Thursday, July 31, 2008

the Foremost Responsibility

Biblical preaching must always occupy the leading place of influence in the life of any church. At the core of any healthy congregation is a vibrant exposition of God's Word. Unfortunately, though, many pastors are turning away from the central role of expository preaching and doctrinal teaching. But in so doing, they fail to realize that new converts, first and foremost, need to be taught God's truth. As a result, many other things are competing with - and even replacing - the primary role of biblical preaching in the church. Christian concerts, drama, pageants, festivals, musical, talk shows, and religious movies are establishing a greater foothold in the life of the contemporary church. Some of these activities may have a place in the church, but they must never compete with nor overshadow the Spirit-energized proclamation of God's Word within a church. - Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land, p. 33

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

I read this poem, of sorts, some years ago. It is written anonymously. And it has been given many different attributions - a foreign missionary, an African pastor, etc. But while the author is unknown; the message is clear: Being a faithful and fruitful minister of Jesus Christ requires our total commitment, absolute devotion, and full allegiance.

I reread this challenging testimony again this morning. May you be inspired, as I was again today, to give God your best as you read these words:

"I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power, The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

"My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

"I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first , tops, recognized, praised, regard, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

"I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me - my banner will be clear!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

5.4 Tremor Rattles Los Angeles

I was having lunch with a pastoral colleague when the ground began to move. We were near the marina, and could see the nearby boats swaying. All around us, glass was shaking. And the building seemed to be rolling. There was no doubt about it. It was an earthquake. We sat quietly for the next several minutes after it ended, waiting for aftershocks. There were none. Yet.

There has been no reports of hurt or harm to any in our membership or extending family of loved-ones. We are grateful to God for his sustaining grace and sparing mercy.

Thanks to all who have texted or emailed me or called to check on us. We are fine, praise God. Thanks again for your prayers and concern. Continue to pray for us.

Turning On The Lights

I continued our study of the Sermon on the Mount this past Sunday with a message on Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus declares, "You are the light of the world." This description of Christ-followers, along with Matthew 5:3 where Jesus declares, "You are the salt of the earth," teach us what it means to maximize our influence for the kingdom of God. They are challenges passages, in which the Lord exhorts us to be different that the world around us. But they are also comforting passages, as Jesus reminds us that God is willing and able to use ordinary people like us to change the world.

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message:

Title: "Turning on the Lights"

Text: Matthew 5:14-16

Theme: Maximizing kingdom influence


This world is in the dark. In a real sense, there is darkness within us. And, definitely, there is darkness all around us. But there is someone who is able who is able to turn on the lights for those who are engulfed in the darkness of sin. Light is available, even when darkness seems overwhelming. But you may be surprised about where Jesus says this light is found. Matthew 5:14 says, "You are the light of the world."

I. Jesus describes his followers as the light of the world (5:14a).

    A. The bad news: The world is dark.

       1. It's intense darkness (Gen. 19:11).

       2. It's intentional darkness (John 3:19).

    B. The good news: The church is the light of the world.

       1. It's reflected light (John 8:12; 9:5).

       2. It's inherent light (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:8; 1 P. 2:9).

II. Jesus explains the the significance of being the light of the world (5:14b-15).

    A. Light cannot be hidden: "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (5:14b)

    B. Light should not be hidden: "Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house" (5:15)

III. Jesus commands his followers to shine as lights in the world (5:16)

    A. The divine command: "In the same way, let your light shine before others"

    B. The specific reason: "so that they may see your good works"

    C. The ultimate purpose: "and give glory to your Father who is in heaven"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 07/27/08

Wow! What a great day. God richly blessed and marvelously helped me all day long.

Weirdly, from about 4 to 7:30 AM, I was trying to get out of preaching our morning services. I must have called Crystal seven times after I got to the office to see if she would cosign my taking the day off. She did not, but kept insisting that I needed to preach. She was right.

