Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Day Service at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church

God willing, the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church family will meet in the morning at 10 AM to celebrate the new year together in corporate worship. Our music department will lead us in songs of praise. And I am planning a simple but important exhortation for the new year: "Trust God!" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Consider this a personal invitation to join us for this special worship service. If you are in the Jacksonville area, I encourage you to come and join us and be blessed. If you are not, you can still participate in the worship service online through our church website or Streaming Faith.

God bless. And happy new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seven Sins of Dying Churches

I have just begun reading Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by Thom S. Ranier and Sam S. Rainer III. Actually, I started it about two weeks ago. But I just finished the first chapter tonight. I got stuck in opening paragraphs of the first chapter. I am not big on statistics. And when writers, particularly Christian writers, start building arguments on statistical studies, I get turned off. But this sentence gripped me: "More than two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two!" (p. 2)

For some reason, I believe this statement. From my observations, which are admittedly limited, the church in America is not going a succeeding in winning and discipling the next generation. And this does not just refer to outright pagans, who have no knowledge of the things of Christ. Unfortunately, we are also losing many young people who grow up in our homes and are raised in the church.

Why are we losing the next generation? Or to put it in more positive terms, what must we do to reach and keep the next generation? The Rainers answer: "Young adults are likely to stay in the church if they see church as essential to their lives." (p. 5) Thus, the call for "the essential church." They argue that the essential church focuses on four critical areas: (1) simplifying the structure of the church, (2) deepening the congregations understanding of what we believe and why, (3), nurturing high expectations of commitment in the local church, and (4) multiplying ourselves through evangelism, missions, and church planting.

Toward the end of the introductory chapter, the Rainers list "seven sins of dying churches." Here they are:

    Sin 1. Doctrinal dilution
    Sin 2. Loss of evangelistic passion

    Sin 3. Failure to be relevant

    Sin 4. Few outwardly focused ministries

    Sin 5 conflict over personal preferences

    Sin 6. The priority of comfort

    Sin 7. Biblical illiteracy

After I read about these things, I began to pray about them, asking the Lord that these things would not be true of the church I serve. And that, to the degree they are, God would send us a revival so that we may spiritually impact Jacksonville and the world to the glory of God.

May the Lord do it for SMBC... and for your church, as well... in 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Prayer of Agur

Yesterday I preached on the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30:7-9. It is the only prayer recorded in the book of Proverbs. Here is the sermon skeleton:

Title: "The Wise Prayer of a Weak Man"

Text: Proverbs 30:7-9

Theme: A pray for a Godward life

Point: Wise people confront their spiritual weaknesses through prayer.

Introduction: You can learn a lot about a person by listening to him or her pray. So I want to introduce you to a man named Agur by way of the prayer that he prays. Proverbs 30:1 is the only place in the Bible where the name Agur is mentioned. And scholars speculate that it may have been a pseudonym under which Solomon wrote, because we do not know anything about Agur other than what we can surmise from the contents of Proverbs 30. Yet there is much we can learn about this obscure character from this chapter. And the most important things about Agur are revealed here in prayer that he prays.

There are several lessons we can learn from Agur's example in prayer

    1. We should pray with humble submission: "Two these I ask" (v. 7)

    2. We should pray with spiritual priorities: "deny them not to be before I die" (v. 7)

    3. We should pray with godly wisdom: "Two things I ask" (v. 7)


I. Ask God to remove the things that block your pursuit of godliness (30:8a)

    A. The request

       1. Remove far from me falsehood

       2. Remove far from me lying

II. Ask God not to give you things that detour your pursuit of godliness (30:8b-9)

    A. The request (v. 8)

       1. Do not give me poverty.

       2. Do not give me riches.

    B. The reason (v.9)

       1. You need God to keep you from the perils of prosperity.

       2. You need God to keep you from the perils of poverty.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Notes from the Last Sunday in 2008

The Lord richly blessed our final worship services of 2008 at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

This last Sunday in December marked the completion of three months since I began in full my work at SMBC. The Lord has blessed these opening months of my new work in a great way. I could not ask for me and definitely do not deserve any better. I pray that 2009 will be a fruitful year of ministry and that God will be pleased to use Shiloh as a place where many lives are changed to his glory!

I preached today from Proverbs 30:7-9 - the only prayer recorded in the book of Proverbs. I called the message, "The Wise Prayer of a Weak Man." It was a somewhat hard word. But the congregation endured. I pray that the message was helpful and that God would cause his word to bear fruit in our lives.

 Microphones and monitors. Argh!!!

I taught our Bible Study Fellowship hour again today for our adults. I have been talking about prayer all month. I finished the series "A Call to Prayer" with a lesson, "Pray for your Church." Basically, I listed seven requests to pray for the spiritual life of SMBC. This list is made up of some of the things that I pray concerning the spiritual health, growth, and fruitfulness of Shiloh. Here they are:

    1. Pray that God would be glorified in everything we do.

    2. Pray that the word of God would be our final authority.

    3. Pray that SMBC would be a disciple-making church.

    4. Pray that God would use us to reach lost people.

    5. Pray for the spiritual health of SMBC.

    6. Pray for the spiritual leaders of our congregation.

    7. Pray that SMBC would be filled with participating members.

I really enjoyed teaching the Bible Study Fellowship hour this month. However, having thirty minutes each session, I had to rush through my work each weak. I kind of feel like the members were cheated by how quickly I rushed through each lesson. But I trust the Lord's overruling providence and pray that the members found something helpful in the lessons.

We announced to the congregation this morning that we will begin a new local radio broadcast beginning January 11, 2009. It will broadcast on Sunday afternoons at 4:15-45 on 1360 AM. Please remember this new outreach in your prayers.

Praise God for all souls that were saved and the believers who were added to the church today!

After our second meeting, I met a lady who traveled all the way from Miami to attend our worship service this morning. As she shared how she was thankful for our congregation and praying God's blessings for us in 2009, I was greatly encouraged.

My beloved Dallas Cowboys were taken to the woodshed today and were whipped by the Philadelphia Eagles 6-44. All we had to do was win and we were in the post-season. And we did not show up at all. It was pitiful. We do not deserve to go to the playoffs. Dare I say, next year!

As expected, my new hometown team - the Jacksonville Jaguars - lost again today to go 5-11 for the season. This has been a very underwhelming season for a pretty talented team. I have poked fun at the Jags this month. But I really do hope they are better next year. Please!!!

The Detroit Lions made history today - 0-16. Congratulations! George, can anything good come from Detroit?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Minister's Preaching

My Master God,

I am desired to preach today,
    but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
    that an honest testimony might be born for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
    with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
    with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
    proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
    a feeling sense of the things I preach,
    and grace to apply them to men's consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
    and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.

Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
    and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of they people,
    And to set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached,   
    and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May they people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
    and help me to use the strongest arguments
       drawn from Christ's incarnation and sufferings,
       that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
    that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
    and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among they people,
    and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
    or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer,
    or be harsh in treating of Christ's death, its design and end
    from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.   

Friday, December 26, 2008

My First Christmas in Jacksonville

My first Christmas in Jacksonville was very close to what would have taken place if I was still in Los Angeles. Most likely.

I was up quite late on Christmas Eve, editing my sermon. I only got a couple of hours sleep. And I was back up, continuing my preparations for my Christmas morning message.

H.B. woke up before everyone else. Typical. Once we woke up the women, we prayed, opened a couple of gifts, and then prepared for worship.

Our Christmas morning service at Shiloh Church was great. I was surprised by the attendance. And I was really looking forward to preaching. My message was on John 3:16 - "How God Says I Love You." God smile on our worship service.

After worship, we needed breakfast. Let the church says, "Waffle House!"

Upon returning home and watched the kids open the rest of the gifts. Several members were kind enough to give gifts to H.B., Natalie, and Hailey. As Natalie opened one such gift, she whispered, "Our church really loves us." Crystal and I looked at each other. I said, "I think you're right." Crystal said, "I am glad you noticed."

