July 4th, Chattanooga, Tennessee River

Last night I played bodyguard to my daughters Katie and Haley. They wanted to go downtown to walk around and take pictures before the fireworks, so I went with them…armed to the teeth 😉

Well, I’m sure their pictures from last night are much better, but here are a few I took from the Walnut Street Bridge. The drawbridge in the pictures is the Market Street Bridge.

The red, white, and blue mansion is the Hunter Museum. We passed by it as we walked back to the car, and right before it started pouring rain!

We love our city. We love our river. We love our country.

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Filed under America, places

God SAVE America!

Happy 4th of July!

flagIt has been 242 years since the colonies declared their independence. It was not an easy decision to make, however, and many of the signers paid a heavy price. But John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams, said he was “well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it [would] cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.”

So, happy birthday, America! Your birth was a hard and costly one, but well worth the pain.

God Bless America?

Now, each year about this time we sing of our love for America. Irving Berlin wrote a song with a title that is repeated every time one of our presidents closes a speech: God Bless America!

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

However, as I said in past sermon:

“Maybe we should stop asking God to bless America. Maybe we should, on the other hand, be saying, begging, ‘God spare America…God have mercy on America!’ We have already been blessed by God more than any nation deserves, yet what are we doing with those blessings? Where is our thanks to the God who blesses? We are rapidly going down as a nation, so before God completely abandons this nation to the trash heap of fallen empires, we had better be praying God REVIVE America…God SAVE America!…God have MERCY on America!”

Franklin’s Suggestion

Benjamin_Franklin_by_Jean-Baptiste_GreuzeIn 1787, not long after the war with England, representatives sent by the people met in Philadelphia to hammer out what was to be the Constitution of the United States of America. Tensions were high, arguing was accomplishing nothing, and the whole Continental Congress was in danger of falling apart. That was when the great Benjamin Franklin offered the following words…

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.” Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service. – Source

We are “groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us.”

We are “divided.”

We are “confounded.”

We are becoming a “reproach and a bye word to future ages.”

And what is worse, mankind is leaving the forming of new governments to “chance, war, and conquest.”

Oh that America would cease fighting each other and fall on humble knees before a Holy God and pray!

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and [for] all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

We should be “imploring the assistance of Heaven” before Heaven becomes deaf to our prayers.

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Filed under America, Countries, Culture Wars, current events, God, politics, voting

Different Metal, Different Furnace

Without a doubt, there is someone who needs to read this today. I know I did.

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts. – Proverbs 17:3 NKJV

Gold or Silver

In case you were not aware, there is a difference between gold and silver (Well, duh!). Seriously, there is a difference between the two, and that fact should not be taken lightly. Gold is gold, and silver is silver. Obvious stuff, right?

Well, sometimes the obvious is profoundly important.

Gold is extremely valuable but is soft and pliable. Silver is not as valuable per ounce but is nevertheless a harder precious metal. Gold is highly sought after and coveted; silver is more common but is still critically important for a wide range of applications, everything from electronics to medicine.

How one refines gold, compared with silver, is not the same. What’s more, the temperatures of the refiner’s fire is hotter for one than the other.

What R You?

When I read Proverbs 17:3 yesterday during a Sunday School class I teach, something obvious proved to be very profound: depending on how God wants us to be used, each one’s trial by fire will vary in intensity, the heat of which will determine what metal we are made of.

gold furnace

Source: The Australian

Unlike gold and silver, we are human; our qualities and usefulness change. Some days we are made of gold, while other days we are silver, but most of the time it is hard to determine which. That’s when the Refiner turns up the heat.

There is a lot to refining gold and silver. Not only is there heat involved, but various acids, too. Therefore, it should come as no surprise when God not only allows us to endure intense pressure (heat), but permits the caustic, painful situations of life to eat away the impurities within us.

God is the refiner of hearts.

Iron Man

But, you know what? Gold and silver, while both rare and beautiful, will never make good axes, swords, cannons, I-beams for skyscrapers, or bridges across raging streams.

Sometimes there are jobs that can only be done with iron.

Don’t feel special? Don’t think of yourself as gold-like? That’s OK! You’re important, too! As a matter of fact, the melting point of iron is nearly double that of gold.

You may think what you are going through right now is far tougher than anything a “golden saint” might deserve. Don’t lose hope; the fires forging you are instilling a strength that may be needed to wage war against the Enemy, support the heavy loads of many, or bridge the gap between understanding and ignorance.

Don’t curse the furnace. Let the Refiner do His work.

 

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, General Observations, Life Lessons, self-worth, Struggles and Trials

Our Worst Days

I am going to be honest with you, dear reader… I’m not writing this for you to read.

I’m writing for myself.

