Thursday, January 29, 2009

Seeing Beyond The Obvious

During the 1870 annual conference of the Methodists of Indiana, the president of the college where the group met began to talk about the exciting age they were living in. The presiding bishop asked, “What do you see?” The college president responded, “I believe we are coming into a great time of inventions. I believe, for example, that men will fly through the air like birds.” The bishop said, “This is heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We will have no such talk here.”

Thank God the bishop’s sons, Wilbur and Orville Wright, did not share their father’s narrow vision.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If You Can Keep From Preaching, Do It!

Last week, I had a conversation with a friend who is seeking to discern whether the Lord is calling him to pastoral or pulpit ministry. As he discussed it with me, he noted that he had mentioned this matter to me several times before without comment from me. He was right. I hadn't responded. And I sensed that he was waiting on a response this time. So I prayed an emergency prayer to God about what to say. And what came to my mind is what my father said to me some twenty years ago about whether I should continue in the ministry: "If you can keep from preaching, do it."

I was about fifteen years old. And my father had given me the opportunity to preach his 11 AM service. I remember two things about that sermon. It was the hardest I had ever worked on a sermon. It was also the first time I received direct criticism about my preaching. First from my dad. As he made his pastoral remarks, he reminded the congregation of our afternoon fellowship with a sister church. And informed them (and me) that I would be preaching the afternoon service. He then promised that I would not preach that long in the afternoon service. This was his only comment about my sermon. Ouch. Right after service, one of my dad's associates was first to greet me. He told me how "long-winded" I had become (a polite term used for those who speak too long, I guess). Double-ouch. Then, as I sat in my dad's study after service, my sister ran in to kiss my cheek. She said she would see me in the next service, and apologized for rushing out, but she was in a hurry because I had preached so long. Triple-ouch. And strike three.

In comparison to the criticisms I have received about my preaching in subsequent years, this was nothing. Absolutely nothing. But these remarks knocked me off my feet that day. And though I was able to preach that afternoon service, I was swallowed up in a black hole of discouragement the next several days. I couldn't eat or sleep. And I would stay up at night, reading, praying, and crying.

One of those nights, my father came into the front room and heard me crying. He demanded to know what was wrong. I told him about what happened and how I felt about it. And I concluded that I didn't know if I wanted to preach any more. When I finished my rant, my father said he understood and that he would not sit up with me all night. "The only advice I'll give you is this," he said as he got up to head back to bed. "If you can keep from preaching, do it."


He continued, "If preaching is something that you can get into and out of when you want to, it's a sign that the Lord did not really call you. So if you can choose whether you are going to preach or not, I recommend that you don't preach."

That was all he said. He then turned and disappeared into the darkness of the hallway as he went back to his room.

I was angry at how seemingly unconcerned my father was. I was also surprised at how his advice (or non-advice) was exactly what I needed to hear. By the Lord's gracious help, I was able to pull myself together. And I continued to preach. And I am still preaching twenty years later, to the glory of God.

By the look on my friend's face, I am not sure he found my father's advice to be very helpful. But it definitely helped me. Again. As I wrestle with frustrations over my need to grow as a preacher, and as I face that challenges of my new pastoral assignment, I need to be reminded that my calling is not my choice. I keep preaching because I do not have a choice. And as I approach my twenty-fifth anniversary as a preacher of the gospel in a few months, I pray that I will never have a choice in the matter. May the Lord gracious choose to continue to use me to herald the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

"For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" - 1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

God Uses Weak People

I preached this past Sunday from 2 Corinthians 4:7: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (ESV). I strove to drive home a simple but remarkable point - one of the most important thing I know about Christian ministry - God uses weak people! Here is the sermon skeleton.

Title: "God Uses Weak People."

Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7

Theme: Our weaknesses as a platform for God's power

Point: God Uses Weak People


I. The Reality of our Weaknesses

    A. We are unworthy.

    B. We are dispensable.

    C. We are fragile.

II. The Ramifications of our Weaknesses

    A. The treasure and our sincerity

    B. The treasure and our stewardship

    C. The treasure and our self-worth

III. The Result of our Weaknesses

    A. God's power is transcendent.

    B. God's power is inherent.

    C. God's power is consistent.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 1/25/09

Yesterday was our first Ministry Emphasis Day at Shiloh Church. I had bee preaching on fellowship and service the past few weeks. And we encouraged the members to sign-up for a place of service yesterday. Good day.

