Life between two advents

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…

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!

 

Five reasons why you should see WOODLAWN as soon as you can!

Woodlawn

(1)  WOODLAWN is the true story of the spiritual awakening that happened among the 1973-74 football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham.  It is the true of story of how Tony Nathan became a household name in Alabama and the nation.

(2)  The gospel is clear in the movie.  This is no generic “believe in God” piece.  There is a clear call for salvation & change. In fact, this is a great opportunity to bring a friend who doesn’t know Christ.  I am praying that many thousands are brought to Christ through this movie.

(3)  WOODLAWN isn’t a football movie. You read that sentence right. It is a movie about the power of the gospel to bring racial reconciliation and love for others. THAT is the heart of WOODLAWN.  It just so happens that the gospel brought racial reconciliation and love to a high school football team. The message doesn’t get lost in the football.

(4)  There are familiar faces and locations.  WOODLAWN was filmed on location in Birmingham.  You actually see Woodlawn High School, Legion Field, and Birmingham neighborhoods.  Birmingham’s own Caleb Castille has the lead role. Caleb is the son of Alabama great Jeremiah Castille, and played high school football at Briarwood Christian, as well as college football with the Crimson Tide.  Finally, it’s worth the cost of your ticket to see Jon Voight play Bear Bryant. To say it’s “spot on” is an understatement.

(5)  WOODLAWN is an absolutely incredible movie!  It looks great. It’s well acted. It’s paced well. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of the screen for two hours.  You might catch yourself standing up and cheering before it’s over!

 

One pastor’s thoughts on the International Mission Board situation

In recent days, I have had a number of people both inside and outside the church I serve who asked me my thoughts on the well-publicized financial issues at the International Mission Board. I decided to share them here in hopes that it will encourage people to become more informed and prayerful.

First of all, the International Mission Board must balance its books, and new IMB President David Platt is to be commended for dealing with the situation. Like just about every other Southern Baptist, it was news to me when Platt announced that IMB had run an operating deficit in excess of $200 million over the last several years. This deficit had been covered through reserves and the sale of overseas assets.  To be honest, I was floored to learn of this situation.  As a senior pastor of a church that gives very generously to SBC missions, our local church would never operate in this manner. Certainly, every church from time to time dips into reserves due to lean years in giving or unexpected expenses.  That is why you have reserves in the first place. However, living off of reserves cannot be a continual way of life for a church or any organization. Eventually what comes in must match what goes out.

The IMB is dealing with hard realities and it is not easy. For years, we have heard that we have more people willing to go than we have money to send. The reality is that we do not have the money for those we have already sent. It pains me greatly to write these words, but that is the truth. In excess of 80% of the IMB budget is personnel; no surprise given that it is an organization that sends missionaries.  My understanding is that IMB is going through the process of offering buyouts and early retirement to a substantial number of field missionaries and staff at IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia all in an effort to get to a financially sustainable level of personnel.  I personally know IMB missionaries who are making agonizing choices about their futures. It is extremely painful for all involved.

Furthermore, David Platt has made clear that he intends to change much of the way IMB operates and its missions philosophy. The specifics of exactly what that looks like are still unclear to me as an outside observer. Some have questioned his election to the position, his missions philosophy, and support of the Cooperative Program. No one questions Platt’s passion for taking the gospel to the nations. Personally, I believe it is past time to stop rehashing those issues. David Platt is the leader of IMB regardless of how anyone feels about how he got there. Count me as one pastor who is willing to support him and give him a chance. I am praying that he leads IMB and Southern Baptists to our greatest days of missions and gospel advance.

I am a strong believer in and supporter of the SBC Cooperative Program.  Hopefully, what will eventually come out of all of this is a leaner, healthier, stronger IMB and a renewed vision for funding missions in our churches. Now is not the time to cut back. Uncertainty and a little controversy is not the time to withdraw. It is the time to set our hands to the plow and stay faithful in the work. I will attempt to lead the church I serve to give more to the Cooperative Program and more to the special missions offerings (Lottie & Annie) in 2016 than we have this year.

 

Reminders on September 11

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

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

PRAY – more than a message series

In 20+ years as a pastor, I have preached many message series. I have no illusions that everyone remembers everything I say. Instead, I pray that something I say in every message speaks to every person who hears the message. However, over the last two Sundays I have begun a message series that has shaken my own soul:  PRAY.  The first two message focus on how to pray. Here is where you can watch both messages if you have missed them…http://lakesidebaptist.com/pages/media.htm

Upcoming messages in the series include….

“Powerful Prayer”                                               August 30

“Praying for Your Church”    Part 1                 September 6

“Praying for Your Church”    Part 2                 September 13

My own prayer life has been greatly changed as I have studied to prepare these messages. However, the PRAY series is much more than a message series. It has revitalized my own prayer life, and I believe that it is the beginning of a prayer movement in our church.

Make sure you are praying daily – preferably praying multiple times daily. Pray with your family.  Pray with your church family. Study the Lord’s Prayer and Bible passages on prayer. Stay in the Word daily. Watch the messages on prayer. Finally, join me in praying at two specific times on Thursday – 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon.  I will be praying at those times on Thursday.  I will be praying through the Lord’s Prayer. I will be praying for our hurting country to experience a mighty revival.  I will be praying for needs in my own family and church family. I will be praying for Lakeside as we look toward the future. I will be praying for friends going through difficult times. No matter if you can pray for five minutes or fifty minutes. Join me in praying.  Pick the time that fits your schedule and join me. If you can, pray with me at both times.  Just do it.  Make it a priority!

