Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

Barriers to Church Growth #9 (Despising God’s Name)

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a different barrier each week.

Traditional practices are done without a heart for God (Malachi 1:6ff).

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? – Malachi 1:6 NIV

In a reading of Malachi 1:6-14 it is obvious that God is greatly offended by priests who care little about the One to whom the sacrifices are being made. They offer “polluted” and “blind” offerings, and for what? To gain His approval?

In verse six God was saying, “Look, you give more honor and respect to men than Me. Am I not greater than mere men?” Of course He is, so what was their problem? Did they not care what God would think of inferior offerings?

Essentially, God views giving anything less than one’s best nothing more than an insult to Who He is. God deserves better than the best we would give as a present on Father’s Day. He deserves far, far better than we would give to an employer on Boss’s Day. He is God.  We should give Him our best. Period.

But how have we despised your name?

Maybe we should ask the same question. Are our churches not growing? It might be because we “despise His name” with our poorly executed traditions, our just-getting-by attempts at worship, or our whatever’s-in-my-pocket-besides-the-big-bill offerings.

Notice that Stetzer and Dodson are not putting down traditional practices, only those which are done “without a heart for God.” For many in the church, these practices are only a list to check off, not a means to express appreciation to our Father and LORD. And without true worship, traditional practices suffer the neglect associated with only doing what is necessary to get by. Our God deserves so much better.

Who gets the best effort?

Just take a moment and compare they way we do things on the job, or at school, as compared with worship. What if God gave a paycheck each Sunday based on the way we fulfill our worship duties? What if he gave a grade for how well we listened to and studied His word? Would we even care if poor performance would result in getting fired or expelled?

We say, “God is good – He wouldn’t do such a thing!” And that is one reason why many churches don’t grow. We do enough, we give enough, we sacrifice enough to get by; but without a real heart for God. We never stop to consider that He might be offended…angered…hurt.

What a shame. Why would He want us to multiply?

 

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Don’t Be Skeerd

OK, so if you don’t get it, “skeerd” is “scared” spelled that way we say it sometimes in the South.

My Nightmare 

This week I was woken up by a dream – a bad one. In reality, I can’t tell you for sure if it was really even a dream – it might have been real. I was walking down a hallway (I don’t know where) when a deep voice spoke to me, almost speaking through me, getting my attention.

The hallway down which I was walking was lit where I was, but towards the end it was dark. I was walking toward the darkness. When the voice spoke, it said something like, “I’m here, too,” or “You’re not alone”… I just can’t remember. I looked to my left and there was a 3D shadow…a walking dark shadow of a body…walking beside me as I was walking, and it looked at me.

The next thing that happened was I fell to the ground and started saying, barely able to voice the words, “Help me, Jesus!”

Immediately I woke up.

Honestly, I was rattled. That scared me. My heart was racing.

Then I got mad. I hated being scared. I knew that “greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world!”

So I tried to go back to sleep so I could get back into that dream. This wasn’t over.

But the dream never came back.

Don’t Let These Skeer You

The dream I had reminded me of a post I wrote several years ago. In it, I made a list of things of which Christian should not be afraid. Below is an edited version, including an addition.

8 things of which a Christian should not be afraid:

Dracula, or any other vampire that stalks you through your window.

Just show them your cross. If that doesn’t work anymore, then quote Scripture. Of course, if you are a girl, then you’d be better off to just call 911, or better yet, shoot the idiot trying to act like a character from Twilight.

Disclaimer – DO be afraid of Vampire Bats. They have rabies. You may be alright when they bite you, but then again, you may be wishing your church family had something else to pray for…(I ended with a preposition, see?).

Atheists

If they prove that there is no God, no reason for faith, and no reason for the forgiveness of sin, then you have nothing to worry about. They can’t prove there is no God, you know, but if they ever did, then you are free to whack them in the head with the biggest hardcover KJV you can find. If there’s no God, then there’s no absolutes or basis for morality outside of what makes you feel good. Make yourself feel better when they take away your hope by knocking the grin off their face…they should understand.

Crazy worship styles and screens on walls.