I spent my third week on the second lesson of our new members class series: The Doctrine of Salvation. I really enjoy teaching this class. The time is very limited. And I am always in a rush. But it is a great joy to spend this time with new believers and new members of SMBC.

Our youth choir participated in our 10 AM worship service yesterday. I am always greatly encouraged when our young people serve in our corporate assemblies.

I preached on 2 Corinthians 4:7 - "God Uses Weak People." This is one of the most important things I can teach anyone about Christian ministry and service. God does not use us because of how special we are. Rather, God uses weak people so that he alone will get the credit for what he does in and through us.

The preacher who preached on God using weak people yesterday carried the burden of his own weakness as he preached. Divine irony. May the Lord work through and beyond the weakness of his servant.

Praise God for those who were added to the church on yesterday.

After the 10 AM service, many members hung around and browsed the tables to learn more about the various ministries of our church. And as I passed the tables, I saw that many people were signing up for service. To God be the glory!

I met quite of few Shiloh members for the first time after the services. I don't know why I assume that I have met most of the members already. So I was a little surprised. But I am so grateful to have the opportunity to fellowship with the members and hear how God is at work in their lives.

Thank you to all of our staff, ministry leaders and team members who worked diligently to make our first ministry expo a special day. I love you and thank for for your faithful service. Hebrews 6:10.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ray Scott Concert at Shiloh Tonight

One of the young men of Shiloh Church, Ray Scott, will be in concert in our main auditorium tonight at 7 PM. Ray is a faithful member of our congregation, a diligent participant of our music department and worship team, and a gifted and talented singer.

Tonight's concert is in anticipating of ray's upcoming CD release. He will perform music from the upcoming recording, as well as other worship music.

Please pray for tonight's service. If you are able, join us. Or you can watch the concert live through our Streaming Faith feed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reflections on a Year of Blogging - 2008

It's hard for me to believe it. But I have been writing this blog since the summer of 2005. Like many other would-be bloggers, I began a blog... well, just for fun. I did not have a "voice" or cause or message. I just wanted to write. And I can still remember the exasperated look TaVon gave me when I told her to link my blog to the MSMBC website. But several years later, here I am - for better or for worse. I am still writing. In fact, I wrote more posts in 2008 than any other year - exactly 200.

As a new year begins, I thought it would be good to pause and reflect on the past year of writing this blog. You know, a "the best and worst of" kind of thing. Consider...

My new hobby. Sort of. I decided that I needed to develop some hobbies. And I concluded that photography should be one of them. So I bought a little digital camera and starting snapping pictures. Mostly, I took pictures of Crystal and the kids as we were leaving and returning home. My goal was to get in the habit of taking pictures and to get good at it and to start posting pictures once a week. It didn't last long. And I cannot find my camera. Whatever.

The great “Underwear” scandal. It was Father’s Day. And my children bought me presents. The kinds of gifts children typically give their fathers – something we will never use! They bought be underwear. But not just any underwear. Superman underwear. And another pair with pictures of money on it. Go figure. Then they wanted their mom to take a picture. She did. I looked pitiful. And they kids were filled with excitement. And for some reason, I posted it. And the comments came fast and furious. I finally took the picture down. Again, the comments came fast and furious. For the record, the picture was not scandalous. Just kids having fun with their “old man.”

Twitter Comments. I had been hearing about Twitter and finally looked it up. I set up a page and starting writing comments. Then I figured out how to link it to my blog. And it has affected my blog in two ways. First, when I have moments to be online, I make a note on Twitter or Facebook. And I have been neglecting my blog somewhat. Plus, I can update Twitter from my phone. I have to actually be at my computer to update my blog. Secondly, I have found that people are starting to make comments in response to my Twitter updates, independent of the post the comment on. That is why you may read some comments on a post that really seem out of place.