Note to self (and anyone else reading): Too many times we worry about things that never happen. Try Phil. 4:6-7.

I continued our study of the Sermon on the Mount with a message on Matthew 5:14-16. I entitled the message, "Turning on the Lights."

The message was basically the same in both services. But the response was much warmer at the 10 AM meeting. We actually shouted over being "the Light of the world."

I think I have made it through whatever voice problems I was having. Praise God.

Sunday afternoon, I teased Austin about the fact that he has been gone for the past two Sunday mornings and the mikes and monitors have sounded perfect. I know that he and Reggie and Scharmaine have been working hard to get the bugs worked out for me at preaching time. Hats off to each of them.

Our children participated in the worship services with presentations and music from Vacation Bible School. It made the worship service very special. Hats off to our children's pastor, Phil Placenti, for his diligent leadership of our 2008 VBS.

My friend, Pastor Terry Brown and his wife, who serve the Liberty Baptist Church here in Los Angeles visited with us in worship during their vacation. It was good to have them present.

I received a message Sunday morning that Pastor Percy Hill, the beloved pastor of the Cochran Avenue Baptist Church here in Los Angeles passed away this weekend. He will be truly missed by the Los Angeles church community. Please remember his wife, family, and congregation in your prayers.

Sunday afternoon, I preached for Pastor Michael Ealey and the Prevailing in Christ Church. They were celebrating one year as a church family. It was a special occasion. And I am very happy for Pastor Ealey and his young church. God helped me to preach, even though I was a little tired. So was the congregation, it seems. But the Lord helped me to preach. May the message continue to be a blessing to Pastor Ealey and his infant congregation.

The mayor of Carson was present to give official greetings to Pastor Ealey.  And he actually stayed to hear the sermon. He gets cool points from me for that.

My day ended with sad news. Dr. C.A.W. Clark, the legendary pastor of the Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas, died this weekend. From my understanding, he had been sick for some time. So I rejoice to know that he is perfectly healed in the presence of Jesus. But I am saddened by the passing of one of the great preaching voices in the African-American church.

When I was a young teenager, I had a blown-up picture of Dr. Clark on my bedroom door - not Michael Jordan or Run D.M.C. Dr. C.A.W. Clark! And I would try to sound like Dr. Clark. He will be missed. But his impact on my life and the lives of many others will continue. Please remember his wife, family, and the Good Street Church in your prayers.

"And all the people said, 'Amen.'" - Dr. C.A.W. Clark's opening greeting before every sermon.

Thank you for your prayers. Please don't stop now!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Being Light in a Dark Place

I am on my way home from Wichita. It has been a good week of preaching, even though I have ministered under a personal burden I am carrying. God is faithful. And I believe he used me to be a blessing to Pastor Floyd and the Mt. Gilead Church family. However, at the same time, at some point each night I became acutely aware of the fact that I was preaching to myself just as much as anyone else.

Correction: This was my sixth straight year preaching for Pastor Floyd at Gilead, not my fifth. Cool.

I really look forward to getting home to my wife and children in a few hours.

God willing, I will continue my study of the Sermon on the Mount this tomorrow. Last Lord's day, I preached from Matthew 5:13, in which Jesus declares, "You are the salt of the earth." I plan to preach the parallel metaphor tomorrow, recorded in Matthew 5:14-16, in which Jesus declares, "You are the light of the world." I plan to label the message, "Being Light in a Dark Place." But we'll see.

Tomorrow afternoon, I am scheduled to preach the one year anniversary for my friend Pastor Micheal Ealey and his new congregation, The Prevailing in Christ Church. Pastor Ealey first preached me when I was a young teenager. And I often preached for him when he served the Christ Second Baptist Church in Long Beach, where my father pastored before he went to Mt. Sinia.

It should be a long, busy weekend. But I look forward to it all.

Remember me in your prayers. Really. Please cover me in believing prayer as never before!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Speaking @ Mt. Gilead M.B.C.