Time seemed to fly by. The afternoon arrived before we knew it. Crystal and the kids prepared to go to the home of new friends who invited us over for Christmas dinner. They were almost ready to go before they noticed that I hadn't budged. So they left me.

The "spirit of sleep" overtook me."

I was really hungry when I woke up. But Crystal and the kids were still out. I waited as long as I could before I had to go out to get me something. Let the church says, "Hamburgers."

We all got home about the same time. One of H.B.'s new friends was with them to spend the night with us. So Crystal went back out and made sure we were stocked-up on junk food. We threw in a movie. And twenty minutes into it, the "spirit of sleep" overtook me again.

New city. Same Charles family Christmas traditions. Crystal says this previous sentence should read, "Same H.B. Jr. Christmas traditions."

Bah humbug!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his should, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." - Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Visited Planet

As a Christian, I believe that we live in parallel worlds. One world consists of hills and lakes and barns and politicians and shepherds watching their flocks by night. The other consists of angels and sinister forces and somewhere out there places called heaven and hell. One night in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, those two worlds came together at a dramatic point of intersection. God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space. God, who knows no boundaries took on the shocking confines of a baby's skin, the ominous restraints of mortality.

"He is the image of the invisible God," the firstborn over all creation," an apostle would later write; "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." But the few eyewitnesses on Christmas night saw none of that. They saw an infant struggling to work never before used lungs.

Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet? If so, it is a story like no other. Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe. Little wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe. - Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, pp. 44-45

Monday, December 22, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 12/21/08

Yesterday was a good day in worship at the Shiloh Church. It was a long day. But special nonetheless. I praise God for his strengthening grace and unfailing love.

Having finished a five-part series on Luke 15 last week, I spent another Sunday in Luke yesterday. I preached the Parable of the Unjust Steward, recorded in Luke 16:1-13. I entitled the message, "Financial Advice from a Dishonest Manager."

I enjoy preaching and teaching on financial stewardship. As a pastor, I believe I have a responsibility to lay before my people the way of Christ as it relates to their finances, just as much as any other subject. But, admittedly, I was a little nervous about yesterday's message. It was the first time I preached on financial stewardship here at Shiloh. I was concerned about how it would be received. But once again the congregation showed me that if it is in the Bible they will receive it. Praise God!

I taught the mass adult Bible Study Fellowship hour again. I continued to teach on prayer: "Pray for One Another." I rushed through the lesson. Really. But I hope that the time we spent on the subject was helpful to those who were in attendance.

Praise God for those whom the Lord added to our church family this week!

Sunday afternoon, we hosted a presentation of Handel's Messiah, which was performed by musicians and singers from some twenty different churches in the Jacksonville. Our own Minister of Music, Dr. Roger Sears, worked hard - along with the coordinators - to make sure this concert was a special. And it was that and then some. This was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. I was so glad that me and my family were able to witness such a special program.

Between services, we went to dinner with friends... in a Florida swamp somewhere!!! The food was good. But there were people fishing outside the windows. In the swamp!!!

I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. But I just knew that the Cowboys were going to lose Saturday night. So I could not bear to watch. My "prophetic" word came true. But we are not out of it yet!

All I want for Christmas is... for the Celtics to whip the Lakers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Crystal!!!

Today is my wife Crystal's 34th birthday. In the gracious and sovereign providence of God, I have had the privilege of knowing Crystal more than half of her, at this point. And I have had a front-row seat to see her development as a woman, Christian, wife, mother, sister, and friend. Yet she is just as... No. She is even more beautiful now than she was on that first day we met at Los Angeles High School almost twenty years ago.

H.B., Natalie, Hailey, and I love you very much.

Happy birthday Sunshine!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Prayer Request for a Long Day

If the Lord spares me, tomorrow will be a really long day for me. I trust it will be a good day. But it will be a long day, nonetheless.

I plan to close out my series on Luke 15, "Lost People Matter to God," in both of the morning worship services at Shiloh. The past two weeks I have preached on the parable of the prodigal son - one week on the lovesick father, one week on the wayward son. This Lord's Day, I intend to focus on the elder brother. I have labeled the message, simply, "Lessons from the Elder Brother."

In between our two morning worship services, I will be teaching the Bible Study Fellowship hour for our adults. I planned to teach four lessons this month on the subject, "A Call to Prayer." But I did not even make it through half of the opening lesson last week. So I will continue to teach on "Pray for the Lost" in the morning.

Likewise, I am anxious and excited about the fact that we will begin streaming our worship services on Streaming Faith in the morning. Shiloh has been streaming its services through the web for some time. But this will be our first week with Streaming Faith. I really look forward to us taking advantage of the various benefits that I trust will come from moving to this major, Christian web streaming service. Our Wednesday services will be streamed live at 7:15 PM. And our Sunday morning services will be streamed at 8 and 10 AM. There will  be a replay of our 10 AM service on Mondays at 12 noon. And several on-demand messages will be available for viewing 24 hours a day.

Way cool.

As soon as I finish preaching our 10 AM service, I will have to rush to the airport to catch a flight to Los Angeles. I have a layover flight that should put me in Los Angeles somewhere around 5 PM. At 6 PM, I am scheduled to preach at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. My friend and brother, George E. Hurtt, will be officially installed tomorrow as the congregation's fourth pastor in its 66 years of ministry.

I am extremely honored that George invited me to come and share in this service and bring the message. But, naturally, I am a little sensitive about the whole matter. While I deeply love the wonderful congregation the Lord has called me to; I am still grieving the fact that the Lord called me away from the precious congregation that is so dear to my heart. My family and I miss them excruciatingly.

So it will be a little hard for me to preach, I am sure. But I would not miss this for the world. I am so proud of George and the entire leadership and membership of MSMBC. I expect God to do great things in and through them. And how many pastors leave a congregation and are invited back to preach their successor's installation? Truly, this says much more about George and MSMBC than it says about me. This is a great partnership of pastor and people. I pray that God will richly bless their special day tomorrow. And I pray that the Lord will use me to challenge and encourage George and the congregation. It should be a great time.

Please remember me in prayer tomorrow, that the Lord will grant me traveling grace, physical strength, and preaching power. And please remember Crystal and the kids in your prayers, as well.

Soli Deo Gloria ("to God alone be the glory")

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grateful for Ten Years Together & Praying for Many More Decades of Life Together

Today is me and Crystal's tenth wedding anniversary!!!

We met at Los Angeles High School in 1991. I was a senior. Crystal was in the tenth grade. We were both in Coach Williams' World History Class. Coach Williams, one of the football coaches, had a reputation for having the easiest class. He didn't let us down. Crystal and I would occasionally talk in class. She would ask me if I did my homework. I would answer no. That was it.

Crystal was in the same grade as my little sister, Donetta. And I would regularly ask Donetta about her. Some time after they graduated, I went by my mother's and Crystal was sitting there! Donetta was doing her hair. I flirted. It was pitiful. The next day, Crystal came to church with Donetta. I preached an afternoon service that day. And after service, a bunch of the young adults wanted to go to the movies. I said I was only going if Crystal was going (another pitiful attempt at flirting). We became friends after that.

I kept waiting to ask Crystal to marry me, wanting things to get better at the church first. Finally, I couldn't wait any longer. I asked Crystal to marry me. And I warned her that I might not have a job in a few months. She said yes anyway. Lord help! Ironically, after we got engaged, things immediately started getting better at the church.

I am not good at surprises - either giving or receiving them. But the selection of a ring for Crystal was maybe the best (translated, "only") real surprise I have ever prepared for Crystal. I went broke getting that ring. It was not some that expensive. But I was just broke!

Crystal's mom fell in love with me way before Crystal did. When Crystal and I weren't talking, Charlene would intervene. Her death was one of the most challenging times of our marriage. But God used that period to draw us closer to the Lord and to one another. But we still miss mom so much.

When Crystal's dad came to town for our wedding, I went to meet him for the first time. He fussed at me for not asking his permission before asking to marry his daughter. I did not say a word. To him. After that night, he was dad to me. We prayed for years for his salvation. And God answered our prayers. Big time. Dad even joined the choir in his home church. He took ill while visiting us again for the first time several years ago. He passed several days after our anniversary. It was extremely difficult for us, as it was the first death that directly touched Trey and Natalie. But God was faithful.