Moderating comments. My blog has always been open for comments. And it was rare that I would read something that I thought should be deleted. Boy did things change in 2008. One comment caused me to close one post from any comments. A first. Then, after I preached at Shiloh for the first time, I thought it was best to start moderating comments. There was nothing bad at first, mostly kind comments that expressed hope that I would return to Jacksonville. But as things progressed, the comments became more direct. And after Shiloh voted, things turned nasty. I even stopped writing for a while. I have now become way more cautious. It has almost taken the fun out of blogging that I have to spend more time moderating comments than actually writing posts.

The deleted post from that Sunday. Most weeks I write "Notes from Sunday," recapping the previous Lord's Day. I did this the week I announced to MSMBC that I had accepted the called to Shiloh. In retrospect, that was not a good idea. Sometime after I wrote the post, Crystal convinced me to get out of the house with her for a while. We had lunch and hung out. And when we returned, I got back on the couch and went to sleep. The phone woke me up. It was Ronald. And his tone was very serious. He said that he couldn't stand to watch me bleed in public and that I should shut my blog down. I didn't get it. Then he told me about the comments that were quickly adding up. After our phone discussion, I went to the blog and read some of the comments for myself. I then erased the post (keeping a hard copy of it for my personal files, of course), shut down comments, and deciding quit writing. I was expressing myself. And I think it was good that I wrote that post. But it was not good that I posted it. Emotions all around were too raw. Another lesson learned.

Missing Notes from Two Special Sundays. By far, two of the most special days in 2008 were my pastoral installation day at SMBC (11/14) and the opportunity I had to speak at George’s installation at MSMBC (12/14). However, I did not write one word about either of these days. For the same reason. In the days following my installation, I was spending time with family and friends who were in town and seeing loved-ones off. By the time I got to my blog, I had mentally moved on to something else. Likewise, after George’s installation, I spent the next several days hanging out with him. And by the time I got home and got to my blog, my mind had moved on to something else. For the record, both events were very special moments for me. And I regret that I did not take the time to share my joy about God’s goodness and faithfulness as demonstrated in those two special events.

My Thursday Article. I decided to write a "serious" post, whatever that means, once a week. And I decided to publish it on Thursdays. And being the creative genius that I am, I thought I'd call it, "My Thursday Article." I think I wrote several interesting posts. But in the upheavals of this year, I was not consistent in writing it. As in my pastoral transition, I was no longer felt comfortable about writing on many of the subjects that I planned to cover. This post marks the resumption of the Thursday Article.

The new tribe of pastoral bloggers. I think it is pretty cool that so many young pastors I know started blogs this past year. However, I have some concerns about the tone and content of some of the things I read. But I guess that's the nature of blogs - free expression. So I will keep my concerns to myself and strive not to let my bad example in writing to contribute to the delinquency of others.

My most controversial post. By far, the most controversial post I wrote this past year was on "Taking Back What the Devil Stole" (4/15/08). But I am not sure why this touched a nerve with so many people. I get a comment about that post once a week. But I choose not to publish most of them. In fact, most weeks I get a comment from someone who has gone back a read that post and has been angered by something in it. For the record, I stand by everything I wrote in that post. If and/or when someone makes a sound biblical argument, I will change my position... with one clarification. I have nothing against praying for deliverance and restoration and spiritual victory in areas of your life. I just don't understand why this is spoken of in terms of taking something back for the devil. I still think this kind of talk just gives the devil way more credit than he deserves.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Being A Servant God

As we begin this new year, I will begin recommending a Book of the Month for our congregation to read, which we will also make available to our members in our church's resource center. I was considering which book to start with, and in a conversation with our deacon chairman, he mentioned a book that the deacons read in training: On Being A Servant of God by Warren W. Wiersbe. And as soon as he mentioned it, I had my book for January.

This book is also a good work for us to read this month as we are gearing up for Ministry Emphasis Sunday on January 25, in which we will challenge our membership to get involved in the body-life of our church. My prayer for SMBC is that participating membership will be the standard. And as we follow the example of the Lord Jesus, I long for a "foot-washing" culture to permeate the fellowship of Shiloh. May the Lord use this little book to bring that to pass.