I am in Wichita, Kansas. I am preaching a three-night revival at the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, where Rev. Tarrance C. Floyd serves as pastor.

Pastor Floyd organized this church about five years ago. And this is my fifth year preaching for him. Pastor Floyd and I have become warm friends. And I am honored that he would have me back again to minister the word to the Mt. Gilead family.

Every year I come, the congregation has taken some step forward in the development of its ministry. This year is no different. The entire auditorium has been remodeled. But that's just the most obvious change. All around, there are subtle but sure signs of life and health, for which I praise God.

I made it to Wichita safely and on time this afternoon. But my suitcase apparently wanted to spend a few extra hours traveling the country. So I had to preach in my blue jeans and sneakers tonight. Pastor Floyd reminded me that clothes can't preach. I agreed. Then I warned him that clothes can mess up a sermon, though. Fortunately, that did not happen tonight. The Lord blessed the service and helped me to preach. Mt. Gilead is a warm and kind congregation. And they are eager to hear the word of God.

Please pray for the remaining two nights of this meeting that the Lord would be glorified, the church would be revived, and the lost would be saved.

Pastoral Vision vs. Vain Self-Image

It struck me one day in a Christian bookstore that most of the "church growth" books I picked up in that store were not books on vision but on image. They hadn't been published to help me see the world in a particular way but to help the world see me - were I a megachurch pastor - in a particular way. They were books that enticed the pastor of limited self-image to be like somebody else the world admired. What a cul-de-sac of emotional poverty this is. These books were published to serve the idolatries of megapastor wannabes. - Calvin Miller, O Shepherd Where Art Thou?, p. 4

Out of the Saltshaker

“For too long we have been tickling palates with fancy flavors, spicy relishes, and clever recipes borrowed from the world. Too many pulpits serve gourmet theology with menus from Hollywood and are trying to please the jaded appetites of the fed-up humanity. But what we really need is some old-fashioned salt. And if we do not start producing more of it in our churches, we shall be good for nothing.” - Vance Havner

Title: "Out of the Saltshaker"

Text: Matthew 5:13


I. Introduction

Sodium Chloride - salt - gets a lot of bad press these days. It is blamed for everything from hypertension to obesity to heart disease. The need for salt is questioned. Its use is discouraged. And its presence on many tables is often more decorative than anything else. However, this was not the case when Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth.” In the cultural world of the ancient Near East, salt was both essential and valuable. For example, the Roman government often paid their soldiers’ wages in salt. And a good, faithful man was said to be “worth his salt.” In fact, our word “salary” comes from the Latin, salarium, which means to trade or barter with salt. Salt served a wide array of purposes in the ancient world. And, interestingly, scholars have just as many interpretations of what Jesus meant by this statement about salt in Matthew 5:13. But of all the possible meanings, there are three primary interpretations that deserve our attention.

    A. Salt prevents decay.

    B. Salt produces thirst.

    C. Salt provides flavor.

II. Jesus describes his followers as the salt of the earth (5:13a).

    A. "You are..." - Character precedes performance; who you are is more important than what you do.

    B. Bad news/Good news

       1. Good News: God can use ordinary people like you.

       2. Bad News: Sometimes God has to shake things in your life in order to get your out of the saltshaker.

III. Jesus warns about the danger of failing to be the salt of the earth (5:13b).

    A. The warning: "but if salt loses its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored."

    B. The consequence: "It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."

    C. The hope: God specializing in transforming good for nothing people!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 07/20/08

It was good to be back in my pulpit yesterday. I missed being with MSMBC last Sunday. And I was very eager to preach.

A simple act of kindness - the gift of three cough drops before church - helped calm my anxieties about the day. It was a simple act through which God communicated that he was with me.

I got more comments yesterday about what a blessing Pastor Elliot Ivey was to the congregation last Sunday. My constant response was, "I told you so."

We had quite a few first and second time guests in our two services. Cool.

