Friday, August 25, 2006

Update from Vallejo

I preached my second sermon in the Vallejo citywide revival last night. It was the fifth night of meeting. But the congregation was warm attentive, and receptive. I still don't think I was at my best. In fact, I struggled about what to preach all afternoon. I wasn't even sure what I would preach until I sat down in the worship service. But the Lord helped me to preach. I am convinced that I said what he wanted me to say. May the Lord give the increase. Today, Crystal and I are going to take the kids to a local amusement park, Six Flags Marine World. Of course, after we finish our day, I have one more sermon to preach. So it should be a pretty long day. But I am looking forward to it. I am really glad to have my family with me this week. We have had a good time together. And President Allen Douglas and the local pastors have been extremely kind to us. They have made this a special week for us. Pray for our final night here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Citywide Revival in Vallejo

Tuesday night, I had the privilege of preaching at the Three Oaks Baptist Church in Los Angeles for Pastor Raymond Chandler. Pastor Chandler and I kind of grew up together as young preachers in the Los Angeles area. And he is now in his third year at Three Oaks, where he is doing a fine work. This is the second year I have been invited to be a part of their summer revival series. It was a good meeting. Members of our congregation were present. And the Lord helped me to preach. Afterwards, we had to pack to get ready for an early morning flight to Oakland. My son sat next to me on the plane and asked a million questions about everything. And it made me think. I never road on a plane with my dad. When I was a boy, we always traveled by car. So it was special for me to be on that short flight with my family, answering my son's ten million questions.

This is my third year preaching the citywide revival here in Vallejo. The past two years, I did the opening three nights. This year, I am closing out the meeting. And, boy, is it a tough position to be in. A young man from Oakland, a Pastor Ivy, preached Sunday night. And I understand that the Lord really used him to kick-off the meeting. And Dr. W.T. Glenn from Fort Worth preached Monday and Tuesday nights. And he was stellar, as usual. After we arrived yesterday, Crystal and the kids settled in at the room. And I went to the noon-day service. Dr. Frank Ray, who is preaching the citywide in Oakland, came over to preach the service. It was definitely the "Noonday Special." Dr. Ray preached so hard that I wanted them to put me back on a plane a send me home. It has been a whole lot of good preaching and teaching going on this week. Last night was okay. I didn't feel like I was at my best. I am not sure if it was because I was tired or what. But I never felt like I was in a rhythm. It was hard to concentrate. And I don't think I was being as clear as I would like to be. I am trusting that the Lord used his word in spite of the weaknesses of this vessel. I have two more nights to go. Pray that the Lord will smile on the remainder of this week and that the Lord would be glorified as lives are changed in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Writing for the Soul

I didn't really take Jerry Jenkins seriously when I first heard of him. It was a rush to judgment. All I knew about him was that he was the co-author (he would say "author," no "co-") of the Left Behind series (It was Tim LaHaye's idea; but Jenkins' writing). But then I read Jenkins' book Hedges. It was good reading and spiritually enriching. But I did not expect that I would end of reading another book by Jenkins. Ever. Primarily, he writes inspirational novels and contemporary biography. I don't read much of either one of the genres. So while I have enthusiastically recommended Hedges to many people, I didn't expect to read him again. But that was before I stumbled upon Writing for the Soul.

The other weekend, my son and I spent the afternoon together. We did something he wanted to do (We went to a movie.). And we did something I wanted to do (We went to a bookstore.). As I browsed the new releases, I saw Writing for the Soul. I noticed the title before the author. But when I saw that it was written by Jenkins, I was sure to buy it. I started reading it as soon as we got home. And I took it with me virtually everywhere I went until I finished it. Jenkins is intentionally easy to read. He strives to write for the pedestrian, not the intellectual. So his writing is accurate, brief, and clear. I learned a lot of helpful writing tips from both his example and his advice. Writing is a pretty complete overview of the writing process. Jenkins gives counsel on subjects ranging from choosing projects, to getting started, to overcoming writer's block, to writing clean prose, to getting published. By the way, Jenkins doesn't believe in writer's block. He recommends a "seat-in-chair" strategy that keeps pressing on until you meet your deadline. Jenkins gives counsel that I disagreed with and/or didn't understand, at times. But even then, I still appreciated the candid insights of a veteran writer.

Toward the middle of the book, Jenkins turned his focus on writing fiction. I plodded through this section, even though I am not interested in either reading or writing fiction. And Jenkins' writing continued to keep my attention with his clear and insightful recommendations. At times, Jenkins would pull over and gives side notes to those writing nonfiction. But even where the focus was clearly on fiction, Jenkins challenged me to always strive to be creative in writing. And the various challenges to would-be writers were numerous. In fact, Jenkins often encourages by trying to discourage. He is honest and realistic about the work of writing. And he warns that if you should not consider writing if you are not up for the hard work and unique challenges. Jenkins does this to help the reader clarify his/her sense of calling to write.

