Thursday, December 20, 2012

Are you ready for Finals?

Tis the season. I think most college students dread finals.  I know that I did.  A whole semester’s worth of work is supposed to be summed up in a three hour exam.  To make matters worse, more often than not, you usually had the two hardest finals on the same day.  Days leading up to finals were hectic.  Cramming, study sessions and more cramming were just a part of life. 

Tis the season.  Have you ever thought that Christmas brings finals to our churches?  Before you think that I have finally gone crazy, think about it.  Who shows up in our churches on Christmas?

The Christmas Christian shows up in our churches for the Christmas service.  Much like the groundhog on Groundhog Day, the Christmas Christian makes a quick appearance before going back into hiding till Easter.

This Christian shows up two times a year.  Our churches will be full this weekend.  People that you haven’t seen since Easter are back.  While you glad hand them and tell them how wonderful it is to see them, they are looking just as hard back at you. 

Think about it. You only have two times a year to let those people know if you have been naughty or nice.  While you have them for that hour, can they see Christ in you?  I know you are going to be nice to them.  That’s a given.  The real question is whether they see someone that really cares about them.  Are you showing genuine love for your fellow man? 

In reality, you are probably thinking about going to grandma’s later on in the day.  Besides, since they don’t show up that often it really don’t matter all that much.  You’ll see them later in the week at the grocery store and tell them how glad you were to see them at church on Christmas. 

Have you ever really wondered why these folks only show up twice a year?  These people are Christians.  And you know that they are not so vain as to believe that showing up at Christmas and Easter will gain them some favor with God.

Alas, but I am afraid that some regular churchgoers do believe just that.  And that’s a shame.  We miss out on some of the best opportunities to tell people about Jesus, because we have already decided that they aren’t really interested. We believe that they show up, just to be seen.

So it’s just my silly thought that Christmas and Easter are finals for those of us that consider ourselves regular churchgoers.  We need to take all that the pastor has taught us and demonstrate our knowledge and love of Christ.  And we need to show the Christmas Christian that we are real.  

So if you happen to go the church this Sunday, look around.  You will have a great opportunity to witness for Christ.  And if you miss this opportunity, you’ll have another opportunity in the spring.

Be ready for Easter.  These finals are real important.  They are a matter of eternal life or death.  So study hard.

God Bless you.  I hope you have a Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Good Grief Charlie Brown, They called me an Evangelical

All this time, I never dreamed that being called an evangelical was a bad thing.  I also didn’t know that there were several definitions of evangelicals and then, you have to separate the fundamentalists from the evangelicals.

Fundamentalists have been described in Wikipedia as a group that aggressively attacks their liberal enemies while evangelicals concentrated more on outreach and conversion of new members. 

Now even that definition is convoluted because it goes on to describe three different types of evangelicals. 

Quoting Wikipedia again:

1.The traditionalists, characterized by high affinity for certain Protestant beliefs, (especially penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of scripture, the priesthood of all believers, etc.) which, when fused with the highly political milieu of Western culture (especially American culture), has resulted in the political disposition that has been labeled the Christian right, with figures like Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson as its most visible spokesmen.

 2. Centrist evangelicals, described as socially conservative, mostly avoiding politics, who still support much of traditional Christian theology.

 3. Modernist evangelicals, a small minority in the movement, have low levels of church-attendance and "have much more diversity in their beliefs".

Wow, I have to have a dictionary in order to read a dictionary. 

What is a “traditionalist evangelical”?  Reading that definition, I don’t have a clue.  I personally have never heard of “penal substitutionary atonement”, so I had to look it up. 

According to Theopedia: “Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the doctrine that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve. This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sinners without compromising His own holy standard.”

I don’t know how you could be a Christian without believing Christ died for your sins.  So now I am starting to sound like a traditionalist. But wait, that makes me part of the “Christian Right”.  Who are those folks?  Are they associated with those crazies that blow up abortion clinics?   I hope not.  But what if I don’t agree with Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson?  Guess I have to know what they believe first. 

But I do believe in my constitutional right to vote.  I am sure that I would vote for a Christian over a non-Christian given the opportunity.  Does that make me part of the Christian Right or is that just one of my American Rights? 