I resumed our study of the Sermon on the Mount with a message on Matthew 5:13 that I called, "Out of the Saltshaker." I intend to preach the connected word picture, "You are the light of the world" (5:14-16), this coming Sunday, God willing.

This was the third time I have preached Matthew 5:13 over the course of my pastoral ministry. And I happen to have the two previous manuscripts. It was interesting to review the different messages. My interpretation of the verse was the same in all three messages. But they were three totally different messages. But my presentation of this text was different each time. I guess the mystery of preaching includes our personal growth and our growing understanding of the text over time.

I am really enjoying this study of the Sermon on the Mount. It gets to the heart of what true righteousness is all about. And you cannot help but be changed and challenged, if you take the words of Jesus seriously.

I am a little surprised and very grateful for how well the congregation received the message. I think I came at them a little hard at points in this message. But they "endured" (2 Tim. 4:3) my rebukes, reproofs, and exhortations. To god be the glory.

For the first time in about a month, I got through my morning messages without getting hoarse. For those who are counting, Sunday's score: hbc2 - 2/microphones - 0!

What do you do after a good day of worship? Go to Disneyland! My niece Harriette, my pastor's granddaughter, Sidney, went with us. George and his nephew, Kendell, also joined us. We had a blast. The weather was great. And the lines were short. What more can you ask?

We didn't get home until midnight. So I don't have to tell you how wiped out we all were. Are. Will be until we can catch up on some sleep.

I listened to Dorinda Clark-Cole's song, "I Am Still Here," this morning. And it set the tone for my day. I have been overflowing with grateful praise all day.

Our 2008 Vacation Bible School began this evening. It will run through this coming Friday. And our children will participate in our worship service this coming Sunday. Please remember our children's pastor, Phil Placenti, his team of workers, and all the children and families who will be ministered to in your prayers this week.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Would You Pass The Salt, Please?

God willing, I will resume my study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) this coming Lord's Day.

On the first Sunday of July, I finished our mini-series on the beatitudes of Jesus. The next portion of Jesus' famous sermon is recorded in Matthew 5:13-16. In these verses, Jesus explains how we can maximize our impact and influence for the kingdom of heaven with two word pictures: salt and light. It is my plan to preach these two passages separately.

This Sunday, I plan to preach on Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" (ESV).

Pray for me. Pray for those who will hear the exposition of God's word at MSMBC this coming Sunday.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Critical Point about Divine Guidance

This morning, I had a conversation with a trusted mentor and cherished friend. I called him to seek his advice. Little did I know, he was planning to call me on an unrelated matter. As always, this friend's advice proved to be insightful, challenging, and encouraging. He listened. He spoke carefully about the subject, but freely about his view of me. It was just the kind of conversation I needed to have today. God is good!

By the way - and I know this is absolutely none of my business - but I hope that you have godly, trustworthy people in your life who can give you biblically sound, Christ-centered, and spiritually wise counsel. All of us, no matter how mature a Christian you are, all of us have "blind-spots" in our lives. You know what blind spots are, don't you? They are things that sit outside of your line of sight as you are driving. And you need a different perspective, usually this means looking over your shoulder before changing lanes, to keep from having a collision. Likewise, godly and trusted friends are gifts from God to help you to see what you cannot see on your own.

I love the way this principle is stated in Proverbs 27:6 - "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy" (ESV). I love that verse! It literally says that it is better to be hurt by a friend than to be kissed by an enemy. Or to put it another way, enemies stab you behind your back. But friends stab you face-to-face. And this is a good thing. Your best friends are not just the ones who give you the pat on the back. They are the ones who sometimes put a finger in your face at times and say some tough things to you in love.

But I digress...