No reason to fear these things, people. As long as the worship is from the heart and it IS true worship, not self-satisfying, self-glorifying entertainment, then God will be pleased. On the other hand, if church attendance continues to decline in this country, you won’t be able to afford the electricity needed to run the projectors and fancy sound equipment used by many praise bands. Where two or three are gathered together, there the non-electric bluegrass will be in the midst of them.

Disclaimer – For the record, I love bluegrass gospel. Sorry. Wait, I’m not sorry. Scratch that. I love bluegrass and want to see the words projected on screens in church for all to sing along….with.

Stray dogs that wander in through an open door and listen to the church service.

Had it happen. Didn’t mind. At least when the dog fell asleep he didn’t snore.

Week-long revival meetings.

Where have these things gone? All we see anymore are the 3-day kind, if not the weekend ones that include Sunday, but not Friday.

Just think, if we went back to longer revival meetings, then……wait…..does anybody have revival meetings anymore? We must be too skeerd of having to get dressed up each night; miss some TV we could easily DVR for later; miss a ball game or party, or hear something from God that might convict us. THAT should scare our socks off.

Visitation

What is there to be scared of? Why do we hate knocking on doors, prayer-walking streets, etc.? As long as we’re not trying to sell anything, then most people are happy to meet someone who cares about them. Sure, there are the few vampires that don’t want you coming around, but most folks are at least cordial, at least here in the South. Folks don’t like being banged over the head with your Bible, but they do appreciate being greeted kindly and invited to someplace nice. Just invite them to the King’s house for a meet-and-greet (with a little sweet tea and love, they might just figure we’re not out to take their money).

Change

Some things remain the same, and they have stones above their heads. Now, when those things come back from the dead, you DO have something to be skeerd….of (one more preposition misplacement). Of course, it all depends on Who raises the dead, too. Are they being raised to “walk in newness of life,” or to eat the flesh of screaming movie-goers? Either way, just invite them to a homecoming dinner on the ground and they’ll be alright.

Bad Dreams

Yeah, nightmares are not fun. Heck, dealing with anything demonic is not fun, either. However, God is still God, even in your dreams. He is Sovereign, even over the thoughts and intents of the heart. Therefore, don’t be afraid to go to sleep, particularly if you know that the God who created sleep is ALSO with you in the dark.

The next time you encounter a walking shadow or monster of any kind, call out to Jesus for help – no joke. YOU decide how the dream is going to turn out by inviting Jesus – the Name above all names – to take over.

Darkness will flee and He will deliver thee.

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Culture Wars, General Observations, legalism, Witnessing, worship

“One Man’s Sunset; Another Man’s Dawn”

I wrote the following post in June 2011. Last night I got a Facebook Messenger notification from a man who had been fighting cancer and struggling with the idea of leaving his young son behind. He told me he found this post as he was searching for the source of the line that makes up the title.

Then he told me how much this post meant to him. What a blessing that was to me!

Well, I just thought I’d repost it for you guys, today. Reading it again brought back a few feelings. I hope you find it to be a blessing, also.

 


Over a two-week period, just over 20 years ago, things started to get a little weird.

I can’t recall all of the moments that led up to me concluding something bad was going to happen, but a couple stand out above the rest.

The Revival Service

It was in June of 1991. The church that I attended was having a week-long series of meetings. My mother and father did not attend the same church as I did, but on the last night of the revival, which was a Friday, my dad came. The evangelist preached on heaven that night and said something that hit me like a brick. He said, “Heaven will never be real to you until there is someone there you want to go see.”

The Movie

In that very same week, my family went to see a movie. It was a new animated film called An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. In one particular scene, an old hound dog, the retiring sheriff, sat watching a sunset with the little mouse, Fievel. The legendary actor, Jimmy Stewart, speaking as Wylie Burp, said to Fievel,

“Just remember, Fievel – one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn. I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills. But if you ride yonder… head up, eyes steady, heart open… I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for.” – Wylie Burp

The moment he said, “one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn,” I felt a chill and a heaviness that took my breath. I knew my dawn was coming.

