Thursday, December 17, 2009

Astral Phenomena

On Sunday night a few of us stood together gazing at the stars. We noticed flashes of light across the sky, and we all became amateur astronomers as we wondered at the phenomena. What we saw Sunday night was the Geminid meteor shower that produced as many as 140 meteor bursts every hour and was visible to anyone in the Northern Hemisphere who simply looked up at the sky and waited.

This Christmas we celebrate the birth of our King through worship. Over two thousand years ago magi from the east journeyed to Bethlehem to worship this same King. According to Matthew’s Gospel, they were led to Jesus by following a star.

Magi in ancient Media and Persia spent most of their lives studying the stars and the planets. They believed that future events could be foretold by signs in the sky. In particular, Persian documents from the period of Jesus speak of the birth of a king in Judea who would rule the whole earth.

We do not know exactly what the magi saw, but there is historical evidence that a multitude of astral phenomena occurred within 10 years of the birth of Jesus. Johannes Kepler, for whom NASA’s Kepler Mission was named, was a mathematician and seminary professor during the 17th century in Germany and Austria. He believed that the star that the magi saw was a supernova reported by astrologers in China around the time of the birth of Christ.

Of greater significance for us is why God went to such extremes to welcome His Son. Quite simply, God did not want us to miss Jesus. Why did God draw people from all over the known world from the common shepherds of Bethlehem to esteemed magi of Persia? How could so many people in Judea miss the birth of the Son of God? Why wouldn’t they listen? Are we really that dense? I am. I am thankful that my Father goes to extraordinary means to get my attention. May we see what God has placed right in front of us and may we worship our King.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 (ESV)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Desiring a Better Country

From the poem, IN 1492, we learn that
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Prior to 1492 the European world was unaware that the American continents existed. Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in an attempt to find an improved trading route from Spain to India. His discovery of the Americas sparked a European conquest, which led many people to search for a better country.

Those brave souls who wanted a better country laid the groundwork for much that we know and love about our country today. Many great churches have been founded in the last five hundred years.

I have been invited to preach during a homecoming service in the church where I grew up. Spring Hill Baptist Church is the church where I was nurtured in the faith, baptized, licensed to preach, married, and ordained as a minister. Last year, I preached part of my grandmother’s funeral in the church. Spring Hill is a grassroots, country church with a special place in my heart.

As I prepare to preach at Spring Hill, I am sorting through many childhood memories. In middle school, one of my teachers (who was also a member of my church) read the Bible to us each morning. Friday night football games started with a pastor praying for God’s protection. The community is changing. Just last week many parents were outraged because of a notice that they received from the principal. He regretfully stated that he would no longer be able to pray with the kids before they leave for field trips because a parent complained. The parent protested prayer because the principal prays in Jesus’ name.

For most of us, the principal’s note is old news. We might even be surprised that there are still places in our country where leaders pray in Jesus’ name. That part of American life is fading fast. I’m not waiting for a return to those days. We must look to the future. God has a far better life for us than even the best that this country has to offer.

Five hundred years later, we are still searching for a better country.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:16.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don’t Stare at Markers

Color markers can provide kids with hours of fun. I remember coloring with markers when I was a kid. I loved using a ruler to draw futuristic cars. I say the cars were “futuristic” because they didn’t look much like any cars that anyone had seen before, and I sometimes had to explain that they were, in fact, cars and not dinosaurs or clouds.

My sister was a much better artist, and she had a strong desire to make her art more permanent. One day she decided to take her art off the paper and onto the walls. She drew a nice little house right on the bedroom wall. Today, markers come in a variety of designs. Some markers are washable, and other markers only write on specially designed surfaces. When we were kids, we only had one type of marker – permanent. Now, they are called “classic” markers. My sister’s artwork is still on the walls of our parent’s house. I’m fairly certain that mom keeps it there so that she can remind us of our depravity lest we forget.

Giving a toddler a marker and instructing the child to only write on the paper in front of them is a daunting challenge. Children accidentally discover that the marker will write on other surfaces: the table, the floor, and their little brother. Moms warn their children not to color off the page, but the temptation to stray is often stronger than the warning.

Most of us are no longer tempted to color on the walls or our little brother, but we all face temptation just as strongly as a toddler with a marker. Temptation is a fact of life that we will never outgrow. But, we can become smarter in dealing with temptation. One tool for winning when tempted is to change our thought process. In other words, don’t stare at the marker.