At the end of our conversation, my friend said he needed to give me one final word of advice before we got off the phone. Of course, I was eager to hear whatever he had to say. Then he stabbed me. In love. He warned me to remember that - here comes the blade - "God does not confirm our doubts." If you ask God for wisdom and guidance, he argued, God will surely give it. But God is not in the business of confirming our doubts for us. As he leads, he will give you conviction about what is right and pleasing to him. However, along with the conviction, there will be doubts. But God usually does not remove all the doubts before he leads us forward. We must go forward in faith, with a sense of conviction concerning God's will for us.

God used my friend to help me today as I wrestle with a personal matter. But I could not dare be stingy with such a gift. I am sure that I am not the only one who needs this word. What are you wrestling with today? Let me share this important road sign to help you find your place in God's will: "God does not confirm our doubts."

Or, if you don't want to receive this counsel from my friend, let me give it to you in the words of Solomon: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Difference Prayer Makes

One of the discussion questions in our small group meeting tonight was, "What difference does prayer make in your life?" One sister answered, simply, "It's the difference between a good day and a bad day." She explained that prayer makes all the difference in her day, even though it may not change the details of the day. Prayer makes the difference in how I respond to the circumstances of my day, she said.

This dear sister was absolutely right.

Indeed, there are times when God responds to our prayers by direct, divine intervention that changes things in our lives in dramatic ways. But there are other times - most of the time, I would say - when God responds to prayer by changing us rather than (or before he) changes our circumstances.

This is what Philippians 4:6-7 teaches: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (ESV).

This is God's answer for your anxieties. We are to be anxious for nothing. We are to pray about everything. Rather than letting our circumstances strangle us with mixed emotions, we should make our requests known to God with thanksgiving. And Philippians 4:7 promises that God will answer prayer. However, it does not promise divine intervention. It promises divine insulation. It does not promise that God will guard your health, family, or career if you pray. It declares that the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.

This is the difference prayer makes. So even when prayer does not seem to be making any difference in your situation, don't stop praying. When you pray, God may not fix all of your problems, but he will give you strength and peace and wisdom to trust and obey, no matter what the problem may be.

The bottom-line is that God is always more concerned about what is going on within you than what is going on around you. Or to you. Or against you. Your internal disposition is always more important than your external circumstances. Be sure, God is ready and willing and able to change things in your life. But until he does - or even if he does not - trust him to provide his peace as a spiritual "climate control" system, so that you may have peace within while the storm is raging all around you.

Remember, Isaiah 26:3-4 is still true: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 07/13/08

Yesterday, I preached at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

This was my second time preaching at Shiloh. And, once again, the congregation received my ministry very warmly. I pray that the messages ministered to the congregation in a helpful way. May God grant the increase.

I preached two messages - Job 1 at 8 AM; Genesis 50 at 10 AM.

For some reason, I was much more relaxed in the second meeting. But I was able to say most of what I felt I should say in both services.

I lost my voice in the middle of my first sermon. But the Lord gave me the strength to get through the second message. At this point, I think it's a conspiracy. Microphones. Argh!

I missed being in my own pulpit. I look forward to resuming my study of the Sermon on the Mount this coming Sunday.

Being out of my regular Sunday morning routine makes it difficult to get ready to preach.

My friend, Pastor Elliot Ivey, who leads the New Beginnings Baptist Church in Oakland, filled in for me at MSMBC. And all the reports I have received have been about the great blessing "Poison" Ivey was to the congregation in both services. George said there was a "revival" feel in the services. My little sister warned me that I better get home quickly, before I won't have a church anymore. Praise God for a great day in my absence!

Pastor Ivey is one of the very fine young preachers in our country. I get to call him a "young preacher," because I am several years older than he is. But Ivey is a mature, strong, and gifted preacher that you will hear much about in the months and years to come. God is using him in a great way around the country.

I got back to the room after church. Took off my suit. Put on my trunks. And jumped in the pool for an hour. That's a first. But it was cool. HBC3 swims well. Natalie is just starting to get comfortable in the water. Hailey swims better than her mother!

