Archive | October, 2014

Jesus is Lord over Halloween

31 Oct

As a kid growing up on Sand Mountain, Halloween was always a fun time.  We knew all of our neighbors and trick or treating consisted of going to see people our family had known for years and getting treats. Certain neighbors always had certain treats for the kids. For instance, Chalmer and Verma Chloe Watkins allows had hot parched peanuts in the oven for trick or treaters. They so enjoyed watching us grow up and it was a community connection.  After I got older, there was church events with friends, hay rides, etc.  After becoming a pastor, some of the churches I have served actually had a “trunk or treat” party on Halloween night for the community.

At various times, I have had some Christians tell me that we shouldn’t acknowledge Halloween at all in the church.  They cited the holiday’s pagan origins and the frightening, demonic costumes and movies that are pervasive the week of Halloween.  Certainly, those are valid concerns.  From what I have read, Halloween does have its early roots in pagan festivals.  The website www.history.com has this to say about Halloween…

Evolving from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, modern Halloween has become less about literal ghosts and ghouls and more about costumes and candy. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead.  Over the millennia the holiday transitioned from a somber pagan ritual to a day of merriment, costumes, parades and sweet treats for children and adults.

If you turn on the television this week, you can’t escape ads for horror movies.  Haunted houses used to be fun, fund raisers for local schools, but now they are big business in metropolitan areas particularly. Certainly, evil is rampant enough today without celebrating it further!

Personally, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with letting kids dress up and go trick or treating. It’s all in fun and part of growing up in America.  There’s nothing wrong with going to a good, wholesome, fun party with friends tonight.  Personally, my son has a high school football game tonight, so we are going to dinner with friends and then on to the game. I’ll have on my normal costume that I wear every day!

However, Christians should take care to remember that spiritual warfare and the demonic realm is very real. It is nothing to laugh at or revel in.  On Halloween (and every day for that matter) Christians should take great care what we expose our minds to and what we participate in.  The boundaries and guardrails we have in our lives aren’t put on hold for Halloween.

Finally, let’s all let Halloween be a reminder to think of Jesus. He is not one of a bunch of “spirits” but rather He is Lord over all…

The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19, HCSB)

What should a Christian do about Halloween?  Worship Jesus. Love Jesus. Serve Jesus. Tell someone about Jesus.  Jesus is Lord over Halloween!

The critical issue of alignment

28 Oct

I regularly listen to several podcasts. Among my favorites is the leadership podcast by Michael Hyatt.  The former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing and now a very successful entrepreneur, Michael Hyatt (www.michaelhyatt.com) always brings something to the table that stretches and challenges me as a leader.  Recently, I listened to his podcast on the vital importance of alignment on any team.  It was so good that I shared it with our staff team at Lakeside and wanted to share it on the blog today.

According to Michael Hyatt, there are three levels of unity that can be achieved in an organization…

  1. ACCEPTANCE – At this level of unity, people simply acquiesce to the will of the leader.  You might hear things like “This is what the boss wants to do.”
  2. AGREEMENT – This level is much healthier in the organization because here people understand your arguments and agree with your direction.  In other words, they believe you are right. Their head agrees with you.
  3. ALIGNMENT – This level is best and most healthy. Why?  Because it is only at this level that people are truly “with you.” Alignment means far more than just agreeing with you. It means you have have their heart even if they have brought a different viewpoint to the table initially.

Think of a rowing team… rowing

Alignment means that, after I have had my input and opportunity to give my perspective, I will align with the decisions of the leadership and row in the direction we are going with all of my heart.  A team without alignment can look more like this…

tugofwar

At some point along the way, every single one of us has probably been part of an organization like this one. There is constant “sideways” energy because there are competing visions & priorities.  This team will get nowhere because they spend their energy pulling against one another. The rowing team above is moving forward because they are aligned. Think about it.

