Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church has a New Senior Pastor!!!

Last night, I had one of the most unique, special experiences of my life. I was invited by the Church Council members of Mt. Sinai - the church that I served for almost 18 years - to return to Los Angeles and moderate one more church meeting. In this meeting, the Church Council, functioning as the pastoral search committee for the congregation, unanimously recommended George E. Hurtt - the man who has served as my pastoral assistant the past several years - to be the next senior pastor of MSMBC. And the congregation, in a brief, prayerful, and joy-filled meeting, overwhelmingly elected George as its new pastor. Praise the Lord!

The last time MSMBC met to select a pastor was on November 5, 1990. The church had been without a pastor since June, 1989, when my father went to be with the Lord. During the intervening months, the congregation heard many pastoral "candidates." More than I can remember. There were many contentious church meetings. And the church had remained "vacant" long enough for some unhealthy things to develop in the life of the congregation.

Fast forward eighteen years. After my final Sunday at MSMBC, the congregation lived without a senior pastor all of eight days! George preached this past Sunday. And yesterday, the church met to select him as the fourth pastor in this great congregation's 66 year history. And this coming Sunday will be a very special Sunday at MSMBC, as George and the congregation celebrate their first Sunday together as pastor and people.

George Hurtt is a man of God. He is chronologically young, but spiritually mature. He lives a life of blameless integrity. He has a firm commitment to sound doctrine and Bible exposition. He loves the Lord Jesus Christ. He loves the church. And, more specifically, he loves Mt. Sinai. Born and raised in Detroit (We won't hold that against him), George moved to California as an officer in the Navy. He joined Mt. Sinai while living 29 Palms, making a two or more hour drive to church - one way. And in a great step of faith, George laid aside a promising military career to go to seminary to prepare for pastoral service. During this time, George joined my staff on a part time basis. After George finished seminary, earning a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Masters' Seminary, George took on full time responsibilities at the church.

During these past several years, it has been my great privilege to be a close-up witness of George's spiritual and ministerial development. He has grown into a strong, solid preacher - as the Lord has opened many opportunities for George to preach at Mt. Sinai and many other churches. His leadership skills are sharp. For the past three years he has been a professor at the Los Angeles Bible Training School. The past two summers, he has participated in short-term mission trips to Haiti to train pastors. More specifically, he has been a capable assistant to me, who has borne the burden of the pastoral work at MSMBC with me. And his spiritual progress has been evident to the congregation (1 Tim. 4:13).

In the early months of this year, when people would ask me about George, I would say to them that my only complaint is that George would probably not be with me by the end of 2008. I fully expected some church to snatch George up by year's end. The ironic providence of God is a funny thing, isn't it?

George was the first to tell me about the pastoral vacancy at Shiloh. And when he did, I didn't believe him. And I remember all of the (wrong) predictions we made about who would be the next pastor of Shiloh. Last night, as we had dinner together after the meeting, we reflected on the roller coaster events of these past months. Who would have thought that I would be the new pastor of Shiloh? Who would have thought that George would be the next pastor of Mt. Sinai. We didn't. That's for sure. But our God is an awesome God!

I am very proud of George. He is a cherished friend, true brother, fellow soldier, prayer partner, and trusted counselor. I am so excited about what God is doing in his life right now. And I am so proud of Mt. Sinai. To God be the glory for the maturity, prayerfulness, and unity of this beloved congregation! I believe they will be a witness to churches around the country for many years to come. And God be praised for the Church Council, a band of brothers who have demonstrated the importance and fruitfulness of the local church being led by a plurality of godly men.

As I make my way back home to my family and congregation in Jacksonville, I do so with fervent prayers and great confidence in the Lord for the future, growth, and ministry of MSMBC. May the Lord richly bless this new union of pastor and people. And may their dreams be even greater than their memories!

Please remember Pastor George E. Hurtt and the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in your prayers.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Notes from My 1st Sunday as Pastor @ Shiloh Church

One big weekend in my life was followed by another big weekend. After spending my final weekend as pastor of Mt. Sinai, this was my first weekend with my new congregation - Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

I got very little sleep Saturday night. I was thinking and praying about Sunday morning. I chatted with several prayer partners. I even watched a little boxing (Sugar Shane wins by KO at 2:59 minutes of the 12th round. Wow!). I only got a couple of hours of sleep. But I was not sleepy at all when it was time for me to get up. I was refreshed, focused, and ready for the day.

Saturday night, Natalie's temperature to shoot up past 102. She was not feeling well. Sunday morning, Crystal didn't complain of a headache as the did the night before. But her temperature was past 103. We decided that she needed to go the hospital.

So I finished getting ready to go preach, while Crystal got ready to take Natalie to the hospital. One problem. We didn't really know where to take her. We live near a hospital, but we called and they did not had a pediatrics desk. So we planned for Crystal to take her downtown to the hospital that we had seen on the freeway as went to church.

Crystal was only in the hospital for a few hours. She and Natalie went home with instructions for rest and medication. By early evening, Natalie was feeling much better. Thank you so much for your prayers.

I felt uncomfortable not having Crystal, Natalie, and Hailey in church with me. It was weird.

Trey went to church with me. He kept wanting to know what I was so nervous. Funny.

The members of Shiloh were very kind and encouraging. I am very grateful. I know that the Lord could have sent me anywhere. He could have sent me to a place where preaching is out of season. He could have sent me to a place where there are major doctrinal errors to be corrected. He could have sent me to a cold, unloving church. Praise God for the fact that he has sent me to serve a church that is sound in its doctrine and loving in its fellowship. What a blessing!