We were married on December 12. Crystal's birthday is December 18. And, of course, Christmas is December 25. (Translation, "I am typically broke every December!").

Our wedding started late, because the state president and national president of our denomination showed up and spent some time chatting with me and the guys downstairs before the ceremony began.

My brother - Kevin Willis, my adopted dad - John Reed, and my pastor - Melvin Wade performed our wedding ceremony together. All three men also preached at my installation services at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

My pastor sung our "song" at our wedding: "Blessed Be the Ties that Bind."

Our church had just come out of a long and difficult court case when Crystal and I were married. And because there were still matters to close out, we couldn't go too far away for our honeymoon. We "settled" for going to San Diego. And it ended up being the greatest week. We really fell in love with San Diego. And whenever we could get a few days away, Crystal and I would drive down and hang out.

I was preaching in Detroit when Crystal called me to tell me she was pregnant with our first child. And I just sat down from preaching in Atlanta when I got the news that Crystal had just given birth to our son. He was almost seven weeks early. And he only weighed 3 pounds and 4 ounces. But it was so amazing to watch how maternal Crystal became and how wonderfully she cared for our son.

Crystal took ill when Natalie was born several years later, but I will always remember how strong she was through the whole ordeal. I continue to praise God for how he brought Crystal and Natalie through that difficult period.

The first half of our marriage, we ate out all the time, because we (translation, "Crystal") did not know how to cook. We will never forget that burnt but bleeding fried chicken that Crystal cooked up and tried to convince me was okay to eat. And I will definitely not forget "the steak of death." It was one of the first steaks I had ever had. And I did not eat another one for another seven years.

Crystal is the only person in the world that calls me "Junior."

Crystal is absolutely predictable. And this has been on the keys to our marriage. She has an even temperament. And I have not had to come home from day to day wondering what kind of attitude I would be walking into. I am a lot more up and down (translation, "moody"). My highs are high. And lows are low. But it has been such a blessing over the years to have a mate that has been so steady, calm, and positive. She has taught me a  lot.

God has used Crystal to really teach the meaning of unconditional love. No one in this world knows me better than Crystal. And yet she loves me anyway. And her love for me has really been a means of grace that has aided my spiritual development and walk with God.

John MacArthur was once asked what are the things that can ruin a man's ministry. He named four things: (1) immorality, (2) ministerial sloth, (3) an uncooperative team of leaders, and (4) an non-supportive wife. Praise God this latter matter has not been my testimony. The Lord has blessed me with a wife who has greater expectations of me than I have of myself. And her constant encourage has refreshed my faith more times than I can name.

This year has been the most remarkable year in our marriage. No, in both of our lives. We entered 2008 with MSMBC purchasing new property and our congregation preparing to relocate. Several months into the year, Hailey was born. And by the summer, we were in the middle of an unexpected candidacy at SMBC. By the fall, we had packed up all of our belongings, left our family, friends, and home congregation, and moved to the other side of the country where we did not really know anyone. Without a doubt, these past several months have been exciting, painful, and just plain weird for us. But God has been good to us as a family. And God has been especially good to me in blessing me to share the graces of life with Crystal.

Can a man be more blessed?

Happy anniversary Sunshine!!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Spiritual Burnout

One morning, as I was walking in the Catskill Mountains in New York, I witnessed an unforgettable sight. I was resting, sitting on a rock by an algae-covered pool. Lazily, while mosquitoes engaged in a never-ending dance close to the surface, I watched the dragon flies dance close to the reeds. A frog sunned himself on a partially submerged rock out in the center of the pool.

Suddenly, I was wide awake. Something was happening to the frog. Before my eyes, it collapsed... not falling over, but deflating like a balloon with a slow leak. It finally lay in a dreadful crumpled head of frog skin; its insides were completely gone!

It was only then that I saw the killer. A giant water bug had bitten the frog, injecting it with a substance that dissolved its insides. Then he had proceeded to suck out the inside of the frog, leaving the skin like an empty grocery back on the rock.

Many believers are like this frog... there is something sucking the life and vitality out of them. They are spiritually drained, their thoughts have become negative and cynical. Bitter and resentful, God seems very far away. They are spiritually burned out. - Malcolm Smith, Spiritual Burnout, p. 16

Monday, December 08, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 12/07/08

We had a great day of worship and fellowship at Shiloh yesterday.

Yesterday, I preached the fourth message in my series on Luke 15 - "Lost People Matter to God."

The parable of the prodigal son is three-dimensional. A week ago I preached the story from the perspective of the Father. And yesterday I preached the text from the perspective of the rebellious son: "Lessons from the Prodigal Son." The father in the story is an affirmation of the love of God. But the son in the story is an admonition about the life of sin.

God willing, this coming Sunday I will finish our study of Luke 15 with the message: "Lesson from the Elder Brother" (Luke 15:25-32).

Praise God for the persons who were baptized in our 10 AM service!

And praise God for those who were added to our church family in our two morning services!

Likewise, praise God for the wonderful celebration of the Lord's Table.

Between services, I led our Bible study fellowship hour in a mass study. I think it is customary for the BSF teachers to get the month of December off. and it gives me another opportunity to teach. I planned to do the first of a four part series on prayer: "A Call to Prayer." But I didn't even make it through the first half of the first lesson. So I have three weeks left to cover as much ground as I can.

After church, the family and I joined Districts 6, 21 and 35 for their Christmas fellowship. We really had a good and and were glad that we were able to crash the party.

The Cowboys lost to the Steelers. I do not know what to say.

The Jaguars lost (again) 10-23 to the Bears to go 4-9 for the season. But who's counting?

Well, I guess the Trojans will just have to settle for winning another Rose Bowl.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Learn about Jesus!

So learn about Jesus! Follow the sacred counsel of Ezekiel and eat the scroll. Learn about Jesus for His word is a lamp unto our feet (or for our present moments) and a light unto our paths (that is, for our future) amidst moral blackouts and human power failures. Learn about Jesus for what a tragic mindset in the church that many will go here and there to be bigger, better teachers, lawyers, doctors, but when it comes to Christian education, many choose to be mental moral midgets, spiritual shrimps and shorties, religious runts, whose inner growth is stunted from the bread of mediocrity served frequently at churches who are ecclesiastical fast-food houses, selling a Burger King religion of "having it your own way," devoid of devotion, while seasoned with mostly commotion and emotion, while the souls of men starve, asking, "Where is the beef?" or "Where is the meaning, the purpose and the practical definitions of the faith?" - Asriel G. McLain, Words from My Workshop, p. 146

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Praying with Confidence in God (Psalm 119:73-80)

Last night we resumed our midweek worship service after the Thanksgiving holiday. And I continued our study of Psalm 119. Last night's text was the tenth stanza of the psalm (there are 22 in all).

Last night was the best I have felt physically in the pulpit in two weeks or more. I think I have finally beat this cold. Praise God! I just hope now that I did not give it to the kids.

Here is the sermon skeleton from last night's message:

Title: "Praying with Confidence in God's Word"

Text: Psalm 119:73-80

Theme: Praying with confidence in God's word

Point: You can pray with confidence that God will always keep his word.


I. You can trust the hand of God (119:73-75)

    A. God is sovereign (v. 73)

    B. God is able (v. 74)

    C. God is good (v. 75)

       1. God's word it truth (v. 75a)
       2. God's ways are faithful (v. 75b)

II. You can trust the heart of God (119:76-77)

    A. Look to God for comfort (v. 76)

    B. Look to God for compassion (v. 77)

III. You can trust the help of God (119:78-80)

    A. Pray for the ungodly (v. 78)

    B. Pray for the godly (v. 79)

    C. Pray for yourself (v. 80)

Next week will be our last midweek worship service for 2008 that I will preach (12/10). On 12/17, there will be a musical during our regular midweek worship hour. And, of course, the two following weeks will be Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

In the providence of God, I will be at the eleventh stanza of Psalm 119 - the midway point. And I intend to preach a message entitled, "Making it through the Middle Miles (Psalm 119:81-88).

