Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Spiritual Rewards for Hurricane Relief

I read this morning that financial contributions to the hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf area has passed one billion dollars. This, I believe, is an expression of the inherent dignity of humankind, the fact that we have been made in the image of God, who is generous, compassion, and loving. Even unsaved, nonreligious, and immoral people have been moved to help those who are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Praise God for this. Moreover, God be praised for the followers of Jesus Christ who have responded to this natural disaster with Christian love. The great generosity of individual Christians, local congregations, and para-church organizations is not and can not be estimated. And it don't think it should be fully known... in this lifetime.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus exhorts, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (NKJV) The lives and ministries of those who follow Christ should be characterized by good works. And God is glorified by the kingdom impact Christian service has on this lost, dying, and unbelieving world. So I am convinced that the Lord is glorified by the many pastors and churches and believers who have been so generous, merciful, and helpful toward those who have suffered loss. But there is another side of this. In the same discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes on to say, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from our Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly." (Matthew 6:1-4). In that same chapter, Jesus goes on to make that same point in relation to prayer and fasting (6:5-18): make sure the audience for whom you perform spiritual acts is God, not man!

Many Christian churches and organizations have been making appeals for donations and volunteers to help the displaced multitudes. Naturally, these appeals have included explanations of the immensity of the needs and the opportunities to help. And it is only proper that these appeals be coupled with accurate accounting of how funds and contributions are being used. And we should share the testimonies of the lives that are being touched and the ways that God is choosing to use us to minister to others. But there is a line that must not be crossed. We must be careful not to congratulate ourselves for our generous we have been, how much we have sacrificed, or how many people we have helped. We must avoid the applause of man, the promotion of the flesh, and conformity to the world. And we must not take the credit for what God has blessed, chosen, and used us to do for others. Jesus warns us in haunting terms: "Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward." To me, this is one of the hardest statements of Jesus in the Gospels. He says that many religious people with moral convictions are doing good works that will bring no divine reward, because they are doing it to be seen by men. And if your goal is to be seen; once people see you, you got what you wanted. God doesn't owe anything! On the other hand, who cares if CNN doesn't report your good works, as long as God sees. So keep giving, serving, and helping. But make sure that service rendered to hurting people is actually done for God's glory. May the Lord help us to gain a great reward by doing kingdom business with godly motives, right priorities, and God-centered focus.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I'm Feeling Much Better

I took ill last week. My wife rushed me to the ER and they ran various tests on me. But all they could determine is that I am a busy, out-of-shape, workaholic pastor. And I don't think they've produced any medication for that yet. I also saw my own physician last week, who doesn't think there is anything life-threatening wrong with me. But further tests are being scheduled for this week. But I am feeling much better. I was able to go to church Friday evening and Sunday. And I am in the office today. I am dong well, praise God. Thanks for the cards, phone class, and emails. And thanks for your prayers. Don't stop praying!!!

As I mentioned, I was able to attend church this past Friday night. It was the last night of our church “revival” services. Pastor John Adolph of the Antioch Baptist Church in Beaumont (TX) was our guest speaker. His message was timely, challenging, and encouraging. Sunday, Paul Felix, president of the Los Angeles Bible Training School and professor at The Master’s Seminary was our guest speaker during our morning service. His exposition of 1 Thessalonians 1 was stellar. But even more important was the spiritual impact of the message. That will be a message that this congregation wrestles with and strives to live up in the days to come. Also, Carl Hargrove, pastor of the Westside Bible Church and profess at The Master’s Seminary was with us. He introduced our church to Roderick Davis of T.E.A.R.S. Ministries, who challenged our church to be an obedient goers and zealous senders in the great work of foreign missions. It was a helpful call to service for our church to hear during the celebration of our 63rd church anniversary. During our afternoon service, Pastor Sherman Gordon and the New Philadelphia Church were our special guests. Pastor Gordon issued a call to prayer that was a great climax to the week of services and a great kick-off for our all-night prayer meeting that will take place at the end of this week.

Praise God that the celebration of our 63rd church anniversary really was a time of revival that causes us to continue to embrace dreams that our even greater than our memories!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What a difference a day makes!

Wednesday morning, Crystal and I were running some morning errands together, before I was to go into the hospital. But I day suddenly took an unexpected turn. My chest began to hurt again. It had started early Sunday morning. But I took some aspirin and felt better. Monday and Tuesday, I felt period tightness in my chest, but nothing to be alarmed about. But yesterday morning, it hit me hard again. We called my doctor and was advised to go straight to the ER. They ran tests on me and determined it was nothing life threatening, so they sent me home. I have still been having the irregular chest pains, but It has not been as bad as it was yesterday morning. I have been resting since I came home from the hospital yesterday. I am scheduled to see my doctor tomorrow.

Last night was the beginning of our church revival. But I was not able to attend. My wife would not have let me out of the house, and my staff would not have allowed me into the church. So I prayed for the meeting and went to bed early. It was kind of depressing to not be with there. I am sure that the leadership and membership can continue without me. In fact, they did. I heard the meeting last night was a real blessing. But I really wish I could have been there. I won't be there tonight, either. But I plan to be there tomorrow night, if my doctor's appointment goes well. But I am praying that the meeting will glorify God and build up the congregation. And I am sure that the church is praying for me.