I preached on the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 28:16-20. I have absolutely no gauge for how the sermon went. The whole day was somewhat surreal for me. But I know that the Lord had placed that message on my heart to preach. I have a burden that God would we would be intentionally and persistently faithful to what the Lord Jesus has commanded the church to be and do.

For some reason, Sunday was a stark reminder to me that I am still a young preacher who has so much to learn and so much growing to do. May the Lord help me to live 2 Timothy 2:15.

I am still figuring things out. Matters of time, flow of service, and church culture, and congregational patterns are still new to me. And I need to just give myself some time to figure things out. I hope Shiloh will be (or remain) patient with me during these opening weeks of my ministry.

By the way, I can't wait to get back to the pulpit this Wednesday and next Sunday to preach to Shiloh some more.

When I got home, I couldn't relax for some reason. But I received a text message from Los Angeles, informing me that Mt. Sinai would need a new roof, because George had preached the roof off the joint. And that was just 8 AM service! I was glad to here it. I had been much in prayer that the Lord would bless the day of worship at Mt. Sinai and that the Lord would use George to preach in a great way. Thank God for answered prayers. After receiving this news, I soon laid down for my afternoon nap.

As you probably already know, the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Washington Redskins 26-24. There will be no perfect season for us. But nothing can stop the stampede. On to the Superbowl!

The Jacksonville Jaguars needed an overtime field goal to barely a victory against the (hapless) Houston Texans 30-27. They are not 2-2 on the season. But who's counting?

How serious are Shiloh members about football? When I was leaving the building, I saw men in the hall wearing Jaguars jerseys, carrying the suits they had worn to church on hangers. Straight to the game! I am not mad at them.

One more thing. I am very excited about the days to come. I pray and believe and expect God to do great things for his glory in us and through us as we serve the Lord together as pastor and people at the Shiloh Church.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Minister's Prayer

O My Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
Or merely win the esteem and affections of people;
But do the work of grace in their hearts,
    call in thy elect,
    seal and edify the regenerate ones,
    and command eternal blessings on their souls.
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Water the hearts of those who hear thy Word,
     that seed sown in weakness may be raised in power;
Cause me and those who hear me
    to behold thee here in the light of special faith,
    and hereafter in the blaze of endless glory;
Make my every sermon a means of grace to myself,
    and help me to experience the power of thy dying love,
    for thy blood is balm,
       thy presence bliss,
       thy smile heaven,
       thy cross the place where truth and mercy meet.
Look upon the doubts and discouragements of my ministry
    and keep me from self-importance;
I beg pardon for my many sins, omissions, infirmities,
    as a man, as a minister;
Command thy blessing on my weak, unworthy labors,
    and on the message of salvation given;
Stay with thy people,
    and may thy presence be their portion and mine.
    When I preach to others let not
       my words be merely elegant and masterly
       my reasoning polished and refined,
       my performance powerless and tasteless,
       but may I exalt thee and humble sinners.
O Lord of power and grace,
    all hearts are in thy hands,
    all events at thy disposal,
set the seal of thy almighty will upon my ministry.

The Valley of Vision, pp. 338-39

Friday, September 26, 2008

Heading into our First Weekend in Jacksonville

Thank you for praying for Crystal and the kids, as they made their way to Jacksonville yesterday. Their flight arrived about an hour late, but it was otherwise uneventful. Praise the Lord!

Thanks, again, Pastor Letson for helping me round up my clan and get them home.

It was a little past midnight when we arrived home. We were tired but wired. After looking around, doing some unpacking, and checking up on one another, we finally laid done for sleep sometime past 4 am.

We were up at 8 am, as the movers returned to empty boxes and finish setting up some things. We unpacked most of the day. But my good friend, the DIRECTV guy, was here to lift my spirits, as he set up our system.

It was a slow afternoon, full of errands. We dropped by the church, picked up the kids' school uniforms, got some dinner, and pick up a few groceries. Once home, we got ready for bed and quickly slipped into "getting ready for bed" mode.

These notes are all uneventful. And I praise God for that. God has helped our first days here in Jacksonville to be pretty smooth and quiet. The kids are handling these major changes well. I am so proud of them. And even though all of this is new for us, and we miss everyone in Los Angeles, God is holding us up and giving us strength. God be praised for his goodness. And thank you for your prayers.

I am looking forward to my first Sunday as Pastor of Shiloh Church. However, I am very nervous. But I trust the Lord will bless us as we worship his majesty and proclaim his word. Please remember us in your prayers for Sunday.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My First Night in our New Home

Lido and I made it safely to Jacksonville yesterday afternoon. Pastor Letson took us to the house. And I prepared myself for worship. An hour or so later, I drove myself to church for the first time. If Jacksonville's rush hour was any reflection of what I experienced last night, driving here will be a breeze in comparison to Los Angeles.

I went down to the main auditorium about thirty minutes for the worship service to check on something. I went another route back to the study and got lost. Thankfully, I bumped into one of the staff members in the lobby who led me back to the study. I can be clueless at times.

The service was a blessing. I preached from Psalm 119:9-16 - "How to Clean Up Your Life." I am still getting adjusted to preaching to a new congregation on a weekly basis. And it has been somewhat difficult for me in making some adjustments. But time will fix that. Likewise, after next week, I will not be getting up to preach on Wednesday after getting off a plane. My body is worn out. I can really feel it when I was preaching last night.

I am quickly falling in love with Shiloh Church. I am meeting a lot of loving people who are embracing me so warmly. I know that it doesn't have to be this way. I am very grateful.

