Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Day Service at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church

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

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

God bless. And happy new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seven Sins of Dying Churches

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

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

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

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

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

    Sin 3. Failure to be relevant

    Sin 4. Few outwardly focused ministries

    Sin 5 conflict over personal preferences

    Sin 6. The priority of comfort

    Sin 7. Biblical illiteracy

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Prayer of Agur

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

Title: "The Wise Prayer of a Weak Man"

Text: Proverbs 30:7-9

Theme: A pray for a Godward life

Point: Wise people confront their spiritual weaknesses through prayer.

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

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

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

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

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


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

    A. The request

       1. Remove far from me falsehood

       2. Remove far from me lying

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

    A. The request (v. 8)

       1. Do not give me poverty.

       2. Do not give me riches.

    B. The reason (v.9)

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Notes from the Last Sunday in 2008

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

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

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

 Microphones and monitors. Argh!!!

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

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

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

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

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

    5. Pray for the spiritual health of SMBC.

    6. Pray for the spiritual leaders of our congregation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Minister's Preaching

My Master God,

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

My First Christmas in Jacksonville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The "spirit of sleep" overtook me."

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

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

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

Bah humbug!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

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

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Visited Planet

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 12/21/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Crystal!!!

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

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

Happy birthday Sunshine!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Prayer Request for a Long Day

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

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

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

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

Way cool.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a man be more blessed?

Happy anniversary Sunshine!!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Spiritual Burnout

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 12/07/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Learn about Jesus!

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Text: Psalm 119:73-80

Theme: Praying with confidence in God's word

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


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

    A. God is sovereign (v. 73)

    B. God is able (v. 74)

    C. God is good (v. 75)

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

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

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

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

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

    A. Pray for the ungodly (v. 78)

    B. Pray for the godly (v. 79)

    C. Pray for yourself (v. 80)

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

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

Pray for us.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Leading the Way Jesus Led

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

The God of the Wayward Child

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

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

Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message:

Title: "The God of the Wayward Child"

Text: Luke 15:11-24

Series: Lost People Matter to God (Luke 15)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A. The father freely restored his wayward son.

    B. The father joyfully restored his wayward son.

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

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

George's Sermons Are Online

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

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

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

click here for to access George's messages.

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