Pray for us.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Blow to the "Us-For-And-No-More" Mentality

I received my December edition of Christianity Today magazine this week. As as I read through the letter "Readers Write" section, as I usually do, a named jumped out at me - John Piper. Yep. That John Piper.

The October 2008 edition of CT featured an article on several prominent churches in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (MN). John Piper, who pastors the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and whose congregation was featured in the article, wrote the the following letter to CT in response to the article:

    I apologize for a sentence quoted from me in the recent CT article about churches in the Twin Cities ["Fire and Nice," October]. The following sentence contained at least one falsehood: "The people who are attracted to Bethlehem are people who love their Bibles and want their Bibles to be taught with uncompromising forcefulness. The others go elsewhere, and they have lots to choose from in the Twin Cities."
    The truth is: (1) There are people who come to Bethlehem who don't love their Bibles and would be happy not to hear its radical message; (2) There are thousands of others who do love their Bibles and want it preached with conviction who go to hundreds of other churches in the Twin Cities besides Bethlehem; (3) There are indeed lots of non-Bible believing churches in the Cities, but there are also hundreds and hundreds of churches that take their stand squarely on biblical authority.
    That is what I believe, and I apologize for saying differently.

    Always needing grace,
    John Piper
    Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church
    Minneapolis, Minnesota

This is one of the reasons why I admire and appreciate the ministry of Dr. John Piper. The humility to admit a wrong is godly and honorable. And to affirm the other churches in his city, while being honest about the strengths and weaknesses of his own congregation, is rare. And praiseworthy. And challenging. And encouraging. And... dare I say, Christian.

I am convinced and confident that the congregation I serve here in Jacksonville is the church of Jesus Christ. It is the true church. But it is not the only church. That is, it is not all of the church. Every Christ-confessing congregation that is committed to the fidelity of doctrine, holiness of lifestyle, and unity of fellowship is the church.

The Lord is bigger than your church. And he's bigger than my church. And it takes many and all kinds of churches to reach this world for Jesus Christ. Every true church is important to the work of the kingdom  - no matter its size, location, or differences on secondary matters.

May the Lord deliver us from the "us-for-and-no-more" mentality. We are in this thing together. So we need courage to loving confront one another when we stray away from the faithful way. But we also need much Christlike humility to praise God for what he is doing in other churches besides ours - both near and far.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Leading the Way Jesus Led

Many spiritual leaders find themselves trapped in a church dominated by the surrounding culture of success. Nothing fails like success and that is so true of spiritual leaders who have mimicked models of leadership other than that of Jesus. The leader gets trapped in the "church world's" version of success with its rewards and punishments. The great temptation is to climb the ecclesiastical ladder, but then you find yourself standing on the top of a very short wobbly ladder, and you are sure to fall because there is nothing dependable to hold onto. If the proper markings of success are not present in one's life, consequences follow. Jesus is our leader, and inherent to following him is leading the way he led. Jesus was irrelevant and unnecessary to his culture. And by taking a servant's role, even though it cost him everything, he became the most relevant and necessary man in history. - Bill Hull, Choose the Life, p. 20

Monday, December 01, 2008

The God of the Wayward Child

Yesterday, I continued my series, "Lost People Matter to God."

I preached on the third parable of Luke 15 - the Parable of the Prodigal Son . I labeled the message, "The God of the Wayward Child."

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message:

Title: "The God of the Wayward Child"

Text: Luke 15:11-24

Series: Lost People Matter to God (Luke 15)


I. The father loved his son so much that he allowed the boy to take advantage of him.

    A. God does not want you to live for him because of rules.

    B. God does not want you to live for him because of rewards.

    C. God wants you to live for him because of relationship.

II. The father loved the boy so much that he eagerly awaited his return.

    A. Good news: God is waiting for you to come home.

    B. Bad news: God is waiting for you to come home.

III. The father loved the boy so much that he freely restored him with joy.

    A. The father freely restored his wayward son.

    B. The father joyfully restored his wayward son.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is three-dimensional - with a focus on the loving father, and prodigal son, and the elder brother. God willing, the next two weeks, I will preach the this parable from the perspectives of the prodigal son and the elder brother.

Pray that God will move and help us to join the party!

George's Sermons Are Online

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles is still updating its website. But they have already made a great improvement. The sermons of George E. Hurtt, the new pastor of MSMBC, are now online and downloadable for free.

Since the last Sunday in September, George has been preaching from the book Psalms.

I encourage you to take advantage of MSMBC's generosity and take a listen to George's sermons. You will be greatly blessed.

click here for to access George's messages.

Continue to pray for George and the entire leadership and membership of Mt. Sinai.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 11/30/01

In spite of the rain, this has been a wonderful Lord's Day. To God be the glory!

I am still dealing with a cough and some chest congestion. But the Lord gave me physical strength and spiritual energy to carry out my assignment today. Thanks for covering me in believing prayer. And praise God for his faithfulness.

The women's chorus led the musical praise in our worship services today. And it was great. I really do appreciate the diligent work that Roger Sears - our minister of music - and the entire music team puts into the their preparation for and participation in our corporate worship services.

I was pleasantly surprised by the attendance today. I expected the crowd to really be off today because of the holiday week and the rain. Praise God for the saints pressing through to worship.

I preached the third message in my series on Luke 15, entitled, "Lost People Matter to God." I am at the third parable of the chapter - the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I intend to preach it in three parts - with a message devoted to the lovesick father, the prodigal son, and the elder brother.

Today's message: "The God of the Wayward Child" (Luke 15:11-24).

The final two messages in this series:

12/7 - "Lessons from the Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11-24)

12/14 - "Lessons from the Elder Brother (Luke 15:25-32)


Praise God for adding to the church those who are being saved!

During our Bible Study Fellowship hour, I led a question and answer session. I get really nervous about these times, because I do not claim to be a "Bible Answer Man." No offense Hank. But at the same time, I really enjoy getting into discussion about the meaning and implication of the scriptures. I hope that the congregation found the questions that were asked and the answers given helpful.

After church today, we enjoyed the hospitality of one of the families of Shiloh. We stuffed ourselves and enjoyed an encouraging time of fellowship with Shiloh members.

The Cowboys took the day off today after stomping down Seahawks on Thanksgiving Day 34-9.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 11/23/08

I am fighting off a cold. And I blame Jacksonville! I thought I was moving to sunny Florida. And it is. Sunny. And cold! This past week, the temperature rose and dropped from day to day. It was in the 30's at points. And by the end of the week, I was fighting off cold symptoms. Who knew that I would need a big overcoat in Florida? But several members of Shiloh have informed me that Jacksonville is not Florida. It's south Georgia! Now you tell me.

Yesterday, I continued my series on Luke 15 - "Lost People Matter to God." I preached the second of the three parables Jesus tells in that chapter - verses 8-10. I called the message, "The God of the Lost Coin."

I was not feeling well during the 8 AM service. And I felt even worse after preaching. But after a cup of tea, several cough drops, and a lot of prayer, I felt better as I preached the 10 AM meeting. Praise God!

I cannot wait to get to the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) next Sunday. This parable is three-dimensional. And I plan to preach messages from the perspectives of the loving father, the prodigal son, and the elder brother.

Sunday's message: "The God of the Wayward Child."

Yesterday was my first baby dedications at Shiloh. It was great. But I only observed. Pastor Letson did the dedications. It would not have been a good thing for me to be sniffling over the babies.

After service, there was a luncheon for the members of Shiloh who have been a part of the church for more than fifty years. There are 67 people who have been a part of the church for more than fifty years. Wow! My family and I enjoyed the opportunity to fellowship with the senior saints of Shiloh. H.B. and Natalie even helped serve the food. Who are these children?

Last night, Hailey and I caught a flight to Oklahoma City (Yep. You read that right. Me and Hailey!).

My boyhood friend, Joe Carter - pastor of the New Hope Church in Newark - is funeralizing his mother today. And I wanted to be here with him to be an encouragement to him and his family. The service will be held today at the Fairview Baptist Church, where Dr. John Reed pastors. Please remember the entire Carter family in your prayers.