If you remember, way back in the day blogs were still called “web logs” and they were really nothing more than digital diaries. Some people still use blogs for that reason, and I believe that a lot of them are flat-out liars… Just keeping it real.

Maybe I’m a little/lot jealous of the ones who seem to have it all together. But again, they’re probably lying.

I don’t have it together, believe me. I’m not the perfect husband, dad, son, pastor, or anything. I really do have issues. Doesn’t everyone?

Well, maybe not you.

I’m just sitting here trying to type out my frustrations and get a grip. It’s been a bad day.

Now, even though I said I’m not writing this for anyone to read, there are some people out there who can relate to what I’m dealing with. They are the preachers and pastors who must get up on Sunday morning with the responsibility to encourage the believers, teach the Word, and appeal to the lost. Many of them know exactly what I’m talking about when I say, “I hate Saturday nights.”

There are three days that can be considered a pastor’s worst days: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Sunday afternoons and evenings after church, along with Mondays, are usually the most depressing days of the weeks. It’s on Sundays that the pastor has so many expectations and hopes, then Monday is the day he considers another career. Sunday afternoons aren’t always that bad, but it’s usually in the evenings, after the final services (unless there’s only a morning service), that the pastor becomes his worst critic and often blames himself for the lack of attendance or the stone-faced parishioners who rarely smile, much less participate in heartfelt corporate praise.

On Sunday afternoons the pastor blames himself for everything.

Mondays are a little different. On Mondays the pastor has gotten a little past his self-guilt and has moved on to fighting the fight against becoming angry or bitter. It’s on Mondays that many pastors think about leaving their churches or ministry entirely. And if you want to know the cold, hard truth, it’s on Mondays when many pastors consider suicide – it happens.

You know, this might be uncomfortable to hear; but ministry places a lot of stress on a pastor (and his family). Try to put yourself into your pastor’s shoes (or his “glass house”) for a moment. Think of the stress he is under –

  • the stress to preach the Truth without compromise, but without offending somebody;
  • the stress to grow the church, but without taking the credit;
  • the stress to teach and preach quality sermons, but the lack of time to put into it;
  • the stress of balancing family responsibilities with church responsibilities;
  • the stress of finances;
  • the stress of seeing people walk away without ever explaining why;
  • the stress of trying to be human, but always being put on a pedestal;
  • etc., etc., etc.

Real pastors (not the ones on TV who beg for millions to buy new jets) are some of the most sensitive people you will ever meet, but they have to have thick skin (and wear the full armor of God). They love their people and want to see them on Sunday (and other days), but so often the people in the pews rarely think of how it affects the preacher when they decide to stay at home. Frankly, it’s discouraging.

Yet, we have to do what we are called to do, even if only 2 or 3 show up.

On Mondays many of us wake up asking ourselves the question: “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?” 

Then there is the night before the sermon. It’s the night when a pastor should already have his sermon prepared and his ducks in a row (especially if he’s an Aflac agent). It’s the night when he should be spending time with his family playing games, watching TV, or going to the park. However, Saturday night is usually the time when the average bi-vocational pastor is up until 1 or 2 a.m. trying to finish what he had little time to do during the week. It’s during those late hours that he’s all alone and able to think and pray…while trying not to feel too guilty for not having everything already done.

But unlike Sundays and Mondays, Saturdays are unique in that if there is going to be a spiritual attack, it’s usually going to be on that day. Aside from the tense couple of hours on Sunday mornings when everybody in the house is trying to get ready at the same time, Saturdays can see more go wrong in a short time than any other 24-hour period. If you think it’s only coincidence, you’ve never lived the ministry life.

On Saturdays the Enemy tries to defeat the minister before he has the chance to preach.

But I’m only defeated if I quit. So, I’m not quitting. I’m not giving up. I’m not backing down. I’m not giving in.

“I am doing a great work, so why should the work cease…?” – Nehemiah 6:3a

When people give up, even when it seems they’re the last one standing, a whole city could be in danger!

“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30

It was my Savior, Jesus, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), so what is my cross? Is it any heavier than His? And He endured it because of the “joy that was set before him,” or, in other words, what He knew was going to be the result. Like a woman in labor endures the pain of child birth so that she can hold her baby in her arms, so Jesus endured the pains of Calvary so that we could become the children of God.

Are not the pains of ministry – all that our worst days may bring – worth the joys set before us?

I’m not defeated, for we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Rom. 8:37).

Like I said in the beginning, I didn’t write this for you; I wrote it for myself.

I needed it.

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Filed under Church, ministry, Preaching, Struggles and Trials

Being Judgmental of Angels

When questioned by a follower of Christ, people who love their immorality seem always to respond with the crème de la crème of rebuttals: “Christians aren’t supposed to judge!” Never mind they have no earthly idea what they are talking about, or where they get that phrase; with an ironically self-righteous sense of pride they just sneer and boldly showcase their biblical expertise (or lack thereof) in an effort to justify their actions.