Imagine a toddler holding a marker firmly in his hand, while his mother instructs him to mark only on his paper. Mom walks away, and the boy sits on the floor staring at his marker. The marker soon begins to speak out loud and calls for the boy to free his spirit and express himself unleashing a renaissance.

Temptation grows stronger the longer we think about the object of our temptation. The simplest way to defeat temptation is to change our thought process and think about something different.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)


The next time I face temptation, I will try not to stare at the marker. Now, what did I do with my color pens?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Church Growth

One of the objectives that I have been given from the start of my tenure here at Oakland has been church growth. It is a challenge that I accept humbly and with great excitement. I have found that there are a number of misconceptions about what it takes to grow a church.

Let’s be honest. The methods we have been using are no longer effective. Our focus has been much like the movie, Field of Dreams. We have assumed that if we build it, people will come. We have hoped that if we put more energy into what we are already doing, things would improve. We are frustrated when we work harder and see fewer results. We have tried to attract people with programs and wondered why they have not stayed for the Cross.

Let me offer some encouragement and remind you of where we are headed. We are not here to offer people the same things they can get somewhere else. We offer hope. The following excerpt is from The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, page 48:

“Attendance campaigns and advertising may bring people to your church once. But they will not come back unless your church delivers the goods. To maintain consistent growth, you must offer people something they cannot get anywhere else.

“If you are preaching the positive, life-changing Good News of Christ, if your members are excited by what God is doing in your church, if you are providing a service where they can bring unsaved friends without embarrassment, and if you have a plan to build, train, and send out those you win to Christ, attendance will be the least of your problems. People will flock to that kind of church. It’s happening all around the world.”

Along with several leaders in our church and our staff, I have been evaluating what we do as a church. We are discovering that there are some programs in our church that simply aren't building the Kingdom, yet they have been draining our people.

Sometimes we have to say “no” to good things, so that we can say “yes” to great things. Letting go can be painful. Embracing the new can be exciting.

We are here to build people who are passionate about God. I am seeing new signs of excitement as we look to the future. I hope that you will join us on this journey, if you haven't already. Pray about how God might use you to impact His Kingdom.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What’s in it for me?

This blog is a reprint of a story I wrote for our church newsletter. I thought it might be a nice quiz for everyone.

Any good business leader knows that marketing is essential to success. Customers must know that a product is going to meet a need or desire in their life. One of the ways companies attempt to convince people that their product is essential is through slogans. Let’s take a look at some slogans and see if you can guess the product. The answers are at the end of this article.

1921 – A car for every purse and purpose
1969 – It's the real thing
1971 – You deserve a break today
1984 – Where’s the beef
1988 – It’s everywhere you want to be
2001 – 1,000 songs in your pocket
2009 – Trust me – I’m a doctor

We all want to know what’s in it for us. We are driven by our consumer mindset, and we can be easily offended when our church does not meet our felt needs. So, why do we want you to be part of this church family? I hope you aren’t looking for a slick marketing approach because we aren’t hiding our strategy.

First, we want to reach people. Our explicit purpose is to identify people who are seeking God, and help them find Him.

Second, we want people to grow in their knowledge of God. We want to help each other sort out our confusing lives with solid biblical teaching and contemporary application.

Third, we want people to grow in their service with God. As we learn more about our incredible God, we grow in our desire to serve Him. We want to help everyone find their place and purpose in the church family and in our community.

Lastly, we want to send people out. We are a Kingdom minded church. We want everyone to know the amazing love of God. And, we are willing to go wherever our God sends us.

Reach. Teach. Serve. Send.

I know it’s not a very catchy slogan. Perhaps some of our creative minds in our church can craft a catchy slogan for us. I’ve heard that some of our kids are great at making songs that go with the free credit report song. Here is your chance to be a star. In the meantime, we are going to focus on being clear about our purposes and intentional about ministry.

1921 – GM
1969 – Coca-Cola
1971 – McDonald’s
1984 – Wendy’s
1988 – Visa
2001 – Apple Ipod
2009 – Dr. Pepper

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What We Want

In the book and subsequent movies titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt knew how to get what she wanted; Veruca simply demanded it. When Veruca wanted a Golden Ticket she demanded one from her father. Her father stopped production in his factory and had all of his workers unwrap Wonka bars in search of a Golden Ticket. Veruca made it to the Chocolate Factory, but she was later rejected by Willy Wonka because she was a “bad egg.” Perhaps you can sing Veruca’s song “I Want It Now.”

