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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/

 

 

“Small churches” = BIG IMPACT

10 Mar

Recently, well known Pastor Andy Stanley made news with comments he made regarding parents who take their children to small churches. To Andy’s credit, he apologized in a very heartfelt way, and my intent here is not to rehash that issue.  However, this recent dust up did cause me to begin thinking about the impact small churches have made on my own life and the impact they are making every single day.

For readers of this post who do not know me personally, it’s important to point out that I have a pretty good vantage point from which to speak on this issue.  I was raised in a very small rural Baptist church that averaged around 30 people in attendance each week, and the first church I served as pastor averaged 75 in attendance. For the last decade, I have served in larger churches in metropolitan areas.  My perspective comes from roots and experience in smaller attendance churches and experience in larger attendance churches. Here are my thoughts….

1)  The church that impacts your life is a big church. The Baptist church I grew up in had only three Sunday school classes, did not operate with a budget, and had no paid staff.  However, it was at that church where I went to Sunday school, came to know Christ, followed the Lord in believer’s baptism, announced my call to ministry, and preached my first sermon. That church loved me, nurtured me, encouraged me, and helped me begin to walk with Christ. That church is BIG to me.  Ask the kid who rides the church van each week if that church is big. Ask the young couple who had a child in ICU and never had to worry about having their other child cared for if their church is big.  Ask the lady who was baptized last week in front of 50 people if her church is big.

2)  The Biblical pattern seems to be churches of various sizes. There are examples in the New Testament churches in major cities. There are also examples of churches that met in homes.  In the book of Revelation the Lord gives His evaluation of the seven churches of Asia. The issue isn’t their size, but rather their faithfulness.  You can’t take the New Testament and find the argument that a certain size church is any “better” than another.

3)  The headquarters of the SBC (and other denominations) is the smaller church. According to the North American Mission Board website, of the 45,000 some odd Southern Baptist churches, the median church size is 80 in attendance.  This fact means that there are as many SBC churches who have below 80 in attendance as there are SBC churches who have above 80 in attendance.  A handful of large well-known churches and their pastors command most of the attention, but the reality is that most Southern Baptist work is done by smaller attendance churches.  Most pastors who participate in all levels of SBC life serve in smaller attendance churches.  We might be astonished if we knew how many millions of dollars are given to the Cooperative Program and mission offerings each year from churches who average less than 100 in attendance.

4)  It’s important to have leaders who understand the smaller attendance churches. I came of age in SBC life during the days when great men of God like W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, and Jerry Vines were the dominate personalities and role models in our denomination. While they were very different men, they were beloved by pastors of all size churches.  Each of these men started out in small churches in small places. They knew what it was like to serve as the pastor, the youth minister, the janitor, the chaplain, and the administrator all on the same Sunday. They knew what it was like, and they never outgrew their roots.  This fact shined through in their ministry and helped thousands of pastors and church leaders identify with them and have confidence in them. There is a great danger when a denomination is increasingly shaped by those who do not understand and cannot relate to the overwhelming majority of its churches and their leaders.

5)   “Every church is a great church if it’s God’s church.” Dr. Bill Purvis (who pastors a large church) said those words several years ago. I couldn’t agree more. If we only define a “great” church as one with lots of people, lots of buildings, and lots of prestige then we have missed the Biblical definition of church. The truth is that many churches in small places have a great impact in their communities – far greater than the impact of many large churches in large cities.  Would anyone make the argument that a church that averages 1000 in attendance and baptizes 30 people in a year is doing “better” work than a church that averages 100 in attendance and baptizes 10?   Bigger isn’t necessarily better or more effective – it’s just bigger.  It’s been my experience that many smaller churches are more connected to their community than many larger churches. It’s easy for a large church to become an entity unto itself where its staff and members spend all of their time within its walls.  Just because a church is small doesn’t mean it isn’t doing big things.  Every church is a great church if it’s God’s church.

Count me as one who loves and appreciates churches of all sizes.  I have served in them and preached in them!  Some of the greatest pastors, the greatest people, and the greatest stories of life change that I have known come from small churches.  Personally, I am praying that each of us seeks to make the church we are part of larger at least by one this week – larger because we lead someone to Christ.

