Tag Archives: Worship

What Are You Expecting This Morning?

Sunday morning, that is.

By the time you read this, it could be any day of the week. But I am writing this on a Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, it’s not long before Sunday school will begin, followed by the morning worship service at our church.

So, my question to you is this: What are you expecting this morning?

Unfortunately, so many people, particularly Christians, are not expecting anything. Oh, they are expecting to do something, maybe go somewhere, or maybe they’re just expecting a late breakfast in bed. But when it comes to worshipping their God in a congregation of believers, most don’t expect anything – they just go.

Why is that? Why is going to church on the Lord’s Day something to be taken for granted? Even more, why is it something to be taken so lightly that washing one’s car or pancakes are more important?

One big reason, like I just mentioned, is that they/we, for the most part – if not always – never expect anything to happen that hasn’t already happened week after week, year after year. Nothing.

Yet, when we go to church – WHEN we go to church – there is the distinct possibility to witness a genuine miracle, one that can directly affect each of us on an individual level. I’m not referring to “miraculous” healings or “manifestations;” I’m talking about being spoken to by the holy God of the universe.

Oh, you can stay home and watch TV or play with your kids, and those things are OK in and of themselves, but what you are going to miss is nothing less miraculous than the breaking of the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000. And you think catching a wide mouth bass is better than that?

I would encourage you to rethink your priorities, dear Christian. The God who saved you from hell is offering to you a special opportunity which cannot be duplicated or recreated afterwards. He wants you and the rest of His children to experience this together as a family.

Please, accept the invitation your Father is sending out. Accept it and expect to hear from Him.

Otherwise, do not expect much from God by way of joy and fulfillment when what you choose to do replaces a personal offer from Heaven.

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Is It Still?

There are some things in my possession that are more valuable than gold … or platinum, diamonds, etc. None of them are valuable enough in the eyes of others, however, for should I want to trade them I would be none the richer in earthly things.

One of those things is my dad’s Bible, the one he marked up so much during his days of preaching that it’s hardly possible to find a single page without additional ink.

Some other items are the watches my wife gave me as gifts over the years. One might be worth a couple of hundred dollars on today’s market, but it’s priceless to me.

Then there are those little items left over from the precious years of my children’s youth, like drawings, soft ball helmets, and Father’s Day cards.

But this morning I read something in 1 Samuel 3:1 that caught the attention of my heart.

“[T]he word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.”

1 Samuel 3:1b

In those days God spoke through the prophets. The canon of Scripture had not been completed. Therefore, because God had been silent for a while, a “word” from Him would have been so valuable.

It would have been “precious.”

But as I looked at that verse, I was immediately convicted. We have no open visions anymore. All we have is the revealed Word of God, the Bible. He HAS spoken and what has been said is in our hands.

But how precious is it?

The word of the Lord was precious in those days, but is it still?

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Psalm 100 for Thanksgiving

As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, I believe it would be very helpful to look at what God’s Word says. People can debate the story of the Pilgrims, their survival, and the relationship they had with the native people after that first deadly winter, but there should be no debate that God deserves ALL our praise, obedience, worship, and thanksgiving.

Therefore, I would ask you to take a few minutes to walk with me through a short Psalm of thanksgiving: Psalm 100.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he [is] God: [it is] he [that] hath made us, and not we ourselves; [we are] his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, [and] into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, [and] bless his name. For the LORD [is] good; his mercy [is] everlasting; and his truth [endureth] to all generations. – Psalm 100:1-5 KJV

The Divisions

When I break down Psalm 100, I see it divided into two distinct sets of 3, a middle, and a prelude consisting of three reasons for our thanksgiving, worship, and praise.

The prelude to which I refer is not at the beginning of the chapter, but at the end. It is verse 5 that gives us the reasons for why we should be thankful. However, when delivering this outline in sermon form, moving verse 5 to the beginning keeps us focused on God’s goodness, His mercy, and His immutability throughout the discourse.

Therefore, observe below how the entirety of Psalm 100 could be (and was) preached.

