A very real issue: STRESS among teenagers and young adults

24 Apr

Sometimes an issue hits you right between the eyes and you wonder why you haven’t seen it sooner.  This is one of those issues.  Yes, in recent months I had heard “bits and pieces” from multiple directions. I had read news reports of soaring rates of depression & suicide among teens & young adults.  I have talked with folks in the business world who talked about how managing their young adult employees is very different today.  I have heard from educators about how high school students are constantly stressed out.

To be candid, my feelings about this issue lined up with many others of my generation:  What do they have to be stressed out about?  They don’t know stress. They’ve got it easy and don’t know it.  Teenagers are always stressed out – and always have been! In short, I was pretty dismissive of most of it.  Until last week.

Listening to podcasts as I drive is one of my favorite things to do. It helps me learn and it helps me use dead time in a more productive way.  Occasionally, I listen to a leadership podcast from Carey Niewhouf, a pastor in Canada.  Here is a link to the show….

https://careynieuwhof.com/mypodcast/

I listened to episode #187 with Tim Elmore entitled “Anxiety in Young Leaders.”  Really, the episode is about the stress felt by two entire generations – the Millennials who are now in young adulthood and Generation Z, the generation presently in high school and younger – and why those feelings of stress are more intense than the stress of other generations.  One statement from this podcast rocked my world…

“The average 17 year old feels as much stress today as the average mental patient in the 1950’s.” 

That isn’t a joke. You read it right. Tim Elmore says that he has been told this by multiple physicians.  When I heard that statement, I was shaken to my core.   If you are reading this post and you are older than me, please resist the urge to begin spouting off about how hard our generation had it and how easy this generation has it.  Yes, our generation had stress.  Yes, our generation is in the throes of middle age stress – marriage, teenage kids, mortgage, career, aging parents, etc. We know stress.  That isn’t the point. The point is how our kids feel. Let that sink in.  Yes, our generation knows stress, but consider these points…

1.     We did not grow up with smartphones and social media.  Our generation gets on Facebook to keep up with old friends and post pictures of our family events, but our kids feel the WEIGHT of social media in a way that we don’t.

2.     We did not grow up feeling like our future depended on the ACT.   High schools today place a great emphasis on preparing for the ACT, scholarships, college visits, and getting ready for college.  I am not critical of this; I understand why they do it.  However, our kids get the message and feel the pressure.  Yes, I took the ACT, but I don’t remember taking the ACT feeling like the rest of my life was riding on it. That’s a fairly recent phenomenon.

3.   We did not grow up with constant pressure to perform and excel. When we grew up, you played little league baseball.  Now, you play little league baseball, your dad takes you to a hitting coach every week, and you play travel ball because you are a good player and you can become good enough to get a college scholarship one day.  Think about it. In many ways, our kids feel the pressure to perform and excel much earlier in life than we did.

4.   Everything is more complicated for our kids. Take going to the prom. When we grew up, the guy asked the girl to go to the prom. It was simple.  Now, it has to be a production. Creative. Unique.  Splashed all over social media so that everyone sees “the ask.”  If you have teenage kids, just stop and think about how much more complicated and stressful getting asked to go to the prom is today than it was a generation ago. The more I think about it, just about everything our kids navigate in their teenage and young adult years is more complicated than it was when we grew up.

5.    We did not grow up with information at our finger tips – both good and evil. We had to go to the library to do research.  Pornography was found in magazines or on video tapes. Today, people use their phones for both research and pornography.  It’s instant.  The affect of this on our culture cannot be overstated.  Our kids feel the effects of it most. We were dependent on our parents for much of our information. We had to ask our parents. Our kids don’t.

6.    We grew up with a greater understanding of failure and resilience. There were times our generation didn’t get a trophy.  We didn’t get an award on awards day. We didn’t get picked for the team at P.E. A teacher was unfair to us. A coach didn’t play us when we deserved it. Somehow our generation learned not to be crushed when things didn’t turn out the the way we hoped. Somehow our generation learned to get back up again.  For whatever reasons, many teenagers and young adults aren’t learning this same understanding of failure and resilience and they are stressed out because of it. As a result, many are emotionally crushed by the time they are in their 20’s.