I am a huge fan of the writings of Warren Wiersbe. His ability to simplify and synthesize a passage of scripture has aided my studies over the years in unspeakable ways. And only God knows how many "Wierbe-isms" I have quoted in my preaching and teaching over the years. I thank God for the gift Wierbe's writings have been to me and to the church at-large. You virtually can't go wrong when you decide to pick up a Wiersbe book or commentary. But this little gem may be one of his best works.

On Being a Servant of God is a goldmine of spiritual wisdom. Each chapter is a brief devotional - only a page or two - on a particular subject of Christian ministry and service. And at the heart of it all is Wiersbe's definition of ministry. It may be the best statement about what ministry/servant that I have read outside of the scriptures themselves. Here it is: "Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels for the glory of God." (p. 3)

I highly recommend On Being a Servant of God to you. And even though it is a quick read, I encourage you to read it slowly. Give yourself the opportunity to be challenged to be a more faithful servant of God. Then share this great little book with someone else. Better yet, buy a copy for someone. You'll want to hold on to yours for future reference, as you continue to grow as a follower of Jesus Christ and servant of God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Are Better Than One

This past Lord's Day, I continued a brief series of selected expositions that I am calling, "Going Forward with God... Together." Sunday's message was from the wonderful book of Ecclesiastes. I have read Ecclesiastes many times and find that it constantly challenges my faith. But this is the only text I have preached from this great book. I really do not know what caused this passage to stick out to me. But it is one of the passages I memorized some time ago on the subject of fellowship.

I came to the pulpit with a burden for my congregation. I know that it is not the will of God for us to try to live out our faith journey on our own. But too many people actually hide out from fellowship in the church - especially big churches. I pray that this message was at least a good shot that will begin a war against any spirit of individualism with SMBC. May the Lord bless Shiloh to be a church where no one stands alone.

Here is the sermon skeleton. I listed more of the skeleton that usual, noting the progression of thought for each major point. I Hope it helps.

Title: "Two Are Better than One"

Text: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Theme: The importance of community and the benefits of partnership

Point: Two are better than one.


I. Two are better than one when you at work (4:9).

    A. The assumption: both life and ministry require hard work.

    B. The affirmation: You can accomplish more when you work together with others.

II. Two are better than one when you fall down (4:10).

    A. You are prone to fall down sometimes along the way.

    B. You can fall so low or so hard that you cannot get up again on your own.

    C. Two are better than one because there will be times when you need someone to pick you up when you have fallen down.

III. Two are better than one 1when you are in the cold (4:11).

    A. Life will sometimes leave you in the cold.

    B. You need others who will warm you up when life leaves you in the cold.

IV. Two are better than one when you are in a fight (4:12).

    A. You are prone to be attacked along life's journey.

       1. Personal attacks

       2. Spiritual attacks

    B. There are some battles you cannot win on your own.

    C. You need others who will help you overcome life's battles

Conclusion: The closing proverb of this passage - "a threefold cord is not quickly broken" - affirms (1) the strength of unity with others and (2) the power of faith in God.

One is better than two when it comes to the matter of faith: Only Jesus can make you right with God (John 14:6).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 1/11/09

It was a good day in worship yesterday at Shiloh. For many reasons, it was a particularly long day for me. But it was a good day. God blessed us.

2 Corinthians 12:9 got me through the day: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

I continued the series "Going Forward with God... Together." Yesterday's message was from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 - "Two Are Better Than One."

It is particularly challenging to preach obscure and difficult passages. Without a doubt, they are God-breathed and spiritually profitable. But how we handle them from the pulpit can shape a congregation's attitude toward the texts or portions of scripture that are not regularly addressed. I felt the weight of this challenge as I preached this message.

I should add a line to the run I did in my first point: "Pastoral ministry is hard work."

The tyranny of the clock...

Monitors! Monitors! Monitors! Arrgghhh!!!

Praise God for those the Lord added to our congregation.

Yesterday was my second week teaching the new members class at SMBC. We moved from the main auditorium to the Coleman auditorium, which helped me to concentrate a little more. Plus I did not rush through the lesson as much as I did last week. I am looking forward to these sessions and was excited about the attendance. I hope the new members found it helpful.

Before the message, the choir sung "I Tried Him and I know Him" - an (relatively) old song from the Thompson Community Singers. It is one of the classic songs that Kim McFarland led on one of their recordings. The choir did a wonderful job with it. It was very moving and encouraging.

