Monday, March 28, 2011

What Church Should Look Like: A Community on the Go

            At Shiloh, I have been noticing a positive trend that gives me great joy.
            Recently, a woman told us she wanted to be a part of our church. I would like to tell you, it was because of my marvelous preaching. That was not case.
            A few years ago, this lady was living in an apartment complex and the power went off. It was at night, so darkness enveloped her living quarters. She heard a knock on the door. Lisa Beasley, one of our Shiloh members was there, with some candles in her hand.
            “Here,” she said. “I thought you might be able to use these.” With those words, Lisa entered in and served.
            At that time, the woman was a single mother with two teenage children. In a stressful time, Lisa physically and spiritually brought light into her home.
            Jason Smith was at work a while back. He became acquainted with a young man experiencing challenges in his life—as we all do.
            Jason shared Jesus with the young man; he shared with the young man, from his Bible, about how to respond to Jesus. And the young man did! That relationship is growing, and now others in our church are getting to know this new Christian and sharing God’s word with him.
            I can’t help but think this is the way it should be.
            I love our church building. People from all over the Tyler area are using our building every day. Many are not part of Shiloh. Some are not Christians. I hope people continue to use our building. However, even if everybody in the area wanted to use our building, we could not bring them through fast enough to match the growth of Tyler’s population.
            So, we, at Shiloh, go out.
            The last thing Jesus told His disciples was—go.
            We remember that we are ALL missionaries.
            There is a sign, Shiloh family members pass under, on the way out the door. It says, “You are now entering the mission field.” And we are.
            Sundays are great. I love being with our community of faith and, together, entering into the presence of God. Nevertheless, like Jesus told three of his disciples, we have to leave the spiritual mountaintop and go into valley where the people are.
            Sometimes, they are in difficult places. God is not present where they are, so we take God there. We take with us beauty, and light, and wholeness to face up against the ugliness, and darkness, and fragmentation the Evil One has brought into their lives.
            We minister to them. We serve them. We look for opportunities to put in a good word for Jesus—the epitome of all that is good.
            On Sundays, I believe having five hundred people leaving Shiloh in this way—Tyler will be a better place. And God’s Kingdom will expand.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I would like to see how many had Connecticut, Butler, VCU and Kentucky for their Final Four Brackets. This is why I have never filled out an NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket. I will stand behind what I wrote last week, “I have a feeling we are going to hear the name of Brad Stevens (Butler’s coach) this time every year when major schools are looking to hire a new coach.” All of this notwithstanding, I am predicting Connecticut to win the National Championship next Monday night.
2. I hope Baylor wins the girls’ National Championship. Look out for Connecticut in the girls’ bracket as well.
3. TIME had a fascinating section in their issue last week. It’s called TEN IDEAS THAT CHANGE THE WORLD. One article was titled “Fix the Deficit? We can Do That?” As you might imagine, that caught my attention. Here’s a link:,28804,2059521_2059686_2059682,00.html
4. I just finished my series on Revelation. Never have I been so concerned about a series and it turn out so well. I’m glad I preached Revelation.
5. I have become a fan of Timothy Keller. He is a preacher who lives in New York City. He has written several thought-provoking books. His latest is on the gospel of Mark entitled KING’S CROSS.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Heavenly CPS