Last night, Trey, Natalie, and I ditched Crystal and Hailey to catch a movie. Popcorn!

Crystal and the kids got hungry late last night. So we out for a late, gourmet meal. We went to the Waffle House!

Yesterday concluded a week of hanging out in Jacksonville. My family and I have been shown great kindnesses this past week by many people. We are very grateful.

Several times this week, we got caught in sudden, afternoon thunderstorms. We literally saw "the storm clouds roll." I thought that only happened in old Gospel songs.

This morning, my family and I have two long flights back to Los Angeles. Please pray that God may grant us safe passage home.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Hardest Prayer You Will Ever Pray

I am reading The Incredible Journey of Faith by Ray Pritchard. It is small work. But it is taking me some time to read it. It seems that every couple of pages, I stumble over some statement that I am forced to wrestle with before I can go on. It happened to me again last night, as I was reading a chapter that focuses on a petition of the model prayer: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10b). Pritchard calls this petition that hardest prayer you will ever pray. And I agree with him. For many reasons, this is a difficult prayer to pray sincerely, confidently, and joyfully. Invariably, it will cost you to pray with prayer. It costs Jesus when he prayed this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it will cost you. But this prayer is worth what it costs. Consider the alternative. It's either God's will or your will. And if you think your will for your life is the prevailing reality, you are deceived. And if you think that your will for your life is what it most important, you are even more deceived. God's will is going to be done. And God's will is wise, even when it seems illogical. God's will is good, even when it hurts. And God's will is successful, even when you have to lose some stuff to trust and obey God. Pritchard writes:
When we ask that God's will be done, we are implicitly asking that our will be overturned, if necessary. (p. 55)

Indeed, to pray this pray is to acknowledge that you are not really in control in the first place. The sooner we acknowledge and embrace the fact that God is in control and has the last word over our lives - including the things that we hold on to so tightly - the more free and fulfilling our lives will be.
So many of us go through life with a clenched fist, trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to mastermind all the circumstances, trying to make our plans work. So we hold tightly to the things we value - our career, our reputation, our happiness, our health, our children, our education, our wealth, our possession, even our mates. We even hold tightly to life itself. But those things we hold so tightly never really belonged to us in the first place. They always belong to God. He loaned them to us, and when the time comes he will take them back again. Happy are those people who hold lightly the things they value greatly. (pp. 67-68)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Listening For The Next Word

A friend of mine called me last week to check on me. During the conversation, he affirmed that he was and is covering me with believing prayer. Specifically, he said that he was praying that I would be able to hear "the next word." Of course, I asked what that statement meant. He then referenced Genesis chapter 22. He went on to explain. But I already knew the point he was trying to make. I have another friend who has often used Genesis 22 to warn me not to kill Isaac prematurely or unnecessarily.

Genesis 22 records the story in which the Lord commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac on one of the mountains of Moriah. This is an incredible request. But the Bible says that Abraham arose early the next morning to obey the Lord's command. After traveling for three days, Abraham came to the place where the Lord commanded him to go. And as he and Isaac climbed the mountain, Isaac asked, "Dad, what's missing?  I see the wood. And I have the fire. But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answered, "Son, God will provide himself a lamb for the burnt offering."

Abraham trusted and obeyed, even though he had no idea what God was up to. And just as he was about to take his son's life, Abraham heard the Lord say, "Stay your hand." This was the second major command the Lord gave to Abraham in Genesis 22. And it is just as important as the first word. You see, this whole experience was just a test of Abraham's faith, obedience, and devotion. The Lord wanted to see what was more important to Abraham - his God or his son. When Abraham passed the test, God gave him the next word: stay your hand.