Our children's choir sung in our 10 AM worship service. And they did a wonderful job. It was the beginning of their regular participation in our Lord's Day worship services on second Sundays.

After our services, I met with our ministry leaders for about 30 minutes. We discussed several opportunities to serve that will be extended to the congregation. There are many people who diligently serve in and beyond the life of our church. And I pray God will move even more people to become participating members in the body-life of SMBC. Likewise, I am grateful for the ministry leaders of Shiloh. In fact, I am rather impressed with them. And few things impress me.

Yesterday afternoon, we began an outreach on a local radio station - WCGL 1360 AM on Sunday  afternoons, 4:15-4:45. Likewise, I weekly TV broadcast move to CW 17 at 7:30 on Sunday mornings. May the Lord use these media outreaches to reach many people and change many lives.

I believe that the evidence of what God is doing in the life of its church cannot be determined merely by records and reports. It is found in the stories of how God is at work in the lives of the members. I thought about this as I reflected on several testimonies and praise reports I received between and after services yesterday. It is very encouraging to hear how the Lord is doing great things in the lives of his people. Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Call to a Surrendered Life

I did not preach the complete message in either of our two worship services this past Sunday. I actually had four points. But I only got to three of them. Here is the complete outline from Sunday's message:

Title: "The Call to a Surrendered Life"

Text: Romans 12:1-2

Theme: Christian discipleship

Point: What God wants from you is you!


I. The reason for the surrendered life: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God" (12:1).

II. The reality of the surrendered life: "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (12:1).

    A. The cost is total.
    B. The cost is personal.

    C. The cost is legitimate

III. The requirements of the surrendered life: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (12:2).

    A. Stop being conformed.

    B. Start being transformed.

IV. The result of the surrendered life: "that by testing you may discern what is the will of GOd, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (12:2).

Monday, January 05, 2009

Notes from the 1st Sunday of 2009

We had a great day of worship yesterday at Shiloh. The Lord smiled on us. And we were blessed to kick-off the new year in a great way. God be praised!

I am grateful to God for the way this new year has begun. And I pray that the Lord will richly bless the ministry of SMBC in 2009. May many lives be changed to the glory of God!

I got sick Saturday. And I really was feeling well. But as bad as I felt, there was no way I was going to miss work. I was sick. But the Lord gave me strength to carry out my assignment all day.

I began teaching the new members class yesterday between our new services. I look forward to the weeks to come and the opportunity to study and fellowship with the new members of our church.

I began a new series of messages, which I am calling, "Going Forward with God... Together."

My first message was from Romans 12:1-2 - "The Call to a Surrendered Life."

Amazingly, my symptoms did not bother me as I was preaching. I had to fight harder to concentrate. And my thoughts were coming to me slower - a nightmare for one who does not preach with notes. But the Lord helped me.

My sermon outline had four points. But I do not think I made it to the fourth point in either of our worship services.

More than any other time I have preached to the SMBC congregation, yesterday I really kept veering away from my prepared manuscript and explaining/applying my thoughts extemporaneously. At points, I felt like I was really fussing. But there was such a burden on my heart. And so much I wanted to say. I pray and trust the Lord untangled my thoughts enough to speak to his people.

Praise God for the eighteen people who were baptized yesterday. Likewise, I praise the Lord for blessing our celebration of the Lord's Table. And, indeed, the Lord be praised for the souls added to the kingdom and the new members added to the Shiloh family.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Prayer for the New Year

O Lord,
Length of days does not profit me
    except the days are passed in thy presence,
    in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,  
    sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
    that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
    but may rely on thy Spirit
       to supply ever thought,
       speak in every word,
       direct every step
       prosper every work,
       build up every mote of faith,
       and give me a desire
          to show forth thy praise;
          testify of thy love,
          advance thy kingdom .

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
    with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
           thee, O Son, as my helm
           thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
    my lamp burning,
    my ear open to thy calls,
    my heart full of love,
    my soul free.
Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
    thy comforts to cheer,
    thy wisdom to teach,
    thy right hand to guide,
    thy counsel to instruct,
    thy law to judge,
    thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
    thy triumph my joy.