My mother lives in Oklahoma City. And I brought Hailey with me so that some of my family members here can meet her. Particularly, I want my grandmother to meet Hailey. It will be a treat for her.

Hailey is her daddy's baby. She was a real pro at airport travel last night. You would think that my 8-month-old was a regular business traveler.

The Dallas Cowboys put a beat-down on the 49ers 35-22.

The Jaguars lost to the Vikings 12-30. The Jags are not 4-7 on the season. But who's counting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sheep Stealing

The McChurch has replaced the traditional church and its relational values. Fast-food Christians pull up to ecclesiastical drive-through windows, order the McGroups, consume the experience and then drive off, discarding relationships like burger wrappers on the highway of life. Savvy church growth pastors quickly learned that significant growth can occur if a church learns how to market it burgers to capture the appetite of this roving crowd. In some instances merely producing an interesting alternative to the status quo can lead to significant church disaffections. - William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep, p. 20

Transfer growth, be definition, creates no numerical growth in the kingdom of God. In fact the term is an oxymoron, and grossly misleading, for its net result is simply much ado about nothing. There are no new converts, no baptisms, no expansion of knowledge of God in the world, and no salvation fruit from this labor  Arguably - and contrary to popular belief - there is no known purely positive kingdom benefit from a benefit change! - Chadwick, Sheep, p. 30

Conversion growth, in general, graphs poorly. Even with the investment of considerable resources in evangelistic programs, conversion growth is slow growth. By its nature it requires the decision of one person at a time. Each of them needs to have the gospel presented in a fashion that they can understand, and often this requires the building of relational bridges to their world. - Chadwick, Sheep, p. 95

We have attractive carpets, nicely arranged bulletins, cleanly painted walls and deep subculture norms. The unchurched do not fit in to this world. When the middle age of life sets in, church people can become upset with the headaches of having newborns in the house; we are past that stage of life. We desire to plan our retirement and find ways of increasing our spiritual and physical comfort levels. The "not like us" gain the disfavor of an unwanted pregnancy and can, in many subtle ways, be aborted. - Chadwick, Sheep, p. 141

Healthy transfer growth is about rescuing sheep. In some cases they are rescued from a church where salvation is not articulated. In other cases they are rescued from a setting where false teaching and heresy occur. And some sheep need to be rescued from abusive church settings. - Chadwick, Sheep, p. 157

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The God of the Missing Sheep

This past Sunday, I began a series of messages on the parables of Jesus recorded in Luke 15. My pastoral concern is that our congregation would have the heart of God toward lost people. And lost people matter to God. So they should matter to us.

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message.  

Title: "The God of the Missing Sheep"

Text: Luke 15:1-7

Series: "Lost People Matter to God" (Luke 15)

Outline: Jesus teaches us that lost people matter to God by describing how a good shepherd responds to a missing sheep.

I. The Shepherd's Purposeful Neglect (15:4)

    A. The number of the sheep teaches us that God loves us personally and individually.

    B. The nature of the sheep teaches us that God we cannot get back to God on our own.

II. The Shepherd's Relentless Pursuit (15:4)

     The fact that the shepherd searches for the missing sheep until he finds it teaches us that the Lord will not give up on you.

III. The Shepherd's Joyful Discovery (15:5-7)

    A. Consider what the shepherd does not do when he finds the missing sheep: he doesn't get angry.

    B. Consider what the shepherd does when he finds the missing sheep: he rejoices.

Conclusion: Your attitude toward lost people reveals what your true relationship with God is.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 11/16/08

Inadvertently, I took a "bye-week" from blogging last week. But I am back and better... Well, let's just leave it at I'm back.

I did not do much writing or journaling at all last week. By Saturday, I started going through withdrawal. I can't describe the joy I get from reading and writing.

My installation Sunday was the first Sunday this year that I have not preached. Through relocating MSMBC, having a baby, and transitioning to Jacksonville, I have been in the pulpit to preach every week. I really think that my mind needed the mental break from sermon preparation. I pray the break will prove to be beneficial as I take on my year-end pulpit work.

Yesterday, I began a five-week series on the parables of Jesus recorded in Luke 15. I am calling the series, "Lost People Matter to God." I preached the first of the messages in our morning services yesterday. My text was Luke 15:1-7. I labeled the message, "The God of the Missing Sheep."

I intend to preach the second parable of Luke 15 next Lord's Day: "The God of the Lost Coin" (Luke 15:8-10).

This time last year, I was working on my preaching calendar for 2008. And I planned to end the year preaching through the parables of Luke 15. In the ironic providence of God, I am preaching through Luke 15 in Jacksonville, not Los Angeles. "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand" (Prov. 19:21, ESV).

Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church is a great place to preach!

Slowly but surely, I am getting into a preaching rhythm here. But I still have a long way to before I become get into a steady stride. But that's okay. It's a marathon, not a sprint. I pray that I have a long time here to learn and grow in my preaching.

Yesterday, the Jags came out for the second half of snatched defeat right out of the jaws of victory, losing to the Titans, 14-24.

The Dallas Cowboys wore down the Redskins to a 14-10 victory. Tony Romo was back. And the workhorse, Marion Barber, took over the fourth quarter.

If USC would have lost to Stanford Saturday, I would have started cheering for the Florida Gators. Just kidding. Really. It won't happen. March on Trojans!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Free Downloads of John MacArthur Sermons!!!

Grace to You, the radio and television teaching ministry of John F. MacArthur Jr., Pastor-Teacher of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley (CA) has recently taken a great step of faith and generosity by posting all of the sermons of John MacArthur for free download.

Yes. You read the previous sentence correctly. John MacArthur sermons. Available online for download. Free!

I can't believe it. Praise God that the teachings of one of the great expository preachers/teachers of our generation will be available in this way to be a blessing to some many people.

Click HERE to get to the Grace To You website resource page.

And if possible, send a donation to Grace To You when you get the opportunity, to help support this great work as it continues to "unleash God's truth one verse at a time."

Charge It To My Head...

We had a warm and uplifting worship service last night. Pastor Maurice Watson preached a timely and powerful message. I trust that anyone who was listening with an open heart and mind was challenged by the message to trust God in a greater way. And I believe the Lord was glorified. But something was went missing.

It was not until after the service was over that it dawned on me that I had commit a big oversight. Nothing whatsoever was mentioned in the service about the historic presidential election that had taken place this past Tuesday. And this oversight has offended some of our members.

I take full responsibility for the oversight. Please forgive me for failing to take the time to pray for our president-elect, our other local and national leaders, and our country as a whole. Whoever you may have voted for, each of us as Christians have a responsibility to pray for and follow, as much as conscience and conviction will allow us, the leadership of those who have been placed in authority over us.

Shiloh, this is one of many mistakes I will make as your pastor. Again, please forgive my absentmindedness and the oversight of such an important national ocassion. And thank you for your patience with me.

If the Lord allows us to live and meet together this coming Lord's Day, I will make sure that we take time in our corporate worship services to pray for the president-elect.

God bless.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 11/02-/08

Thank you Shiloh for your prayers, support, and encouragement, during these days in which I am learning you and you are learning me. I am glad and proud to be your pastor. What a church!

Yesterday was the first Sunday of November. Practically speaking, this year is over. Better start preparing for 2009.

Crystal and I were thrown off Sunday morning. Our clocks and phones changed the time automatically. But we thought we had the extra hour when we woke up. I am glad we straightened that out before we ended up missing the 8 AM service.

Praise God for the new believers who were baptized yesterday and the celebration of the Lord's Table together!

I preached a message on Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah's life-changing vision of God and subsequent call to prophetic ministry. I labeled the message, "A High View of God." I endeavored to make three big points about God from Isaiah's vision:

    1. God is sovereign.

    2. God is holy.

    3. God is gracious.

After our services, I wanted to find a pulpit and preach again. After I ate, I came to my senses and went home and took a long nap.