Sunset

Early on Monday morning, June 11, 1991, while working 3rd shift as a security guard in a high-security nuclear facility, my dad felt sick. He asked a cleaning person which bathroom was clean, then went in, took off his gun belt, bent over a sink, and died.

It had only been since Friday the 8th that I had heard that message about heaven. That Monday was when heaven became more real than I could have ever imagined. My dad, Terry L. Baker, went home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He surrendered his badge, took off his gun belt, and laid down – literally.

Dawn

As the sun rose over the horizon, I sped my Datsun 280Z toward the hospital. When I got there, I asked for my dad, but was led to a room where my mother was sitting. In a sobbing cry, she looked up to me and held out a little plastic bag containing my father’s personal items. She said, “This is all I have left…” That was the exact moment when I found out. That was the exact moment it became dawn.

It may have been my dawn, but it was one of the darkest moments in my life. My dad and I were terribly close. We worked together, played together, worshiped together, and preached together. In the week before my daddy died, I went up to him and told him that I really felt like something was going to happen. He told me that he would outlive my grandchildren. But in case he didn’t, I had to make sure of one thing – would I preach his funeral?

The Funeral

Some people could not understand how I did it, but I did preach my dad’s funeral. You see, I was 24, but I had accepted the call to preach when I was 16. My dad had been a pastor, a lay preacher for years. It may have been just guy talk at the time, but in a moment of male-bonding, my dad and I agreed that whoever died first, for whatever reason, the other would preach the funeral. That is why I asked my dad that question. I needed to be sure he was serious. His response was, “Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” So I did.

My dad presided over a lot of funerals, and he even carried in his Bible a sermon that he used more often than not. The title of the sermon was “The Times I Need Him Most.” So, from his own Bible, from his own outline, I preached his funeral. And unlike I usually do today, I even gave an altar call. Believe it or not, right there to my left, beside the casket, a friend of the family came down to the altar and asked Jesus to come into his life. Never once had my dad led a person to the Lord when he preached a funeral sermon, but this time was different.

The Family Car

There will always be those who think the following is crazy; only coincidence: but God showed up in the limousine as we went to the graveyard. As soon as I got into the car, I asked the driver, who was a Christian friend, to turn the radio on. I wanted to hear some encouraging music. When he did, the DJ on WAY FM out of Nashville played a song by Wayne Watson, The Ultimate Healing. Right after that, the DJ came on the air and said, “I know we usually have songs pre-planned according to a particular format, but I just really feel led by God to play this next song – I don’t know why.”  The song was Where There is Faith, by 4Him. The second verse goes like this:

There’s a man across the sea
Never heard the sound of freedom ring
Only in his dreams
There’s a lady dressed in black
In a motorcade of Cadillacs
Daddy’s not coming back
Our hearts begin to fall
And our stability grows weak
But Jesus meets our needs if only we believe

CHORUS
Where there is faith
There is a voice calling, keep walking
You’re not alone in this world
Where there is faith
There is a peace like a child sleeping
Hope everlasting in He who is able to
Bear every burden, to heal every hurt in my heart
It is a wonderful, powerful place
Where there is faith

Today

Today I went to the grave where my father’s body is waiting for a trumpet to sound. I am comforted by the fact one day we will see each other again (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But in the meantime, I must carry on in the task that I have been called to do.

I went to the grave, and even though I know my dad is not there, I read Proverbs 4 aloud. What better words could have been said in remembrance of a committed, consistent, caring, God-fearing, humble father? They were words that I wanted to say out loud because they were being fulfilled.

“He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget [it] not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.” – Prov. 4:4-5

“Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. … Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. … My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. … Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” – Proverbs 4:10-11, 14, 20-21, 25-27

Dad, I just want you to know that I am still in the fight. I haven’t given up. I wasn’t a fly-by-night wannabe, but a real man of God. My Sword is still sharp. My aim is still true. I even have some “arrows” in my quiver that you will meet one day.

Don’t worry, even though I know you won’t – I will keep pressing on and fighting the good fight, until the time of my own sunset. Then, when this life is over, I hope I can stand there beside you when Jesus says to you, “Well done.” You did good, Daddy. I’ll make you proud.