            I want you to imagine a nightmare scenario. Imagine Judy and me adding a baby to our repertoire of four kids! (If you don’t know me, I’m fifty, Judy is … well, Judy is my wife, and we have four kids ranging in age from 8-17.)
            Now, picture Judy and me placing the bulk of our attention on our oldest daughter, who is a high school senior. We dialogue with her constantly, listen to her every whim or complaint. We do all we can to make sure she is happy and doesn’t rebel and leave our family.
            Meanwhile, after the initial excitement over the birth of our baby, we pay less and less attention to it. Even though some attention to our oldest daughter is important (helping her in her transition to college, for example), logically, we should understand she has entered a state of maturity that demands less concentration. Instead, one would think it essential to demonstrate more care and concern for the baby than our oldest—or even our other three children.
            All humor aside, I want you to picture in your mind something truly awful. Let’s say Judy and I neglect our baby so much, the child becomes malnourished or even terribly ill. Unfortunately, since we are so occupied with the desires and concerns of our oldest, we neglect our baby.
            Granted, it is easier to minister to our oldest child in a lot of ways. One would be communication. Our daughter can tell us how she is thinking and feeling. Indeed, she has the confidence to seek us out.
            Babies, as you know, can’t communicate well. Sometimes something can be wrong with them, and the parents have a difficult time diagnosing the problem.
            To society, however, there are no excuses. If Judy and I neglect our baby and the symptoms began to show, CPS will come calling.
            Here is my point—inspired by months of study in the book of REVELATION. Too often in churches, we preachers (and I definitely am including myself), elders, staff, ministry leaders, and members, place the bulk of our attention on the “older children” of the church. I don’t mean senior citizens; I mean those who have been in Christ for a number of years.
            We focus our sermons on the mature Christians. We plan our worship according to what mature Christians are thinking. We listen to mature Christians, who seek us out to give opinions and feedback. We organize our congregational families around the needs, and wants of mature Christians. Meanwhile, too many of us are not paying enough attention to the spiritual babies.
            I am glad there is no Heavenly CPS. Can you imagine? Heavenly case workers taking neglected spiritual babies from one spiritual home and placing them in another—offering someone else a chance to give them the nurturing and care they need. 
            Or, maybe there is. Maybe that is where all the spiritual babies have gone.
            Maybe that is why so many of our churches are spiritually infertile.
            Excuse me, I haven’t heard anything from my spiritual baby in a while; I need to go check and see if everything is okay.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I am ashamed to say I have still not gone out and purchased the new Rob Bell book. I’ve got to do that this week--and read it.
2. Saturday was the day I sprayed the house and yard for bugs—always an ordeal. But I did get to catch the end of the Pittsburgh-Butler game to see who advances to the Sweet 16. What a finish! I’ve never seen a guy foul underneath his own goal, after a free throw, with virtually not time left. I have a feeling we are going to hear the name of Brad Stevens this time every year when major schools are looking to hire a new coach. Butler has 4200 students. Amazing.
3. With Netflix’s growing instant play library, I’m starting to wonder why I keep so many DVDs around. 
4. I finally got around to reading last month's TIME Magazine’s cover story on the young generation of leaders seeking freedom in the Middle East. Maybe this is a time to be truly optimistic about the future there.
5. Congratulations to Diann Preston’s ETCA girls basketball team for yet another honor. My daughter, Haleigh, joined Samantha Phillips in making First Team on the TAPPS All-State Basketball Team. Jenny Munoz was selected to the Second Team. Hayley Robertson was named as an Honorable Mention. Samantha, Jenny, and Hayley Robertson are all juniors and will return next year. If I may indulge in a little parental pride, I have been grateful to see Haleigh named to First Team All-State in both volleyball and basketball this year.

Monday, March 14, 2011


            Recently, someone in my congregation asked me to preach on prayer. In my sermon prep, I came to an interesting conclusion. The older I get, the more I value accessing God, and the less I value asking God.
            I still believe in asking God—don’t get me wrong. I’m not a legalist—like the single girl in the old story, who really wanted to get married. She was afraid to ask the Lord directly for a husband, so she prayed, “Oh, Lord, I would never be so presumptuous as to ask you for a husband; however, my mother would sure love to have a son-in-law...”
            One reason for this is, I have come to another conclusion: I believe the Bible is just as much a book about prayers answered “no” as it is about prayers answered “yes.”
            Captives of Israel and Judah sent up a lot of prayers to God, asking that He rescue them from exile. Many died with God’s answer being, no. 
            For centuries, before Jesus, many Jews beseeched God to give them a Messiah to drive out the Romans. God answered, no.
            Paul asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh. God answered, no.
            My favorite, though, is Jesus’ prayer to be spared the cross. God answered, no.
            I have lived enough to see some of my requests answered “no” by God, and I realize how blessed I am that he did not grant my request. This has given me more confidence in God and His work. (As if He needed that!)
            Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I find myself looking for where God is working. I find myself asking God that He reveal where He is working and allow me to be a part of it.
            I still make personal requests of God. But, I value more asking God for you, because I see Jesus doing that a lot in Scripture.
            One last thought. A few years ago, Mark E. Thibodeaux, in his book, THE ARMCHAIR MYSTIC, wrote something that ministered to me greatly. He classified four stages of prayer:

            Talking at God
            Talking to God
            Listening to God
            Being with God
            I have come to appreciate the “Being with God” stage. Not all prayer is asking. 
           “Be still and know that I am God.”
            Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. My friend, Patrick Leech, sent me a link this week to an article announcing Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived.
            The author of the article summarized Bell to say some things that are out of the realm of traditional Christian teaching. However, the actual quotes of Bell posted in the article did not support the writer’s summary.
            I have seen enough of these to know that, sometimes, critics select quotes, out of context, to support their bias or to generate news. I think I will reserve opinion until I read the book.
            One thing is for sure; it should be an interesting read.            
2. I saw a hilarious spoof of the Beatles’ story last week. Co-written by Monty Python’s, Eric Idle, it was a movie, broadcast on NBC in 1978. The title was THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH. I actually watched its original airing and remember cracking up. I found the DVD on NETFLIX last week and enjoyed it, probably more, the second time.
3. No way I’m picking the FINAL FOUR—yet.
4. Judy, Haleigh, and I saw a fascinating documentary last night. It was part of ESPN’s THIRTY FOR THIRTY series. Called FAB FIVE, it chronicled the story of the five freshmen, who started for the University of Michigan basketball team in 1991-92.
            It was totally enthralling. I, especially, was fascinated at how the documentary detailed the Fab Five's blending of hip-hop and popular culture.
            Warning, I am biased. I like a world that is not only safe for bald men, but also one that encourages shaved heads as a legitimate hairstyle. The Fab Five helped make this happen. Moreover, they were the ones that brought modest shorts to the youth. As one fellow said in the program, “Before the Fab Five, men looked they were playing basketball in panties.” Amen. Thanks, Fab Five.