I got totally lost on my way home from church last night. It took me an hour, with much help, to make it to the house. I found my little GPS gadget in one of the boxes this morning. Hopefully, this won't happen again.

Last night was my first night in our new home. I passed out as soon as I laid down.

Crystal and the kids are on their way here today. They have an afternoon flight and will get in this evening. Please remember them in your prayers that the Lord would grant them safe passage here.

Thanks, again, for all of your prayers, acts of kindness, and encouragements during this time of transition in our lives. God bless.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

H.B. & Lido's Excellent Adventure

Our dog Lido and I are on our way to Jacksonville. I will be traveling most of the day and should arrive in Jacksonville this afternoon, God willing. This is Lido's first trip anywhere, besides the vet. For Trey's sake, for God's sake, pray that Lido makes it safely to Jacksonville.

Tonight, I plan to continue the study of Psalm 119 I began last week's Midweek Service. The message will cover the second stanza (Beth) of the psalm - verses 9-16. I have labeled the message, "How to Clean Up Your Life." May the Lord richly bless the worship of the saints and the ministry of the word.

Tonight will be my first night in our new residence, if the Lord is merciful to me in my travels today. Our possessions made it to Jacksonville this past Saturday, praise God. So I expect to walk into the door to be greeted by a mountain of boxes.

Crystal and the kids have doctor appointments today, along with some last minute packing to do and errands to run. They are scheduled to travel to Jacksonville tomorrow.

It is only Wednesday, but I am already wiped out. I am still recovering from this past weekend. And the past several days have been filled with various "last" and "final" experiences. Honestly, I am spent. Yet there is work ahead of me. So I press on. God is faithful. And I am excited about the new assignment God has given to me to serve the Shiloh Church.

Thanks for your prayers. Don't stop now!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Notes from My Final Weekend @ MSMBC

Thank you for praying for me, my family, and Mt Sinai this weekend. The Lord blessed us. It was a long, busy, special weekend. There was a lot of laughter. A lot of tears. A lot of hugs. A lot of pictures. And a lot of farewells. Not good byes. Just farewell for now.

This week, my family and I will be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, to begin a in earnest my new pastorate at the Shiloh Church. But I do not believe I would be able to making this transition and follow the Lord's leading to this new assignment without the prayerful, grace-filled, and encouraging way Mt. Sinai sent us away with their love. I owe Mt. Sinai a great debt that cannot be measured, much less repaid. The wonderful saints of this great congregation are my family. And I love them. I will miss them. And I won't stop praying for them.

Thank you, Mt. Sinai, for being you. I am very proud of you. The Lord has done great things in us and through us. And you still have every reason to embrace dreams that are infinitely greater than our wonderful memories!

Saturday afternoon, there was a luncheon to give us an opportunity to fellowship outside of a corporate worship service. It was well attended by both MSMBC members and well-wishers. And it was great to have the opportunity to chat with members and take a lot of pictures. (Hey, send us some of those pictures! You know who you are.) Admittedly, I did not think it was a good idea to have the luncheon. I protested, but the staff insisted. And I am so glad they ignored my objections and went on with their plans. The luncheon was a very encouraging time for me and my family and the church.

Pastor Iverson spoke from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. I appreciate the sacrifice he made to be with us for the luncheon.

Many of our family members came to worship with us. I was glad to have them there for our final services at Mt. Sinai.

For better than ten years, I have dismissed our congregation from worship services by announcing  God's blessings on the congregation with the words of the Aaronic Benediction recorded in Numbers 6. I chose this text, verses 22-27, for my final message. I entitled the message, "A Great Blessing for a New Beginning."

I was prepared to preach. But I was bracing myself for the possibility that I would not be able to great through the material I had prepared. I think I got out the heart of what was needed to say.

I preached hard both services.

I think everyone was spent after the second morning service. I really did not expect many to return for the afternoon service. And, frankly, I was not going to hold it against them if they did not come. It had already been a very taxing weekend But the congregation came out in a great way for the closing service. And it was a good time of worship and fellowship, even as the tears flowed.

My pastor, Dr. Melvin Wade, preached the afternoon service. Oddly, he started preaching and did not call a text or give a title. He just plunged into the story of the providential workings that separated Jacob and Laban. For most of the sermon, which was only about 20 minutes, I sat there wondering where Pas was going with this. I was also riveted as I watched Pas work through this handwritten manuscript, as he preached this text and sermon for the first time. Finally, he got the the end of the story, where Jacob and Laban part ways for the last time. He then asked, "What should we say at a time like this, as the Lord sends H.B. away from us?" He answered with the words of Genesis 31:49: "May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another." (NKJV).

Again, we took a lot of pictures. I will post some of them over the course of this week.

I grabbed my things and was finally ready to go home for the day. But when I crossed the street to leave, there was a small group standing outside the church. Crystal had started them reminiscing. And by the time I made it across the street, they were ready for impersonations. Boastfully, I claimed how "blessed" I was to pastor there for almost 18 years without one credible impersonation. I guess I spoke 20 minutes too soon. Funny.

The Dallas Cowboys stomped on the Green Bay Packers 27-16. My team is now 3-0.

The Jacksonville Jaguars snatched victory out of the claws of defeat with a last minute field goal to beat the Indiapolis Colts 23-21. What's going on with the Colts?

Sunday marked another bittersweet farewell. My favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, played their final game at Yankee Stadium, where they have played since 1923. The team will move across the street next season to play in a brand new, billion dollar stadium. The House That Ruth Built will be demolished. A park with be erected in its place.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Final Weekend @ Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church

This is a pretty big weekend for me. It is to be my last Sunday services with my beloved congregation at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church.