There are more examples I could list.  Here is the bottom line:  our kids have grown up and are growing up in a vastly different world than we grew up in.  We must not dismiss their pain and their stress.  Yes, we could argue about why this is the case. Parenting styles have changed, and many argue that is the root cause.  Tim Elmore discusses this issue in the podcast I mentioned. He believes that today’s parenting styles are great contributors to the younger generations difficulty in handling stress.  The reasons why aren’t the real point of this blog post. Here is the point of this blog post…

Our kids and young adults are stressed and hurting far more than I realized.

It doesn’t matter why. It’s how they feel. It’s where they are.  My heart goes out to them. This week, I thought of my own sons and wondered if I have failed to understand the stress they feel.  I thought of the teenagers and college students in the church I pastor and wondered if I have not taken their pain as seriously as I should have.  I thought of the young adults in my church and in my neighborhood and wondered if I lacked the empathy I should have.

I am committed to seek to understand more, have more empathy, and seek to help where I can. Our kids and young adults need us to walk with them as they navigate life. Count me as one who is determined to be there for them.

 

 

 

 

Lord, take over a worship service again.

6 Apr

Once a church reaches a certain point, the services must be planned and prepared for in a greater way.  In order to have a quality choir and orchestra, the music they share in worship must be planned and prepared ahead of time. In order to have the audio-visual elements that are now standard in many churches, all of those elements must be prepared ahead of time.  Certainly, preaching is better if it is prepared ahead of time!  None of this means that we don’t pray and ask the Lord to lead us in our worship services. We do that every week at our church.  I would hope that every church does that, no matter how many or how few they may have in worship.  However, the end result for most churches is that our services are planned and prepared in advance, many times we print an “order of service” but, even if we don’t, we know what songs we will sing.  We know when we will take up the offering, and we know what message we are going to preach. Nothing wrong with that. God is honored in excellence.  We should always have the highest quality possible in our worship services.  However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if God moved so powerfully in a service that we threw our plans out the window?

In a recent conversation with my wife, we were talking about people responding in a worship service, and I made the statement “In my entire ministry, I have seen the Lord take over a worship service on two occasions.”  Then I proceeded to share with her about those two occasions.  Since that I day, I have prayed several times, “Lord, take over a worship service again.”  Let me make it clear: I am not talking just about people responding to an invitation at the end of the service – as wonderful as that is! I am talking about occasions when the Holy Spirit of God moves so strongly that it interrupts the order of service and things happen that aren’t in the bulletin.  I am talking about occasions when people are so moved by the Spirit that they MUST respond on the spot.  In 24 years as a pastor, I have seen this happen on two occasions.  Let me share them with you.

The first happened in 2005 when I served as Senior Pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama. A man named Kenny and his wife had visited our church a few times and I had visited in their home. Kenny was a good man, but he was not a believer.  I shared the gospel with him in his living room, but he did not give his life to Christ.  Then came one Sunday morning I would describe as “just a normal Sunday.”  No special emphasis. No indication that God was about to move in a great way. We sang congregational songs. We took up the offering.  Andy Hadley was leading our great choir in singing the song “Bow the Knee.”  The service was going exactly as planned. I was on the front pew ready to step up when the choir finished and begin my message.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement.  I looked up and saw Kenny coming down the aisle weeping – right in the middle of the choir special.  He knelt down on the steps in front of the pulpit and began crying out for the Lord to save him.  I knelt down beside Kenny to pray with him. The choir finished the song and then the church continued to sing and pray.  Finally, Kenny finished praying, looked up at me and said, “Pastor, I am sorry I messed up the service, but I couldn’t wait.”  As we embraced, I told Kenny, “You didn’t mess up the service, you made the service!”   To be very honest, I do not even remember the rest of that service. I don’t remember if I preached my planned sermon or not.  I just remember the overwhelming sense of God’s presence in that service and the visible, tangible rejoicing of God’s people.  The Lord took over that service.

The second occasion happened six years later on October 17, 2011 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, where I was serving as Associate Pastor.  Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Jimmy Jackson, had invited an evangelist named Ron Herrod to come for what we promoted as “A Day of Prophecy.”  Like the day in Pell City six years earlier, this day was “normal” and even “average.”  Our attendance was about average.  We met with Ron Herrod before the service and had prayer with him. The worship service and the music went “as planned” with our choir and orchestra doing their customary wonderful job. It was a good, solid Sunday, but there was no special air of excitement or special feeling. Ron Herrod got up to preach and his message was from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 – “What to Do If You Miss the Rapture.”   It was a good, solid message delivered by a good, solid man of God but his delivery and content were nothing extraordinary.  From my vantage point on the front pew, there was no hint of what was about to happen.

