FOR BELIEF!

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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.”

DO NOT LET YOUR OWN IGNORANCE OF GOD's WORD DEFEAT YOU IN YOUR BATTLE FOR BELIEF.

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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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What Stands Between You and Belief? (2)

Let’s move a little further into the discussion of things which may keep us from belief. Confusion has already been mentioned. Another reason we sometimes have difficulty with belief is that we sometimes choose to reject proof.

As we continue in Luke 24 we see that the disciples, three times, were offered evidence and each time they dismissed it as “idle tales,” then as “astonishingly unbelievable,” then, ultimately, they experienced personal, face-to-face, frightening evidence which convinced them once and for all. It took pursuation and more than one proof.

John 20:29 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Jesus sent proof to His followers of His resurrection. The disciple Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” John 24:25.

Here is the crux of the matter. Thomas needed proof. Proof was given. Then Thomas came to believe immediately. I am convinced that if you need proof He will provide proof in a way that is uniquely meaningful to you. Thomas got proof. We can get proof too based upon His willingness for us to know Him. However, when proof is given belief must follow. To,reject the truth is eternally devastating.

John 20:31 provides evidence that God wants us to have proof of His Son, Jesus… “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Furthermore, He could provide an endless library of proof as seen in John 21:25, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”

One more fact about proof from Jesus teaching comes from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in which two men lived and died. One went to paradise, one to hades. The one in hades asked that a messenger be sent to his family so they could avoid hades. Jesus essentially said, proof has been sent and rejected… additional proof will not help those who are “proof-challenged.” See the details in Luke 16:19-31.

Do not let your own rejection of proof defeat you in your battle for belief.

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