Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Before You Go To Church This Easter...Visit the Tomb

The Archeological Study Bible has created an Easter site you may find helpful in your personal preparations and explorations of the Easter story and the life of Christ. It contains several short articles addressing various topics of the biblical Easter story. The link to the site is:

Monday, March 30, 2009

With a Song in His Heart

Last Saturday, March 28, William J. Reynolds died. He was a church musician, composer, arranger, editor, hymnologist and distinguished professor emeritus of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As a theology student at Southwestern, I was required to take one class in the music school. It was titled, "Introduction to Church Music." Students registered for classes each semester according to how close they were to graduation. I waited until my last semester of my four years in seminary to take the music class because I finally had enough seniority to get into Dr. Reynolds' classroom.

I remember well the first day of class. Dr. Reynolds walked in after we had all arrived. Most of us were theology students who were preparing to be pastors and we were all taking our one required music class. Dr. Reynolds made his way to a piano in the back of the rooom and told us to turn around and stand up. He said, "Boys, we're gonna' sing." We moved gracefully from one great hymn of the faith to another, telling the story of hymns as he went. I was blessed by William J. Reynolds.

Among Reynolds' hundreds of compositions and arrangements, most Southern Baptists would be familiar with "Share His Love" and "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." He wrote "Share His Love" with these simple, powerful words:

Share His love by telling what the Lord has done for you
Share His love by sharing of your faith
and show the world that Jesus Christ is real to you
every moment, every day!

Embracing Eternity

On Sunday we explored the story of the rich man from Luke 12:14-21. For all his business know-how, he made a huge miscalculation. In his frantic pursuit of the good life he forgot to pursue eternal life and abundant life. He gave his life for that which ultimately didn’t matter. As Jesus said, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NKJV). We all need to consider the "then what?" question.

We are anticpating Easter Sunday in a couple of weeks. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT). If Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t answer the “then what” question, we have no hope. Christ didn’t come just to give you abundant life here and now, he came so that you could have eternal life.

We can try to live like we are going to live forever and this life is all there is OR we can live NOW like we are going to spend eternity somewhere. Solomon writes, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT). Did you get that? He planted eternity in the human heart.

In some of his writing, John Ortberg talks about nighttime prayers his grandmother would pray with him, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That’s a cheery way to send kids off to bed, isn’t it? There actually was another verse to this prayer that children would recite. Picture the scene: (CHILD): “Our days begin with trouble here, Our life is but a span, And cruel death is always near, So frail a thing is man.” (PARENT): Good Night honey. Pleasant dreams.

Ortberg makes this observation. “There was a day, much different than ours, when children said this prayer by the millions. Somebody wanted children to know: Earth is fallen and broken and not home. Life is not permanent. Death is both twisted and inevitable, and human life hangs by a slender thread. We have a soul and not just a body. God is the kind of person who can be trusted with our eternal destiny. To be clear about who keeps our souls is infinitely important.”

"Why is this so important? When you disconnect this life from the life to come, it has a practical result. When you believe that this life is all there is, you begin to mistakenly act as though the point of life is just acquiring more stuff. The word “more” becomes the driving force in your life. This was certainly true of the guy in Jesus’ story. More grain. More goods. More and bigger barns. More stuff. He thought making a living was the same as making a life. He was wrong. Just think how much stuff we have and how much “life” it takes to shop for it, clean it, repair it, manage it, maintain it, insure it, store it, and ultimately dispose of it."

Jerry Seinfeld has a great piece about all the stuff we accumulate and what it takes to keep up with it. He wrote, “To me, life boils down to one significant thing — movement. To live is to keep moving. Unfortunately, this means for the rest of our lives we’re going to be looking for boxes. When you’re moving, your whole world is boxes. That’s all you think about. Boxes, where are the boxes? You just wander down the streets, going in and out of stores, ‘Are there boxes here? Have you seen any boxes?’ It’s all you think about. You could be at a funeral. Everyone around you is mourning, crying. And you’re looking at the casket. ‘That's a nice box. Does anybody know where that guy got that box? When he’s done with it, do you think I could get it? It's got some nice handles on it. My stereo would fit right in there.’ I mean, that’s what death is, really, the last big move of your life. The hearse is like the van, the pallbearers are your close friends, the only ones that you could really ask to help you with a move that big, and that casket is that great, perfect box that you’ve been looking for your whole life.”