Those of us who have heard very many sermons know the signs when a preacher is about to move into the invitation.  I was on the front pew and sat up in my seat because I could tell that Ron Herrod was about to move into the invitation and I would be the point man down front to receive people.  As I looked up at him, I noticed a change come over his countenance. I noticed his voice strengthen as he spoke with even greater clarity and power.  It might not have been noticeable to the rest of the audience, but it was tangible from my seat. It was like the Lord took over Ron Herrod in those moments as he finished his message and extended an invitation.

The invitation music started and I stood down front along with other staff members to receive those who responded – and respond they did!  Immediately folks began coming down the aisle – most of them adults. “I want to be saved.”  “I need to be baptized.”  “We want to join this church.”  They kept coming.  The invitation was extended and people kept responding. In fact, the rooms that we normally used for decision counseling overflowed into the hallways and we eventually moved everyone who responded to the choir room in order to have room.  Our second worship service was going while we were dealing with this group who responded in the first service.  It took almost the entire time. Finally,  I realized that I needed to be back in the worship center to receive people responding in the second service and I raced back there with my eyes blurry with tears and my heart overwhelmed with joy at what I had just seen happen.  We saw a similar type of response at the end of the second service.  It was nothing short of incredible. The next Sunday we baptized a BUNCH of people, and then more in the coming Sundays – all of whom made decisions on that day. The overwhelming majority of them were adults.  The Lord took over that service on October 17, 2011.

In the years before and since these two days, I have certainly been part of many great worship services.  I have seen many people saved and baptized.  Many others have joined the church.  I have seen the altar filled with people praying after I preached.  It’s been wonderful to see many people respond to the Lord’s leadership over the years. However, these two occasions are different from all of the others.  It wasn’t planned. God just moved.  It was powerful.  It was convicting. It was encouraging. It was eye opening. It was joyful.  We could do nothing but weep tears of joy and give God praise because there was no question that He alone did this.  God took over the service. Period.

I told Becky that I was praying for the Lord to do it again.  Oh, how I long to see the Lord take over a service again. It’s been almost seven years.   No matter where you attend church, let’s all pray and come to church on Sunday expectant.  This Sunday might be the next time the Lord takes over the service.

 

 

What did Christ’s resurrection do?

29 Mar

As we prepare for Easter Sunday, I thought I would share some of my preaching notes from Easter Sunday 2017.  The title of the message was “What Did the Resurrection Do?” Here is a link to the video with the preaching notes below….

 

  1.  Christ’s resurrection made it possible for us to be born again.

Born again? What does that mean? How does that work? Well, really we are talking about a new kind of life that comes to us. A new kind of life that changes everything. So, it’s a new life!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, NKJV)

I love what one of the great theologians of our day wrote about this fact…

In his resurrection, Jesus earned for us a new life just like his. We do not receive all of that new “resurrection life” when we become Christians, for our bodies remain as they were, still subject to weakness, aging, and death. But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power. Thus it is through his resurrection that Christ earned for us the new kind of life we receive when we are “born again.” -Wayne Grudem

 Through His resurrection, Christ earned for us the new kind of life. Over in the book of Ephesians, the Bible speaks of this in terms of moving from death to life.

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:5–6, ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus and the new life that He came forth from the grave with is the new life that we can have. Before we become a Christian, we are dead in our sins, but Christ has earned for us new life. So, Christ’s resurrection enabled us to be born again. Let’s see a 2nd result of the resurrection…

2. Christ’s resurrection ensures we will be forgiven forever.

Forgiven forever. That sounds so great doesn’t it? Do you know why? I am going to let you in on a BIG secret that everyone knows about, but no one talks about any more. It’s something that all of us carry around and we all feel but no one likes to talk about…

GUILT

People carry around guilt for all types of reasons. Guilt over things they have done – or not done. Guilt that comes from our family. Guilt that comes from…you name it. Some people say “Well it’s religion like you folks have at Lakeside that causes people to feel all of this guilt.” Well, if that were true, then guilt should be declining in America today, right? More people are not religious, more people are fine not going to church. And everywhere we turn people are told that whatever you want to do is great. However you want to live is fine and no one has the right to judge you. I mean, people SHOULD BE happier, right? And yet the counselors offices are booked solid, more people depressed, more people struggling than ever before. Do you know why? The world’s way doesn’t work.

