Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What do the recent surveys tell us about the future of faith?

Several significant surveys on religious life in America have been released recently. This article by John Ortberg offers a series of snapshots of American religous life. An interesting read.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Living at the Speed of Life

We started a new series Sunday called “Living at the Speed of Life.” The series will address all sorts of issues relating to life, family, marriage, children, and the challenges that go with all that.

It’s obvious that the pace of life is getting faster and faster. All you have to do is get on Central Expressway here in Dallas to figure out that a lot of people are willing to risk life and limb (your life and/or limbs) just to save a few precious seconds. Everybody’s in a hurry, and everybody is multi-tasking. We are constantly online and plugged in and phone ready.

Wednesday I leave for Makindu, Kenya. Thirteen people from our church will parter with seven other Americans along with about fifty National pastors and believers from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. We will work with thirty-six churches in a coordinated evangelism effort. Those churches have been using Operation Andrew over the last several months to identify people they know who don't know Jesus Christ. We will spend our mission trip time sharing the story of the love of Christ house to house, in schools, in businesses, and on the streets in and around Makindu with those people. While there are other Christian groups who have been a part of mission trips to the area, there has been limited attention given to addressing the spiritual darkness/lostness in the area. We pray that hundreds of people will come to faith in Christ. (The photo is described as a typical home in Makindu).

I know from my previous experience in Kenya that my biggest adjustment we be to slow down. I should leave my watch here. Their culture is not so time-crazy as the culture I live in.

The Kenyan people I spent time with two years ago walked slowly. I nearly ran right up their backs several times. It's hard to slow the pace for me. At meals we grew accustomed to simple foods of the region and the people ate slowly and deliberately. I ate like I usually do…eat, eat, eat, done! I've always thought I would do well in competitive eating competitions.

My phone won’t be much help there. Internet access severely limited. Electricity unusual in households. No television to watch. Unplugging and slowing down has many good things about it. It’s easier to hear God when you’re not running around like a maniac. People become more important. You notice birds and trees. There are benefits to stepping away from American culture.

I look forward to several challenges personally and spiritually. I anticipate the blessing on God on our efforts. Most of all, I look forward to experiencing God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the Coils of a Python

As I prepare for our mission trip to Kenya, an alert observer and encourager shared this news story out of Kenya. The events took place in the area where we served in 2007 - Malindi.
It seems a man was walking along and got wrapped up by a python. The snake dragged him up a tree. After a long battle (during which he bit the snake) he was able to free himself enough to get to his cell phone. It reminds me of the show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Contestants had the option of phoning a friend in their time of need. Fortunately for this Kenyan man, his friends came to his aid and he is okay.
I hope you have good friends you can call in times of need. Sometimes we all need help beyond ourselves. I thank the Lord for friends I could call on in crisis (though I'm not sure of their snake-handling credentials I think they'd give it a try). I also would say that my first call would be to the Lord. He wouldn't just let the call go to voicemail. The psalmist said, "In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; He saved me from all my troubles" (Psalm 34:6, NLT).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Being a Disciple

I am often asked why life isn't problem-free for followers of Christ. Doesn't the Bible promise all sorts of good things for those who give their lives to Christ? Even long-time believers come to expect that God's primary job is to make them safe and comfortable. When life doesn't work that way they feel a spiritual disconnect. I feel it in my own spirit during times of trial.

The Bible is filled with great promises. I listed several in a previous post. We claim our promises generously but sometimes live out our discipleship in carefully measured doses. This week I ran across this artwork (accompanied by a great promise...and one I truly believe). The graphic points clearly to the cost of discipleship - following Christ and becoming more like Him.
What does it mean to be a disciple? Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:34-36). Would you still sign on to be Jesus' disciple if you knew it would lead to the lions of the coliseum in Rome? What kind of disciple are you?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

God Speaks in Tough Times

In just over two weeks I'll leave with a team from our church to be a part of a missions effort in Kenya. One of my yearly goals is to read through the Bible annually. This year, I am reading through the entire Bible before I leave on April 29 for Africa. Reading large portions of Scripture daily, I am reminded of the power of God's word and that it speaks to everything.