  • Because (“for”) the LORD is good
  • Because … His mercy is everlasting
  • Because … His truth endureth to all generations

            The Christian’s Invitation

            1.  Praise! “Make a joyful noise…”

            2.  Obey! “…serve the LORD with gladness…”

            3.  Worship! “…com before his presence with singing…”

                        A) Know the LORD he is God

                        B) [Know] it is He that hath made us and not we ourselves

                        C) [Know] we are His people and the sheep of His pasture

            The Stranger’s Invitation

            1.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving

            2.  Enter His courts with praise

            3.  Be thankful and bless His name

The Citizen’s Invitation

The reason I think we can divide the psalm into the described divisions is based on the context in which David wrote Psalm 100. The imagery is that of a king and his kingdom. In this case we are talking about the King of Kings who is Sovereign over all the Earth.

Therefore, when we look at verses 1 and 2, we can see actions implored of citizens, while verse 4 can be seen as an invitation to those “on the outside looking in.”

Because the LORD is good…because His mercy is everlasting…because His truth endureth to all generations, the citizens of His kingdom can and should praise, obey, and worship with a joy that only comes with the realization and wonder developed in relationship with the King.

The Middle

Like I mentioned at the first, there is a middle part. This is the part that separates the citizen’s invitation and the stranger’s invitation. It is found in verse 3.

  • Know the LORD he is God
  • [Know] it is he that hath made us, not we ourselves
  • [Know] we are his people, the sheep of his pasture

Proper theology, the biblical kind, is essential to not only knowing who God is, but knowing Him personally. The word translated “know” is the same word used in Genesis 3:7 which described how Adam and Eve felt upon realizing their nakedness – their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked. Until we open our eyes and see who God is, not a man-made version, then our worship will not only be incomplete, but it will be powerless.

(See Elohiym in Genesis 1:1. See also how Jesus describes the Triune God in Matthew 28:19.)

The Stranger’s Invitation

By “stranger” I mean the one on the outside looking in, the non-citizen. The invitation in verse 4 can be seen as calling out to the ones who long to be part of such a nation of people as the children of God. It is an invitation to “enter the gates.”

When you think of an old, biblical-type city, don’t you think of walled cities with gates? Well, when one was outside the gate, locked outside, entering in without an invitation would be called an invasion, right? That is why Jesus said that “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus IS the Door, the Gate. But, the invitation is there. “Enter with thanksgiving!”

Why enter with thanksgiving? Because you have heard the great noise of the shouts of praise! The joyful roo-ah’ that was the war cry of praise shouted out by the Israelites in Joshua 6:16 and 20 has been ringing in your ears. YOUR king isn’t good. Your king isn’t merciful. Your king is always changing his mind, always unpredictable. Enter? Why YES! Joyfully and thankfully!

Why enter His courts with praise? The stranger no longer has to worry about being brought into the throne room to be judged. The poor and needy, mourning over sin, needs not worry about his countenance when stepping into the presence of Majesty! No, the invitation is to “enter his courts with praise,” because this King is merciful beyond compare and “willing that none should perish!”

The invitation is there, so “be thankful and bless his name.”

And it can ONLY be done, both citizen and stranger, because the LORD is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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A Thought on Real Forgiveness: To Worship with the Predator

A while back, but less than 10 years, my family fell prey to a sexual predator. Some of you may know what that is like, what the roller coaster of emotions one must endure feels like, and how violated you feel when the one that did the harm was supposed to have been a friend.

I’m not going to share many details, but I am thankful for the fact that our loved one didn’t go missing or wasn’t found dead in a ditch. It could have been much worse.

Regardless, as a pastor, I learned some hard lessons about how sexual predators prey on children by infiltrating congregations while disguised as the best church members you could ever want. I also learned that forgiving a sexual predator does NOT translate into wiping the slate clean and “forgetting” in the same way God does our sin.

Initially, even though it’s hard to say with certainty because a man doesn’t truly know what he will do until he’s put in a situation, if given the opportunity I would have killed the man. As a matter of fact, there have been times when I doubted my manhood because I didn’t kill him. But that desire for vengeance has passed.

Do I want the man to be released from prison? Not any time soon. That’s because I don’t want him to have the chance to do more harm, to abuse more young girls. But do I want him to stay in prison forever? Honestly, not really. Actually, it’s not something I think about anymore.

Granted, if he showed up at my door unannounced, there would likely be bloodshed. Just saying. Why? Because I’ll never be able to trust him again. Period.