In fact, out of all of the religions in the world, do you know how many of them have a cure for guilt? ONE. The Christian faith. Christ’s resurrection ensures we will be forgiven of all of our sin forever. THAT is a cure for guilt. How does it work?

but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:24–25, NKJV)

 Jesus was crucified “delivered up” for our offenses – not what offends us, but what offends God. The things we have done – and not done. That is why Christ died. For our offenses, our sins. But then did you notice it says that Christ was raised for our justification. That’s a big word, but there is an easy way to remember what it means…

Justification = “just as if I’d never sinned”

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:5–6, ESV)

 The tenses of those verbs “raised” and “seated” show that it is immediate. When we are saved we are immediately raised spiritually. And when we are saved, we are immediately seated in the heavenly places. WAIT A MINUTE, PASTOR. I’ve got to go to work in the morning, and where I work is NOT a heavenly place. So, if I am a Christian, how am I seated in the heavenly places right now? YOU HAVE ACCESS TO EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST RIGHT NOW.

So, the first result of Christ’s resurrection is that it enabled us to be born again. The 2nd result is that it ensures we will be forgiven forever. Now, I want us to see a 3rd result…

3.   Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection.

 Have you ever lost someone you loved? Grief can be overwhelming. The worst can be the graveside. You gather there at the cemetery. It’s excruciating for the family. However, at every graveside service, I remind people of the great truth of the resurrection.

And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.” (1 Corinthians 6:14, NKJV)

knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” (2 Corinthians 4:14, NKJV)

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV)

 We bury the body, but when we die our spirit goes to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8 to be absent from the body to is be present with the Lord). But there is a coming a great resurrection day when all of the Christians who have EVER lived will be resurrected all at once and given new glorified bodies and their spirit will be reunited with their new body and they will live forever with the Lord.

Christ’s resurrection GUARANTEES our resurrection.

Now, I want us to see one more result of the resurrection…

 4.   Christ’s resurrection is proof that the Bible is true and our faith is real.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–15, ESV)

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:16–19, ESV)

 

 

 

Counting down to Easter Sunday – and every Sunday!

27 Mar

1 Corinthians 15 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. It is commonly referred to as the “Resurrection Chapter” not because it tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection but because it speaks of the necessity of it and how it applies to our lives today. As we approach Easter Sunday 2018, I encourage all of my readers to take some time and read through this great chapter.  I intend to do so with my own family during our family devotional times.  Let’s look at some key points of this chapter…

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–19, NASB95)

Here we see the absolute necessity of the resurrection to our faith. If He is not victorious then there is no victory for us. However, Christ has risen from the dead, so there is victory for us.  In fact, Paul goes on to explain that Christ’s resurrection restores spiritual life to sinful humanity who had lost their spiritual life through Adam’s fall in the garden of Eden…

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22, NASB95)

Because Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the grave we can have that same victory through faith in Him!  Furthermore, Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection – comparing Christ’s resurrection as the first one of many to come…

“But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:23–28, NASB95)

I hope that’s enough to get your Bible study juices flowing and encourage you to dig into 1 Corinthians 15 this week as we count down to Easter Sunday – resurrection Sunday!  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time to visit the Biblical sites. Of course, one of the great highlights of any trip there was a visit to the Garden Tomb…

GardenTombexterior

We do not know for sure exactly where Jesus was buried.  The Garden Tomb is one of two locations that many Christians believe to be the place. The other is found just a short distance away in Jerusalem inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Garden Tomb has a number of characteristics that coincide with what we know from the Bible, making it the location that is preferred by most evangelical scholars today, although we cannot be certain.

GardenTombinterior1

This is the burial chamber inside the Garden Tomb.  If Jesus was actually buried here, this is very likely the spot.  Take a moment and think about that. Every group that enters the Garden Tomb grows silent as this awesome thought sinks in. For me, it is a spiritually moving experience to be reminded in such a concrete way that I serve a risen Savior!  You see, the most important issue is not WHERE Jesus was buried, but rather THAT Jesus has risen!  Here is what you see above you as you exit the Garden Tomb…

GardenTombinterior2

Yes! That is what really matters! As the old hymn says, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living whatever men may say…”  That is the message and the hope of Easter.  In fact, Easter Sunday is not the only Sunday that the Christian church celebrates the resurrection. Have you ever wondered why we worship on Sunday?  Because Jesus rose on Sunday.  The early Christians did not gather to worship on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) but gathered to worship on Sunday because that was the day their Savior rose.  So, every single time we gather for worship on Sunday, we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ.  Yes, Easter Sunday and every Sunday is resurrection Sunday!