 

 

 

 

Lakeside’s most prayed for Easter ever

26 Feb

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?”” (Luke 24:1–7, HCSB)

This great account of the first Easter morning is glorious. This will be my preaching text on March 27 – Easter Sunday 2016.  I cannot wait for Easter 2016 at Lakeside! Please let me share three thoughts about this coming Easter Sunday for our Lakeside family (and any other readers).

1)  We are having a special schedule on Easter Sunday in order to reach more people. I will be sharing more details Sunday and on this blog, but we will have worship services at 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday in order to maximize people being able to attend.

2)  We will be giving our Lakeside family tangible ways to invite someone for Easter services.

3)  We will be planning our Easter services and all that happens to give people the opportunity to come to Christ and have a great experience in church that day.

I am praying for people to come to Christ on Easter Sunday. I am praying for record numbers of people who have never set foot in our building to come on Easter Sunday. To our Lakeside church family, I am asking you to help me make this Easter the most prayed for Easter in the history of our church.  Easter clothes and Easter pictures are fine in their place, but let’s make sure we let the heart of Easter and the message of Easter be foremost at Lakeside.

What a great opportunity for our great Lord to receive honor and glory!

 

 

 

Pray for the Persecuted

19 Feb

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:18–21, NASB95)

This week, my heart has been moved to pray for persecuted believers in a greater way due to two events in my own life.  First, my youngest son, Daniel, had a group project at school dealing with a foreign country. His group chose North Korea and Daniel was tasked to study how Christians live in that country and how the gospel is shared there. As I helped Daniel with the research aspects of this project, my heart was broken to read of the horrendous circumstances believers live under there. By just about every account, North Korea is the most hostile nation on earth to the Christian faith.  Yet, there are an estimated 100,000 believers there who meet in secret and share the gospel faithfully.

The second event involves my preaching ministry. One of the great advantages of preaching verse by verse through scripture is that it forces you to deal with subjects that would not come to mind otherwise. For instance, in all the years I have preached, I have never preached a message about persecution of Christians.  However, in my preaching, the passage above is where we will be this Sunday. In studying this passage, I was brought face to face with a Biblical truth that Christians in America do not like to think about: the Bible teaches that persecution is to be expected.

The environment that Christians in America have enjoyed has not been “the norm” for most Christians who have ever lived. We have enjoyed unprecedented freedom, prosperity, and cultural affirmation of our beliefs. That is changing before our eyes, but I would never describe what is happening to Christians in America as persecution. Not when you look at what is happening to Christians in other places. Voice of the Martyrs www.persecution.com is a great ministry and great resource to learn more and pray specifically for persecuted believers. It is estimated that 100,000,000 Christians are living in persecution RIGHT NOW.  Let that reality sink it. Then pray.

 

Pastor, what about Christians and politics?

19 Jan

2016 is shaping up to be an interesting year for sure.  It’s a presidential election year, and the primary races in both major parties have been filled with surprises already.  As a pastor, I am already getting hit with “Pastor, can a Christian vote for….” followed by the name of a particular candidate.  Now that social media is such a pervasive part of our culture, the political fight never ends with Facebook comments and “Twitter wars” flying all hours of the day and night.

Today my mind went back to a young adult who dropped into the Wednesday night service of a church I was serving several years ago. When I approached that young college student after the service I asked if someone had invited them. The reply is still etched in my mind: “No, I don’t know anyone here. I want to know God, and this is the closest church to my house.”  Although I briefly shared the gospel and how they could know God through personal faith in Jesus Christ, it was apparent this young adult was a spiritual “blank slate” who was hearing all of this for the first time. To make a long story short, I told them to keep attending our church, listen to what we had to say, and I believed with all my heart they would come to know God.

That young adult came back for the next several Sundays before surprising me once again. After a service, they asked to speak with me. In my mind, I was thinking, “This is it! They are going to get saved right now!”  Instead, this seeking young adult opened up to me about a struggle they were having…”You and everyone here has been so nice to me. But after being around here for a few weeks, it looks like you and your church don’t believe anything that I believe.”  Stunned, I asked them to help me understand. They replied that they were very “liberal”, always voted Democrat, and then proceeded to list a host of issues that they were in favor of…abortion, gay rights, etc.  In short, they saw politics as a barrier between them and faith in Christ.