Writing for the Soul is about exactly what its title promises. Whether it be fiction or nonfiction, Jenkins encourages "inspiration" writing, as he calls it. He believes that writing is a sacred task. God has revealed himself to humankind through his written word, the scriptures. Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is referred to as "the Word" in scripture. Much of the teaching in the New Testament consists of actual letters from apostles to particular individuals and congregation. And church history has clearly proven the spiritual impact that the printed page can make. And in this information age, and with the high-profile success of recent inspirational titles, there is a great opportunity today to reach the soul through writing. May the Lord raise up many faithful men and women in this generation, who will use the printed page responsibly to spread the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Stood Up Because I Was Stood Up

My sermon preparation was in limbo the whole week. Last Sunday, I preached Ephesians 1:15-19, intending to follow it up with a message on the final part of the passage (vv. 19-23). But I was not sure if I would get to do it today. Months ago, I preached for Dr. "Fill-in-the-Blank," who was scheduled to be in town this weekend. And we discussed him coming to preach for me today. And when I saw him again not too long ago, we confirmed that he would preach for me today. However, we didn't talk again until yesterday. So I wasn't sure if he was going to actually come today. And it put my sermon preparation in limbo this week.

Yesterday, I taught a seminar at the church in preparation for the fall semester of our Sunday School. It was a good time. But I was exhausted when it was done. When the guys asked me what I was going to do about today, I looked at my cell phone. I had one message on it (...That's rare... It's usually full... I am not the best at phone messages and call backs... Confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation...). I listened to it. It was Dr. "Fill-in-the-Blank." He was calling to let me know that he was in town. I called him back and we made logistical preparations for him to be picked up to preach our two morning services. Then I promptly went home and went to sleep.

It was after 8 PM when I woke up. I had heard the phone ring a couple of times. But I didn't roll over to pick it up. But as I got out of bed, I looked at the phone. I had missed 7 calls and had 5 messages. I checked the messages (...I was really on a roll with this answering messages thing yesterday...). and each one of them was from Dr. "Fill-in-the-Blank." The first message was to let me know that he was just going to preach the 11 AM service. The last message was to tell me that he had received a call from Bishop Noel Jones and that he was going to be preaching today at the City of Refuge. Doc was apologetic. I was understanding. I trust we'll get together some time down the road. As I headed back to bed, Crystal asked me was I going to preach. "Yes." Then she asked me what I was going to preach. "Me and the Lord will talk about that in the morning. I'm going back to bed." And, indeed, I woke up this morning with a message on my heart. I preached Philippians 4:6-7 - "God's Answer for Your Anxieties." I didn't have my A-game today, for various reasons. But the Lord's grace was good enough and his power was at work in my weakness. While preaching, I knew that I was not standing up merely because I was stood up. God had a specific message for his people that he wanted me to proclaim today: Pray your worries away!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Midweek with no Midweek

I have had a weird feeling all day long. And I think I am just putting my finger on what it is. It's midweek - Wednesday - and we are not having Midweek Service at Mt. Sinai. We have "gone dark" for the month of August. And we are to resume our regular schedule at the beginning of September. I intend to continue my exposition of Psalm 119 then. But today there is no service. And it feels downright strange. There are weeks when there is midweek service here and I am not here. But that's the point. If I am out of town on a Wednesday, I'm on a different schedule. But being in the office on a Wednesday with out Midweek Service, I feel the oddness of this break from the routine.

There are three meetings on my schedule today. I have been doing administrative work most of the day. And I have just finished two chapters of the books I'm reading this week (for the curious, it's "Writing for the Soul" by Jerry Jenkins). On a "normal" Wednesday, whatever that is, I would be sweating over my study notes and sermon manuscript. And I would be feeling the pressure of the upcoming service. Today, the time seems to be going at a snail's pace. But if I had to preach tonight, I would be trying to lasso the hands of the clock to get them to slow down a bit. This is the first week in some time that I have not had to preach between Sundays. I am to give the eulogy at a funeral in the morning. But that is not the same. That will be a 10-15 "meditation," not an exposition. And, frankly, as good as it feels to be from out from under the grind this week, this midweek with no midweek is reminding me what a joy, privilege, and blessing it is to minister the word of God. Thank God Sunday is coming soon!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Preaching @ Mt. Gilead

Last night, I began the first of three nights of preaching (8/8-10) at the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas. Pastor Terrance Floyd is the organizing pastor of this young congregation, which is about four years old. This is my third time here for Mt. Gilead, I think. I was invited several years ago to preach for them during the Simultaneous Revival here in Wichita. It was a great experience and a wonderful honor to minister the word to this infant congregation, which may have been about a year old. I was truly grateful for the privilege and opportunity. The next year, I was unable to come during the simultaneous meeting. But Pastor Floyd invited me back during a later part of the year. And I was glad to come. And it is good to be here again with the wonderful congregation. Pastor Floyd and I have become friends. He is a kind and humble man. He loves the Lord and is striving to become a better pastor a preacher. I am very encouraged by the fact that when we talk I usually receive some type of report ongoing education is pastoral leadership and expository preacher. Rather than coasting, as many pastors are tempted to do, he is diligently striving to become a better pastor. Praise God for that. Remember me in your prayers for the next two nights. And remember Pastor Terrance Floyd and the Mt. Gilead Church in your prayers, as well.

