Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fleeting Moments and Lasting Joy

I was watching a debate on YouTube a few weeks ago between the late, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and British, Christian Scholar Alister McGrath. Contrary to what you might see on Fox News or CNN, the debate was congenial, thought provoking, and, even at times, funny. Upon further reflection on the debate, several thoughts came to mind.

First, whenever I see someone actively arguing or protesting against the existence of God, it seems somewhat humorous and very non-sensical to me (much like the "satanic" group that put a "snaketivity" scene on the Michigan State Capital grounds this week in protest to Christmas). Why would you spend your time, money, and effort to debate, protest, or malign something/someone you believe doesn't exist? Would it not be like me taking my time, effort, resources, and emotion to purposefully protest the non-existence of unicorns (unless you believe in that sort of thing, but that is for a later day)! On the negative side, such pursuits seem no more than efforts in self-aggrandizement or commercialism. On the positive side, these pursuits might be fostered from a genuine desire to "protect" people from going down a path that could lead them to live a life of "false belief" or "superstition" in God or gods keeping them from some "greater pursuit" in life.

Second, arguing the non-existence of God only leads to one logical conclusion; that we, as people, are the center of the proverbial universe, and therefore, our existence, morality, happiness, and destiny lies completely in our hands without any intervention from something/someone "outside" the natural world. There are many problems with this line of thinking (ie., moralistic relativity, etc..), but one that seems pertinent to our individual lives is the loss of hope. If there is nothing/no one beyond us, then where does our hope lie? We have proven again and again, as a human race, that we are fallible, selfish, greedy, and, dare I say, evil people. If we are the standard for how life is to be lived, then we are in dire straits. Though we can see "good" in human activity and thought, a question to consider is where our concept of  "good" comes from. Was it derived from the actions and intentions of the human heart, or is it the result of some greater, grander, "universal" truth that is beyond human reason and emotion? Hope, if founded on something temporal, like human thought and emotion, is in itself temporal, and, therefore, short term, at best.

Third, if there is no God, then it leads us to reason that any type of afterlife, a supernatural concept, is fallacious as well. If there is no afterlife, no promise of eternal life, then we find ourselves back in that hopeless state, but this time forever. We experience moments of happiness, pleasure, success, and relief from life's troubles, but they are only fleeting in nature. After they pass, we seek the next iteration, and continue the process until life finally gives out. But this begs a question...is there something more, can we find a lasting hope that will not fade?

The Christmas story is the story of hope. It is the story of a real God, come to earth, to give those who had rebelled against Him, proclaiming themselves gods, a way to experience a hope. This hope is caused by a lasting joy. I believe a good definition of joy is "A state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness." (http://www.theopedia.com/Joy#note-JG ) Such joy is found in the birth of a child. Jesus Christ came to reorient our minds and hearts to the heart of the God who loves us, and provides for us, through His death and resurrection, "a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope." In other words, He came to bring us joy. This is the proclamation of the angels in Luke 2:10-14 (ESV).

"And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Where does your hope lie today? Is it in your own morality and efforts, or it in the God who made all things and provides everlasting joy through the gift of His Son? If it is in yourself, and you find that all your hope and joy are "fleeting moments", will you consider Jesus today? Will you consider his birth, life, death, resurrection? Will you consider the promise of forgiveness, hope, and eternal life He offers for those who will simply believe in Him? If you do, He will provide for you the hope and joy you have been searching for.

To know how to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, go to www.viewthestory.com/9076.

For more information on the argument regarding the existence of God, see the following resources...

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Why God Won't Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty by Alister McGrath
The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath
Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith by Alister McGrath

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Of Books and Degrees

Hello, there! It's been awhile. In fact, it has been since last January since I posted a blog. Not to recap my last year (for I even wouldn't want to read that), but some significant things have transpired, most notably the completion of my dissertation and Ph.D. in Leadership Studies.

Though I haven't seen my final work yet (the bound copy) of my dissertation, I will (Lord willing) at Thanksgiving time.

Several things are thrown in sharp relief at the completion of such a long period of study.

First, it is good to breathe. After seven years of study, writing, re-writing, reviewing, and learning, it is good to sit on the back porch with a cup of tea and just breathe.