What radical thing is the Lord calling you to do? What impossible command has the Lord issue to you? What "Isaac" in your life has the Lord told you to sacrifice? Whatever it is, trust and obey. But as you do so, keep listening for the next word. The Lord does not want to take away what he has promised to you. He just doesn't want you to allow your blessings to become more important than him. So do what the Lord has told you to do. But keep listening for the next word.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Joy of Persecution

Jesus said to be happy when we’re persecuted. Persecution can be good because: (1) it takes our eyes off earthly rewards, (2) it strips away superficial believers, (3) it strengthens the faith of those who endure, and (4) it serves as an example to others who may follow us. We can be comforted to know that God’s greatest prophets were persecuted in the past (Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel). Our persecution in the present means we have shown ourselves to be faithful. In the future God will reward the faithful by letting them enter his eternal kingdom where there is no more persecution. – The Life Application Bible, p. 1332

I concluded our study of the beatitudes of Jesus this past Sunday with a message on Mathew 5:10-12. It is a ironic, radical, and paradoxical statement in which Jesus declares those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake are blessed.

Here is the sermon skeleton:

Title: "The Joy of Persecution"

Title: Matthew 5:10-12

Theme: The blessedness of Christian persecution

Point: God blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.


I. The reality of persecution

    A. You will be reviled: "Blessed are you when others revile you" (5:11)

    B. You will be persecuted: "and persecute you"  (5:11)

    C. You will be slandered: "and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (5:11)

II. The reasons for persecution

    A. Persecution can arise because of your obedience to the word of God: "for righteousness' sake" (5:10)

    B. Persecution can arise because of your devotion to the Son of God: "on my account" (5:11)

III. The response to persecution

    A. The response: "rejoice and be glad" (5:12)

    B. The reasons:

       1. Look back and rejoice: "for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (5:12)

       2. Look up and rejoice: "for your reward in heaven is great" (5:12)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 07/06/08

Yesterday was a great day of worship and fellowship at MSMBC.

Communion Sunday is always a special time in the life of our congregation. Yesterday was no exception.

The attendance was good yesterday, even though it was a holiday weekend.

Some of our summer small-groups and Sunday school classes kicked-off yesterday. There are four or five groups that will meet at different places around the campus during our two worship services.

My assistant, George Hurtt, made it home safely from his short-term missions trip to Haiti this past week. Praise the Lord for blessing his labors and bringing him safely too us.

I met a guest who is in town from Chicago for the next month. Her pastor, my friend Romell Williams, recommended that she attend our church while she is in Los Angeles. Cool.

I guess it was throw-back Sunday at MSMBC and nobody told me. One of the selections the choir sung is, "We've Come to Praise Him." When I was a boy, choirs used to march in on this song. Do you remember when choirs used to march in?

I finished our little "mini-series" on the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12.

I preached on the final beatitude, recorded in Matthew 5:10-12. I labeled the message, "The Joy of Persecution."

It was interesting to hear several people comment on how different my message was between the two services. I thought that they were pretty much the same, except for the introduction and the conclusion. Come to think of it, maybe they were right.

I hope the message was as radical as the beatitude itself, in which Jesus connects two realities we typically separate: blessedness and persecution.

This week's score: Microphones - 2; HBC2 - 0. I thought we fixed the problems with the audio system, specifically my monitors. But something went wrong again. I am determined to fix the problem this week.

My throat was so sore during the 10 AM service, I wondered how I would be able to preach. I had to specially ask the church to pray for me before I began my message. The Lord answered prayer again and gave me strength to preach. Praise the Lord!

By the way, the Los Angeles weather was absolutely beautiful yesterday. It was a great day to be outside.

I am happy that Venus Williams and Raphael Nadal won at Wimbledon this weekend.

The E.K. Bailey Expository Preaching Conference is meeting this week in Dallas. ray God blessings on this great meeting that was began by one of my preaching heroes.

Rev. Timothy Wright, the famous Gospel singer and pastor, was in a serious car accident over the weekend. His wife and grandson died in the accident. And Rev. Wright is in serious condition, from the last report that I heard. Please cover this family with believing prayer.