You spend all this time and energy stockpiling stuff. Then, you die and leave it all behind. Solomon says, “I hated all the things I had worked for here on earth, because I must leave them to someone who will live after me” (Ecclesiastes 2:18, NCV).

How about this…get a roll of red stickers and put one on everything that is temporary in your life…from all your stuff to the things that only bring temporary satisfaction, temporary fulfillment, temporary meaning. You’ll need a lot of red stickers and in the end you’ll find not much is left without a red sticker. It’s not going to last. And, you aren’t going to take it with you. Jesus says, “Real life is not measured by how much we own” (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT).

Plan, prepare, work hard, enjoy the fruits of your labor BUT be sure you have answered the "then what?" question. Eternity lasts a long time.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

First Steps and Next Steps

On this day in history, March 28, in 1937, Billy Graham got his first opportunity to preach when his teacher John Minder unexpectedly assigned him the Easter evening sermon. Graham tried to get out of it, saying he was unprepared, but Minder persisted. Desperately nervous, Graham raced through four memorized sermons, originally 45 minutes each, in eight minutes.

Tonight I am preparing again to preach at First Baptist Church in Allen at 9:00 and 10:30. I've preached hundreds of sermons to this special gathering of believers over the last dozen years. Tomorrow I will preach to a large crowd of people. It seems a far distance from my first sermon preached at a mission church in Raisin, Texas in 1982. I preached in a bar that had been converted into a church. Around 30 people were in attendance. There was not a great deal worthy of note in that sermon. I was terrifed. I will feel the same nervousness tomorrow that I did that day. Sometimes it seems a distant memory and sometimes it feels like the recent past.

On that day that Billy Graham preached his first sermon, few would have predicted the amazing years of ministry to come. Over these decades, Billy Graham has poured out his life to make the love of Jesus known around the world. What an amazing legacy of life and faith! It all began with one day and one worship service on a Sunday evening.

What step with God are you taking today that seems awkward and unsure? When you follow God, the road can lead to exciting places..."beyond all we could ask for imagine." Don't be afraid to take a step with God.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Widow of Slain Pastor Speaks

Earlier this month a gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., near St. Louis, and opened fire, killing pastor Fred Winters. Two congregants were injured as they wrestled him to the ground. The alleged gunman, Terry Sedlacek, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Now, the pastor's wife says she's praying for Sedlacek. In an exclusive interview with Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, Cindy Winters said she doesn't even hold any "hard feelings" against Sedlacek. "I do not have any hatred, or even hard feelings towards him," she told Chen. "We have been praying for him. One of the first things that my daughter said to me after this happened was, 'You know, I hope that he comes to learn to love Jesus through all of this.' We are not angry at all, and we really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this, by coming to know Jesus. And we hope that that happens for him."

She has incredible story and witness to Christ. You can follow the link below to a video of the interview.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Becoming More Heavenly Minded

Many people have probably heard the old quote that "some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good." I tend to agree more with C.S. Lewis in his classic book, Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2, NIV).

I recognize there are many views on heaven. I have chosen for these purposes to stick with a biblical view on the topic. The questions below are helpful to me in this part of my spiritual journey. I hope you find them so as well. How do you set your mind on heaven?

Do I daily reflect on my own mortality?
Do I daily realize there are only two destinations…heaven or hell…and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other?
Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what’s eternal?
Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have a direct influence on the world to come?
Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One, and that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter is His?
Do I daily reflect on my ultimate home and with anticipation look forward to being with God?

NOTE: for a detailed biblical study of heaven, consider Randy Alcorn's book, Heaven.

Why Does Heaven Matter?

Folks have lots of questions about heaven. I picked up the following points somewhere years ago. I've included some of my own commentary. Why does heaven matter?

1. If we don’t live for heaven we will live for this world, because it is all there is. And that, the Bible says we must not do.

2. If we don’t live for heaven we must rely on ourselves, for God will not help us love this world. We are on our own. When we don’t live for heaven, God cannot help us live on earth.

3. If we don’t live for heaven we lose any sense of direction, purpose or values. If this world is all there is, who is to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Everything becomes relative. And so it has. In 1907 P. T. Forsyth made a prophetic statement: “If within us we find nothing over us we succumb to what is around us.”

4. If we don’t live for heaven we have no real hope when hard times come. When there is no heaven, we have an intense need for everything to be right on earth. We can have no suffering, no pain, no distress here--we have an “inalienable right to happiness,” we’re told. But not by the Bible. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV). So long as this life is only a trip to a destination, that’s okay. When it’s the destination, hope can disappear quickly.