Several events will mark this celebration. A luncheon is scheduled for this afternoon, which will give us an opportunity to fellowship with one another outside of the formal setting of a worship service. Dr. R.A. Williams, pastor of the McCoy Memorial Baptist Church of Los Angeles, was scheduled to speak. But he is not feeling and will not be able to attend. Please remember him in your prayers. Tuesday, we asked Dr. A.D. Iverson of the Paradise Baptist Church to speak. He gracious consented. I am grateful and honored that he accepted our invitation. Pastor Iverson was one of the (four) speakers during my installation services almost eighteen years ago. I still carry his message, "Don't Knock the Rock," from Numbers 20, with me to this day.

Sunday, we will celebrate sixty-six years of God's faithfulness to and through MSMBC. Mt. Sinai has had three pastors. And the Lord has blessed MSMBC to be an "epicenter" church, that has a vast, great influence for the kingdom of God. Sunday morning, we will join in praise to God for all that he has done in us, through us, and for us - through Jesus Christ. And we will pray God's continued blessings on the church.

Of course, Sunday's services will be bittersweet, in that it will be my last Sunday with the church before I move to my new assignment in Jacksonville. I pray the Lord will help me to preach his word with faithfulness and clarity.

Sunday afternoon will be our final service. Several guests and colleagues will be with us. And my pastor, Dr. Melvin Wade, and the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church family, will be with us. Pastor is scheduled to bring the message.

If and when we cross your mind this weekend, please whisper a prayer for God's blessings on our behalf.

God bless.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Personal Devotions

What are personal devotions?
Personal devotions are intentional appointments in which you spend private time with God. Scripture warns us not to neglect the corporate meetings of God’s people (Heb. 10:24-25). But your faith will be shallow and your growth will be stunted if you only pay attention to God during public, corporate gatherings. In fact, you may need to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith if you have no desire for God outside of attending church services. After all, salvation is not just “fire insurance.” It involves a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And with all healthy and growing relationship, you must invest time into it. Call it personal or private devotions. Call it a quiet time. Call it what you want. You ought to spend time with God – just you and God.

Why are personal devotions important?
The best reason I can give you for having devotional times with God is the fact that Jesus did. There were times when Jesus would get up early in the morning, before daybreak, and steal away to some desolate place to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42). And if Jesus – the incarnate, eternal, and only-begotten Son of God – found it necessary to spend private time with God, who are we to think that we can navigate our faith walk without spending time with God? Beyond that, spending time with God will build your faith, help you to resist temptation, and provide spiritual wisdom for life. The spiritual benefits of personal devotions are great, diverse, and numerous. But James 4:8a may say it best: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (ESV)

When should I have my devotional time?
Let me answer that two ways. First, you should have a devotional time everyday. Consider the things in your life that you do not go a day without? Eating? Television? Surfing the web? Talking on the phone? Reading the newspaper? There are many things – some good and edifying and necessary, some not – that are a part of our daily routines. It just shouldn’t be that you do many things every day, but only spend quiet time with God once or twice a week. You should put on your schedule a quiet time with God every day.

Secondly, you should have your devotional time in the morning. This is not a hard and fast rule. And there are many for who deem it better to have their quiet time in the evening. Or late at night. That’s fine. But for must of us, it is probably best that do our quiet time in the morning. Most of us are more refreshed and focused in the morning. Having it in the morning also helps to prevent your quiet time from being squeezed off the agenda at the end of a long day. It also seems to be appropriate to begin your day by checking in with God.

What should I do during my devotional time?
I recommend that your devotional time should focus on two essential disciplines: Bible intake and prayer. By Bible “intake” I mean more than just Bible reading. But Bible reading should be primary. Get a plan to read through the Bible in a year. Or read through particular books of the Bible. Or read an Old Testament and New Testament passage. The plan is up to you. But you should be constantly taking in the scriptures. This includes meditating (thinking deliberately about a scripture to gain personal application) on what you read and memorizing specific passages of scripture.

Likewise, your quiet time should be spent in prayer. You should worship God and give thanks to him for his blessings to you. You should confess your sins to God and ask for his forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. You should bring your needs to him, seek his wisdom, and submit to his will. You should pray for others – family and friends, your church family, the lost, the sick and grieving. In fact, you should start a prayer journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. It can be a simple as getting a notebook to list the people and things you are praying for and the ways God is answering your prayers. This would greatly aide your personal devotions.

Now, there are many other helps I could recommend. But I think it is best that you view most other resources and practices as secondary to prayer and scripture intake. I will make one exception. It might help to also have a hymnal at hand during your devotions. Rather than just listening to CD’s of other people singing to God, you should get a Christian songbook and sing to the Lord in your quiet times with him.

What now?
In closing, let me appeal to take several action steps in response to what your have read above. 

1. Make a commitment to start having personal devotions. Don’t think about having a quiet time. Don’t pray about making time for prayer. Don’t read on reading the Bible. Just do it! Make a commitment today to begin a quiet time with God.

2. Start now. There is really nothing holding you back. Set a time tomorrow to begin a quiet time with God. Put it on your calendar or schedule. Set your clock. Get your Bible, pen, and notebook handy. And start a quiet time immediately, if not sooner. Don’t give yourself time to make excuses for not doing it. Start now. Smart small, lest you set yourself up for failure. But start now.

3. Be prepared for resistance. The devil will do whatever he can to stop your personal devotions. The world will lure you with many enticements and distractions to keep you having your quiet or making it a priority. And your own flesh (or fallen, sinful humanness) will resist the development of this spiritual discipline. Even your blankets will attack you, when you try to get up 20 minutes earlier than usual to have your devotional time. Be aware. Be ready. Be persistent.