After my afternoon nap, I woke up to the news that my Cowboys had been stomped down by the New York Giants. We really need this by-week to regroup.

The Cincinnati Bengals won their first game of the season yesterday. Does anyone know who they defeated?

I am getting excited about the upcoming installation services. Some family and friends are coming to town. I can't wait!

Above all, I pray the Lord richly blesses the messages and the messengers, and that each service will bring glory to God and bring encouragement and edification to the dear members of Shiloh.

Footnote: Please remember to pray for our nation today and for the tomorrow's presidential election (1 Timothy 2:1-5).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Seeing Beyond The Symbols: Another Look at the Lord's Supper

How do you view the Lord’s Supper? Do you see it as some ritualistic, man-made, and unnecessary tradition? If so, let me encourage you to look again. Look beyond the symbols and see the meaning, beauty, and significance of Communion.

Look up in worship. The Lord’s Supper is one of the two ordinances of the Christian church, the other being baptism. These ordinances are sacred rituals that the Lord Jesus has commanded us to practice as a matter of faith and worship. The Lord commands us to practice Communion to make an important point about our salvation: God did it all! We have not earned the right to come to the Lord’s Table. We have been graciously invited by God to come because of what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. So come to the Lord’s Table to worship God for adopting us into his family through the agency of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Look around in fellowship. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 record Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper. These instructions are actually correctives for abuses of Communion in the church. And Paul’s primary concern was the selfish way the believers were practicing the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not a “TV dinner” that you enjoy on your own terms. It’s a family reunion, in which God’s redeemed children come together to celebrate the bond that we share in Christ.

Look within in self-examination. Scripture warns against partaking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. But these warnings are not meant to chase you away from the Lord’s Table. Rather, they exhort you to clean up before you come. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Communion bids us to examine ourselves, confess our sins, and receive the forgiveness of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).

Look back in remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is one of the few things the Lord Jesus commands us to do specifically for him. “Do this,” bids Jesus,” in remembrance of me.” The symbol of the bread is to remind us of the physical agony Jesus endured on the cross. And the symbol of the cup is to remind us of the blood Jesus shed on the cross for our atonement, redemption, and salvation. The Lord commands us to regularly remember him with these symbols because he knows how prone we are to forget. Life has a way of crowding God out and causing us to forge the things that matter the most.

Look ahead in anticipation. Indeed, we are to look back in remembrance as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. But the Lord’s Table is not merely a memorial to a crucified Savior. It’s also the celebration of our resurrected Lord who will return to rapture the church, consummate the kingdom, and judge the world. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For as often as you death this break and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In fact, he may come again while we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Truth Through Personality

Phillip Brooks has famously defined preached as "truth through personality."

This is a simple enough definition. Yet, at the same time, it is rather complex.

Of course, the complexity of this definition has nothing to do with the place of truth in preaching. That matter is pretty clear. It's a black-and-white issue. There is nothing ambiguous about it. True preaching must proclaim the truth. And, as Jesus declared to the Father in John 17:17, "Your word is truth."

The word of God is the truth. And faithful preaching must "tell the truth" as it is revealed by the word of God. We are to be a mouthpiece for the text, as it were. Sound preaching explains what the text means by what it says. On the back jacket of Albert Mohler's new book on preaching, He Is Not Silent, he explains the task of biblical preaching in three words: "Read. Explain. Repeat." It really is as simple as that.

The complexity of Brook's definition lies with the business of truth being dispensed through a human personality.

Preaching is dynamic because God uses different personalities to herald his word to his people. Some are master communicators. Most of us struggle to put our thoughts in order. Some are reserved. Others are... um... loud (HBC2). Some can stand and preach for an hour with nothing but a Bible in front of them. Others need an outline or even a full manuscript to make sure that are faithful to their assignment. On and on the differences go. As no two people have the same fingerprints, no two preachers are alike. Yet God graciously condescends to take our individual strengths and weaknesses and use them for his glory. What a mighty God we serve!

The fact that God uses different personalities not only makes preaching dynamic; it also makes preaching difficult. It is difficult for the preacher, evidenced in how often we struggle with the temptation to be something that we are not. And the younger we are, the more prone we are to wrestle with this temptation. It is also difficult for the hearer, who (most often) unconsciously compare one preacher to another. And sometimes the hearer can miss the forest - Is he telling the truth? - for the trees - Is he saying it in a way that I am used to, comfortable with, or find enjoyable?

I find myself working through my competing thoughts about these things as I am still seeking to settle into the new pulpit the Lord has assigned me to. In the providence of God, I have been called to succeed a unique, dynamic preacher. For almost fifteen years, God used his faithful preaching to touch and change many lives. And the congregation is naturally used to his preaching voice.

Conversely, for almost eighteen years, I preached to the same congregation. And in the goodness of God, I was not a "prophet" without honor at home. And they were used to my preaching voice I knew what to expect from them. And they knew what to expect from me. But it's a new day. Shiloh is now getting used to a new preaching voice. And I am getting used to my new congregation. And it can be a challenge sometimes for both us.

Please, don't read any of the previous paragraphs as complaints. I am unspeakably grateful to God for the fact that he sent me to serve such a great congregation. And the membership has received my preaching warmly. I believe, God is changing lives here. And the Lord is adding to the church. These are all wonderful blessings, for which I praise God.

But for some reason, I am hyper-sensitive about the cultural expectations and congregational norms. And I keep carrying these things to the pulpit with me. I concede that this burden may be the Lord's work to humble me and nurture me. And I recognize that I need discernment, so that I will not miss the lessons the Lord is teaching me or hinder the changes the Lord is working in me. But I also need discernment to know what thoughts to ignore, so that I can stand with courage to preach the truth with a sense of freedom to be what God has wired me to be.

I am so glad that God really does use weak people. Aren't you?

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." - 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Installation Services

"And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." - Jeremiah 3:15 (ESV)

Next week, we will hold our installation services at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, in which we will affirm God's work in bringing us together as pastor and people. And we will, of course, pray God's blessings on the work ahead that the Lord has called us to.

On next Wednesday, November 5, Dr. Maurice Watson, pastor of the Beulahland Baptist Church of Macon/Warner Robbins (GA) will be our guest speaker at 7:15.

On Sunday, November 9, my adopted dad, Dr. John Reed Jr., pastor of the Fairview Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City (OK) will bring the message during our 8 AM service.

My brother, Kevin Willis, pastor of the New Life in Christ Fellowship Church in Southaven (MS) will bring the message in our 10 AM service.

My pastor, Dr. Melvin V. Wade Sr., pastor of the Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles will bring the message in the installation service itself, which will take place at 4 PM.

Other guests, friends, and local colleagues will be with us in these various services, as well.

Please pray that the Lord will be glorified in these services. If you are able, please join us.

All services should be streamed live for our "Internet members" who will not be able to attend.

God bless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Notes from Sunday -10/27/08

We had a good day of worship at Shiloh. Both services were a blessing to be a part of and, more importantly, I believe God was glorified.

Shiloh is the first church I have worshiped in that has all-male ushers. This is totally new to me. But it is a great thing to see so many men actively serving in church. May their tribe increase. No apologies.

I was greatly encouraged to have the youth choir participate in the 10 AM worship service. I don't know what to say but praise the Lord.

I preached on one of my favorite verses in the Bible - Romans 8:28. I entitled the message, "The Ironic Providence of God."

I had an interesting week of sermon preparation. More than a month ago, when I mapped out my preaching schedule for October, I determined that I would preach Romans 8:28 on 10/27. However, as the weeks went by and I worked through my mini-series on prayer, I began to waver. With all the economic turmoil, I wanted to preach something that would address Christianity's counter-cultural perspective on money matters. I was torn between two sermons at the beginning of the week. But by midweek, I landed on a third message. But Saturday evening, it wouldn't stick with me. I concluded that I was just tired and went to bed. But early Sunday morning, as I began to prepare for worship, I still couldn't think through this message. So I stopped and asked for direction. And Romans 8:28 began to weigh on me heavily. And I was sure that was what I should preach. Praise God I was finally able to stand to preach with a sense that I was on assignment. This happens to all preachers from time to time. But God is faithful.