How did I respond?  I explained to them clearly that our church did certainly have some very specific and clear convictions about many issues, but they were not Democratic or Republican issues – they were Biblical issues. Our convictions come from the Bible, the Word of God, therefore they do not change with the party in power or the opinion polls. I explained to them that our Christian beliefs and convictions have been offensive to some people throughout the history of the church.  I explained that there was another “side” to these issues they had likely never heard because they had only been exposed to teachers who held a liberal/secular worldview. I urged them not to believe much of what they had been told about Christians and the Bible – take a fresh look for yourself and form your own opinions. Then I made sure to explain that our having Biblical convictions meant that we loved people – even people like them who disagreed with us about everything!  Finally, I urged them to look to Jesus and pointed them to a key verse….

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6, HCSB)

I urged them to consider Jesus and to keep examining Jesus and reading the Bible because the Bible brings people to faith in Jesus.  I explained that once they truly came to faith in Christ, then they could sort out many of these political “issues” in light of their faith in Him.  I explained to them that faith was not a Democratic or Republican issue, but rather a Jesus issue. It was an issue that impacted eternity.

Today Twitter and the internet are ablaze about Trump’s appearance Liberty University and Bernie Sanders coming to our own city last night. I couldn’t help going back to that conversation I had years ago.  Please allow me to share some of my personal guiding principles regarding how I deal with politics as a Christian and a pastor of local church.

1.  We must never compromise our steadfast, Biblical convictions even if it means we are marginalized or even persecuted for having them.  Let me be very clear right here: I am a deeply conservative, Bible believing Southern Baptist pastor. My beliefs are not for sale. They have remained the same through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

2.  Scripture is clear that Christians are to be good citizens, so we should vote and bring our Biblical convictions with us to the ballot box.  I am in favor of Christians being involved in the political process on every level. Rest assured, those who hold very different convictions certainly will be. Every Christian should get out and vote in this election. Personally, I am very politically conservative. There are some candidates running that I feel I can vote for in good conscience, while there are others that I will not vote for under any circumstances. You don’t need me to tell you who to vote for. Let the Bible and the Holy Spirit do that. Then go vote.

3.  We must take great care never to equate the Christian faith with any political party. Political parties exist to win elections and gain political power. Their objectives are vastly different from that of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t ever forget that. The minute a political party believes it can get more votes to be for everything we are against, Christians will be cast aside in the blink of an eye. Once Christians become only identified as a constituency of a particular party, we begin to lose our prophetic voice to speak to the culture. This is why many Millennials now simply view us a Republican constituency group.

4.   If we faithfully preach the Bible, pastors will speak to many of the moral issues of our day and s0me will accuse us of being “political” when we do.  When that happens, preach on!  The truth has always been hated. Don’t look for that to change even if an election goes your way.

5.   We must recognize that there is not an explicitly “Christian” position on every single political issue and leave room for respectful disagreement on non-essential issues.  Let me give some examples of what I mean. Scripture is absolutely clear regarding the sanctity of human life. Scripture is absolutely clear about marriage being the union of one man and one woman for life. Scripture is absolutely clear that all religions are not equally true and that personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. However, I do not believe there is the same scriptural clarity regarding the immigration issue or health care.  Those are complex issues with strong arguments to be made from different points of view.

6.    In the age of social media, we must be mindful that everything we post will be seen by unbelievers.  More than once in the last few weeks, I have gotten “fired up” and typed up a “tweet” or Facebook post in response to some political news only to delete it.  Why?  Because every Sunday there are people who do not know Christ who walk through the doors of the church I pastor, and I don’t want to let my hot headed social media posts create a barrier.  If the gospel or Biblical convictions are a barrier, then so be it. However, the fact that I do not support the current administration should not be.  We must remember that unbelievers are not “the enemy” but rather they are the mission field.

7.   The message, mission, and activities of the church should be the same regardless of the political climate. Sometimes we forget that the gospel and the church are built for all cultures and all political climates. The gospel and the church of the Lord Jesus are not American institutions – therefore they do not depend on any American institutions. The gospel, the Word of God, and the Great Commission are the same in Sudan, Thailand, London, and Birmingham, Alabama. Our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea or Iraq are not debating who won the last debate.

8.  We should be more passionate about sharing the gospel than we are about sharing our politics. Let’s say I convince all of my friends to vote my way in this election, but I do not win one soul to Christ. Have I been a faithful Christian?  I don’t think so.