4. Make yourself accountable to somebody. Like with many things, it may help you to establish this new discipline if make yourself accountable to someone. Share your new commitment with someone who will pray for you, encourage you, and take interest in how you are progressing. Remember, two are better than one (Eccl. 4:9-12).

5. Don’t give up. There may be a day (or days) where you miss your quiet time. Don’t let the since of failure cause you to give up totally. Just start over. If the Lord lets you live another day, then begin again where you left off. The Christian life is a series of new beginnings. So don’t be discouraged by failures.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why Psalm 119?

I am on my way to Jacksonville to preach the midweek worship service at Shiloh Church . God willing, I will begin a series of messages tonight on the Mt. Everest of the Psalms - Psalm 119. My plan is to preach through the 176 verses of this psalm stanza by stanza (or 8 verses at a time).

I preached through Psalm 119 a couple of years ago at MSMBC, during our midweek services. And my faith and ministry were greatly enriched by the personal study and public teaching of this wonderful celebration of God's supernatural word. And I have chosen to preach through it again during these opening months of my ministry at Shiloh.

I acknowledge that the decision to preach through Psalm 119 now is a somewhat interesting. Maybe even weird. I am still getting my "sea legs" under me, as it relates to preaching at Shiloh. I have not really settled into the new pulpit the Lord has given me. There are so many new dynamics to get used to. I haven't really started getting used to preaching to them. And they haven't started getting used to listening to me.

And even though I have been doing some preaching there on Wednesday nights, I know that I am in for another culture shock when my work begin in earnest next week and I take on my Sunday morning preaching duties. As it relates to Sundays, I do not intend to begin an exposition of a book until sometime in 2009. I need some time to feel my way through a little bit, as it relates to my preaching and teaching. (What can I say? I have been preaching to the same congregation for the past 17 years). And Psalm 119 is called the Mt. Everest of the Psalms for a reason. It's hard work - both for the preacher and the hearer. So why Psalm 119? Now? On Wednesday nights?

Here are several answers to that question.

    1. I love Psalm 119. Period.

    2. Without sounding mystical or anything, I prayed about what the Lord would have me to preach on Wednesday nights. And the Lord begin to place Psalm 119 on my heart and mind. So, what can I say? Beggars can't be choosers.

    3. I want to make a statement - to myself, to Shiloh, and to the lost people who may visit Shiloh during the opening months of my pastorate. I want to fire the first shot , so to speak, and make it clear that my "vision" for the church is to glorify God by nurturing a biblically-functioning community of believers. I want us to be people of the book. The Book. Simply I want to obey the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to make disciples that think and act biblically. And preaching through Psalm 119 seemed to be a great way to formally state my pastoral agenda.

    4. As I begin this new assignment, with much fear and trembling, my own soul needs to be both challenged and comforted by the message of Psalm 119: The word of God is wholly sufficient to save the lost, edify the saints, lead the church, comfort the troubled, change the world. Oh yeah, and take care of the preacher! If the word of God is not true, then my life has been wasted. And if I cannot (or foolishly choose not to) trust in the sufficiency of God's word as I move from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, I am doomed. But with so firm foundation that we have in the word,I know that I should not worry about tomorrow. I just desperately need God to help me to simply be a man and preach the word, trusting the power of God's word to change lives (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

So please pray for me as I take my first steps up "Mt Everest" again tonight. Pray that the Lord will help me to preach with faithfulness and clarity. And that the Lord will prepare the hearts of the hearers to receive the word of God (James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1-3). Pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will be exalted as the word of God is proclaimed. And pray that minds will be renewed, souls will be converted, and lives will be changed by the supernatural power of the word of God.

A Picture of Me and the Guys

I have often mentioned the Church Council of MSMBC on this blog. Here is a picture of me and the guys that I received this evening. It was taken on the occasion of my 15th pastoral anniversary at Mt. Sinai. These men have served with me throughout the years. And it has been one of the great joys of my life to shepherd MSMBC alongside these godly men. My friends. My brothers.

From left to right: Anthony, Charles, Phil, John, H.B., Todd, Richey, Harry, & Marcellus.

A hat tip to Venus for the picture.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Preaching and Clock-Watching

There was a time when churches placed clocks and bells in the steeples of their buildings, and they would "ring the alarm" for the community when it was time for corporate worship or prayer. Now churches place clocks on the back wall to make sure the pastor does not preach too long. After all, there are many other edifying things people need to do Sundays, aren't there? They do not need to be in worship so long that it interrupts the other important plans for they day that they have made, do they?

During the days of the Puritans, the preacher would be given an hour-glass to be placed on the pulpit. And the congregation would give him a couple of turns of the hour-glass to complete his sermon. That was then. This is now. Now, the preacher, as they say, only has about thirty minutes to raise the dead. The contemporary church has learned to be more timely. This is a good thing. But many have also inadvertently developed congregations who have a drive-thru mindset about corporate worship and a microwave oven attitude toward the ministry of the word. This is definitely not a good thing.

I have wrestled with this matter in my own preaching over the years. Admittedly, I can be longwinded at times. Most of the time, it seems. But, believe it or not, I am always sensitive about the time factor in my preaching. And I have become somewhat anxious about it again as I begin a new assignment. Basically, my struggles with this issue reveals that I still have a lot of growing to do as a preacher. Ultimately, there is no morality attached to the length of a sermon. A good sermon can be long or short. And a bad sermon can be long or short.