Second, life has seemed a little disoriented over the past few months. I have shared with many that I am trying to figure out how to do life now that this season is officially over. I have found that the simple yet important things in life bring the greatest joy. My daughter's laugh. My wife's hand in mine as we walk together. Actually doing physical labor around the house and yard. Preparing to preach and preaching. Loving and leading God's people. Good stuff!!!

Third, I am never done studying, writing, re-writing, reviewing, and learning. I guess, in a nutshell, that's what leaders do. We continue to grow.

Finally, I have been reminded lately of the brevity of life and the fleeting moments we have for impact. Many of you know that Laura lost her dad a few months back. We are still walking through the grieving process day by day, but God has been faithful to bring comfort through His Word, His Spirit and His people. I will miss my Father-in-Law, but look forward to that time we are reunited again because of the hope we have in Jesus and His resurrection. Until then, may I (and we) take every opportunity we have to extend the gospel to those who are hopeless and work to help others grow toward a Christ-centered life.

All said, may we study, learn, grow, love, and lead for the sake of others and for the sake of the gospel.

As Lewis said, Many Blessings.

Pastor (Dr.) Jim

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two Ballrooms

I experienced two ballrooms this week. The first was on TV. 

Last Sunday evening The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California hosted the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards. The talk of the evening was "Who are you wearing?", "Who are you excited to see?", and which TV shows and movies would take home the coveted trophies. (honestly, I had heard of some of the movies nominated this year, but I hadn't seen many of them since they were way outside of my general action hero/superhero movie genre). The night was littered with glamour, glitz, alcohol, some profanity, and, the not-so-subtle, gay rights plugs.

You may ask why I watched? Well, I am always intrigued by these events. As a pastor and scholar, I am able to get a bird's eye view into what is driving American culture in the 21st Century. We (the culture generally) are a people who long for a story to give meaning and purpose to our existence, no matter how degrading or debase that story might be. We long to relate to something that might help us cope with our lot in life and give us some small glimmer of hope. We also like a competition. We like to cheer for the underdog, the independent, the marginalized. Such a night allows us to do all of the above. Another reason I like to watch is to see beyond the screen in the lives of those who are delivering this message and get a small, but very public, glimpse of who these people are. It reminds me of the lostness all around us and the desperate need people have for a Savior.

Now, to the second ballroom.

This past Monday and Tuesday, our pastoral staff at FFBC participated in what I can only call an "experience". Some might call it a conference or a gathering, but I'm going to stick with the word "experience". We gathered at the Atlanta Airport Westin Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia with around 300 Southern Baptist Pastors from 28 states for the purpose of 8 hours of prayer. That's it. We prayed. There were some times of worship through song and some exhortation from God's Word, but the primary purpose was to pray. And so we did. And our focus was specific. We prayed for a mighty outpouring of God's Spirit on His church and on our nation. We prayed for the revival and renewal of God's people resulting in a Spiritual Awakening of the lost. It's pretty amazing to "experience" an event where 300 pastors are literally on their faces before God crying out to Him for forgiveness, for His presence, for our churches, and for the lost.

That is why I call this an "experience". Over these two days, we simply experienced the powerful presence of a holy, mighty God. And all of us walked away changed.

I don't know what God will do with our time together, but He has given His church a great promise.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)- "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

Do you believe that promise? If so, will you join me? Will you begin to pray like you have never prayed before? Will you pray that God will move, by the power of His Spirit, through His church for His purposes?  Will you pray that God will give you His burden for a lost world? Will you pray?

Pastor Jim

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Faithful Stewardship/iPhone Agreement

This morning (Sunday, Nov. 3rd), in the first message of a new sermon series called "Generous", I challenged our congregation to consider God's generosity. We looked at Psalm 23:5 as our main text and learned that God is a generous God, that He extends His generosity to those He loves (His creation), and that the greatest evidence of His generosity is seen in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. As a result, He calls Christ-followers to respond with an overflow of thanksgiving to God and an intentional life of generosity to others. We do this by understanding that everything belongs to God and anything we "have" is a gift from Him. Understanding this truth, we are called to be faithful stewards of all God has entrusted to us (life, time, talents, treasures, and the gospel). The reason we are to steward God's resources faithfully is because "stewardship is discipleship" and "giving is a part of growing" as a follower of Christ.