Often, there is misalignment in an organization because one or more people or groups feel disenfranchised and left out of the decision making process. There is nothing more discouraging than feeling as if your voice is never heard and no one cares what you think about anything. Wait a minute. There is one thing more discouraging than that: being told your input is wanted and then knowing the decisions are already made before you give it.  Those of us who are leaders have to take great care to ensure that our team members feel a vital part of the team. It is only then that they can truly “align” and pull with all of their heart even if a decision didn’t go their way.

Over the years, I have seen misaligned marriages, families, businesses, and, yes, churches.  It will be a healthy thing to have the “alignment” conversation with your family, your management team, or the leadership team from your church. Life is too short and eternity is too long to spend our time pulling against one another.  May our families, our churches, and our businesses pull together and move forward with all of our hearts and for the glory of God.

Why a Fall Festival is a good investment for your church

24 Oct

This Sunday we will have the annual Fall Festival at the church I serve.  This is probably the 20th consecutive year or so that I have participated in one of these as a pastor.  They have taken many forms, depending on the church and community context.  If you don’t attend Lakeside where I serve, your church is very likely having some type of similar event. While I have not yet heard this at Lakeside, over the years I have had numerous members at the churches I have served talk with me about how such events are “a waste of money” and “all they are is a bunch of people who will never come back to the church.”  Most of the time, they prefaced their argument with something like, “I don’t think our church should spend money like this during such uncertain times.”   While I am certainly in total agreement with scrutinizing how we use the Lord’s money given through our churches, please allow me to share why I believe a Fall Festival is a good investment for your church (and mine).

It is a good investment because you will get lost people to come.  I have personally met people who do not know Christ at every single Fall Festival I have ever attended.  A Fall Festival type event is something that everyone can feel comfortable bringing their family to.  There is great value in that.  While most churches do not have a “sermon” during the Fall Festival, many churches give out gospel tracts in with all of the “goodies” and attempt to register people so that they can follow up.  Personally, I am praying to have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone this Sunday at our Fall Festival.  It’s much more relaxed to strike up a conversation at the Fall Festival while the kids are in the inflatables or they are munching on popcorn!

It is a good investment because you will minister to people while they are there.  At an event like the Fall Festival, you just have conversations with people that do not happen in the mad dash through the atrium after the morning services.  It can be a family that have you haven’t seen at church in a while. It can be someone you haven’t had a chance to talk with in a few months. The opportunities are endless when so many people gather. Take advantage of them.  This is why I just walk around and talk to people all during the Fall Festival.  The chance to minister grace comes regularly.

It is a good investment because the whole church is working together. At the Fall Festival, you will see your entire church family all together doing the same thing.  There is great value in that. It builds unity and reinforces the church as the body of Christ.

So, go support your church’s Fall Festival.  Sign up to help, and, when your shift is done, go find someone you don’t know and strike up a conversation with them.  You will be glad you did and you will honor Christ.

Answered Prayer

21 Oct

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14–15, NKJV)

Today, God answered a prayer for me.  How grateful and thrilled I am to see His hand at work!   Truthfully, the Lord has answered thousands of prayers for me over the years, but it thrills my soul in a fresh way every time it happens.  Among those thousands of answered prayers are those that He answered immediately and some that he required me to wait for years before seeing it happen.  In some cases, the Lord answered my prayer, but He did it in a way that I never dreamed or imagined.   There have been a few prayers that God answered in such a quiet way that it took me a while to realize what was happening.  In a handful of instances, God has answered prayers for me even after I had grown discouraged and stopped asking. There have even been answered prayers that came out of the blue while I was dealing with difficult, unrelated circumstances.  Answered prayers take many forms – all of them great!

Answered prayers are a glorious thing. They work together for our good and God’s glory.  They build our faith.  They stretch our faith.  They convict us and shape us into more of what we need to be.  In God’s time and in God’s way, they come.  They remind us all over again that we are not the masters of our lives, but we are in the hand of the Sovereign One.