Here is the (biggest) burden that weighs me down as it relates to this subject. The world gets my people all week long. TV. Music. Movies. Book. Magazines. The Internet. You name it. And we as pastors get our people once a week, in most instances. It just feels odd that the goal of the meetings where you have a prime opportunity to teach and preach the word of God to your people would be brevity. Just like healthy Christians, healthy churches need to spend time in the word of God.

There is another reason why this has been on my mind today. I read this morning an article by John F. MacArthur in Pulpit Magazine's blog. It is adapted from the book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. The entire book is worth your read, brother preachers. But click here for a good introduction to the book and the subject of sermon length, as Dr. MacArthur addresses it from the perspective of a serious and faithful Bible expositor.

Nurturing Flowers & Growing Weeds

We have a natural tendency to slip back into our old sinful ways. I have a natural tendency to do what's wrong. But then I have a supernatural tendency to do what's right.

We can compare our tendencies to a flower and a weed. A weed is like our old natures - that part of us that doesn't want to obey God. The flower is like our new natures. My wife loves to plant flowers. She tends them and cares for them. She puts snail repellent down, picks any weeds that get even remotely close, fertilizes them, and watches over them. But I've noticed a rather strange phenomenon. In the same time it takes for that beautiful little flower to grow two inches, a new weed bursts through some crack in the street and grows about eighteen feet high! How much nurturing did the weed need? None.

Like the fragile flower, the new nature needs nurturing. It needs encouraging. As believers we need to do the things that build us up spiritually. The old nature, however, needs little or no encouragement. If we neglect spiritual growth, we will be shocked by how quickly and easily we can be pulled in the wrong direction. - Greg Laurie, The God of the Second Chance, p. 61

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 09/14/08

Thank you to all of you who have been praying for me and my family, especially over the course of this weekend. But I am still needy and greedy for your prayers. Please don't stop praying for us now.

I did not sleep well last night. But I did not feel tired at any point today. God will give you strength!

Again, there were quite a few guests in worship with us today - including first- and second-time guests. This is very encouraging.

The choir was off the hook today. I was really blessed by the song service. I had to keep my composure so that I would be able to preach.

I preached the closing doxology in the Epistle of Jude (verses 24-25). I labeled the sermon, "The God who is On Guard." I sought to make two big points today about the God who is guard: (1) God is able (v. 24); (2) God is worthy (v. 25).

For the second week in a row, this was not what I intended to preach. Again, I intended to preach from Matthew - the message that I did not preach last week. I must conclude that it is not meant to be for me to preach that Matthew sermon. God knows what he is doing.

All of my books and files are on their way to Jacksonville. And when I had to look some things up this morning, I had to use the Bible software I have on my computer. It was frustrating. Apparently, I am not the geek that I thought I was. I want my books!

Today will begin a week-long 24-hour prayer vigil at MSMBC. Members have signed up for at least 15 minute intervals to be praying for the church every day this week. May the Lord help you to be diligent to your assigned prayer times.

I am very proud of Mt. Sinai (3 John 4). The prayerfulness, maturity, unity, and kindness with which the congregation is responding to this time of transition is remarkable. Admittedly, these days have not been easy for any of us. But the Lord has been dynamically-present and actively in-charge. And so far, MSMBC has proven to be and do all that I know is in them. I pray and trust that they will continue to do a great work for God in the next season of their ministry life.

Crystal, Hailey and I had lunch with my pastor and his family this afternoon. We went out for burgers! Cool.

H.B. and Natalie ditched us to go to a birthday party. Typical.

The Jacksonville Jaguars lost 20-16 to the Buffalo Bills to go 0-2 for the season, which is the first time the "cats" have been off to such a slow start since 1993. But who's counting?

Will anyone dare pick the Eagles over the Cowboys in tomorrow's Monday Night Football game?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coming Home to a Cold Reality

As I was making my way to my connecting flight home this morning, my phone rang. It was Crystal. She was overwhelmed as she watched the movers pack and load up our possessions to transport them to Jacksonville. I didn't know what to say. So I prayed. And I recommended that Crystal go out for a couple of hours, so that she wouldn't have to watch them moving our things out.

I arrived home several hours ago, with a message to pick up a car rental. Another does of reality. Our cars are gone and on their way to Jacksonville.

When I arrived home, I walked into an empty house. My mind went back to the day we first saw this house, and the rather large family that occupied it. I also remembered moving into this house as first-time homeowners. It was a good, special time for us.

Seeing it empty again was strange. Same house. But in many ways its so different. It has the feel of the place that has been home to us for more than four years. Yet it feels so empty. It is empty. Literally. Another dose of reality.

There are many memories here.

The competing emotions that I am having right now have left me numb.

Please continue to remember me and my family in your prayers during these days of transition.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Final Note from a Grateful Pastor

Following is the final article I wrote for our monthly newsletter at MSMBC:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:3-6 (ESV)

These inspired words from the Apostle Paul to the saints at Philippi have come to my mind often lately. As you know, I will conclude my tenure as your pastor this month. But as this season of our life and ministry together comes to an end, I want you to know that you will always be in my heart, on my mind, and in my prayers. We are family. Neither time can erase nor can distance weaken the special bond that we share.

It has been my privilege to serve the Lord as the pastor of Mt. Sinai for almost eighteen years, following my father’s four decades of service to this church. I have been a part of this congregation all of my life. And a major stage of my development as a man, believer, and gospel preacher has taken place here in the context of this congregation’s life. While I’ve had broad doors of opportunity opened for me to minister beyond MSMBC over the years, my focus has remained narrowly set on the health, growth, and fruitfulness of Mt. Sinai.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, Paul writes: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” These words really do reflect my thoughts and feelings toward you. Consequently, the process of being called away from you to a new assignment has been painful; miserable may be a better word. But God has been faithful, as always, and as the days have passed, my grief has been replaced with gratitude. So I want to use this final note in our monthly newsletter to say to you, “Thank you.”