That being said, I think I would rather be called a centrist evangelical.  Socially conservative, but staying out of politics.  Or at least, keeping my politics to myself.  I don’t want people to think that I am crazy.  Hold on, what does “support much of traditional Christian theology” mean?  What part don’t I support?  I know that I support “penal substitutionary atonement”.  Will that belief, preclude me from being a centrist?  I am getting lost. 

Maybe I will just be a modernist evangelical.  Sounds pretty good to me.  Don’t go to church much and I can believe what I want.  Wow, that sounds like the majority of people that I know, yet the definition says that this is a small majority of the movement.  Thinking about it, I do like to go to church and I believe what the Bible says.  Maybe I am not a modernist at all. 

I really don’t fit into any of the three definitions of an evangelical.  Maybe I am a fundamentalist.  Let’s look. 

First of all, we have to back up and define this “liberal enemy” that fundamentalists are attacking.  Is this the guy that just voted for Obama or is it somebody that just doesn’t agree with your beliefs about Christianity. For example: You believe in a strict literal translation of the Bible and another person believes otherwise.  Is that person a “liberal enemy”?  I don’t know and I bet you don’t either.  And the reason I don’t care is because I am not about having a label attached to my beliefs.  I don’t think that I am a fundamentalist either. 

Charlie Brown:  I believe in evangelism.  Jesus told us in the great commission to go and reach people for him.  That should be my goal. 

The media might paint me as a religious zealot that goes around bible thumping and preaching hell and damnation if I was to speak publically about Jesus.  And nothing could be further from the truth, at least in my life. 

As a recovering alcoholic and a supporter of the 12 step system, I adhere to the belief that the only way to help myself is to help other alcoholics that ask for my help.  I mean get down in the dirt help.  I mean helping that other alcoholic with whatever means necessary. 

Jesus taught his disciples to do the same.  Jesus taught love and understanding, not hate and prejudice. 

People throw around names and labels without knowing what they are truly saying.  I find that I don’t really fit into any of the above definitions of evangelicals or fundamentalist, but that’s ok.  Call me what you want.

I shouldn’t worry about the labels; I should worry about whether you see Christ in my actions.  In the end, that’s the only thing that matters. 
Listen to the following song by Johnny Cash.  I think it more than appropriate. 
Heck after listening to the song, I might just be a Methodist...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fear, Faith and Fumbling Around

It seems that I am always in the company of one of these three F’s. 

I bet that there’s at least 100 books on “how to conquer your fears” and another 100 on “how to live on faith”.  Either I haven’t read the right book or the ones that I read are just wrong, because I spent most of my time just fumbling around through life. 

Everybody will tell you to “face your fears head-on” or “stand up to your fears”.  Then the same people will tell you to “have faith” or “trust in Jesus”.  For 99% of the people out there, you might as well just told them what time it is.  They are too deep in believing their fears to face them and just too afraid to have faith in anything.  They might believe the time of day.

As humans, we are taught fear from birth.  It doesn’t matter what culture you are brought up in, fear is universal.  Your mom taught you not to stick your finger in the electric socket because it would hurt you.  You became afraid.  Even today, you have fears in your life that limit the good things that you could accomplish.  You are afraid to take that unknown step.

Faith could very well be the opposite of fear.  We don’t have enough faith to take that unknown step.  Why don’t we have enough faith?  Fear is deep seated and well learned.  We gain faith simply by having faith.  It’s that simple, but that is exactly what makes it that hard. 

So what do we do?  We just fumble around most of the time.  You see, one of our biggest problems is our prayer life or mostly lack of.  We tend to judge how much faith that we have by our answered prayers.  If we get good answers, we shine with our faith.  If we don’t get an answer or the answer isn’t what we wanted, our faith goes away and is replaced by our fears. 

And I don’t know who taught us to pray, but aren’t we really selfish in most of our prayers.  We go the Lord seeking his favor and wanting things to turn out the way that we want, not seeking God’s will in our lives.  You have to know that 100 years from now, nobody will remember the things that filled your life with fear.  But if we spent our time seeking God’s will, in a hundred years we will be with him throughout eternity.  To prove my point, do you really know anything about the daily fears that encompassed the lives of your great grandparents?  I know that I don’t. 