Monday, March 9, 2009

At The End of the Journey....

We live our lives and run our races. We experience all sorts of things…but if we don’t have the end in mind we may not end up where we intended to finish. One day I will come to the end of my life and there are going to be people I have led to Christ along the way and lives I’ve influenced and good things in my family…but it is not enough just to run legs of race well. I WANT TO FINISH WELL. What would that look like? I took time to write down some thoughts about what finishing well would look like for me and I challenge you to make your own list. Here’s part of mine:

That I would finish with my integrity intact.
That those who know me best would respect me most.
That I would still be surprised by God.
That my next step with God would be ever before me.
That my marriage vows would be all paid up.
That my kids would know that faith in Christ works for life.
That the Bible would still be jumping off the page at me.
That holy discontent would still be taking me new places with God.
That my relationship to my amazing wife would still be fresh and passionate…like it is after these 23 years.
That my children would be serving and loving the God of their father and passing it on.
That I would not be ashamed for what I do when no one else will know…to be shouted in the streets.
That I would still be amazed by the grace of God.
That I would still be believing the church is the hope of the world because of the lifechanging, eternity impacting message entrusted to her.
That I would still have a passion to see the lost found, the found formed, and the formed freed to serve God and make Him known.

That I would finish with an otherworldly optimism that in a broken, sinful world…filled with darkness and hurt…I would still know and still be making the truth known that the story doesn’t have to end like that…Jesus is my Savior and Lord!

Finishing Well

Sunday I shared an unusual obituary. It has all the appearances of a hoax. identifies it as true and has additional background information on the story of Dolores Aguilar. The Sunday message was titled "Leaving a Lasting Legacy." Our legacy may be good or it may be bad...regardless...we will all leave a legacy. The Aguilar obituary stands as a warning and challenge to us all.
We have no control over the first date on our tombstone. We don't determine the last date. The one thing we do have a say in is the DASH between those two dates. What are you doing with your DASH. It's important to remember that we are writing our obituary today. Live your DASH well.

Dolores Aguilar 1929 - Aug. 7, 2008

Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us onAugust 7, 2008 in Napa, California.She will be met in the afterlife by her husband, Raymond,her son, Paul Jr., and daughter, Ruby.She is survived by her daughters Marietta, Mitzi, Stella,Beatrice, Virginia and Ramona, and son Billy; grandchildren,Donnelle, Joe, Mitzie, Maria, Mario, Marty, Tynette, Tania,Leta, Alexandria, Tommy, Billy, Mathew, Raymond, Kenny,Javier, Lisa, Ashlie and Michael; great-grandchildren,Brendan, Joseph, Karissa, Jacob, Delaney, Shawn, Cienna,Bailey, Christian, Andre Jr., Andrea, Keith, Saeed,Nujaymah, Salma, Merissa, Emily, Jayci, Isabella, Samanthaand Emily. I apologize if I missed anyone.

Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society andrarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will notbe missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing. Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her and perhaps we will think of those times too.

But I truly believe at the end of the day ALL of us will really only miss what we never had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I hope she is finally at peace with herself. As for the rest of us left behind, I hope this is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again. There will be no service, no prayers and no closure forthe family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes. So I say here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Praying in Tough Economic Times

During one of the most volatile periods of the current economic crisis—a week in which global stock markets declined by $7 trillion—Philip Yancey received a call from an editor at Time magazine. The editor's question was simple: "How should a person pray during a crisis like this?" Here is a summary of what Yancey shared in response:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Someday Syndrome

During our One Month To Live series we have found that the greatest enemy of making today count for time and eternity is the "Someday Syndrome." The idea is that someday when things settle down, when this problem goes away...then, I'll get around to doing the things I've always intended to do. Then, I'll start living life with a sense of urgency and intention. Then, I'll start, placing real priority on my relationships to God, my family, and others.

Stop waiting. This is your life. Start living it with passion and purpose and priority. Stop waiting: Until your car or home is paid off

Until you get a new car or home

Until your kids leave the house
Until you go back to school

Until you finish school

Until you clean the house

Until you organize the garage

Until you clean off your desk
Until you lose 10 lbs.

Until you gain 10 lbs.

Until you get married

Until you get a divorce
Until you have kids

Until the kids go to school

Until you retire

Until summer

Until spring

Until winter

Until fall

Until you die... There is no better time than right now to live the life God created you to live.