Your loving son,

Rev. Anthony C. Baker

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Filed under Future, Preaching, Relationships and Family, salvation, Uncategorized

Barriers to Church Growth #3

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“God withdraws Himself from the church because of sin. He hardens hearts and gives the people over to sin (Isa. 63: 15-19; Heb. 3:12-13).”

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 KJV

Have you ever thought it possible for a church to be given over to sin? I am not talking about the “liberal” church down the street (every town has one, I suppose), but your church – my church. Is there no growth taking place? Maybe it is because of sin. Maybe it’s because of a hardened heart.

Do churches sin?

You know they do. Many times, however, the sin is not viewed as such. It is seen differently from something that smacks of unbelief. It is rarely seen as a departure from God. More often than not, the sin that churches commit is hidden or disguised with terms or labels meant to justify “an evil heart of unbelief.” Here are a few phrases you may have heard. If so, it might be time for a hard-heart check.

  • “We can’t do that.”
  • “We don’t have the funds for that.
  • “That area of town will never be receptive.”
  • “Maybe we should just pray about it, for now.”
  • “Why do we need to change? They need to change!”
  • “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Can churches have their hearts softened?

Absolutely! God is in the forgiving business, you know. All it would take is our churches turning away from the sins that so easily beset us, like legalism, traditionalism, racism, envy, and pride…not to mention the fear that God will not provide for us the ability and means to accomplish His work.

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.” – Lamentations 3:40

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

It is time for us to repent.

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Barriers to Church Growth. #1

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of this barriers.

“Churches aren’t concerned about God’s glory, believing the church is just for them (Isa. 42:8; 48:11).”

I [am] the LORD: that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. – Isa. 42:8

For mine own sake, [even] for mine own sake, will I do [it]: for how should [my name] be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another. – Isa. 48:11

When we read the above verses it should be very clear to us that God is not interested in sharing His glory. Yet, too many times we rob God of the glory that is due Him by seeking it for ourselves. We do this in many ways, including the reason many of us go to church.

Lest we forget, “it’s not about us.” However, if you polled the majority of church-goers, I believe you’d find that the reasons for attending congregational worship are more selfish than we’d like to admit. To many believers, church is about what one can get, as opposed to what one can give.

The Tale of the Hymns

Have you ever stopped to listen to the words of those old-time hymns many of us grew up with? You may have sung them all your life, but stop and think about the following: “This world is not MY home, I’m only passing through. / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…;” “I’ll Fly Away;” “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop;” “All I Need.” What is the common denominator of these lyrics and titles? “Me, me, me.”

If the Church Hymnal (© 1951,1979) was used as a tool to determine what we think of church, stop and think about this: there are 80 hymns with a title that starts with the words, I, I’m, I’d, I’ll, I’ve, or My. In contrast, less than 10 contain the word glory. Those that do include “Glory Hallelujah In My Soul” and “I’ll Live in Glory.

I think it is pretty obvious that many of us come to church to get from God, not to give to God. He deserves our worship and our praise. He deserves all the glory because His is God, and not man (Hosea 11:9). We deserve nothing, yet His grace and mercy bestow upon us all the treasures we enjoy. Why do we come expecting anything?

Surely our churches would grow if God was glorified. Imagine a congregation of people who came together to lift up praise and adoration to Jesus for His glorious love. Imagine a group of folks who set aside all their own desires and petty differences in order to lift up holy hands unto the King of Glory. What did Jesus say? “If I be lifted up…I will draw all men unto me.”

So, what do you think? How could we do better in giving the glory to the One who truly deserves it?

Related Post: Un-“Christian” Ministry?

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I Live With Animals

The following post was first published nearly 6 years ago, but nothing much has changed except location. We still live with animals; we still live in a house that’s never a showroom, and I’m once again at a computer on a Saturday morning. It’s just that this time I’ve got places to go and people to see … and messes to clean up 😉


Early Riser

Today I am up a little later than usual because it is Saturday. It is nearly 10 a.m. at the time of this writing and I am just now finishing an egg, cheese grits, and my first cup of black coffee (in my TTU mug).