The suicide question

22 Mar

Suicide. Just typing the word sends chills up my spine.  On a few occasions, I have ministered to families who had a family member take their own life and I have seen up close the enormous pain and despair that comes.  A few years ago, the son of well known pastor Rick Warren took his own life. In recent weeks, the community where I serve has once again been touched by suicide.  I read recently that the suicide rate for 15-25 year old’s has increased 70% in the last ten years.  It is at times like this when pastors get what I call “the suicide question.”  Most often, it comes in this way: “Can a person who has committed suicide go to Heaven?”  I really don’t know where it originated, but many Christians tell me they “have always heard” that a person who commits suicide cannot go to Heaven, no matter their spiritual commitment beforehand. It’s an issue that many Christians struggle with, and I decided to address it in the blog today.

I believe that the central issue in discussing this question is the Biblical teaching regarding justification – that is how lost sinners are forgiven of their sin and made right with God. The Bible clearly teaches that sinners are made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NKJV)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1, NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)

Without delving into a host of Biblical and theological issues, suffice it to say that the Bible teaches that we are justified (forgiven of our sin and made right with God) at the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  Justification is not a feeling, but it is rather a standing before God. It is our standing before God that is His work, not ours. Romans 8:33 reminds us that “it is God who justifies.” Furthermore, the Bible teaches that justification is a fixed, final, eternal standing before God.  In other words, we are not justified today and unjustified tomorrow depending on our feelings or behavior.  In fact, the Bible teaches that a person who is justified will absolutely and finally be glorified (made like God to live with Him forever)

And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, HCSB)

The verb tenses in Romans 8:33 are telling as well. Where I grew up, people would say, “It’s a done deal.”  That’s what Romans 8:33 says. Just as sure as God has justified a person, He has already glorified that person. They will be glorified for certain, and it is so certain that God’s Word speaks of it as if it has already happened.  Therefore a person who has given their life to Christ cannot be justified one day and then do something to lose their justification the next. The Bible teaches that a person cannot do anything to deserve or earn their salvation. That only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, since a person did nothing to earn or deserve their salvation, but received their justification as a free gift (Romans 6:23) then a person’s salvation is eternal and irrevocable (eternal security, “once saved always saved”). If we did nothing to earn or deserve our salvation, then we we can do nothing to lose our salvation.

What does all of this have to do with the suicide question?   I believe that once a person has sincerely trusted Christ alone for their salvation, then nothing they do can change that relationship. It’s like my own two sons. They might sin terribly and break my heart, but they will always be my sons.  Nothing they could ever do would stop them from being my sons. Why?  Because they are my sons and that is the nature of the relationship.  So it is with children of God.  Nothing a child of God can do will sever the relationship – even something as horrific as suicide.

That being said, please allow me to conclude with several important truths to help put all of this into some perspective…

1)  Suicide is NEVER a legitimate option for a believer.

The Christian worldview upholds the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death – including our own life.  While I do not believe that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” it is, nevertheless, a grievous sin.  It is a sin against God, ourselves, our family, and everyone who knows us.  While I do believe that it is possible for a true believer to reach a depth of pain and despair that is so great they take their own life, it is never right to do so.

2)  Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it just shifts the pain to others.

A person who takes their own life has fallen into the trap of believing that suicide will end their pain. That is a lie.  All of their pain simply moves to those who love them. The guilt felt by the family left behind is often unbearable.  While the person who commits suicide often does it to relieve their own pain, it is the beginning of years, decades, and generations of pain for those who are left.

3)  There is nothing you can say.  Just be there to cry and pray with them.

When I first started out in ministry, I used to think that I had to say something profound that would relieve a family’s hurt. Then I realized the most important thing I could do was be there. No words can ease the pain for the family that is touched by a suicide, but your presence and prayers can help greatly.

4)  Strong, faithful believers can struggle with depression and mental illness.

In fact, some of the greatest Christians who ever lived struggled mightily with depression.  Some of the greatest preachers, missionaries, and theologians in history have battled incredible mental health challenges.  Don’t think it can’t happen to you or your family. Take it seriously and take action.