In illustrating the truth of God's generosity and our response in stewardship, I used the illustration of my wife and I giving our eldest daughter her first iPhone. In presenter her with my "used" iPhone, we also presented her with an agreement for its care and use. In other words, we generously have her something that we expected her to steward well.  

Following the services today, many parents (and amazingly, not one student :)) asked for a copy of this agreement for their use. I have attached a copy to this post. My wife found the basic idea for this agreement on another blog post, and we adapted it to more of a Christian context that fits our specific family. I have attached a JPEG version of the agreement to this post (I would have attached a Word or PDF document, but this post won't support that format, as far as I can tell). Please feel free to use this agreement with wisdom and as an example of faithful stewardship of the resources God has provided. Blessings. 

Pastor Jim

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Prayer of my Heart

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

My wife, Laura, sent me the following blog post from Beth Moore today. The passion and cry of her heart for an outpouring of God's Spirit for the salvation of the lost echoes my desire to see God move in and among us today. Please read this blog post!!!! Please pray!!!!! Ask God to do a work in you today to empty you of you, empty the church of selfishness and pride, remove the obstacles (including ourselves) from what He can do in our communities, and bring a movement of His Spirit that sees multitudes come to know Christ.

Rain Down Revival

Words blazed in my soul this morning with such force that I had to scramble to my feet to find paper. I’d prayed a few minutes earlier out on my front porch for true revival: for such a groundswell of souls saved that we’d have no earthly explanation, and for believers to be flooded by the Holy Spirit in such a way that our souls would be purified with a holy, selfless, unstoppable fervor. I have prayed those kinds of things before but this time I called upon the Lord with my whole heart to rip away this ceiling that seems to be over our heads. The Holy Spirit is moving with breathtaking force in parts of the world and in segments of the church. Why not among all of us?? And why not now? We love Him, too!

So many of our pastors, leaders, evangelists, and teachers are crying out for it. We see glimpses of it. We feel it pressing on the walls of many of our churches. The paint is beginning to crack. We sense a change coming. The roof shifting. We know the sun of righteousness is rising on a different kind of day and the horizon beaming with a new shade of color on young and old, on rich and poor. On all who would let Him lift their chins despite their sins, for our redemption draws near. I feel the stirring of a fresh work of the Holy Spirit in my own congregation and sense that He’s ushering us step-by-step and person-by-person and Sunday-by-Sunday to a place of open-armed willingness for whatever He would give us. For many of us who have felt the breezes of revival stirring, we can’t often define how the Holy Spirit is working or explain the difference between one gathering and the next. All we know is that there are times when we are left to say, “Only God could do that.” We taste it. It’s on the tip of our tongues but our throats are still parched.  Our voices may be hoarse and our volume weak but, at the sound of His yes, the mute would find speech.

I cried out this morning for Him to remove the obstacles that hold us at bay on the damp edges of a mighty torrent of revival when, before us, is the deep. We have seen drops of rain but, if we’re willing to be honest, most of us know that we have not yet seen what the living Lord Jesus Christ is capable of doing when He has a mind to pour His Spirit out on millions and wreak the holy havoc of true revival with innumerable souls. We have blamed our government and every secular institution possible when revival has ever remained a matter between God and His own people in the pages of Scripture. They are not our problem. We point fingers at our pastors when many of them have nearly broken their backs trying to drag us to revival. We hold worship leaders responsible for our own small worship and say that it must be the songs.

My heart burns with a sense that part of this ceiling over our heads is our demand that God must bring awakening and revival within our means, keep our rules, and respect our boundaries. If Christ is to do what He longs to do, we must relinquish all our expectations and formulas for revival. Lest we think we can’t leash a work He’s willing to perform, the words of Matthew 13:58 and Mark 6:5-6 won’t peel off the gospel page. We keep getting together and rehearsing for a revival He’s not yet fully attending. Why?? Why does He wait?