First, thank you for the investments you have made in my spiritual development. As your pastor, it has been my job to develop you to spiritual maturity. But in more ways than you can ever know, the Lord has used you to nurture me as well. Your prayers, encouragement, questions, challenges, counsel, partnership, and faith have served to build me up in Christlikeness. Any human credit for whatever is good about me belongs to you. Thank you.

I also want to thank you for the love you have shown my family. I began my pastorate as a single man and when I decided to marry, I was determined that my story not repeat some of the sad stories I have heard. So I warned and encouraged you to treat Crystal with love. My formula was simple: I will take care of you, Crystal will take care of me, and you will take care of Crystal. I am grateful for how you have more than lived up to your end of the bargain. Your care for Crystal, H.B. (III), Natalie, and Hailey has been an unspeakable blessing, for which I will be forever grateful.

Thank you, as well, for providing the resources needed for a successful ministry. As I have studied to show myself approved before God, you have made sure that I had the tools I needed to rightly handle the word of truth. My staff – George, Scharmaine, TaVon, and Donald – has made me look good when I have been in over my head. Our Church Council has faithfully shared the pastoral load. The ministry leaders have gone about their work with quiet devotion and built up this congregation with their labors. You have been the easiest church to pastor that I know. I am grateful.

I must also thank you for following my leadership without complaint or contention. There have been times when you did not have a clue what direction I was going. Frankly, sometimes I didn’t know either! Sometimes the Lord would lead me forward, without giving me the details on what was ahead and you have always followed me as I followed Christ. The best and most obvious example is our relocation to the facilities on 54th Street. This was a huge step of faith for us and many were concerned about how we would manage it. Yet even when you disagreed, you did so without being rebellious or causing disunity. Because of your devotion, I am confident that the best is yet to come. Praise God!

Finally, thank you for your maturity these past weeks. I know that this has been a difficult time – some of you are still in shock, others are still grieving, and some are downright angry. Believe me, I understand. Yet, you have remained supportive, faithful, prayerful, and encouraging to my family and me. These are all evidences of your maturity as a church. It gives me great confidence in the future for you and, simply, it makes me happy to see you continue to be the good people I know you are. As 3 John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

Ultimately, I thank God for his goodness, greatness, and graciousness toward me. And I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. You have been an unspeakable blessing in my life. My prayer for you remains the same: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Always your friend and brother,
H.B. Charles Jr.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What God begins, God Finishes

This past Sunday, I preached from one of my favorite verses of the Bible. Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." My goal for the message was to remind the church of the unwavering faithfulness of God to his accomplish his divine purpose in the believer's life and in the life of the local church.

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message:

Title: "The Preservation of the Saints"

Text: Philippians 1:6

Theme: The preservation of the saints

Point: The security of the church rests in the faithfulness of God.


I. Our Salvation: You can trust God to accomplish the good work he has begun for you.

    A. Your good works cannot save you.

    B. We are saved by the work that God has done for us through Christ.

II. Our Sanctification: You can trust God to accomplish the good work he has begun in you.

    A. You are not all that God would have you to be in Christ (Phil. 3:13-14).

    B. God is at work in your to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:12-13).

III. Our Service: You can trust God to accomplish the good work he has begin through you.

    A. The perseverance of the saints (Phil. 1:5)

    G. The preservation of the saints (Phil. 1:6)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 09/07/08

Sleep evaded me Saturday night. And when it was time for me to get moving Sunday morning, I was sluggish - mentally and physically. It was one of those mornings when everything was moving in slow motion. But it's nothing like getting to church to get your motor running!

Over the past several weeks, there have been quite a few first- and second-time guests in our morning worship services. There has also been a number of former members who have returned to worship with us for the last time. Cool.

Gloria E. did an excellent job leading the opening congregational singing. Praise God for her service.

I led the Lord's Supper for the last time as pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. My mind drifted to that fact several times in both services, but I was able to stay focused with God's help.

I preached from one of my favorite verses of the Bible, Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." I labeled the messaged, "The Preservation of the Saints."

This was not the message I had planned to preach. I worked on a text from Matthew all week. And this sermon from Philippians hit me about 9 pm Saturday night. So I reviewed it some before I went to bed and then again when I woke up. I was a little thrown off. But, oh well, beggars can't be choosers.

Funniest moment of the day: Phil's Bible disappeared from the front row in the middle of the 10 AM worship service. It reappeared after church.

I announced to the church that the Church Council has agreed to present George E. Hurtt as its sole pastoral candidate in a meeting scheduled for September 29.

George Hurtt has been a member of MSMBC for about seven years. And George has worked on our staff as my pastoral assistant for about three years now. It was been a great privilege to watch his development over these years. He is a man of integrity, is committed to sound doctrine, a strong, growing preacher, a skilled leader, and he loves Mt. Sinai. God's hand is evidently on this young man's life. Although this process has gone in a direction that none of us expected, I am absolutely convinced that George would do a great job as pastor of Mt. Sinai. Over the next several weeks, please pray for George, the Church Council, and the membership of MSMBC, as they prepare to make an important decision about who God would have to lead the congregation in the next season of its ministry.

One more piece of big news: The Dallas Cowboys win!!! Cowboys 28 - Browns 10. 1-0 for the seasojavascript:void(0)n, if you're counting (and I am!).