But sadly and tragically, many Christians (if not most) barely understand what Jesus meant when He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It had nothing to do with reproving the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11); it had everything to do with not expecting to be judged with any less of a judgement than one meets out.

It’s a shame when unbelievers who know so little about Jesus are able to use Him as an excuse and intimidate Christians into silence, but it happens every day.

But what’s worse is when we Christians REALLY do what we’re accused of (i.e., make assumptions from which we cast judgment).  It happens all the time when, for example, we see a man on the side of the road with a sign that reads, “Will work for food,” and we assume he’s either too lazy to work, an alcoholic or drug addict, or looking for a way to scam somebody.

It happens when a woman walks up to our car and taps on the window, only to ask if we have some spare change, and then we assume she’s either dangerous or unwilling to get a job.

Who are we to say that what they tell us is a lie or a scam?  Is it just possible that they really do need money for a fan belt, a gallon of milk, or a bus ticket home? Is it possible that the poor man and his wife on the side of the road really did get kicked out of their house and have no place to stay but their car?

Or, is it just possible that the scruffy-looking, unkempt fellow you’re afraid to talk to is, in actuality, a heavenly messenger?  An angel? 

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Hebrews 13:2

Even though the jobless rate in America these days is at record lows, it is still possible the “bum” on the side of the road is actually somebody whose homeless.  Who knows for what reason he/she is there?  Are we to pass judgment upon them?  Maybe we should just love them and do what we can to help when we are confronted – or before.

In one of the same chapters that talk about not judging another unjustly are found the following verses:

Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do for others as you would like them to do for you. – Luke 6:30-31 NLT

By not giving that dollar or two to the one who asks, are we not, in actuality, disobeying a direct command of Jesus?  Is it possible we are committing two sins? One would be that we did not give when asked; the other that we judged them unworthy.

It would seem to me that the better part of wisdom – not to mention a display of our faith in action – to entertain the “stranger” rather than judge him.

Who knows? He might be taking notes for his Boss…in Heaven.

 

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Unity, Do not judge, General Observations, legalism, Uncategorized

So, you want to be a pastor?

With so much being posted on social media these days, even those in ministry have available to them a plethora of helps, lists, and general advice from experienced clergy folk.

Much of what is shared on Facebook and Twitter are written by the “pro’s” in ministry research like Thom S. Rainer, or long-time veterans of ministry like Joe McKeever. What rarely gets shared are articles and posts written by ordinary guys like me – probably because we aren’t professional authors or researchers.

Last week I had the opportunity to hear a friend of mine preach at a church that is considering him for the role of senior pastor. Therefore, I want to share some helpful hints from an old-school, bi-vocational, small-church, in-the-trenches pastor with no access to research teams, only personal experience, and some common sense.

Hopefully, my friend (and others) will find the following 10 points helpful.

10 Words of Wisdom for Those Entering the Pastorate

  1. Get a biblical education. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if the school is only a rag-tag, non-accredited hole in the ground, get an education from someplace that will teach you how to study the Bible by making you study the Bible. Those who call a seminary a “cemetery” are nothing more than illiterate bigots who should be avoided – unless you want to show them how to get saved.
  2. Listen to your wife. I know, sometimes wives have actually been the reason men have left the ministry. However, a good, godly wife will offer you insight that no one else can. She really does have an intuition that sees what our eyes can’t. She is also going to be the only one in the church you can trust 100%
  3. Don’t think every sermon needs to be alliterated. Guys, not every sermon is best delivered with four points, all alliterated with a certain letter or phonetic sound. Sometimes the best way to outline your sermon is just go with the way the Scripture leads.
  4. Be a sheepdog. Do whatever it takes to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to protect not only those in your church but your own family. Be prepared to fight – literally – for those you love. Always be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing, especially sexual predators. Believe me, I wish I’d prepared better.
  5. Draw your lines in the sand early on – the earlier the better. Don’t wait for church trouble to draw your lines in the sand. Don’t wait until you are in a struggle with disagreeing leadership before you say, “This is the way it’s going to be.” Start early by saying that…be the thermostat, not the thermometer.
  6. Learn to preach without notes. There’s going to come a time when you need to preach and you won’t have time to prepare an outline. There is going to come a time when you are asked to preach a funeral or a revival service, and all you will have is your Bible. Read it…learn it…know it…and be able to preach from it without a man-made crutch.
  7. Check your pride. The day you go up to the pulpit all cocky, that’s the day you will be an utter failure. Ascend to the “sacred desk” with your knees shaking under the weight of the seriousness of what you’re doing and you will come down humble, but confident God’s Word will not return void. As long as you are humble and dependent on God, that’s when even the most basic of sermons can shake the foundations of hell itself.
  8. Don’t grow too dependent on technology. Men, there may come a day when we don’t have the internet, iPads, microphones, and projection screens. At any moment you could lose one or all of those things, so learn to prepare and to preach like the great warriors of the past – because history has a tendency to repeat itself.
  9. Love your family more than your ministry. You’ve probably heard it said before, but it’s true; your family is your first and most important ministry, not the congregation you serve. Don’t lose your wife or kids for the sake of any church.
  10. Never stop studying and learning. Even if you go to Bible school and seminary, never think you’ve learned enough. Always be learning, reading, researching, and studying. If George Washington Carver could squeeze all he did out of the lowly peanut (to the glory of God), imagine how much you will be able to find if you keep digging deeper into the Holy Writ!