But do I hate him? No, I don’t. Have I forgiven him? Yes, I have. And I love him, too.

How is this possible? Well, to begin with, I gave him over to the authorities to deal with. They were the ones set up by God to carry out justice on this earth. Taking justice into my own hands would be contrary to God’s law, therefore a sin. I’m not seeking more punishment, for to do so would be seeking vengeance, not justice.

Next, my prayer is that one day this man would genuinely recognize the harm he has done and call out to God for mercy and forgiveness. I want him to feel remorse, but I also want him to bring God glory by calling out to Him in faith.

But this is how I know my heart is right, at least as right as can be considering the circumstances. I would love to see this predator in heaven one day. And do you know what I want to do when I see him there? I want to smile and say to him, “Isn’t God good!”

The greatest end to this tragic story would be to stand there with that sinner and recognize that my own sins would have damned me to hell just like him . . . if not for God’s grace, if not for Jesus!

Then, at that moment, the only right thing to do will be to turn toward the Throne and worship the One who saves to the uttermost!

What glory is there in seeing someone burn in hell for an eternity? God doesn’t want that, for He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The glory comes when God is praised for his grace and mercy that is greater than all our sin! The glory comes when God is praised for eternity and His goodness and wisdom is displayed to all the principalities and powers in heavenly places!

"At the Cross"

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

- Isaac Watts (1707)

Real forgiveness starts at the foot of the Cross.

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Are You Glad?

Let’s go!

church glad to go

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Good Intentions Don’t Trump Obedience

Good Sunday evening, everybody! Wow! What a day it has been!

I know, when you come to a blog, you expect to read something, right? I know I do. I mean, if I wanted to watch a video I’d log onto YouTube.

But the message that God gave me to preach this morning was a powerful one. I take no credit, for I was fearful of what to say just minutes before the preaching began.

You see, when I wan in Memphis this last week, a passage of Scripture was mentioned, and that was 1 Samuel chapter 15. Only one verse was talked about, but it was at that moment that the Holy Spirit seemed to nudge me, like He was saying, “Preach from this on Sunday.”

It was only when I started reading through the chapter, a familiar one at that, that I began to feel the heartache that Samuel must have felt. I began to see King Saul and the people of Israel in the faces of congregants to which I’ve ministered over the years. The overwhelming tragedy of the story of Saul and his disobedience began to bleed from the pages.

Before long, I took pen to paper and wrote out a simple outline from which I preached this morning.

“When Meaning Well Doesn’t Cut It”

When we do not fully obey God’s commands, we….

I. Delay Justice

II. Display Disregard

III. Deprive Blessings

IV. Deny Reality

V. Distress Those Who Care

Would you please take a few moments and watch the video below? Yes, I know, it’s longer than the typical YouTube videos we all get used to – or is it just me? But without any editing, without even wasting time uploading it to YouTube, what you have here is the whole morning service as seen on Facebook Live.

The sermon starts at around the 15:30 mark.

I’d love your feedback, especially if God spoke to you in some way.

(Please forgive the video quality)

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Just Be Thankful You’re Alive!

Sunrise over Chattanooga

As I Was Reading…

As I was reading the book of Lamentations (not the happiest of reads), I read a verse I’d like to share with you.

Why should any living person complain, any man, because of the punishment for his sins? (Lamentations 3:39, CSB)

What does this verse mean?

Simply put, if you have been punished for your sins by a Holy God … and you’re still alive … you have nothing to complain about!

Seriously, so often we gripe about the circumstances we endure, yet those circumstances are often the result of our own sinful decisions.

But isn’t it a wonderful thing that we are so loved by our heavenly Father? Because he is rich in mercy, He does not pour out on us the punishment we deserve.

We are alive! We should be grateful!

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. – Lamentations 3:41-42

Did You See the Sunrise?

There are so many things in this world we could complain about. So often those who complain the most are the ones who have the most. But if there’s anything worth rejoicing about, it is the fact that we serve a God who is rich in mercy.

We don’t deserve anything good, no matter how small or insignificant; we deserve judgement.

However, if I just turn back one page in my Bible I can read verse 22, where it says, “Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” And, thankfully, they are new every morning!

If you are reading this, then you are alive!

Why not take a moment and praise Him?

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Very Glad to Be Back!

I just wanted to share the edited YouTube version of our first Sunday morning back at Bethlehem.