By the way, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost their opening game of the season yesterday, 10-17, to the Tennessee Titans (who lost Vince Young during the game). But who's counting?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Family - 09/07/08

A picture of the family after church this morning.

The Valley of Vision

Besides my Bible and my journal, there is one book that I keep in my bag all the time. It's a book of Puritan prayers and devotions entitled, The Valley of Vision. In fact, it is my custom to read from it daily - at least one or two prayers. Reading from this devotional reminds me of the greatness of God. It also reminds me of how much I need to grow and beckons me to draw closer to the Lord. I recommend that you pick up a copy of Valley. You can find it through The Banner of Truth Trust. Here is the first and my favorite of the prayers in this little treasure chest. It's called, "The Valley of Vision."

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
    where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
    hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
    that the way down is the way up,
    that to be low is to be high,
    that the broken heart is the healed heart,
    that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
    that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
    that to have nothing is to possess all,
    that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
    that to give is to receive,
    that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
    and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
    thy life in my death,
    thy joy in my sorrow,
    thy grace in my sin,
    thy riches in my poverty,
    thy glory in my valley.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tired & Grateful

Two thoughts and feelings consume me right now: (1) I am very tired; (2) I am very grateful.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Celebration of Spiritual Unity

This past Sunday, I preached on Psalm 133. It is one of the great psalms of the Psalter. And it is addresses one of the important subjects of the Christian life: spiritual unity.

For the record, I love the psalms. Like many Christians, the psalms sustain my devotional life through its various seasons. I find preaching the psalms to be difficult, but rewarding. It forces me to plunge deeper into these great hymns of faith.

Psalm 133 addresses the subject of spiritual unity in an interesting fashion. It is not a song, but a sermon. In it, David does not preach, he praises. And this song celebrates the wonderful blessings of spiritual unity.

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message.

Title: "A Celebration of Spiritual Unity"

Text: Psalm 133

Theme: In praise of spiritual unity

Point: God blesses his children when they live together in spiritual unity.

Introduction: The ascription of Psalm 133 reads: "A Song of Ascents. Of David." This title introduces us to this psalm by making two foundational points:

    * "A Song of Ascents": Spiritual unity is essential to true worship.

    * "Of David": True godliness is essential to true godliness.


I. Celebrate the nature of spiritual unity (133:1).

    A. Behold: When God's people are united, it demands attention.

    B. Brothers: In Christ, we are family.

    C. Unity: We should live in unity, not mere uniformity

    D. Dwell: Spiritual unity is a Christian lifestyle, not a special event.

    E. Good and pleasant: This is the nature of spiritual unity.

       1. Some things are good, but not pleasant. Other things are pleasant but not good. Spiritual unity is both good and pleasant.

       2. Consider the inverse: "Behold, how bad and disturbing it is when brothers do not dwell together in unity."

          * Good: the objective reality of spiritual unity

          * Pleasant: the subjective reality of spiritual unity

II. Celebrate the source of spiritual unity (133:2-3a).

    A. The point of these two pictures is that spiritual unity is sent down, not worked up.

    B. These two pictures teach us two things about God-sent unity:

        1. God produces unity to consecrate his people (v. 2).

        2. God provides unity to refresh his people (v. 3a).

III. Celebrate the benefits of spiritual unity (133:3b).

    A. There: Ultimately, this refers to wherever God's children dwell together in unity.

    B. The Lord commanded the blessing: Blessings are the result of sovereign prerogative, not human discretion.

    C. The blessing: We should focus on the better blessings

    D. Life: Life itself is a gift to be thankful for.

    E. Life forevermore: The greatest blessing of all is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 08/31/08

Happy Labor Day!

Congratulations to L. Daniel Williams, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Pastor of the Baptist Church of the New Covenant, and his new bride, Jacqueline Williams, who were married this pastor Saturday at the West Angeles COGIC. I was privileged to announce the closing benediction.

Sunday was the culmination of a long, busy week. I was (am) totally wiped out. It was one of the weeks when I wished I had a few more days before Sunday. But I was able to complete my work for Sunday and was ready to preach. Praise God.

It was my desire to preach on spiritual unity. And I chose to take Psalm 133 as my text. I labeled the message, "A Celebration of Spiritual Unity."

I am encouraged and grateful for how patient MSMBC has been with my preaching over the past several weeks.

We emphasize missions on fifth Sundays at MSMBC. Yesterday, this emphasis included a testimony from Pastor George Hurtt gave a testimony about his recent short-term missions trip to Haiti. For the second year, a group of local pastors have gone to Haiti to train leaders for pastoral leadership. They have longterm plans to see these men through their process of development and assist in the planting of new churches in Haiti. Pray for this work.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the pastoral installation service for my friend, Xavier Thomas, who is assuming the leadership of Southern Missionary Baptist Church. Xavier is several years younger than I am. And we were both "boy preachers" back in the day. It is great to see that the Lord has blessed him to take the help of one of the great churches of Los Angeles.

Pastor Joe L. Gates, who has led Southern Church for some thirty years, was moved last year to select a successor and present him to the church. The Lord place Pastor Thomas on his heart and the congregation received him unanimously. Praise God for this smooth transition. And please continue to pray for this church.

Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of the Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood brought the installation message. I have heard Pastor Ulmer many times. But I do not know if I have heard him any better that the message yesterday. It was a challenge to both the pastor and the congregation to embrace the spiritual implications of pastoral leadership.

Please remember in your prayers those who are in the path of Hurricane Gustav.

Likewise, Hurrican Hanna has formed today in the Atlantic. It is predicted to hit the U.S. sometime midweek or so. Pray!