Suicide is a complex issue that has no easy answers. It is my prayer that this post will help believers begin to think clearly about it and bring comfort to those who are struggling. The applications of the Bible truths we discussed apply to far more than just instances of suicide. Thanks for reading.

Renewing the Blog & the Power of Social Media

16 Mar

It’s great to be back writing a blog post again for the first time in almost a year and a half. Sorry that I let life and ministry crowd out this ministry. I have updated the photos and a couple of the sections on this blog. Hopefully, I can do a better job with updates and connecting with people in this way. Thanks for reading!  Now on to the blog post…

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NASB95)

This verse came to my mind this morning as I looked at the stats for our Lakeside Facebook page.  The Lord never changes. The gospel never changes. The faith once delivered to the saints never changes. The Word of God never changes.  However, the means by which we deliver the gospel and the Word of God changes constantly.  In reading a biography of Martin Luther this week, I learned it was the invention of the printing press that helped pave the way for so many to return to Biblical truth during the Protestant Reformation.  I am typing this post on my MacBook Pro and pasted the scripture quotation from Logos Bible Software.  The means change.  In 1 Corinthians 9:22, the Apostle Paul clearly states that we should use all means available to us in order to reach more people.  Keeping up with the times isn’t bad if you are keeping up with the times in order to reach people for Christ.

Social media arose in earnest only about ten years ago – coinciding with the rise of smart phones in every purse and pocket.  In a few short years, social media became far more than just a neat way to keep up with old high school friends and post pictures of the kids. As more and more people engaged on social media, it became where people connected and a powerful force in the world. If you want to go where people are, then you have to go to social media.

This fact brings me to our upcoming Easter services at Lakeside. For years, Lakeside has joined many other churches in spending big bucks to mail out a card to our neighbors inviting them to our Easter services.  This year, we learned an interesting fact:  there are 400,000+ people on Facebook who live within a 10-mile radius of our church facilities. Take a moment and think about the incredible implications of that fact alone.  So, we decided to try leveraging the power of social media to get the word out.

A few days ago, we rolled out a Facebook video ad that simply gives the times of our Easter services and points them to our church website where we have more details.  As of this morning, that ad has reached 35,250 people and the video has been viewed 4532 times already.  Oh, I forgot to tell you: the overwhelming majority of those people are within that pool of 400,000+ who live around our church.

We tried another experiment this week.  I shot the first of three short video devotional messages promoting our Easter services and we posted the video to our church Facebook page.  This video was posted yesterday morning – 23 hours ago.  As of this writing, that video has been viewed 740 times. As a pastor, I have connected with 740 people in a personal way, and it cost no money and only a few minutes of time. As a pastor who is old enough to remember pastors and evangelists encouraging people to “buy the tapes” and having done that myself, I am amazed at the possibilities that are available with social media.

Yes, I know the problems of social media. I know the negative impacts it has and the inherent issues with it.  However, social media isn’t going away. It’s where people are. I am praying that the Lord will help me use it in order to reach more people. It’s a tool. It’s a means.

Finally, I don’t know if we will have a single new guest at our Easter services due to this social media strategy.  I am praying that we have many.  Speaking of praying, social media is no substitute for prayer. I am still going to invite people personally.  I am still going to believe that the Lord is going to send us people we have never met before and who haven’t been touched by our social media.  At the end of the day, I am leveraging the power of social media, but I am totally depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Message from 2018 Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference

15 Mar

Praying especially that the Lord might use this message in the lives of pastors and those who lead…

 

The Day of a Godly Person’s Death

8 Sep

Our church family at Lakeside has been touched profoundly by death this week. First of all, a beloved 33 year-old member of our church died after six months in the heart transplant unit at UAB hospital. On Wednesday, a wonderful 37 year old teacher at one of our local schools passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was (and had been) the teacher of several of our Lakeside children. I do not write this blog post because I have answers. I do not. Only the Lord knows why. Tonight my mind went to a little known sermon by a well known preacher.