Monday, August 07, 2006

We Made it to the end of the Hymn

Yesterday, I concluded our study of the "Hymn of Grace," recorded in Ephesians 1:3-14. I closed the mini-series with a message on Ephesians 1:11-14, entitled "Our Inheritance in Christ." Originally, I intended to do this extensive passage in four messages. However, it ended up taking me six messages over a 7 or 8 week period to finish. This has been an enriching study fore me. And I hope the congregation has been blessed by the messages that I have preached. I was concerned that I would spend to much time explaining doctrine that I would miss the heartbeat of the text, which is a call to praise. In this text, Paul is not merely doing theology; he's "praising on paper." And I wanted that spirit of grateful praise to permeate the messages that I preached. I am not sure I pulled that off in each message. But I believe the messages were generally consistent. This Sunday I plan to begin the second part of chapter 1, which is a prayer for spiritual enlightenment. At this point, I intend to preach this passage in one message. But, we'll see. As you remember me in prayer this week, ask God to help me to be faithful and clear in my exposition of the word of God.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Will Willimon on "Felt-Needs"

In an interview published in the Summer 2006 edition of Leadership, United Method Church bishop and noted author William H. Willimon makes the following comment about ministering to "felt-needs" in preaching: "Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs that I would've never had it I hadn't met Jesus." Wow!!!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Healing after the Storm

Last week, I participated in a conference for pastors and other spiritual leaders that dealt with the spiritual "storms" ministers experience in Christian service. I was assigned this topic to address: "The Healing after the Storm." Early in my pastoral ministry at MSMBC, I went through an extended period of congregational conflict. Of course, my experience does not make me an expert on the subject. However, I am still serving the congregation where it all took place. That a least makes me a "survivor," whose story may be of some value to others who are in the storm. So I agreed to give a lecture on the dealing with the aftermath and overcoming the challenges the result from congregational conflict. I really didn't know what to expect before the conference. So I prepared the talk as best I could, not really knowing what exactly the host wanted from me and the seminar. I ended up making several big points, woven into parts of my personal story, which I shared with the guys:

I. Prepare for healing before the storm.
II. Protect your health during the storm.
III. Pursue healing after the storm.

I am sure that I did not say anything revolutionary that hour. But I did endeavor to be honest, challenging, and encouraging. As I took comments after the lecture, I was reminded of the fact that most pastors are good men. Yes, there are some bad pastors who give the rest a bad name. And even the best of pastors have glaring weaknesses and make stupid mistakes sometimes. But for the most part, pastors are men who love Jesus and the church, and are striving to win the lost and nurture the saints to the glory of God. Yet, many pastors find themselves in very difficult situations that cause them to question whether or not ministry is worth all the trouble. This sad fact is often missed in the midst of the overemphasis we seem to put on a few celebrity preachers.

Unfortunately, the drop-out rate among pastors is getting higher and higher as the years go by. And much of the conflict that causes pastors to throw in the towel has absolutely nothing to do with the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Most often, pastors get beat up by congregational leaders and members who are determined to fight about power, money, and titles. Now, to be fair, I must admit that we cannot tell which came first; hurting preachers or hurting congregations. It's kind of chicken-or-the-egg kind of situation. But the fact is that some churches hurt preachers because they have been hurt by preachers. But my concern here is that many good and godly pastors are leaving the ministry because of "the politics of personal destruction" that takes place in many congregations. But I want you to know that there can be healing. Sometimes pastor and congregations cannot heal together after a season of conflict. But it can happen. Encourage your pastor to hang in there. You may not know how much he deals with in order to minister to you from week to week. Encourage him any and every way you can. And, brothers, keep standing on the word of God and know that it will be a solid rock that will hold you up in the midst of the various storms of pastoral ministry.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Citywide Revival in Corpus Christi

I am in Corpus Christi, preaching a "citywide" meeting for three nights. I was originally invited by Pastor Kevin Pullum and the Friendship Baptist Church. And he graciously expanded his plans to include other local congregations. The meeting is now taking place at St. John Baptist Church, which is led by Pastor Derrick Reaves. The meeting opened well last night. I like preaching in Corpus. And I enjoy being around all the pastors that I have met here over the years. And so I really had a good time in worship with them last night. And the fellowship with the pastors has been encouraging. I was really impressed with how well-planned and organized the service was last night, with it being planned on short notice. The churches really did come together and work together with great unity. I was very encouraging to see it cooperation among churches. Believe me, it doesn't happen that way everywhere. I have two more messages to preach and I will be on my way home. Please keep this meeting and the pastors and congregations of this community in your prayers.