Often I am asked for Scriptures on certain topics. It seems that recently, I am most often asked for Bible verses dealing with worry and stress. Yesterday I read through all the Easter worship registration forms. A large space was included on the form for folks to share prayer requests. I was overwhelmed by the needs related to health, family, money, and job needs. It's hard times for so many people.

I light of the times and the needs, I wanted to share some of my favorite verses addressing who God is and the encouragements that come from knowing Him and following Him. Thank you God for your word. Feel free to share any of your favorite verses when times are tough.
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9-10)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. (Psalm 27: 1, 3)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

Trust in the Lord and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:3-5, 7a)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his son is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42: 5,8)

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3)

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Psalm 103:2-5)

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 7, 9-10, 23-24)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Your father knows what you need before you ask him. So do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today's trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:8b, 31-34)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 28-31)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31b, 35, 37-39)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:6-8)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . . . I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4: 12-13)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith. . . . And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5: 7-10)

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4: 18-19)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Stations of the Cross - Audio Bible Version

Zondervan publishing has made a free resource available that will bless you this Easter. Track Christ’s final journey with The Bible Experience. The Bible Experience is the Bible read by an ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and producers.

The selections on this website are a variation on the Stations of the Cross known as the Scriptural Way of the Cross. (Also referred to as Via Crucis, Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Cross, the Stations of the Cross provide a journey of prayer and meditation focused upon scenes of the suffering and death of Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi started the tradition of the Stations of the Cross as a chapel devotion. Today it is most commonly practiced on Good Friday and on Friday evenings during Lent, although it can be practiced at any time).

Follow along by listening to the audio clips, reading the passages of scripture, and then taking a moment of quiet reflection with each accompanying prayer.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Preparing for Easter at FBCA

Easter Sunday is a great day in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ. It is a day to celebrate God’s gifts to us of forgiveness of sin, power for living, and eternal life with God. All these wonderful gifts were made possible because God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. He was raised from the dead to demonstrate the truth and power of the cross. God has made all this possible, not because we earned it or deserved it, but because of His great love for us. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).

Special days call for special preparations. Every time we gather together as God’s people to worship and experience God we should be making spiritual preparations. Easter Sunday is a unique day and calls for extra planning and preparation. We will have large numbers of guests with us on Easter Sunday at First Baptist Church of Allen. When guests come to visit our homes we want to be at our best. The same should be true when guests come to church. In light of all Easter represents, let me offer up some suggestions for you this Easter:

Continue reaching out to your friends, neighbors, and family and invite them to attend one of our Easter services with you.

Read the Easter story from Mark 14-16. It would be a blessing to read it out loud with your family.

Get up early Easter morning to see the sunrise. Meditate on the story of the women coming to the tomb at sunrise and hearing the message, “He is not here. He has risen.”

Spend extra time in prayer and spiritual preparation for worship. Ask God to create within you a spirit of anticipation as you come to worship. Spend time in confession of sin that nothing would stand as a barrier between you and what God would want to communicate to you.

Arrive early for church so that you will be available to help meet needs and informally function as a “host” to our guests who will arrive.

Pray for all the guests who will join us for worship on Sunday. Some of them will be coming to church for the first time or the first time in a long while. Pray they will have courage to come to church. Pray they will feel welcomed and at home with our church family.

Pray the distractions would be minimized. Specifically, that people would not distract one another and that we would avoid technical difficulties that might distract.

Be friendly and alert to the people around you. Think of yourself as a host on Easter Sunday. Watch for needs of others and be helpful. Smile and speak to the people around you.

Pray for the church staff as we lead Easter worship at 7:30, 9:00, and 10:30 am. Pray for me as I share what it means to be a Christian in each of the three worship hours. Pray that hearers will make commitments to Christ and be drawn closer to Him. Pray everyone will find their next steps with God.

Pray that the guests will experience something real that they find attractive. Pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in their lives after they leave church. Pray they will take the great next step of coming a second time. Pray for the harvest we will see for months to come.

Sunday will be a great day in the life of our church. I would pray it would be a day that would forever touch our lives and elevate our ministry to new levels. “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

Easter Preparations - Video

Sunday we used a video produced by Igniter Media Group. It shared a portion of a sermon by S.M. Lockridge. I was privileged to hear him speak when I was a college student. It's titled "Sunday's Comin'". You can see it by following this link to Igniter's website:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009