Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Crazy Thanksgiving Day!

Growing up, my mother typically hosted the Thanksgiving dinner for all of her extended family.  It was much more than just a meal, it was a full day of hanging out, eating, laughing, playing games, and napping.  Family members would bring special dishes to pass and there was always an abundance of food.  Rarely did we go around and express what we were grateful for as individuals but my grandfather would always give thanks to God for His provision of food and for the gift of family.  I was thankful that my grandmother would always bring a large dish of banana pudding--one of our favorites!

At the age of 11, while celebrating Thanksgiving with all of the family, I recall a tragedy that happened at our house.  My father asked my cousin to back our car away from the garage door a little bit in order that the door could swing open.  I was offended that my father asked my 14 year old cousin when he had a very competent son who could have done the job.  After my cousin rolled the car backwards in order for the garage door to open, he came inside and placed the car keys on the kitchen counter.  My mental gears were spinning with  less than noble thoughts.  I picked up the keys and went outside 10 minutes later in order to drive the car back up the incline, in order to place the car in its original position (near the garage door).  What was the purpose of this exercise--I still don't know.  This was a mistake!  After starting the car and placing it in gear, the car began to roll backwards towards my grandmother's car--yikes!  Out of pure fear I punched the accelerator and drove right through the garage door with my parents new, red Chevy Impala.  Needless to say, my sister was standing inside the garage as I went driving past her.  After shaking the house and gaining everyone's attention, I had only one thought--run and hide!  While we typically take this time of the year to thank God for the many things that He has blessed us with, I can also think of several things that He has not given me that I certainly deserve.

Here is a short list of those things:
  1. No punishment for the short cruise in my parent's car and no jail time.
  2. No garnishing of wages especially since I had no job. 
  3. No humiliating correction in front of my family and friends.
  4. And, No punishment for my sin--Christ took that for me!
God is so loving by not giving us the very things that we deserve due to our disobedient hearts.  He placed all of His wrath for our evil upon Jesus Christ.  Not only have we been given many things to thank Him for but He has refrained from giving us many things that we deserve.

Galatians 1:4 (Jesus Christ) "...who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

1 Peter 2:23-24 (Jesus Christ) "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 

Romans 3:22-24 "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Complaining Christians

One of the most "life-taking" types of people are those who continuously complain and complain about everything.  They are like a dripping faucet that never ends.  They seem to suck everything positive out of us until we turn negative ourselves.  Misery truly does love company.  However, we as Christians are much wiser in how we go about complaining.  We want to masquerade it as a concern or a prayer request.  When another person approaches us and prefaces their comments with the words, "I'm not really complaining, but I need to tell you...."  It is their pious and gentle way of complaining to us.  Few are the people who can always find the silver lining and look for God's greater purposes.  Those people are high in demand and folks love to be around these types of people--especially complainers or whiners. 

Sadly enough, Christians are seldom confronted about the sin of ingratitude, complaining, or whining.  However it is a lack of understanding who God is and how He might be at work in others.  Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,..."  God disapproves of our grumbling, whining, and complaining.  In fact, according to Scripture, it hinders His work through us and blemishes our ability to impact the world for Christ.  Our society sees this all the time and it is fitting for a non-believer but not a child of God.  We shine brighter by looking to Him with hearts of gratitude.  We reflect an inner beauty that acknowledges that "God is in control of the details so let's see what He is going to do."

Before we begin to cut loose with our negative spirits and unwholesome words let's ask ourselves if what we are about to say is going to reflect the beauty of our Savior.  We may feel a right to complain or to vent to others because we have been wronged.  However, God has a different way of dealing with our problems.  It means bringing it to Him and if necessary, humbly going to another person in order to bring resolve.  In all things, we must advance the image and work of God that He has entrusted us with.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Is Pain & Suffering a Gift from God?

Without pain, suffering, and failure I would be much less than I am today.  It appears that God grows us in the red zone and not necessarily in our comfort zone.  It seems that those who know Christ most intimately have learned that intimacy on the anvil of failure and suffering.  It is through the dark nights that others have been forced to cry out to God and in so doing, learned that He is sufficient, good, powerful and the only one who can ultimately rescue their soul from trouble.

Suffering is the maker of character and faith if we treat it properly.  There is really no growth in our life without pain.  That pain may be inflicted upon us by others or even brought upon us by ourselves, or it may simply be the circumstances of life that we encounter.  Regardless, our Sovereign God allows and appoints things in our lives in order to make us better and not bitter.  The things we hate and resist may be the very things that God wants us to learn to trust Him with. 

Peter understood suffering well and he was a recipient of great pain and at the same time great grace. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trains. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Father, I pray that in the crucible of difficulties that You send my way that You would help me to see it as a blessing to trust You more and to allow You to make me more effective for Your service.  May my faith in you come forth as gold.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

8 Reasons Many Bible Belt Churches Are in Trouble

Thom Rainer was one of the developers of my Church Revitalization program and I would consider him an authority on church culture and church health.  He wrote an excellent article that I believe we could all identify with to some degree.  He serves as the president of Life Way Research and provides valuable help to struggling churches.  Please take the time to read as I know you will appreciate.

Thom Rainer Writes:  "What a big difference a region makes.  Or use to make.  I served as pastor of four churches, and three of them were in the Bible Belt.  One was not. It was my favorite. The Bible Belt refers to that region of the southeastern and south-central United States where church attendance has been higher historically, and where biblical values are more closely aligned with cultural values.  But the buckle of the Bible Belt is coming off. That means the entire belt will soon fall off.   And it is happening rapidly.  There are thousands of churches in the Bible Belt. Sadly, too many of them are not adjusting to the changing realities of the area.  They still act like it’s 1975. Here’s why:

1  They don’t recognize the decline in cultural Christianity. They refuse to admit the world has changed around them.  And they are often angered when someone suggests they make methodological and stylistic changes.
2  They have many “church rules.” The church rules could be related to attire worn on Sunday, or times of worship, or inconsequential polity issues.  The point is they do things like they did 40 years ago, and wonder why those on the outside are not interested in their churches.
3  They have leaders who have never led in a highly unchurched mission field. Of course, the problem is that the mission field around them is growing increasingly unchurched.  Birmingham and Nashville, in that regard, are looking more like Spokane and Boston.
4  They confuse traditions with truth.  That is a dangerous reality. When our church members equate biblical teachings with some of the bylaws and processes of the church, the congregation is in big trouble.
5  They do outreach the way they’ve always done it.  So if Tuesday night visitation was effective in 1975, it should be effective in 2016.
6  They have significant conflict due to frustration.  A number of the leaders and members of these churches can’t understand why and how things have changed so much. They want their old church back, but it’s not coming back. Their frustration can lead to conflict that exacerbates their other problems.
7  They are very slow to respond. Their internal culture moves at a much slower pace than the community around them. If they do respond to an opportunity, they might be five years late. Or ten. Or twenty.
8  They have significant facility challenges. Many of these churches were built for one big crowd one day a week one hour a week. They might have old and dated education and recreation facilities as well.  Some of them are in worship centers with a capacity multiple times their actual attendance. They can have significant unused space and deferred maintenance. A lot of their funds go to keep the lights on."

(Pastor Gary Speaking)  It is my opinion that many of us can identify with some of these traits through former churches.  My prayer is that we as a church understand why we are here and where we are headed in order that we can always make the necessary adjustments in preparation for the future.  Our mission and God's Word remains unchanged but our methods must always remain relevant.