So here I am fumbling around.  But I guess, no I know, that the answer is in Jesus.  I find great comfort in Jesus; I just forget to go to him a lot of the time.  Faith is such a powerful thing for us.  We can do most anything with faith.  The problem is that after a little success, we start to think it’s by our own doing and we forget Jesus.  Then we start all over. 

I think that this is probably how it will always be for us and our future generations.  And that’s all right.  The greatest among us will not be the ones that have all the fame, the greatest amoung us will be those that live their lives for Jesus. 

I always like to end with a song.  Today’s song is “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers.  It’s ok, just listen and think about what I said.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Standing Outside the Fire.

I've got to be honest with you.  I have been a pew sitter most of my life.  That means that I have been content to just go to church on Sunday morning and let the preacher give me a message.  I'll shake his hand on the way out the door and tell him what a good message he delivered that day.  I would come back the next Sunday and do the same.  All the while, not remembering what the preacher had said the Sunday before.  

Am I saved, you bet.  I know that I have invited Jesus into my heart.  So why do I act like I do?  I can tell you that I have tried to get involved in church before and have always been hurt and astonished by the way that Christians treat each other.  And there is nothing more harmful to a church than church gossip.  Innuendo, snide remarks and people just insisting that nothing ever changes in a church lead to revolving door members. 

We are all different.  God made us that way.  We all have different talents.  We all have different life experiences,  Church members can be the most hurtful people because they hurt their own.  Lots of times we treat visitors better than we do our own members.  Now you may be asking, how I can write like this.  I confess, I have been guilty of it all.  I am not pointing  a finger at anyone.  You know in your heart if you are guilty.

So what is different this time?  Why do I think I have changed at all and the better question is why should you think that I have changed?

I go back to the phrase: "standing outside the fire".   Up to this point, I never really realized that a walk with Jesus isn't going to be a walk in the park.  Remember the poem: "Footprints in the Sand".  I always thought that meant that Jesus was carrying me when bad things happened to me.  When parents died or something horrible like that.  It seem that I have missed the point of this poem altogether.  Jesus is carrying you when you walk in the fire. 

There are lots of passages that refer to swords in the Bible.  I am now 60 years old and finally understand the symbolism of the sword.  Walking with Jesus is double edged. 

By trying to do what God is telling me to do, I have experienced some of the greatest highs that I have ever known.  It's intoxicating and makes you want to do more. 

But that's where the problems start.  First of all, you start to forget that it's God performing his work using you as a vessel.  I don't deserve the credit, yet this frail human spirit is always battling me for credit.  I have to pray about this all the time.  Secondly, when you do what God has called you to do, you will be attacked.  And some of the most severe attacks come from "well meaning" Christians.

Without a doubt, the hardest part of all is being able to be strong enough to confront those Christian brothers and sisters when you feel that they are hurting others.  Again that double edged sword comes to mind.  Because it's difficult to confront another Christian without being judgemental.  And it's the most painful thing to do.  I know that I don't want to do it and I know that the Christians that I confront will not only be hurt but probably resentful.  We are humans and that is a normal human reaction. 

We will say hurtful things and make rash decisions.  This is why churches split and great foundations fail.  We just don't love each other enough to overcome our own shortcomings.  And then, God gets the blame. 

Think of it another way, how many people will tell you that they don't go to church because the church is full of hypocrites.  We have all heard this.  And it's true.  But the real truth is that we are all hypocrites and we all sin. 

The preacher preached last Sunday about faith. Jesus taught us about faith and love.  We need to concentrate on that instead of the petty things that we deal with in everyday life.

So what does "Standing Outside the Fire" mean to you?  To me it means that I can no longer sit on the sidelines or sit in the pew and watch Sermon Sundays go by.  I have to follow what Jesus tells me to do.  I don't have a choice.  If I want the blessings, I have to be able to withstand the hard times too.  I have to firm and unwavering in my life. 

Will I fail?  Most certainly.  But it is as these times that I know that Jesus will be carrying me.  I just encourage you to search your soul and do whatever it is that the Lord is leading you too. 

I like one of the lines in the song:  "Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you are standing outside the fire".   Listen to the song and enjoy.  Think about your walk with the Lord.  Are you going to stand outside the fire and sit in that pew or get up and follow Jesus and like Daniel, get in the fire... The choice is yours..


Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Hear a Symphony, Leadership Series Part II

This is the second in a series of blogs talking about leadership and in particular church leadership. This blog deals with how leaders should empower the membership of the church. 

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Joseph Martin at his home.  He is one of the premier church music composers in America today.  My wife, Carla, Michael Slaughter, Music Minister of Fitzhugh Baptist Church, and his wife Rachel accompanied me.  We were in for a real treat.  Heather Sorenson was recording an album at Joseph's home that week. 

We sat and listened as Heather played the piano.  Joseph and a recording engineer were with us listening to her play a song.  She would play the same section of that song many times.  Each time, Joseph would critique her performance.  One time he said he could hear her thumb too heavy on a key or another, she lifted her foot off the pedal too slow.  He even said she missed playing a B note one time.  To my untrained ear, each performance was beautiful and sounded the same.  To the trained ear, Joseph heard each little nuance.  I was amazed and asked him why it mattered so much, that I thought that it was all beautiful.  He replied that once a recording is done, it is forever. 

You see, Joseph is a perfectionist.  He has conducted an orchestra at Carnegie Hall.  He will soon perform at the Lincoln Center.  Joseph knows how to blend all types of instruments together and come out with a beautiful noise. 

That made me think about a church and how the leaders of the church are something like a conductor in a symphony.  You see, all members of a symphony know how to play their particular instrument, but it takes a conductor to bring it all together.

The different members of a church congregation all have different talents.  It takes leadership in the church to let the members use their talents in concert with the other members of the church to work effectively for God.  When the leaders are not empowering the membership, talents are wasted.  Many people are never even given the opportunity to use their talents. 

Many many organizations including churches get into the same rut.  We have all heard the same cliche over and over.  Eighty per cent of the work gets done by twenty per cent of the people.  Most of the time its those twenty per cent that tell you that they are doing all the work.  My contention is when twenty per cent are doing all the work, there is a serious void of leadership in that organization.  Frequently that twenty per cent don't want any help, even when it's offered.  They get pretty comfortable with the idea that they are indispensable to the organization. 

Now don't get me wrong, they are very important to the organization.  Equally important is that other eighty per cent.  They need to be brought into doing God's work.  They don't need to be Sunday Pew Sitters.  These people are missing out on real blessing. 

A friend of mine, Rick Carson of the Vertroue Foundation is a great leader.  I will never forget what he shared with me.  He said that he is always looking for his replacement.  He understands that he will not be there forever.  My pastor shared the same idea with me this last week.  That's real leadership.  When a person is thinking more about his followers than he is himself,  it shows.  And people will follow that person.  That's how Jesus treated his flock. 

I mentioned in a earlier blog that a church is either moving forward or backwards that there is no neutral.  It is up to the leaders of a church to keep that church in forward gear.  The only way for the leaders of a church to keep it in forward gear is to empower the members of the congregation to use their talents effectively for God.  That church will thrive and it's members will demonstrate great love for God and a huge desire to do his work.  They will be a true family. 

This type of leader gets down in the trenches with his followers.  He encourages them, challenges them and instructs them in the ways of the Lord.  He is a spiritual leader, yet he will get his hands dirty.  He is almost always there to demonstrate to others his dedication to the Lord and shows the members first hand how hard he will work for the Lord.  But, he always gives credit to God and seeks none for himself.  As we always have heard there is no i in team.  The leader is a team player and shows it by his actions.  I pray for leadership in our churches. 

Diana Ross and the Supremes first recorded, "I hear a Symphony".  I wanted to let you hear it when recorded by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  Hope you enjoy it. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Everybody's Talking at Me. Leadership series Part 1.

I am starting a series of blogs talking about leadership and in particular church leadership.  God has put this on my heart and I feel obliged to at least put the thought out there for your consideration.  I have  used several sources for this post.   The title of that blog is Lead, Follow and Get out of the Way.  I encourge you to read it.

I am attempting to take the main points that apply to leaders in that post and apply them to church leaders.  The first and probably most important trait of a leader is the ability to listen.