So, there you have it. Do you have some words of wisdom you’d like to share? Why not write them in the comment section below? I’m sure we all could benefit from our collective experiences.

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Filed under ministry, Preaching

Doing, Being, and Identity

Two Questions

Would you take just a second and think about something? Take a second and think about the following two questions:

  1. “What do you want to be?”
  2. “What do you do?”

When would you ask these questions? I bet I can answer that for you.

The first question (“What do you want to be?“) is one that you would pose to a young child. It would be asked with the qualifier of “when you grow up.” I’ve asked kids this question many, many times, and the answers are always entertaining. Children want to be things like firemen, doctors, cowboys, baseball stars, movie stars, even school bus drivers. Some even want to become the mythical, like super heroes, monsters, or unicorns.

When you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, all you are doing is opening up before him a world of possibility – the sky’s the limit. The question doesn’t limit him in any way. On the contrary, it affirms his potential to be anything he wants to be.

The second question (What do you do?) is one that you would likely ask an adult. Think about it, you wouldn’t ask a 10-year-old, “What do you do for a living?” Obviously, the child is just a student and preparing for the riggers of future employment as a “safe space” attorney, not an actual lawyer, or doctor, or super model.

But when you pose this question to an adult, instead of offering him the opportunity to dream big and affirming his ambitions, you cause him to face the here and now, the cold reality, the fact of what his childhood dreams have turned into. Unfortunately, affirming and praising one’s potential is a whole lot easier than affirming one’s present state.

When you ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up there is the possibility her dreams will come true. When you ask someone what he does for a living the answer is what he is doing, not what he is dreaming, and what he is doing might be all he ever does.

Is Doing Being?

I have always struggled with the temptation to find my identity in what I “do.” In other words, I’ve never wanted to just do things, I’ve always prided myself in being things. Do any of you feel the same way?

I have been a pest control technician, an industrial engine builder, a Sunday School teacher, an adjunct professor, a Level I Nuclear Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) Technician, a sales manager, an eyeglass maker, an insurance salesman, a preacher, a pastor, a chaplain, a song writer, and an author. I’ve been a school bus driver. Right now I am an agent with Aflac, along with being a bi-vocational pastor.

No, I wasn’t a pilot. I just flew a lot when I worked in the nuclear field. (circa 1989)

I have always liked name tags, badges, lapel pins, and titles…because they give me identity.

But in reality, honestly, none of those things are really me, are they? They are only what I do. If I were to quit pastoring or driving a bus, would I cease to exist? Of course not! Even if  you were to take away my freedom, I might be labeled an “inmate” or “refugee,” but not even those labels would be me, only the condition of my existence.

Yet, I still find my deepest self wanting to be identified with something, to be known for something, to have a title, to find worth in what I have done or am doing.

I do what I do, but I am what I am. On the other hand, I do what I do because I am what I am. So, what am I to make of it?

What I Am

I am created in the image of Almighty God, so I am intrinsically valuable – my value is based on Who made me.

I am loved beyond measure, first by my Lord Jesus Christ (because He loved us first), then by my family.

I am a child of God, not by my own works, but by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ – that is my identity.

I am a soldier in the army of God, for He called me to serve in battle against the spiritual forces of wickedness in high places.

I am a Christian, because I’ve been given that title as one who identifies with Christ.

I am priceless, because of the price that was paid on the Cross to redeem me.

What I do doesn’t make me a child of God, a saint, or anything of the sort, but what Jesus did for me, on my behalf, thereby crediting those works to my account, is what makes me those things.

And all the things I do – whether it be drive a bus, be a husband, preach a sermon, mow a yard, or be a dad – I do for the sake of the one Who makes me His own, and I do it in His strength.

So, ask me what I do, and no matter what I end up telling you, I will no longer stress over the answer, for what I do is not what I am…

I do what I do because I am what I am, because of the Great I AM; my identity is found in Him.

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Filed under Christianity, Depression, God, self-worth, Uncategorized