I think one reason is that we are afraid for Him to do whatever it would take. We are scared of the uncertainty of revival. We don’t trust God with the work of His own Spirit. He might embarrass us. Or make us change our minds. God won’t work contrary to His Word but many of us must admit that it is not His Word we are worried about Him working contrary to. We are worried about Him working contrary to our tastes. We are worried that He will not use our methods. I said we. I have done the same thing. I want Him to work in a way that makes me feel comfortable. But maybe a true outbreak of revival is not comfortable. I don’t know. I can’t say I’ve ever seen what I believe God may want to do in our day. Meanwhile, numerous gatherings of believers dwindle and die or rust for the sake of routine. Generations are falling away as revival clings to our doorposts. It’s there. It’s close. But why won’t it come on in? We feel it. We hunger for it. Why does it delay? Perhaps there are many reasons why revival waits and we could write more blog articles and list the possible hindrances and deliberate over them and mull over them and debate them and exert more and more energy while we have less and less time.

Or maybe we could say today,
Lord, if Your time is now – and it’s the only time countless millions have – remove the obstacles, whatever they are. Shove them out of the way and COME, Lord Jesus, with a torrential downpour of Your Holy Spirit.

I’m just looking for anyone out there who would be willing to echo a prayer something like this one. I bring it to you in humility, lacking much, wanting much. I do not wish to put words on any tongue detached from a heart. Vocabulary is meaningless without volition. If this is not you and if these sins are not yours and these aches find no place in your soul, you are not who I’m talking to. But this is me and I wondered if it might be anyone else, for where two or three are gathered in His Name, crying out for a cracked-open heaven, that ceiling that we feel shifting over our heads could shatter to our feet. I’m tired of giving God an inch and expecting a mile. I want to go with Him wherever He’s going.

Most glorious all-powerful, merciful God,

Your Son died for more than these. We thank You for what You’ve already done but we beg You to do infinitely more. Look upon this ailing planet, pulsing with the hopeless, helpless, the hiding and the dying. You have willed that people would not die in their sins but be saved and redeemed through Your Son, Jesus Christ. You promised that the Cross was big enough for us all, with stakes pointed northward, southward, eastward, westward, reaching everlasting arms to the ends of the earth. We know what Your Word says You can do and we confess to You that many of us have not yet seen it with our eyes but we feel it stirring in our souls. Hosanna, Lord! Save now!

We who are willing confess to you our sinful arrogance. We have prescribed to You by what means You, the solitary Healer, should heal souls and You have refused to sign Your Name to our prescriptions. We say to You this day, write Your Name across our sky and bring revival! Save by whatever means brings You glory. Bring it any way You like but bring it, Lord. We free You from using our methods. We free You from using our denominational names. We free You from using our buildings though we welcome You to them. We free You even from using us, though we cast ourselves before You at Your complete disposal and beg that You would. Use none of us. Use all of us. Use whatever people and whatever means honors You most but do it, Lord. Please do it!

We confess to You our appalling narcissism in asking You to mirror us. We confess to You our over-sophistication and snobbery. We confess to You that we are terrified of Your Holy Spirit. We confess our pathetic arrogance for having forbidden signs and wonders when there could be no greater sign and wonder than a tidal wave of salvation rolling on our dry banks. Oh, Jesus, that we would not leave You to marvel that You could do so few miracles among us because of our unbelief.

We repent this day for not trusting You with what revival should look like. We repent this day from prioritizing our dignity over Your downpour. We confess to You that we have torn pages from our Bibles and handed them back to You and demanded that You work through what was left. We confess to You this day that the tent pegs of Scripture are vastly wider than our imaginations and our expectations.

Lord, if souls are saved by the thousands of thousands and millions of millions, we pledge to You this day that we will not, in our sectarianism, pick apart the process and reason how it was not legitimate. We are ready even if it’s messy. Even if, atop the beautiful feet carrying the good news, are bruised and broken bodies of willing evangelists.

Open Heaven. Rain down, Holy Spirit. We repent for having asked You to respect our boundaries. We bow now to Your boundless Spirit and make room over our lowered heads for You to fall upon us with power and might and a firestorm of Your great affection. You have loved us so. You have loved us well. Scar our hearts with Your Cross and love through us, Lord. Oh, Holy Spirit of the Living Christ, come without limit. We have known You were able but begged You to be willing. All the while, we have been disabled because we have been unwilling.