Leaders listen. Listening is not waiting for your turn to speak. Listening is an active engagement with the person you are talking with. Leadership grows out of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues, their fears and triumphs, what motivates them and what turns them off. There’s a trick psychologists recommend, where you try to summarize what your conversation partner just told you and what you understood them to be saying, like this: “So the police officer gave you the ticket anyway, and you feel that was unfair?” This gives your partner a chance to correct you if you’re wrong or confirm that you more or less got what they were saying — plus it helps you to learn and not just respond
I think it’s important to go to the bible and just see what The Bible says of a flock of sheep. about listening. 

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matthew 11:15).
What is the intent of this verse? How does this apply to leaders in our church?
Many times I have heard that the leaders of a church are like the shepherds of a flock.

Well, this is a fairly good analogy except for one point.  Human beings have feelings and have the process of thought.  They were made in God’s image.  So really, you shouldn’t treat humans like sheep.  This happens fairly often in our churches. 

The even deeper problem lies in the fact that you can let someone talk all day.  They can talk till they are blue in the face.  But, is anybody listening to them.  Listening is a conscious thought.  Don’t tell me that you haven’t sat in a Sunday sermon and quit listening to the pastor somewhere during the sermon.  Maybe you don’t agree with him or maybe you are thinking about what you have planned for the afternoon.  The end result is that you quit listening. 
You know, I have often heard that listening is an art.  I think there is something to that idea.  Too often we have our own preconceived ideas about what someone is telling us.  We often speak before we know what is being said.  When a person fails to listen to you and you have told them several times how you feel about a subject, they are diminished in your eyes. You are may have been wrong, but you will never know, because the person didn't listen to you.

Just take that to the church.  If the leaders don’t listen to the people, they began to get discouraged and they began to leave, or maybe even worse, stay and complain and cause trouble in God’s house.  Even worse yet, they sit in the pew and say nothing and contribute nothing to the spirit of the church and cause newcomers to wonder what is wrong? 
Let’s go to the Bible for some more instruction.

"He who answers before listening--that is his folly and his shame." (Proverbs 18:13).
We should be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19).
Acts 14:23

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

23They had the disciples in each church choose spiritual leaders,[a] and with prayer and fasting they entrusted the leaders to the Lord in whom they believed.

The congregation chooses their leaders.  I don’t know so much about fasting anymore, but I do know that it is done with lots of prayers.  Read this verse carefully, “they entrusted the leaders to the Lord in whom they believed”. 

This is where one’s interpretation of the Bible gets tricky.  You have to remember that not everyone is a Bible scholar, (this includes me), not many have gone to seminary, few get intense Bible training and lots of people just go to church on Sunday and listen to the sermon.  Even more don’t go to the church, but claim to believe and trust in the Bible.  And the one thing that I have heard all my life, is that your interpretation of the Bible is between you and God.

Many people take the Bible literally, some are Biblical historians and take it in context of the times of Jesus, Some believe in Biblical myths.  It gets very confusing to people because most can’t defend themselves when confronted with someone that is a Bible scholar. 

So now back to Act 14:23.  What does that last sentence mean?  If you pray about it, it means what God tells you it means.  But my interpretation is a follows:

The disciples believed not only in the Lord but the leaders that they felt the Lord sent to them.

Many people may say that it is just the Lord that the disciples believed in and that’s their right.  I just add the leaders to whom the disciples believed in. 

I want to insert another line from the link that I found about leadership:

It follows then that leadership is not a trait of individuals. Leadership theorist James MacGregor Burns describes leadership as a collective process, a characteristic of the relationship between individuals rather than a property of individuals themselves.

Who is right?  Well there are probably both types.  Leaders have followers.  Why do people follow someone?  There are many ingredients, but one of the most important is listening. 
Please pray about this and the future blogs that I write about leadership.  These are just my thoughts. I am going to close here, but as almost always, I need some music. Please enjoy the following.
Most of you remember the song, "Everybody's talking to Me", by Harry Nillson. The most important line in that song is the first line. "Everybody's talking to me, I can't hear a word their saying". Quite frankly that's the problem

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Only the Lonely

Our music is rapt with great songs about the number one and how lonely a number it is. 

And the list goes on and on.  One thing that we are afraid of, whether we admit it or not, is being lonely.  One of the reasons that suicide rates soar during the holidays is the fear of being alone.  Alcoholism and drug abuse is a common thread among loners. 

Genesis 2:18. 
“It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable to him.”