My family is headed to Florida today. Please remember us your prayers.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Thought for Self-Examination on Communion Sunday

But if Jesus died for the sins of the world, then those sins committed after his death are just as responsible for putting him on a cross as the sins committed before. This truth makes it impossible to love Jesus and knowingly transgress the law of God. It's like saying you love someone while you are twisting a knife in his back - the ultimate in mixed messages. Seeing the cause and effect between my present tense sin and Christ's past tense death might mean I will have to do something about sinning beyond casually accepting God's grace. - John Fischer, On a Hill Too Far Away, p. 38

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day

May you have safe and enjoyable holiday and weekend.

God bless.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Too Busy Not To Pray

Prayerless people cut themselves off from God’s prevailing power, and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, overrun, beaten down, pushed around, defeated. Surprising numbers of people are willing to settle for lives like that. Don’t be one of them. Nobody has to live like that. Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power in your life. – Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not To Pray, p. 16

Last night, I began a new summer small-group. We will spend the next eight weeks reading and discussing Too Busy Not To Pray by Bill Hybels. Our Sunday School and small-group schedule has been thrown out off because of our transition to a new location this year. So, while we usually "go dark" during the summer months, this year we some new small-groups and Sunday school classes during the months of July and August. Anthony, one of our associate pastors, and I are leading a small-group on prayer. Last night was the first meeting, in which we do get to know each other and over the study material, schedule, and expectations. And the group got off to a great start last night.

I read Too Busy Not To Pray when it was first published some ten years ago. In fact, read may not be a good word. I devoured the book. It caught me at the right place at right time. And I have cherished it ever since, reading through it again four or five times over the years. Now, I do not agree with Hybels on every subject. And I am not one of those "seeker Church dudes." But those qualifications aside, Too Busy is a good book. It is a clear, compelling, and challenging book that casts a large and high vision of God. And it teaches the importance, discipline, and power of believing prayer in practical terms. I just plain like this book. It is one of my favorite books on prayer, even though I have a rather long list of 'favorite" books on prayer. And I have and do recommend it to those who want to jump-start their prayer lives.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Joining the Family Business

Peacemakers release tension, they don’t intensify it. Peacemakers seek solutions and find no delight in arguments. Peacemakers calm the waters, they don’t trouble them. Peacemakers work hard to keep an offense from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. Peacemakers lower their voices rather than raise them. Peacemakers generate more light than heat. Blessed are such great-hearted souls! We need more of them in the ranks of faith. We have more than enough fighters, more than enough who are ready to pounce. – Charles Swindoll, Simple Faith, p. 34

This past Sunday, I continued out series on the beatitudes of Jesus, with a message on the blessed peacemakers who are called the sons of God. Here is the sermon skeleton:

Title: "Joining the Family Business"

Text: Matthew 5:9

Theme: he blessedness of being a peacemaker

Point: God blesses peacemakers.


I. The Mission of the Peacemakers

    A. What is peace?

       1. Peace is not merely the absence of war, conflict, or hostility.

       2. Peace is "Shalom" (OT) - life, health, wholeness, prosperity, and wellbeing (Num. 6;24-26).

    B. What are peacemakers?

       1. Peacemakers strive to bring peace between God and man (2 Co. 5:16-21)

       2. Peacemakers strive to bring peace between man and man

          * Peace among fellow Christians (Eph. 4:3)

          * Peace for all people (Rom. 12:18)

II. The Characteristics of the Peacemakers

    A. Peacemaking involves truth-telling (Eph. 4:15).

    B. Peacemaking involves selflessness (James 4:1-2).

    C. Peacemaking involves courage (Matt. 5:10-12, 43-45).

    D. Peacemaking involves forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).

III. The Reward of the Peacemakers

    A. Peacemakers are called

       1. By God himself

       2. By the watching world (Acts 11:28)

    B. Peacemakers are the sons of God

       1. The peacemaker's nature resembles God.

       2. The peacemaker's inheritance is from God.