To what conceivable degree we could have held them in our hands, we turn the reins of revival back over to the Rider who is Faithful and True and we plead that You would not let them rest on the neck of that great horse but that You’d bid him run.

Whatever, Lord. Do what You want but do it now. Do it here. You have no peer. Make Your name glorious. Save now. We avail ourselves.
O God, I avail myself.
In the holy name of Christ our King. Amen.

Savior, Savior, Hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pastor's Summer Reading List

A few weeks ago during a Sunday Evening service I mentioned that I would post a suggested Summer Reading List. On the eve of leaving for South America for 10 days, here it is. My hope is that the offerings on this list will inspire, challenge, encourage, and transform you as you seek after Christ more every day. Enjoy!

Essential Reading:
The Bible (Had to put it on the list. Take this summer to engage/re-engage with God's Word. There are several Bible reading plans on our website at www.fayettevillefbc.org.)

Christian Walk:
"Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby (A now classic book, but one worth revisiting)
"Wrestling with God" by Dr. Jim Denison (A great book for those seeking answers to faith or who
     have questions about God.)
"The Power of a Whisper" by Bill Hybels (A wonderful read on hearing the voice of God in your daily
"Follow Me" by David Platt (What does it really mean to be a Disciple? This book challenges us to
     consider the real cost of discipleship.)
Anything by Dallas Willard (Dr. Willard passed away this past month. He was an incredible force for
     the Gospel and for understanding the concept of discipleship and spiritual formation. Here are some
     of his key works.)
          "Renovation of the Heart"
          "The Great Omission"
          "Spirit of the Disciplines"

"The American Civil War: A Military History" by John Keegan
"In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin" by Erik Larson

Christian Leadership:
"The Catalyst Leader" by Brad Lomenick
"The Next Generation Leader" by Andy Stanley
"Courageous Leadership" by Bill Hybels

"Great Days with Great Lives" by Charles R. Swindoll
"Devotions for Sacred Parenting" by Gary Thomas
"Devotions for a Sacred Marriage" by Gary Thomas

That ought to get you going. I will probably update as the summer progresses. Blessings.

Pastor Jim

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Snapshots of Influence

I used to have a staff supervisor that used the expression "Let's land this plane.". He usually used it in the context of staff meetings or any time something needed to come to an end. May seems to be the month to "land the plane". It has become one of the busiest months of my year. I have been invited to awards banquets, end of the year concerts, pastor appreciation lunches, end of season tournaments, graduations, and ministry celebration events. The seat belt sign has come on and you can feel the landing gear coming down.

Please don't hear me complaining about a busy schedule. I am not. In fact, my point is the exact opposite. I believe as Christ-followers we need to be keenly aware of seasons such as this, and all of us have them. There are times at work, church, school, athletics, etc... that God gives us venues for "snapshots of influence". Maybe it is just a short conversation, an encouraging word, a brief show of compassion, or a promise of prayer, but God will open up opportunities to extend His gospel and Kingdom through us if we simply will pay attention and be obedient.

I will never forget the conversation I had with a couple who is currently attending our church. They started coming to our early service a few months ago. I was greeting people one Sunday morning and they stopped to introduce themselves. The husband is a city employee and said that they were first time guests. Each December our church hosts a Christmas luncheon for all the employees of our city, from the Mayor and city council to maintenance personnel. I was invited last year to say an opening word and prayer at this lunch. I spoke of what a privilege it was to be with them, how blessed we were to have such a wonderful city to live in and the employees that make it run so efficiently, and the reason for the gathering that day which was to celebrate the birth of a Savior. I prayed over them, and, of course, shared a meal with them. The husband of the couple recounted the Christmas luncheon to me and said that something about that time had stuck in his mind. So much so that he and his wife decided to attend our church months later. They are still attending.

All said, you never know what fruit a quick word, a short prayer, or a small witness might have in someone's life. My encouragement to you and me is not to allow the busyness of life to push us past these moments of possible influence. Don't run so fast through your day, week, month, or year that you can't recognize the opportunities God is giving you to exert influence for His sake. Take a breath, open your eyes and ears, say a quick prayer, and extend Christ's love and compassion to those God places in your path.

Now, off to a luncheon.....


Pastor Jim