Perhaps God answered a prayer for you today. Why don’t you join me in giving Him praise and rejoicing in His goodness & faithfulness?  If no answer to your prayer came today, don’t give up.  Keep praying.  God can do more in a moment than you can do in a lifetime.  You just never know when that moment will come and it will be glorious.

I love Lakeside

17 Oct

On Monday, October 14, 2013 I walked into the offices of Lakeside Baptist Church for my first official day as Senior Pastor.  It’s been a good first year together as pastor & people.  It’s truly a blessing and honor to serve as pastor at Lakeside.  Rather than focusing on me, I would just like to take a few moments to share some of the things I appreciate most about Lakeside.  These are things that I have learned during my first year as pastor.

Lakeside loves Christ and exalts Him.  Lakeside is a Jesus church. Our faith is in Him, and we worship Him alone. Jesus is really what unites our church because we are all different ages and live in different neighborhoods.  For all of our staff, programs, buildings, and budgets, the only things we really have to offer at Lakeside is Jesus.  Every Sunday, I am blessed to preach after excellent, Christ exalting music from a choir & orchestra who love Him.

Lakeside is a  faith family. One of my first days in the office at Lakeside, I received a very kind letter from my predecessor, Dr. Breck Ladd.  In that letter, Breck talked about how Lakeside was such a family.  On more than one occasion, I have had staff members who have served in multiple churches tell me, “Pastor, there is more of a family atmosphere here than any other church I have served.”  During our first year here, my family and I have come to understand just how much this is true.  Lakeside is far from a perfect church, but we are a family.

Lakeside reaches out. Even though Lakeside is a faith family in a very real way, our church doesn’t just care about those who are already part of the family.  To be honest, even though I have been here a year, I continue to find out ways that members of our church are engaged in outreach all over our city. We haven’t had a big campaign to get people to reach out.  All of this happens from the hearts of our people with little and no promotion or recognition. From the UAB Medical Apartments downtown, to Rocky Ridge Elementary School next door to the church, to a local jail, to the bus station, and many other places, Lakeside lives on mission.

Lakeside has all ages of people faithful & engaged.   Like many churches, Lakeside has a large number of faithful senior adults. I view that as a great thing!  Their faithfulness gives Lakeside a great stability & wisdom.  However, we have people of all ages who are involved in all levels of leadership at Lakeside. We started a new Sunday school class for couples in their late 20’s/early 30’s and they have grown substantially in just a few months. We have faithful deacons in their 30’s & 40’s as well as in their 70’s.  One of our best Sunday school teachers is a college student.  All ages are represented on the platform on Sunday mornings as we involve children and youth on our praise teams along with the adults.  Lakeside is truly a multi-generational church.  It’s one of our strengths.

Lakeside can have a bright future.  Last month, Lakeside was 57 years old. That’s right, the church was started as a mission of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in 1957. God has blessed in so very many ways and the church has seen many great things happen. After serving in this area for a year, I am more convinced than ever before that the next 57 years at Lakeside can be just as exciting.

Lakeside is willing to change in order to embrace it’s future. Change is hard in every church.  In big ways and small ways, I have seen Lakeside adjust and be open to change.  In recent months, I have shared with many different groups at Lakeside about future directions I believe our church needs to take. The response has been nothing but positive excitement.  Just recently, our largest adult Sunday school class moved out of the room they had occupied for over twenty years – in order to make way for children’s ministry in that space.  Not a single complaint has come to the pastor’s office about this move.

You might say these are just the “Top 5” things I appreciate.  I could have listed 25 just as easily, but I won’t for space purposes!  The bottom line is that I am so grateful that God called me and my family to serve at Lakeside.  I love my church.