If you have read this far, perhaps you are wondering, “What happened to that young adult who came to your church?”  After a period of several months, they came to faith in Christ and I had the privilege of baptizing them. The power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit overcame all of the barriers.  I did not baptize that young adult as a Republican. I baptized them as a fellow believer – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Yes, I will closely keep up with the 2016 elections, and I am praying for God to move in the hearts of people to turn our country in a better direction. However, I am also praying that I will talk to more people about Jesus this year than about the elections. I am praying that I will see another young liberal is who for everything that I am against come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am also praying I will be more excited about that occasion than the outcome of any election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing Fear – new series

8 Jan

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

Years ago I heard a preacher quote this verse and say, “Fear never comes from God!”  I believe that statement is true, but I have also found that many people who genuinely love God struggle with fear and anxiety. If we are honest, all of us struggle with it to some degree. Some of us struggle mightily.

There are frightening things going on in our world. The stock market has recently lost a chunk of its value, and there are new economic uncertainties. The Fall of 2015 saw a great deal of tragedy take place with mass shootings, terrorist attacks, etc. In this age of smart phones and social media, when events like this happen we are now bombarded by the images in real time. We don’t have to wait for the evening news or tomorrow’s paper.  It’s right there for us to see, and that magnifies our fear and anxiety.

Furthermore, some personal fears are common to many.  For instance, some people live with a constant fear of rejection.  Others fear failure above all else. When these personal fears are combined with the fears the news brings us, it can get overwhelming.

Can we find hope when we are afraid?  All of us want to be wise and realistic, but how do we keep that from paralyzing us?  How can we enjoy life when we control so little of it?

As I prayed about a new message series to begin 2016, I was drawn to three chapters in the Gospel of John – specifically John 14-16.  If you begin reading the Gospel of John at chapter 1 you see a beautiful presentation of Christ the Savior.  For twelve chapters, Christ is revealed as Savior and Lord. There are famous miracles and the seven “I AM” statements. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Then Jesus begins to instruct and equip His disciples for what they were facing. In a matter of hours, they would see the one they had left all to follow crucified and buried. They would be filled with doubt, anxiety, and fear until they were at a breaking point.  Jesus knew this.  So Jesus spoke some of the most comforting, yet powerful words in all of the Bible…

“Do not let your heart be troubled…” 

Even though those words are quoted by a popular television host, they have nothing to do with Fox News and everything to do with Jesus. If you are reading this blog post, you either have recently come through a time of fear & trouble, are in the middle of a time of fear & trouble, or you soon will face such a time. When your heart is troubled…turn your heart to Jesus.

Join me as we begin walking verse by verse through John 14-16 this Sunday at Lakeside.  FACING FEAR is the theme of this important message series. I preach the same message at both 8:00 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. service.  Bring a friend and I will see you Sunday!

 

Life between two advents

4 Dec

Many Christian churches observe what is called Advent on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. The term “advent” has Latin roots and simply means “coming.” It refers to the coming of Christ. As early as the fourth century, Christian churches were designating a period of time leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth. It began as a time of fasting, but by the Middle Ages, the Advent season had become largely standardized into four Sundays. This is why we refer to “the second Sunday of Advent,” etc. In addition to the Advent emphasis in the Sunday worship services, many Christians prepare an Advent wreath at their home or follow some type of Advent devotional.

The churches I have served in have been Southern Baptist churches, and many Baptists traditionally haven’t emphasized the Advent season nearly as much as their Methodist or Presbyterian friends. However, I do believe it is healthy this time of year to look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth. Advent can be a great way to cut through the busyness and materialism of this time of year and focus on Christ.

Advent helps us look forward to our celebration of the birth of Christ. That’s the first advent. However, there will be a second advent on a day in the future when Christ returns. Christ’s first advent came in a manger in Bethlehem, but His second advent will come in power and glory as He splits the eastern sky and stands on the Mount of Olives. Christ’s first advent brought our salvation, and His second advent will bring it to its eternal conclusion. Christ’s first advent broke the penalty of sin over all who will place their faith in Christ, but Christ’s second advent will break the power and presence of sin – ridding the world of all its effects.