The Dallas Cowboys got an ugly win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-9. But a win is a win. We'll take it.

The Jaguars suffered a tough home loss to the Cleveland Browns 17-23.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bring the Books!

Consider Charles Haddon Spurgeon's comments Paul's instructions to Timothy concerning his books: "When you come, bring the cloak that i left you Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13, ESV)

He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wanted books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! the apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "GIVE THYSELF UNTO READING."

The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. YOU need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological words, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service. Paul cried, "Bring the books" - join in the cry.

Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: WHAT will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gone out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class - if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, taken another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry. - C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon #542: "PAUL - His Cloak And His Book" in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 9 (London, England: Passmore & Alabaster, 1882), 668-669

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Overcoming Hindrances to Effective Prayer

There are two primary reasons why you ought to pray. The first is obedience to duty. That is, we should pray because the word of God commands us to pray. Period. The second reason why you should pray is more pragmatic: Prayer works! God answers prayer. It pleases God to meet the needs of his children through the means of believing prayer. But while answered prayer is one of the great motivations to pray; unanswered prayer can discourage your prayer life.

If your prayers are not being answered the way you desire, I recommend that you do two things. You should continue to trust God anyway. God is good, wise, and sovereign. God knows what is best and is worthy of your trust, even when he says no. You should also examine yourself. Here are five hindrances to pray you should consider as you examine your ways.

Prayerlessness. James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (ESV). Indeed, the biggest reason why many of us are not the beneficiaries of answered prayer is simply because we do not pray. There is much you can do about your situation after you pray. But there is nothing you can do that will make a real difference until you pray.

Unconfessed sin. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Now, this is not to say that you have to be perfect in order to get a prayer through. It means that effective prayer begins with the confession of sin.

Selfish motives. But James 4:3 states: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” The Lord does not answer selfish prayers. Sure, you can pray about your own needs and desires. But remember that the priority of prayer is God and his glory, not you are your wants.

Broken Fellowship. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leaven your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” In a real sense, all prayer is corporate prayer, in that God will not talk to you if you refuse to talk to your brother. For instance, 1 Peter 5:7 warns husbands that if we do not live with our wives in an understanding way, our prayers will be hindered.

A lack of faith. James 1:6-7 instructs, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts Is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the win. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” Believing prayer is short-circuited when the one who prays doesn’t really believe. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 10/19/08

I know. It has been a week since I have published a post. But contrary to popular belief, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Cowboys lost last week. It has just been one of those weeks when I stayed on the run to keep up with my schedule. Hopefully, I won't be so far behind this week.

Sunday was a great day of worship at Shiloh Church. God richly blessed our Lord's Day services.

My mom came in from Oklahoma City to spend the weekend with us. And she led the pre-sermon solo in both of our morning services. In the 10 AM service, she sung one of the first hymns she taught me to sing when I was a boy, "I Don't Know About Tomorrow." It was great to have mom here and to have her participate in our worship services. And she quickly fell in love with Shiloh.

There were several politicians in our second morning service. ?

I preached the second of a two part series on prayer. Last week, I preached "God is not a Sleepy Friend" (Luke 11:1-13). Yesterday, I preached "God is not a Crooked Judge" (Luke 18:8).

I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching on prayer these past two weeks. The subject of prayer humbles me and reminds me of my own desperate need for God's help. And it also gives me the opportunity to arm the church with one of the great tools the Lord's has given us for life, faith, and ministry. It happens after prayer!

What a sight it is to see the members of Shiloh holding hands in prayer together at the end of our worship services!

After the worship services, we attended a luncheon with about 500 Shiloh members. It was a very special occasion. There was no real program. We just came together to share a meal and fellowship with one another. It was a wonderful experience for me and my family. And I really enjoyed meeting and chatting with the members of Shiloh.

When HBC3 was introduced at the end of the luncheon, he jumped up with a big smile on his face. For the rest of the evening, Crystal and I wondered who was that little boy who jumped up and what did he do with our son!

The move from Los Angeles to Jacksonville has been a challenging step of faith for me and my family. We miss our family and friends in Los Angeles. But the great outpouring of love the membership of Shiloh has shown us has made this transition so much easier for us. Thank you, Shiloh. I love you and praise God for sending me to you.

The sky if falling. The Dallas Cowboys - for the record, they are not just my team, they're "American's Team" - were beat down by the St. Louis Rams 34-14. This makes two straight losses in a row. Who cares that "Pacman" Jones was suspended this past week and Tony Romo's finger kept him out of the game. A beat down is a beat down. And my boys were beat down Sunday. See, I am man enough to say it. The Cowboys lost.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a bye-week. It was also the same day the luncheon was scheduled. Coincidence?

I can't believe that 65-year-old Bernard Hopkins defeated middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik Saturday night.

USC is #5 in the first BCS poll that was released this weekend. Now all we need is four teams ahead of us to lose!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 10/12/08

We had a good day of worship and fellowship at Shiloh Church. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the great way the Lord is blessing these opening weeks of our life together as pastor and people.

I began a little mini-series on the two parables on prayer that Jesus tells in the Gospel of Luke. I preached a message from Luke 11:1-13, which I called "God Is Not A Sleepy Friend."

I plan to complete the series this coming Sunday with a message on Luke 18:1-8, which I intend to call, "God Is Not a Crooked Judge."

I sat in a portion of the Married Couple's Bible Study Fellowship group meeting. Pastor Mike Rodgers is the teacher. The lesson was from the latter portion of Matthew 6. I was good for me to think about the Lord's instructions on worldliness and worry in the context of a discussion of marital relationships.

I am slowly but surely becoming more comfortable in my new pulpit, even though it is still an adjustment to me to be ministering to a new congregation after 17 years in the same pulpit. But I thoroughly enjoy preaching to Shiloh. What a great place to preach!

As the weeks go by, more people are sticking around to greet me after the services. The kind words and opportunity to meet the members of Shiloh have been very encouraging.

Thanks to all of you who have sent me notes to say that you are watching and being blessed by the webcasts of our worship services. Please keep watching and praying for the continued progress of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ through the Shiloh Church.

Contrary to popular belief, I do not go into hiding when the Cowboys lose. But I will admit that I am shocked and stunned that the Cowboys lost to the lowly Arizona "Some-Kind-Of-Birds." I hear it was a good game. But, for the record, it is not a good game if the Cowboys lose.

It also seems that the Jaguars overcome the devastating loss last week to pull out a victory yesterday against the formidable Denver Broncos. But who's counting?

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Personal Mission Statement

I was unpacking boxes in my study earlier this week. And I opened a box that was filled with pictures, awards, and trophies. I rummaged through it a little and found a frame that I had not seen in some time. I immediately pulled it out and placed it on the shelf behind my desk. It is my personal mission statement.

I began thinking about having a personal mission statement some years ago, as I was reading Steve Farrar's book, Finishing Strong. It's a book for men about living with integrity and leaving a legacy. I don't remember Farrar recommending the establishment of a personal mission statement in that book. But he speaks freely about his own. It is simply, "Don't screw up." I was deeply impressed by the writing of this man who had a sense of both God's goodness to him and his responsibility to God for all that had been entrusted to him. Big things, like your family and your reputation. And his simple goal was to not screw up.

And at some point, I established my own personal mission statement. Here is is: Don't sell out! I typed these three words in big, bold font and put a copy on a frame to hang in my office. I also made a copy and taped it to the pulpit from which I preached every Sunday, so that every time I stood to proclaim the word of God I would be reminded to preach to please God, not people. It stayed there for years, until the church bought me a new podium.

Looking back, I am sure there was some sense of pressure that I must have been feeling at the time to cause me to select this statement to help direct my faith and work. But I have absolutely no recollection of what was going on with me at the time. Nevertheless, this statement challenges me today just has much as it has at any point in my life.

We who preach God's word and pastor God's people struggle with some rather interesting temptations. They are common temptations, in that we are not unique in dealing with them. But they are strange temptations to wrestle with in the context of vocational Christian ministry. I'll state in them in the words of 1 John 2:16: "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions" (ESV).