I was honestly thrilled to get back together, and maybe it shows 😉

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I’m a “Bible-thumper,” Apparently

It’s been a while…

Yes, it has been a while since my youngest daughter, Haley, has heard me preach. However, this morning she was with my wife as thy watched the service from home.

Even before we left Soddy Daisy and South Soddy Baptist, Haley had started attending another, larger church several miles away. I couldn’t fault her, for she had grown up hearing me preach every Sunday. At least she would now be going to church on her own, not feeling obligated as my child to attend. That’s a good thing, right?

So, yes, it has been a while since Haley has sat in a room when I preached. The closest she’s been in a year was today, and that was a bedroom, not an auditorium. I do miss her.

Notice any difference?

This afternoon, no more than an hour ago, I asked Haley, “Did you notice any difference in the way I preached today compared to at Riverside or South Soddy?”

Have you ever received a comment that you couldn’t quite tell it’s meaning? In other words, have you ever been told something that could be interpreted as either a good thing or a bad thing, and you just didn’t know how to take it? And have you ever received one of those kinds of comments and not wanted to go deeper for fear it might have actually been derogatory and not complimentary?

That’s the kind of feedback I got from my daughter. I didn’t know how to take it.

“Uhh, well, you’re more of a Bible-thumper,” she said with a cool, matter-of-fact tone.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I got when she said that. At one moment I was both hurt and indignant; sad and elated; depressed and emboldened.

“That could be a good thing, I suppose” was my reply.

Bible-thumper:

  • an evangelist or other person who quotes the Bible frequently, especially as a means of exhortation or rebuke. – Dictionary.com
  • an aggressively zealous advocate of Christian fundamentalism. – Merriam-Webster
  • Used as a disparaging term for a Christian, especially a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian, considered to be overly zealous in haranguing or censuring others. – TheFreeDictionary.com

Or, maybe it’s not. 

I guess it hurts, coming from my little girl. I just hope she can see beyond the delivery of the sermon to the Truth of the message.

Decide for Yourself

Should you want to decide for yourself, feel free to watch the attached video from this morning’s streamed service.

(Please excuse the poor video resolution, but in this part of the country the upload speed is only 3-6 Mbps, so I have to set my iPhone to the lowest setting, which is 720p.)

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Webinar Weary

Webinars

Up until a month ago, I knew nothing of Zoom or Microsoft Meetings. But now all I hear about are links to webinars and digital meetings every day. As a matter of fact, I am typing this sentence while listening to a webinar with over 200 pastors (mostly from Georgia) attending.

There’s only so much water I can drink from a fire hose.

So, as I wrote in the title, I’m webinar weary. I don’t even have the time enough to watch them all, much less attend then all when they’re live.

Nevertheless, I must say that I am absolutely grateful for the resources being offered. Actually, and I’m not the only one who’s made this observation, I think I feel more connected to my peers in ministry than ever before! I feel far less alone than at any time in the past, and all I’m doing is viewing a computer screen!

The key is that it’s live . . . and we’re all in this together.

Working Again

But if you have been watching the news as of late, the big story is that Gov. Kemp is allowing Georgians to return to work. Not that everything is going to be like it was before . . . oh, no! However, there’s a lot of good people down here who not only want to get back to work, but NEED to get back to work!

What are my thoughts on the matter? All I know is that people are dying from a virus, but people are also dying from suicide at increased rates, people are going bankrupt, families are under stress, children are being abused, people are entering the ranks of the homeless, and some people are starving.

The great leaders of the world make the hard decisions that some people won’t like, while others will praise them. It’s rarely, if ever, a win-win. The best one can hope for, as in this case, is to do the best with the information you have and leave it in the hands of God.

Worshiping Again

For me, the most challenging question is when and how will we re-open church? When and how will we start gathering again as a congregation? The questions and the obstacles are numerous to the point of exhaustion.

Yet, I was put here for such a time as this. God knew what was coming when He sent me here. So, the best I can do is pray, do the best with the information I am given, and then leave the rest in the hands of God.

Live streaming has its benefits, but nothing can fully replace meeting together in person, even if 6ft. away.

I’m getting weary of webinars.

“Bethlehem Baptist at Sunset” Water color and pencil (Anthony Baker)

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