God knew that it was not good for man to be alone.  Man has gone to great lengths to make sure that he is not alone.  The current riptide of Social Media makes sure we are not alone.  People carry that mobile phone with them everywhere to make sure that they can be found.  The radio in the car is not enough company for us anymore, so we talk on the phone while we drive or even worse text. 

So why do so many people that need to have company all the time, want to keep God in their heart.  I hear it all the time, I don’t need to go to church, I know God and my relationship is personal.  That’s about the only thing that people keep personal, just check out Facebook and people tell their innermost feelings. 

Jesus told us to go make disciples in all nations and tell the Good News, yet all we tell people about is about the new restaurant that we found.

That’s a sad commentary.  I don’t know if it is society, the government or something else that has cause Christians to be put into a box.  Like a box of cereal that we only take out on Sundays, put a little in the bowl and put the box back until next Sunday. 

I know many churches are moving away from Sunday night services, because people just don’t show up.  It’s hard to compete with a Super Bowl.  I can’t believe that I just said that, but’s it true. 

We miss out on so many blessing because we keep Jesus in our pocket.  I have found that church is the place that I can go and not be lonely, be with believers, and find the courage to step out on faith and try to do God’s work.  It’s a joyful place, a place to find comfort and a place where all are welcome. 

My church does something that I love.  Before the pastor delivers the sermon, we stop and welcome everybody and shake hands and hug our fellow members.  Feels like a family. 

I would encourage you to find a church family and stay there.  Don’t keep Jesus in your heart, share him.  Do what he has commanded and share the Good News.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What are you Praying for?

Have you ever sat down and thought about how powerful prayer is?  I mean really thought about it.  In our silly little short lives we have such a hard time doing just the simplest of things.  It’s always I’m gonna do it myself without even thinking about turning some task over to God.
Before I get started here, I want to say that I ain’t even close to being what I’d call a good Christian, but I am trying.  I was baptized almost 44 years ago and I haven’t gotten much closer to God than I was on that day.  That’s a long time to be treading water.  Back then, I really thought that God was calling me to the ministry, but somewhere along the way, I quit listening to God.  Oh, I have had stretches of what you might call faithfulness, but looking back, it was all about me.  I really wasn’t listening to God.

After a really rough last year, God finally got me attention.  I was near the bottom and God lifted me up.  Since then, I have enjoyed just trying to listen to God.  Which brings me back to prayer.
My wife and I were trying to leave our home last week and go to the coast for a few days of relaxation.  Our goal was to leave on a Wednesday.  It was raining real hard so we put it off till Thursday.  We got busy with some chores at home and decided to leave on Friday.  That gave me the opportunity to go to a men’s prayer breakfast at my church before we left.

The message was about a new foundation that some men had formed to help live kidney donors with the expenses involved in donating a kidney.  I truly believe that these men are on a mission for God.  Please check out the Vertroue Foundation.  After the breakfast, I sat and talked to these men and told them that I might know some people that could help them.  I looked up and told Rick Carson (founding member of  Vertroue) that I wasn’t even supposed to be at this breakfast, because I had other plans.  He looked me square in the eye and said “you were supposed to be here, we have been praying for people to come forward and find people that can help us”.    I am telling you it gave me a cold chill.  God was at work and I didn’t even know it. 
Another incident at the breakfast also demonstrated the power of prayer.  One of our regular guys at the breakfast told us about his friend that was sick and our group praying for him.  This man had learned that he had stage 4 cancer.  He was an agnostic.  But our member kept lifting him up in prayer and we always prayed for him.  Well, last week the lastest report on his cancer came back and the scan showed no trace of cancer.  The doctor was amazed.  The man is now wanting to know more about Jesus.  Miracle?  Not really.  Power prayer?  I would say so.  There is no other explanation.

This morning I was going to go to church with my wife down here at the coast.  It was a 10 a.m. service and I just didn’t get ready in time.  So I stayed at our little cabin and watched some preachers on TV.  Both sermons were on prayer.  They weren’t about your “bless this  meat, let’s eat” type prayer.  They were talking about down on your knees asking for real powerful actions. 