Alongside my pastoral work, I have had a somewhat broader speaking ministry over the years. And it has been rare for me to go somewhere without being asked how large my church was. It always felt like an awkward question to me. But that how many people rate one's ministry. It's also how many of us as preachers rate our ministries. Unfortunately, we as pastors are often preoccupied with numbers. And we seem to forget that when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he is not going to ask us about the size of anything. He will judge us according to our faithfulness with the things he has entrusted to our care.

I have peers that I love and heroes that I respect that have seemed to compromise in order be deemed successful. As the years past, I have watched their convictions change about things. Not because they have a better understanding of scripture, but because they are following the new, popular trends that the big-shot bishops have embraced. And with God's help, it has been my prayerful determination to stick to my convictions and to leave the outcome to God. Or, as one well-respected pastor often puts it, "If you take care of the depth of your ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it."

Recently, the Lord has sent me to a congregation that is larger than the one that I previously served. But I do not feel that I have "arrived" in any way. Rather, it feels like that I have been dropped into a more dangerous base in the spiritual war zone. And I need the weight of my mission statement to shape my thinking and actions now more than ever. I do not want to compromise my integrity, convictions, or priorities. I don't want to sell out. My goal is to do God's work, God's way, according to God's word, at God's discretion, for God's glory. I want to hear the Master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Paul speaks to this matter with great wisdom in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy."

Pray for me. And pray for all of us who have been appointed as shepherds of God's people and stewards of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Happy Birthday, Doc! (HBC3 - 10/08/99)

Crystal and I finally told Trey and Natalie that Shiloh Church would be voting on a new pastor. We also told them that we needed to pray hard for Shiloh, because I was one of two names that would be submitted to the church for consideration. They were both speechless. So I encouraged them to say something. H.B. spoke up, asking, "Daddy, you said we have to pray. But can we pray what we want to pray?" "Sure," I replied, not really knowing where this was going. He leaped into the air cheering and instructing his little sister to vote for "the other guy."

We were on our way to dinner. And Crystal and I were both on the phone, discussing the fact that Shiloh had just elected me to be its new pastor. When I finished my call, H.B. asked me about the vote. I answered him. He ordered me to tell them no. Then he cried for several hours. Literally. And for the next several weeks, whenever he heard the words "Jacksonville" or "Shiloh" he would cry.

I was truly worried about him and how this potential transition would impact him. I wasn't really worried about Natalie. She only only wanted to know how many people we would be able to take with us and whether Pastor Letson would still be here when we arrived. In contrast, H.B. is very shy and nervous around people. And he just began to start opening up. We didn't want a possible move to be too hard on him.

Once it was settled that we were moving, Trey began to slowly adjust. We first noticed it when he started going to be every night wearing the "All-Male Round-Up" t-shirt Deacon Bobby gave him. Later, we started noticing that he would begin his questions or statements with the words, "When we move to Jacksonville..."

Today, my family has been here for two weeks. And today is Trey's ninth birthday. He is at school, where he tells me that the whole class is his new friends. And this evening we will all attend Midweek Worship Service. But our plan is to make a weekend of it. He wants to go bowling, because we went bowling last year on his  birthday and he beat me the last game (I blame it on the bumpers he had). He has invited two new friends he has made at the church. And he even invited one of the associate pastors to come. I praise God for how my little boy is adjusting to our new reality. And I hope that he will remember his first birthday in Jacksonville as a special one.

I praise God to see over these days how my little boy is growing up. I love him and am so very proud of him. He knows that I pray that God would call him to preach the word. He's not sure about that, but he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. You see, he wants to be a profession wrestler. Don't ask. And he keeps telling me he can do both, promising that he will only wrestle on Saturdays so that he can preach on Sundays. I don't argue with him. I just continue to pray that he would grow as Jesus grew - in wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). And I pray that God would be glorified in his life.

Happy Birthday, Doc! Daddy loves you.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Church Is Not Our Cadillac

During his tenth anniversary, Garrison Keillor told a story (he said it was true) about an experience he had as a teenager. Walking down the sidewalk one day, he saw this unbelievably beautiful woman coming toward him. A stunningly beautiful woman. What could he do? He spied a large, white Cadillac parked next to the sidewalk. Strolling over to the Cadillac, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a dime, put it in the parking meter, and leaned confidently against the Cadillac, smiling at the approaching woman. To his delight, she returned the smile. She moved toward him, spoke to him, saying, "Thank you" as she got into the Cadillac and drove off.

Take this as a parable of ministry. The church is not our Cadillac. We pastors, leaders, teachers may be "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1) but not owners. It is fine for us to make our contribution, to lean against the church in order to look good, but ultimately this Cadillac is God's and God has entrusted it to the laos, God's people rather than to the pastors of God's people. - William H. Willimon, The Last Word, p. 85

Monday, October 06, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 10/05/08

Sunday was my first Lord's Supper Sunday at Shiloh Church. And it was a very special day. As I am getting started in this new work, the love, prayers, kindness, support, and encouragement of the membership has meant more than words can express.

What a joy and privilege it is to be in any worship service where new believers are being baptized and the saints are sharing the Lord's Table. Praise the Lord!

On a practical note, it was remarkable to see how fast the brothers served the Communion elements to the congregation. It was decent, in order, and efficient.

I fumbled about a little bit during my first Communion. But the brothers had my back and helped me through it. Thanks for the assists.

Yesterday was the first day my whole family was in church with me at Shiloh, as Crystal had to take Natalie to the hospital last Sunday. It had a calming effect on me to be able to look over and see my family sitting in worship with me.

I preached a message from Psalm 32, which I entitled, "Good News for the Guilty."

It felt like I rushed through the message in both services. But I think I got through the core of the message both times.

It may not be obvious in the presentation of my messages, but I really enjoy preaching the word of God to the Shiloh Church family.

I led the congregation in the morning hymn at Shiloh for the first time. What a joy to hear the voice of the saints lifted in praise to God!

One thing I think that goes unnoticed is the army of volunteers who serve in so many ways on Sunday mornings at Shiloh. What the few of us on the platform do on Sundays is nothing compared to quiet but diligent service of Bible Study Fellowship groups, parking attendants, greeters, decision counselors, cooks, deacons and district leaders, media workers, nursery and children workers, ushers, and a host of others who willing serve in various ways. To God be the glory for this culture of foot-washers who love the Lord by serving his people!

I hear that George knocked it out of the park again at MSMBC. The best is yet to come for this great church.

We attended Joshua and Jacob's little-league baseball game Sunday afternoon. They played well. As for the score... It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game!

The Cowboys did not have a good game yesterday. Yet, the still won. This is further proof of how good the Cowboys are, in my estimation. The Bengals worked harder to lose! Cowboys are now 4-1 after this 31-22 victory over the cats.

I fell asleep during the Sunday night football game. Did the Jaguars win?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Minister's Evils

Blessed Spirit of God,

Four evils attend my ministry -
The devil treads me down by discouragement and shame
    arising from coldness in private meditation.
Carelessness possesses me from natural dullness and dimness of spirit;
    because in the past I have met with success
        and have been highly regarded,
    so that it does not matter if I have now failed.
Infirmities and weakness are mine
    from want of spiritual light, life and power,
    so that souls have not been helped,
    and I have not felt thee to be near.
Lack of success has followed even when I have done my best.

But thou hast shown me that the glory of everything
   that is sanctified to do good
       is not seen in itself,
       but in the source of its sanctification.
Thus my end in preaching is to know Christ,
    and impart his truth;
My principle in preaching is Christ himself, whom I trust,
For in him is fullness of spirit and strength;
My comfort in preaching is to do all for him.

Help me in my work to grow more humble,
    to pick something out of all providences to that end,
    to joy in thee and loathe myself,
    to keep my life, being, soul, and body only for thee,
    to carry my heart to thee in love and delight,
    to see all my grace in thee, coming from thee,
    to walk with thee in endearment.
Then, whether I succeed or fail,
    nought matters but thee alone.

The Valley of Vision, pp. 336-37