I sat down at the computer for a few moments in order to study for tomorrow’s Proverbial Thought post on Proverbs 14:3. Then, as I read the next proverb, 14:4, an additional thought came to mind…

I live with animals, and I’m glad.

Furry and Furless

Animals. Now, when I say, “I live with animals,” don’t get the impression that I live in a barn, although barns are pretty nice if you remodel them. The animals I am referring to are not only the four-legged, flea-bearing, shoe-chewing canine types, but the 2-legged, child-bearing, shoe-buying female types.

Barns. Sometimes I really do think I am living in a madhouse. Other times I feel like I am living in a barn of the un-remodeled style. But most of the time I am cognizant (I went to college) of the fact that animals of all kinds make messes. Whether they be furry or furless, you can tell where animals live.

Qualifying “Messes”

Before I get into trouble, let me qualify what I meant by “messes.” My children, my wife, and I do not leave the same kind of messes lying around the house that our four-legged barn-guests are capable of. We know how to use our indoor plumbing.

The kind of mess I am talking about is just the stuff that comes as a result of living a hectic life. For example, clothes aren’t always put away; dishes get piled up; the kitchen table is a community desk, and a remote-controlled helicopter is in the china cabinet (that’s my fault…along with the clothes, dishes, and table).

But what if these messes weren’t there? What if everything in the house looked like a picture from Martha Stewart’s fake family album? Without at least some of the mess, home would be nothing more than a sanitary stable or a clean crib – and that could be bad.

Too Clean

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” In other words, a clean stable might be nice, but that’s not always a good thing.

This proverb is trying to tell us that in order to have the grain to make a mess, you need the messer-uppers to harvest the grain. Without the messer-uppers in the stable there will be no harvest – so quit complaining.

A strong family is a family that lives like a family, not like legalistic representation of perfection. It’s nice to have a clean house, for sure. Yet, I would rather live with a bunch of animals (myself included) in a happy barn, than like a white mouse in a sanitary laboratory.

As soon as my wife and daughters read this, my funeral will be a simple affair.

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Filed under animals, Do not judge, Homeschool, Relationships and Family

When All Else Fails

Once again, because I’m on Spring Break and doing some other things, what better time to repost something? Therefore, here is something I posted exactly 3 years ago TODAY! Fortunately, I don’t have any more problems recording at home. On the other hand, I did record in the studio on that old equipment 2 weeks ago…I just ran out of time.

Go to the Studio

Almost every Sunday I am a part of a radio broadcast. The program goes out over am radio to at least a few thousand people each week. It can be fun, but it can also be a challenge.

Even though some things are supposed to be as simple as breathing, “stuff” happens. Today, in a crunch for time, nothing wanted to work correctly. You see, I have to record my 15 minute sermon in advance, and I usually do that at home. The problem today was that nothing would record. The mic wouldn’t work. The computer kept locking up. You name it, it happened.

That is when I got the idea to go to the radio station.

Now, I have been in multi-million dollar recording studios in Nashville. I have recorded radio spots in modern, FM stations. But this was a first for me – vintage equipment older than me (I think). It was like I had walked into a museum of broadcasting.

Amazingly, everything worked. As a matter of fact, it was far simpler to use, not mention harder to break, than the finicky software on my laptop. When all else failed, I went back to the basics – and let someone else push all the buttons.

Go to the Lord

You know, I have heard it said so many times, “When all else fails, pray.”

Why is that? Why do we wait till “all else fails?” He never fails! Why don’t we just go to God first? Why don’t we let Him push the buttons?

If I had only gone to the radio station first, things would have been a lot less stressful. I would not have yelled at my wife, kicked the dog, etc. (yes, I’m joking). But when will we understand that going to God first will not only save time and spare the dog, but it will keep us from experiencing unnecessary heartache and stress?

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)

Update (3/29/16): I don’t know about you, but I need to pray. It wasn’t by chance this selection came up for a repost.

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