I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now
Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now

Veruca is an extreme example of wanting everything in the world, but all of the kids in the book wanted something. The truth is we all want something. Wants can be a wonderful thing. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” So, what do you want? I will tell you what I want. I want to know what you want. I’m working on a sermon series about what people want, and I would like your feedback. If any of the following categories apply to you or you just have an opinion on the topic, then tell me what you want. I will keep all responses semi-anonymous!

What Youth and Children’s Ministers Want
What Seniors Want
What Women Want
What Music Ministers Want
What Kids Want
What Singles Want
What Visitors Want
What Men Want
What God Wants
What America Wants

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Top Five Holidays

Holidays can be loads of fun, but some holidays are simply more exciting than others. Here’s a countdown of the top five holidays with a few reminders of why we love them so much. Hope you have a wonderful Easter, and feel free to make your own top five list. I hope I don’t get in trouble for leaving out Mother’s Day!

5. New Years Day: Resolutions, fresh starts, ham and black-eyed peas (no cabbage please), the ball drop and Dick Clark.

4. Thanksgiving: Stuff a bird, stuff yourself, watch football. Oh, and we should mention that whole thankfulness thing.

3. 4th of July: Fireworks, American flags, celebrating our freedom in the greatest nation on earth, watermelon and barbecue, baseball, Harold and Fred in patriotic shirts.

2. Christmas: Snow, Christmas trees and lights, caroling, shepherds and wise men, a whole month of parties, Brenda’s church decorations, God with us.

1. Easter: The greatest demonstration of power and love the world has ever known, forgiveness, the Cross, the empty tomb, everlasting hope, and chocolate eggs.


Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

My chains are gone, I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fred Winters

I received a message from a friend of mine a little while ago about a mutual friend of ours. This morning Fred Winters was shot during their first worship service in Maryville, Illinois. Details are still sketchy, but it appears that Fred died because of his faith. My heart goes out to his wife and daughters.

In 2000 I took a class with Fred at SBTS. Fred was not a person who was easily forgotten. I remember Fred as a passionate pastor with a fervent love for lost people. I also remember a prolonged debate I had with Fred about preaching styles. Fred was right, and I have since changed my preaching style. Fred leaves a wonderful legacy of faithfulness and tenacity. He was not afraid to do church differently, and thousands of people came to Christ through his witness.

Fred’s death reminds me of the need to make the days count. His death reminds me of the new world we have entered. Times are certainly changing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just Say No

Just Say No!

Let your mind drift back to the classic, anti-drug commercials of the eighties and nineties when we discovered that eggs were bad for us. Of course, true to of our cultural loss of absolutes, we are not entirely sure if eggs are good or bad for us. But, I digress. Do you remember the commercials? A frying pan with bubbling oil invited a whole, fresh egg for a dance. The egg quickly surrendered to the frying pan producing the incredible, edible egg that we all love.

In the commercials, the frying pan represents drugs and the egg represents our collective brains. The analogy is poignant and pointed. Most of us would agree with the basic premise of the commercial – illegal drugs are bad for us. We would also endorse the refrain, “Just say no”!

We try to drill into our children and youth that it is okay to say no to the things that will destroy us. Yet, some of us have great difficulty saying no. Many of us realize that we should say no more often, but the decision becomes complicated by the innumerable good opportunities that flood our lives. Could it be that we are draining our physical, emotional, and spiritual reserves by saying yes to too many good opportunities? Is it wrong to say no? Will we be stoned if we say no? Will the world stop? Will we be labeled as bad moms and dads? What will the neighbors think?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we should ask, is it wrong to say yes? What would Jesus do? (I really need to update my slogans.) Did Jesus say no? I think Jesus said no much more often than we realize.

While people were burdened with great theological questions, Jesus hid.

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; Mark 7:24

When asked to run for political office, Jesus hid.

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. John 6:15

While people were hungry, Jesus hid.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" John 6:24-25

While people were sick, Jesus hid.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. Mark 3:7

Jesus hid a lot.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16.

But, when it mattered, He said yes.

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Luke 26:42

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Sometimes we have to say no to good things, so that we can yes to great things.

Any questions?