The first preacher was talking about answered prayer and said.  It’s not magical, it’s not hocus-pocus, it’s about focused prayer.  You might ask, “What is focused prayer”?  Keep reading, we’ll get to it.  Just remember that answered prayer is not really a miracle.  We even said it at our breakfast when we learned about the man that was cancer free.  Someone said, “It’s a miracle”.  It wasn’t a miracle, it was God hearing focused prayer and answering it.  When we don’t have an explanation for something, we just make something up to express it.  That’s how simple we really are.  That doesn’t mean that we ought to trivialize what has happened, we just need to learn to recognize just how powerful prayer is.  And thank God for the answered prayer.  He is showing us how to turn our lives over to him, we just need to listen every day and look for him and chances for us to give praise and glory  to his work.
The next preacher that I listened to was Joel Osteen.  Now sometimes I think he is a little to much into self-promotion but he was right on today.  I learned that I need to pray about my thoughts about Joel’s ministry.  God was there this morning.  I just need to be humble.

He was talking about prayer this morning.  Read the next part carefully and think about it.  He said too often we just pray “get by” prayers.  For example, "Lord help me make enough money to feed my family”.  “Lord, help me get well”.  “Lord, help me pass this class in school, or help me find a job”. 
We have all prayed these prayers in one way or another.  Joel said that we are praying small prayers.  We aren’t praying  big prayers.  Why, because we were taught these small prayers.  It takes someone with vision to pray big prayers.  And this person with vision is walking with the Lord and is not afraid to pray big prayers and believe that God will not only hear the prayer but answer the prayer.

I have heard it all my life that God answers prayer in his own time.  We just accept that because that is what we have been taught.  Have you ever thought that maybe your prayer isn’t being answered because  that God is not sure that you really want his answer, or even believe that he can answer a prayer.  Think about it.  Remember the saying; "Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it".  I have participated in many prayers, when we just pray for comfort for a terminally ill person.  We don’t even pray the big prayer for healing.  For some reason it always makes my think about that mustard seed.  When Jesus asked the two blind men what they wanted, they asked for the big thing.  They asked for their sight.  Do you remember what happened?  Jesus blessed them and they could see.
They call it a miracle in the bible, but really it was just focused prayer by a true believer.  I grew up watching preachers healing people on TV.  It was every Sunday morning.  They screamed and hollered and people just danced around.  It was fascinating, but it felt like more self-promotion of the preacher to me.  I do know that I have witnessed a lot of answered prayer this last year.  I know it’s real.  I know it's very real.  But I do know that I have been guilty of praying small prayers.  Joel Osteen said; “If you can do something on your own” and you are praying about it, it’s a small prayer”.  Lot of truth to that. 

Joel said to ask for something big when you pray.  Don’t just thank God because you have enough to get by, ask for more so you can use it for God’s glory.  If you really give it to God, you always get back way more than you gave.  Be bold, stretch your faith.  
Please read the 81st Psalm after you read this.  Quoting Psalm 81:10.  God was talking to the Israelites.  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”.  This is a great video.  Just over 7 minutes long.  Put together by a young lady.  Very moving.  Psalm 81 is the focal verse. 

Pretty good message.  Give all of yourself to God and he will fill you up.  Ask for big prayers and stand back.  Watch it happen!
My last post I was talking about vision for my church.  Remember my church is almost 100 years old.  We have been praying and just wanting to get 100 people there on any given Sunday.  Our community is much larger than that.  That’s like begging for a penny.  Small Stuff.  And yet, that’s one of our goals and it isn’t even written down.  We just talk about it.  How about baptizing one soul a month.  Sounds like a big number compared to what we have been doing, but that’s not even a drop in the bucket.  

Churches need to pray big prayers for their people and their church.  And then we need to get down on our knees and truly ask God how we can help.  Like Kris Kristofferson’s song, “Why me Lord” sung by the  Gaither Vocal Band.  Follow the lyrics along as you listen to the song.  It might be a good idea to stop and say a prayer before you listen to it. 

Wasn’t that beautiful.  Did you read the words along with the song.  “What have I done to deserve even one of the pleasues I’ve known”.  We need to ask ourselves that question every day.  Now don’t forget, we are human and was are going to make mistakes and we are going to sin.  That is man.  But remember that we are conditioned to think and act in a natural way.  We need to remember that God is supernatural and all things are possible through him.  That’s not just a saying, that is God’s word. 
I need to close here, I am getting long in the tooth, but just remember.  Pray big prayers. 
I found another video that I would like for you to watch.  Clap your hands and sing along.  There's Power in the Blood.  God Bless.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We gotta find a new name for Stewardship.