5. God bless the people in Japan. The planet earth can be a fragile place.


Monday, March 7, 2011

What Church Should Look Like: A Community Where Different Economic Groups Can Come Together

             The publication, OUR DAILY BREAD, several years ago included a story about a plainly dressed man who entered a church service in the Netherlands. He took a seat near the front.
            Shortly thereafter, a woman walked down the aisle, saw the stranger in the place she always sat, and curtly asked him to leave. Quietly, the man stood up and moved to a section reserved for the poor.
            After the assembly, a friend of the woman asked her if she knew the man whom she had ordered out of her seat. "No," she replied.
            Her friend then informed her, "The man you ordered out of your seat was King Oscar of Sweden! He is here visiting the Queen."
            I don’t know if this story is fact or legend. I do like the lesson it conveys. When the saints assemble, humility is an admirable trait for any Christian to carry. Pride and selfishness are not.
            In Luke chapter fourteen, we read the following:

             7 When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. 9 The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
             12 Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. 14 And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected” (Luke 14:7-14.) CEB

            I personally think that, in the United States, the hardest challenge churches face is crossing the economic divide. As much adversity as we face in reconciling the races—and there is a lot of work still to be done—I feel reconciling the economic groups is an even more daunting task.
            I have seen more people fellowship together from different races than I have different economic groups. I have definitely observed more meaningful friendships from between people of different races.
            I am not sure why people from different economic classes have difficulty meshing. I have some ideas, though. One factor is culture. The impoverished have a culture. The lower class lives in a culture. Clearly, one can find in the U. S. a middle-class culture—the list goes on. Crossing cultural divides can be difficult.
            Another issue can be education. Typically, education is tied to economic class. Too often, educated people don’t want to know what an uneducated person is thinking—and vice-versa.
            Real commitment and real imagination must be deployed to discover common elements between folks who have different educational backgrounds. And humility must be practiced for a person to prove willing to learn from another person out of a different economic group.
            None of this is new. Many of the same elements were present in Luke 14 when Jesus addressed religious leaders. Some of these dynamics were also present when James challenged the Christians in James chapter two to show no partiality to the rich.
            Jesus’ repeated call to deny self lays the foundation here. For a church to consist of rich, poor, and middle class, members will essentially have to make an effort to practice self-denying love.
            Whether you are rich or poor, going in the other direction can prove difficult. When I was young, single, in graduate school, and struggling to make ends meet, I cut corners wherever I could. I hung out with a single’s group much more successful than I was. Every Sunday, they wanted to go out to eat after church. I couldn’t afford that, but I wanted their fellowship. So I would go and make excuses to avoid eating—a small taste of what it feels like to be on the lower rung of the economic ladder.
            Most of the time, I have been the one blessed economically. Often, in situations of seeking to relate to the poor, I have found myself moved by their selfless acts.

            One Sunday, shortly after Judy and I had our first child, we had an opportunity to assemble for worship in the home of some friends. We lived in a foreign country, and these friends were extraordinarily poor. 
            The parents had many children and lived, as I recall, in a two-room house. Their house was located across a creek; Judy will never forget me carrying our baby across that creek--balancing myself on a single log. 
            The mother had suffered severely from tooth decay, and already had lost some of her teeth. The couple had little furniture and no chairs. Entering the house, the mother offered Judy one of her prize possessions—an old barrel. She knew Judy was struggling having so recently given birth, and she wanted to offer Judy her best to sit upon. 
             It took all of Judy’s self-discipline to refrain from weeping; she was so-touched by this action of grace. We have never forgotten the gesture.
            The by-product of the pursuit of relationship and community with those from other ends of the economic spectrum is that these attitudes and practices—in time—contribute to the work of God, which in turn help form us into the image of His Son.
            If this is important to us, living out the teachings of Luke 14 should prove a blessing.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Judy and I saw SOMEWHERE IN TIME the other night with our too oldest daughters. That movie always had a soft spot in my heart. Not my girls. They hated the ending.
2. I am finally discovering the treasure trove of TV shows available on instant view in NETFLIX.
3. I complete our pulpit look at the book of Revelation in a couple of weeks. Never have I dreaded preaching a book of scripture so much. Never have I been so rewarded from preaching a book of scripture. I am so gratified with what I have learned from Revelation.
4. Why do I have an uneasy feeling about Egypt, Libya, and the Middle East?
5. Just when a void appeared after football season, along comes March Madness.