 

 

Sharing the Gospel

14 Oct

Today is a big day in our state.  Why do I say that?  Because college students throughout our state (and others) have committed to share the gospel today.  That’s BIG.  Some college students have been praying for 24 days leading up to this effort.  You can learn more here engage24.org and please join me today in doing two things:  (1)  Pray for this effort  (2)  Share the gospel with someone today.  As we look to this day to engage people with the gospel of Christ, please let me share a few important notes about sharing the gospel…

(1)   Sharing the gospel is sharing Christ and His work on the cross.  Certainly, it is good and important to ask someone if they go to church and to invite someone to church.  However, inviting someone to church is not sharing the gospel.  We haven’t shared the gospel unless we share Christ.  The Apostle Paul spelled out what constitutes the gospel…

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, NKJV)

(2) Scripture gives us the content of the gospel, not the outline or the method.  Over the years, I have been part of evangelism training that took many forms.  I have shared the gospel using “The ABC’s of Salvation” and I have shared the gospel using “The Roman Road” verses.  I have shared the gospel using the outline from Evangelism Explosion and I have shared the gospel using the FAITH outline.  I have given out gospel tracts and walked people through a gospel tract.  I have given out marked Bibles and showed people the gospel using highlighted verses.  Which method of sharing the gospel is best?  The one you will do.

(3)  People are open to hearing.  Occasionally you will meet a person who is closed and hostile to the gospel, but the overwhelming majority of people will listen if you approach them conversationally and with humility.  It’s true that people “don’t like to be preached to” but they are very open to being shared with.

(4)  Don’t be afraid to share with someone from another religion. Practically all religions believe in some type of “heaven” although they may use a different term.  Ask the person to share how their faith believes a person can get to heaven.  Then ask if you could share how your faith says a person can get to heaven.  Personally, I have had Hindus, Muslims, and Jews who allowed me to share the gospel with them using this approach.

(5)  Be humble, but be bold!  Boldness doesn’t mean we stand on a street corner and shout at people.  Boldness can mean a teenager speaking of Christ in the lunchroom at school.  Boldness can be a conversation with a co-worker on the way to a meeting.  Boldness can be engaging the waitress at your favorite restaurant.  It takes some courage to share the gospel in today’s world, but it is the most important thing we can do.

So, join me in praying and sharing today along with these college students.  May Christ be exalted and shared today!

 

Back to regular blogging / Something for all of us to do on Tuesday!

10 Oct

For those who have been readers of this blog, let me apologize for not blogging more regularly. In the last two months, we have started our children into their new schools, purchased a home in the area where we serve, and moved in to that home.  Time to blog really hasn’t been there!  Now that life has moved into a somewhat “normal” phase, my intention is to begin posting each Tuesday and Friday on a regular basis that you can count on. Please subscribe to this blog so that you can receive an email each time a new post comes out.  Now, let’s talk about something really important…

Just this week I became aware of an emphasis that is taking place next week among many college students who are Christians.  Engage24.org is a great effort to encourage college students who are believers to share their faith in Christ with someone (or many someones) during a specific 24 hour period on October 14, 2014.  College students in Alabama have been participating in 24 days of concentrated prayer leading up to this day.  There are some very good and helpful resources on this website as well.  Our own Alabama Baptist State Convention has been actively promoting this effort, and I applaud it greatly.

Now, wouldn’t it be sad if our college students are sharing Christ on that day but the rest of us don’t?   Personally, I am committed to praying for and joining in this effort to engage the lost this coming Tuesday, October 14.  Just a few minutes before typing this blog post, I had the opportunity to share the gospel with a man who struck up a conversation with me in a restaurant.  People are open if we approach them with a humble spirit and let them know that we truly care about them. People are open to having a conversation about faith.  Romans 1:16 is a great reminder…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NKJV)

The gospel of Christ just needs to be shared.  Personally, I share it to hundreds of people every week when I preach, but I am more committed than ever to engaging people individually with the gospel as I have opportunity.  I hope you will join me specifically in sharing Christ on Tuesday, October 14.