We live our lives between two advents – two “comings” of Christ. On December 25, we celebrate the first advent, and we live faithfully and hopefully looking forward to the second advent. Glory to God in the highest! Praise Him! Maranatha!

I am thankful for…

23 Nov

1 Thessalonians 5:18 commands Christians to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Think about it. As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday, we may not know God’s will regarding any number of issues going on in our lives, but we know for sure that God’s will is for us to give thanks. Give thanks if life is good. Give thanks if life is hard. Give thanks.

I decided to share a list of things that I am thankful for this week.

I am thankful for the Lord Jesus and salvation by grace through faith in Him. He is my redeemer, my strength, my joy, and my hope.

I am thankful for the Word of God.  I never get tired of reading the Bible and studying the Bible.

I am thankful for my family. I was blessed with parents (and grandparents) who taught to me to love Christ and live for Him. 22 years ago (almost) the Lord blessed me with a beautiful wife to share life with. Our two sons continue to bring Becky and I great joy.

I am thankful for my church family.  The people of Lakeside Baptist Church are a great blessing to me. They are loving, faithful followers of Christ.

I am thankful for friends.  Some friends came into my life and God used for a season. Others became “friends for life” that I remain in touch with. Some friends are new friends.

I am thankful for health and strength to serve Christ. God has been gracious to allow me both spiritual and physical strength.

I am thankful for our country. For all of our problems, America is still the greatest country in the world. I am proud to be an American, and I am thankful to be a citizen of this great country.

I am thankful for financial and material blessings. Are we wealthy?  Not compared to many in our area, but we are compared to most of the people in the world.

Perhaps you read my list and think “well, no surprises there.”  That’s true. However, I have made my list and made it public. The fact that my list surprises no one isn’t the point. The point is to be thankful in obedience to scripture and for our spiritual good.  I am thankful. To God be the glory!

 

Reminders on September 11

11 Sep

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fourteen years since that terrible day: September 11, 2001.  Each year on this day, my mind goes back to that day and its horrors.  Time marches on.  Only the students who are in high school now have any memory of that day. The vast majority of those in school now only know of September 11 from the internet, history classes, and television. Please allow me to share some personal reminders on this day…

1)  The Lord is our only true security.  So many people were absolutely stunned that an attack could happen on American soil. The truth is that any of our lives can be turned upside down on any given day. In a country of over 300 million people if a person or group of people decide to commit an act of terrorism every instance of that cannot be stopped. Our security in Christ is the only true security we have.

2)  There is evil in this world that must be confronted. The September 11 attacks brought Americans face to face with the fact that there are people in the world who are willing to ruthlessly slaughter innocent people in the name of their religion or their cause.

3)  Pray for and honor those who serve our country. Certainly, this includes our military men and women, but let’s not forget our law enforcement and fire departments.  These men and women are literally on the front lines of keeping us all safe, and their pay often doesn’t reflect the danger and stress of what they do.

4)  Pray for revival to come in America.  Back in 2001, there were many Christians praying for a spiritual awakening to happen in our nation.  September 16, 2001 saw the largest church attendance possibly in our nation’s history.  That Sunday remains the largest attendance many churches have seen in their history.  Many were hopeful that September 11 would be the beginning of a great turning back to the Lord.  Sadly, that was not the case. Keep praying.

5)  Love America and be thankful for it. September 11 is a great reminder that we are all Americans. Certainly, our country is hurting in many ways and so many are concerned about the direction we are headed. However, America is still the greatest country in the world, and I am thankful to be born and raised in the USA!  The school my children attend encouraged the students to wear red, white, and blue today as well as for the football game tonight. I applaud that emphasis. We must raise this generation to love our country because there are many who do not.

 

Catch up on the PRAY message series

1 Sep

The feedback from people regarding the PRAY message series has been a great blessing and encouragement to me. To be honest, it has probably challenged me personally as much as any series I have preached in some time.  Here are the links to the individual messages in the series…

“How to Pray:  When Prayer Comes to Life”    Luke 11:1-4

http://lakesidebaptist.com/media/media-player.htm?2015_08_16AM

 

“How to Pray:  Praying for What Matters Most”   Luke 11:1-4

http://lakesidebaptist.com/media/media-player.htm?2015_08_23AM

 

“Powerful Prayer”  Luke 11:5-13   

http://lakesidebaptist.com/media/media-player.htm?2015_08_30AM