My preacher has been preaching about stewardship the last couple of weeks.  Gives a lot of people the Heebie-jeebies when the preacher gets on this subject.  It's about money and about your service to the church.  Well just so you understand.  Only people my age (late 50's) and older know what Heebie-jeebies is, and the same goes for stewardship. 
Young adults have a hard time with this word.  Lots of "with it" churches uses the words like soul prints or your personal calling.  They understand these terms, but stewardship sounds like the work of a bunch of stodgy old deacons.  Therein lies the problem.

While we were on the subject of stewardship, my church began talking about their vision.  Now I just want to say here that this church will celebrate it 100th birthday in 2014.  Kind of long in the tooth to just now be talking about a vision.  In reality, the neighborhood has grown tremendously.  So, I think my church needs to talk about it's vision. Just got to add that this isn't the first time, my church has looked for a vision.

The problem is when you start talking about vision it always turns to tangible things, like new buildings and such.  I hear people say, we just can't attract people to an old church, when so many new churches have popped up around us.  Whoa, need to stop right there.  Granted, I don't want to go to a run down building either, but our vision can't be based on tangible objects. 

Jesus wrote down the vision for the church in "The Great Commission". Quoting from Wikipedia,
some version of the great commission appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and in the Book of Acts, which is the second part of Luke-Acts. Details vary from book to book, see Gospel harmony for the attempts to harmonize them. In Matthew, Jesus directs the disciples to baptize people of all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, similar to the Trinitarian formula of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In Luke, Jesus tells the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness, and promises that they will have divine power. In John, Jesus says the disciples will have the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins and to withhold forgiveness.[2] In Acts, Jesus promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will inspire them.

I have to confess, I have only been back to my church for a year now.  Was out in the world for a number of years.  My church is one of my greatest joys.  Stewardship and visions go hand in hand.  They have to be found together. 

We have all heard the argument that I don't have to go to church to pray to Jesus.  I know Jesus is in my heart and that is all that I need.  I cannot disagree with that statement, yet that person in my opinion will always feel like something is lacking.  You find a lot of people in the church that just come to church and don't participate in anything else.  That's OK too, but I feel that person is going to be prone to drift away from the church.  You know that "any old reason" excuse.  I can speak from personal experience here.

You see the great thing about church is that it allows all the members to contribute their talents.  We all have different talents and no talent is greater or less than any other talent, if they are used for Jesus.  Not everybody is going out to be missionaries or lead crusades. Lots of people work behind the scenes and may for example,  just pick up the church grounds.  Remember the church is the house of the Lord.  This person that picks up the grounds is just as great in God's eyes as the person that preaches to large congregations.  Everyone matters to Jesus.

So, if you worship at home or just go to church and then go home, you are missing out on a blessing. 
People at church are people too and sometimes they do or say things for the wrong reason.  It happens. But I believe that the people in a church that really contribute to that church don't do it for the wrong reasons.  They do it because they feel that God has led them to this work. 

Just to tie this all up.  When you walk with the Lord and you do it over and over again, the path just gets deeper and better.  Jesus is there with you and will carry you on this path when you can't walk it yourself.  You will find the people in your church in that path with you.  Believers walking with Jesus.  I am telling you it don't get any better than that.  I remember as a small child a path that led to my grandmother's house from my house.  It was only about 50 yards long.  My mom would let me go by myself, but told me to stay on the path.  It wasn't a straight path but I felt safe on that path.  And I know now that my mom watched me all the way.  That's how Jesus walks with you.  That's why I have committed myself to my church.  I get the blessing and it's worth it.  And I get to walk with true believers. 

One more thought... If you follow the words of Jesus and go out and tell others about him.  Good things will happen.  A church will grow and maybe need a new building someday to house all the new believers.  The most important thing is to pray and plan. 

God Bless You
Fitzhugh Fits Me, Does it Fit You
Fitzhugh Baptist Church

PS.  Anybody that knows me knows that I talk a lot.  Can't help it.  I found this video about another church somewhere in this country.  It's a great video, and I challenge my church and all other churches to try and be like this church.  This should be the goal of all churches. Please watch this video and pray.