There is a important reminder from all of this I want to mention. God is sovereign. We are finite. Every day of life is a gift. Health is a blessing that should not be taken for granted. And time is precious. James 4:13-14 says: Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" - you you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (ESV) It's true. You don't know what tomorrow will bring. So here's my new resolution: Do it now! I want to share David's testimony: "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep..." (Acts 13:36) May that be my epithet. I want to serve God's purpose in my generation before I fall asleep. Pray for me, that I will have much more time to do that, and that I would use whatever time I have wisely.

Correction from Tuesday's post: Natalie is in pre-K, not kindergarten. Actually, I am glad about this mistake. It means she's not growing up as fast as I assumed. Daddy gets to be the hero a little longer!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We've got some catching up to do!

It has been about a week since I have last posted a blog. It feels like longer than that. A lot has gone on in the past week or so. So let's do some catching up.

Last week, Crystal and I stole away to a "undisclosed-location" to get rest. I have been on the road preaching for most of summer. And Crystal was with me through much of August. And we were tired. So we spent a few days together to catch up to ourselves and to one another. It was much needed and appreciated.

Sunday was a full day. I began my "new" new members class. It is an introduction, adventure, and experiment simultaneously. I am writing it, editing it, and teaching it at the same time. But we got off to a good start. I am looking forward to the weeks to come. I hope the students are, too! In the worship service, I preached on the Parable of the Growing Seed, recorded in Mark 4:26-29. I called it, "Experiencing Kingdom Growth." I pray it was as encouraging to the congregation as it was for me.

Yesterday began my first full week in the office in some weeks. So I had a lot of things to catch up on before staff meeting. Plus, I had some study to do for a sermon I delivered last night for Pastor Michael Starks and the Greater First Christian Church in Torrance. He asked me to deliver my message, "Is Gambling a Good Bet?" And I did. I hadn't preached it in about 3-4 years, since I delivered it at the late-night service of the National Baptist Convention. So I had a lot of revision to make to it. And I didn't have time to review it enough to preach it without a manuscript. The service started at 7 PM and I didn't leave the office until after 6 (translation: there was no way I was going to get to the service on time). My gas tank was on E. But we had a black-out here in LA yesterday, and every gas station near the church didn't have any power. So I had to go to Culver City to find a gas station. Then I rushed home and showered up. It was after 7 when we left the house, which is when it dawned on me that I had left my manuscript on my desk at the office. So not only did we have to find the church and find a place to copy the manuscript off of my USB drive. It was after 8 when we arrived at the church. And there was only 5 people there. But they were eager to hear the word. It was one of the most enriching meetings I spoken in all summer. The Lord is truly at work in that church. And I'm not sure if I was there to minister to them or they to me.

A couple of more notes...

My kids have begun school. H.B. III is now in the first grade. Natalie is in kindergarten. They're growing up fast. Pray that they will have a successful school year.

Audio files of my sermons are now on our church's website. You can find it under the MEDIA link on the site. Our plan is to place Sunday's sermons on the site every week. Hat's off to George, one of the associate pastors at MSMBC, for making it happen.

My September newsletter is also on my section of the church website, along with a new sermon I preached in the aftermath of 9/11. It's on Luke 13:6-9, entitled, "Jesus' Response to a National Tragedy." I posted it in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I hope you find it helpful.

Tomorrow night begins our church's church anniversary revival services. They'll run through Friday. Pastor John Adolph of the Antioch Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas, will be our guest speaker. I am looking forward to a fruitful week of worship and fellowship. Pray that the Lord will bless this week of "revival" services and the celebration of Mt. Sinai's 63rd church anniversary this Sunday.

Monday, September 05, 2005

There's No Place Like Home!!!

Crystal and I finally made it home late Saturday night. We had a great week in Newark. Joe Carter is a dear friend. New Hope is a great church. And it’s always enriching to fellowship and worship with them. Friday, we left Newark and went to Detroit to attend the funeral services for Dr. J. Allen Caldwell, the beloved pastor of the Burnette Baptist Church. Friday evening was the memorial service. And Saturday was the funeral. Both services were packed. Burnette looked like it did when I first starting preaching their as a 17-year-old boy. Dr. Caldwell was a great man, a dynamic preacher, and a visionary leader. And he will be greatly missed. I hope that Burnette will guard, honor, and build on the great legacy of Christian service Dr. Caldwell left them. And may God be with his son, Pastor Nathaniel Caldwell, as he leads the church forward to fulfill the Great Commission in Detroit and all the nations.

I was so happy to be with my own congregation yesterday, I didn't know what to do. It was a great day. Attendance was strong, even though it was a holiday weekend. There were many guests in attendance, which is always a good thing. The new semester of our Sunday School began. We shared the Lord’s Supper together. And the congregation was warm, prayerful, and expectant. I was scheduled to resume our study of the Epistle of Colossians, but I was led in a different direction in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I preached Psalm 46 and called it, "A Safe Place in God." I’d give the sermon a B-. But God breathed on it and I believe the congregation was blessed, comforted, and edified. Or, it may just have been that they were glad to have me home! I intend to steal another Sunday before I get back to Colossians. Next Sunday will be the eve of our church revival and anniversary. So I intend to preach 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and challenge the church to continue in the Word of God. I can’t wait. Pray for my study this week.

I was so excited to be reunited to with our children (H.B. and Natalie) this weekend. They had been with family members and friends, while me and Crystal were out of town. I don’t know how much they missed us, with all the fun they were having. But we missed them. I almost couldn’t stop hugging and kissing them. I look forward to spending the time with them before they return to school this week. Truly, there’s no place like home!