Jonathan Edwards was a preacher the Lord used mightily. He is most famous for his well known sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, my personal favorite sermon   from Edwards is a sermon on death.  It’s good to share it for many of us this week…

“The Day of a Godly Person’s Death Is Better Than the Day of Their Birth”
Ecclesiastes  7:1

A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, NASB95

1.  They receive a better and more blessed life.

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”” (John 6:49–51, NASB95)

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”” (1 Corinthians 15:53–55, NASB95)

2.   They enter into a better world.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NASB95)

Listen to Edward’s own words on this point…

The world that a man comes into on the day of his birth is a world of low, earthly, and mean enjoyment. But the world that the soul of a godly man is born into on the day of his death is a world of spiritual and divine enjoyments. This is a world of fading, vanishing pleasures but that is a world of substantial, durable joys and delights. There are pleasures forevermore.

 The world that men come into on the day of their birth is a world of sin and vanity and trouble. But the world that a godly man enters into on the day of his death is a world of perfection and holiness, of light and joy without any mixture of sin and sorrow.

 On the day of a person’s birth, he is born into a world that is under a curse and has no guard against it; but on the day of his death he enters into a world that is blessed of God, where there is no curse, but only joy and happiness, a world that is blessed continually with the glorious presence of God and the perfect manifestation and full enjoyment of God’s love. It’s a world filled with the boundless love of God which doth as a river of life satisfy all the inhabitants thereof.

3.   They are received by a better parent.

“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18, NASB95)

4.   They receive a better inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NASB95)

At the end of the message, Edwards urges us to make some important applications…

  • This truth should help the grief of those who have lost friends and loved ones.

 

  • This truth should inspire us all to prepare spiritually for death

 

  • We should rejoice because we need not fear death.

 

 

When You are in a Busy Season

1 Sep

No blog post in two months. Sad. To be very honest, July and August were a blur for me. Those two months may have been the busiest two months I have had in life and ministry.  Even taking a vacation with the family didn’t slow things down!  As I looked at my calendar today and saw September 1st, I couldn’t help but reflect on some things that God has taught me and reminded me of during the last two months. Perhaps you are going through a very busy season.  Maybe you are drained physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Read on.

God is at work in this busy season.  When we get busy and tired, we tend to focus on all of the work that we are doing. It’s so easy to forget that our Lord is at work.  In fact, He is at work even while we were catching a few hours of sleep…

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:3, NASB95)

When you came home dead tired, God was up all night working. Just because you may be “at your wits end” doesn’t mean that God is anywhere near His.

A busy season can overstate problems and make us numb to blessings. When we are tired and worn out, we tend to get frustrated more easily.  As a result, problems often feel larger and more hurtful than they really are. Problems are magnified. Remember, when you look at something through a magnifying glass, it’s not really bigger – it just looks bigger!  When we magnify our problems, that also means that we cannot see the bigger picture of God’s blessings.

A busy season forces us to evaluate priorities. There is only one you.  One of two things is true: you are too busy because circumstances you don’t control have added to your load or you are too busy because you have added things you do control to your load. Either way, some things must go or be curtailed. You decide. It is biblical to evaluate how we spend our time…

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16, NASB95)

Evaluate priorities and make adjustments. Define what matters most and do those things. It’s OK if something doesn’t get done. It’s OK to say no. There is only one you. If you don’t do it, no one will do it for you.

There is hope even in the most busy of seasons.  You are not a hamster on an endless wheel. This too shall pass. Tears endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. In fact, scripture speaks of growing weary doing good things. At the end of weary is hope.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9, NASB95)

 

 

 

Religious liberty & July 4th

1 Jul

This year July 4th falls on a Monday, so many people will be taking long weekends and enjoying fun, food, and family.  July 4th is the day each year that our nation celebrates its birth and the freedom that we have in America. The United States has long been known as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” However, it’s important to point out that the fact we are free to go to the lake or grill hamburgers doesn’t mean we are truly free. We are only truly free when people are free to live out their faith and convictions. Without religious liberty for all, there will soon be no liberty for any.

I urge readers of this blog to spend some time reading the articles below and getting acquainted with the issues raised. For those who say that “things like this won’t ever happen in Alabama” I remind you that organized prayer has been snuffed out of our public schools and same-sex marriage is now legal in every county of Alabama.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/june/californias-religious-liberty-moment-coming-to-state-near-y.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436380/religious-liberty-threatened-california-new-law-gender-identity?target=topic&tid=3106

http://www.dennyburk.com/supreme-court-refuses-to-defend-religious-liberty-for-pharmacists/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431859/kelvin-cochrans-christian-views-cost-atlanta-fire-chief-his-job

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/05/12/the-moral-revolutionaries-present-their-demands-unconditional-surrender/