God is calling the church back to true dependence on Him and back to relying on His power rather than our own efforts. PRAY folks. PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.

Put it on your calendar now and go see WOODLAWN!

Woodlawn

I want to use this space today to urge you to go see a movie the weekend of October 16-18, 2015.  That is the premiere weekend for the movie Woodlawn in theaters.  Last night, I was invited by a friend to attend a private screening of the movie with several members of the team and other local pastors.  I must say that I was stunned (in a good way) by what I saw. Woodlawn isn’t just the best Christian-themed movie I have seen, but Woodlawn is one of the best movies I have ever seen, period.

Most importantly, Woodlawn is a true story of what happened with the 1973-74 football teams at Woodlawn High School and how it affected the entire city of Birmingham.  Yes, there is the football. Tony Nathan rose from obscurity to become a football legend in the state of Alabama. There is the climactic 1974 Woodlawn vs. Banks game that to this day holds the record for the largest crowd ever to attend a high school football game in Alabama.  In addition, Caleb Castille, the son of Alabama great Jeremiah Castille, has the lead role playing Tony Nathan. The football scenes are intense and startlingly realistic. The movie was filmed on location here in Birmingham, so we actually see Legion Field, Woodlawn High School, etc.

However, football is not the message of the movie, nor is it the message of the 1973-74 Woodlawn football team. That message is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A great spiritual awakening and movement of God that began among the football team spread throughout the city. During a time of great tension, the only thing that could bring true racial reconciliation and love for one another was the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Lives were changed. The city of Birmingham was changed.

This movie absolutely doesn’t flinch. It not only shows the brutality of the game of football, but it also shows the ugliness of racism, abuse, and mistrust. It shows the struggle for teens to grow up in a fallen world. It shows the soul searching of our own individual hearts regarding our own prejudices.  It shows the struggle to forgive. Most of all, it shows the hope of a better way – the love that only comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.  It does all of this with a $25 million production budget – meaning that the production quality is completely on par with any Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ve never seen anything like it.  I wept. I cheered.  I can’t wait to watch it with my sons.  Join me in praying that the message of this movie will bring hope to our hurting country. The directors of the movie are praying for 3 million Christians to buy tickets the weekend of October 16-18.  It is on my calendar, and unless we are providentially hindered, my family will be there. I intend to encourage my church family to be there and bring anyone they know who will come.  Due to the Birmingham connection, I have no doubt it will be big in the Birmingham area, but it needs to be big in places like Huntsville, Nashville, Mobile, Memphis, and Atlanta.

Tell everyone you know. Put it on your calendar. Pray hard. Believe that God is up to something great with this film. Here is the link to the website for more information…http://woodlawnmovie.com/

 

This Time is Our Time

Recently I was talking with a pastor friend about church life in the south back in the 70’s and 80’s. In those days, the cultural trends that we see today were in their infancy and there was still a fairly widespread cultural agreement on right and wrong, the Bible, and a host of other issues. In those days, people who were far from Christ often sought out the church. You could announce revival services and people who needed Christ would come and be saved. In those days, many families ordered their lives around faithfulness to the church. There was no little league sports on Sundays, very little travel ball, and movie theaters even had limited showings on Sundays.  In those days, many churches even had very robust Sunday evening services with a full house and decisions made on Sunday nights. In those days, people were receptive to home visits and it wasn’t uncommon for churches to have huge numbers of their members on a weeknight for “outreach” to make visits in the homes of their community.

As we were having that conversation, I jokingly said, “I would have loved to have been a pastor during those days.”  We both laughed and then moved on in our talk. However, the Lord brought conviction to me about that statement recently as I read the book of Esther in my personal devotion.

The book of Esther is about God’s people at a perilous time in their history. It was written after what is known as the Babylonian captivity during the early 400’s B.C. before what is called the second return under Ezra. You can study the background of the book on your own, but suffice it to say that God’s people were in great danger due to the plotting of a man named Haman. He sought nothing less than the extermination of God’s people and it looked like it was going to happen.

However, there was a lady there named Esther.  She was an orphan who grew up among the Jewish exiles in Persia. In His providence, God had moved her into a strategic position; King Ahasuerus had made her queen.  That’s right, Esther went from an orphan slave girl to queen. However, it was no accident that she was there. During this time of great danger for God’s people, Esther had a conversation with her uncle, Mordecai, about the situation they were facing. It was then that Mordecai made one of the most famous statements in the Bible…

“…Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Es 4:14).

Mordecai was saying to Esther, “God has you at this place at this time to use you greatly.”  And he was exactly right! God used Esther to save the Jewish people and the promises of God kept right on being fulfilled. Even though I had read this passage many times over the years, it took on fresh relevance for me – indeed for every pastor and every Christian alive today.  God has us where we are at this time in history to serve His purpose and plan.

Yes, most of us can remember easier, more pleasant days. However, our Lord has seen fit to give us life in these days. Therefore, we are called to serve His purpose and His plan in these days. God has us here for a reason. This time is our time. We can spend our time and energy pining for easier days or we can put our hand to the plow and go forward in faithfulness.

This time is our time. Now is the time to make disciples.   Now is the time to share the Gospel.  Now is the time to model Biblical marriage. Now is the time pray. Now is the time to have a church. Now is the time to disciple our children.  Now is the time to be salt and light. Now is the time to lead.

This time is our time. Let’s not wish for another time.

Remembering a most special Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day that America has set aside to remember those who died while serving our country in the armed forces. From what I have read, Memorial Day originated after the Civil War as an effort to remember those who had fallen in that way, and by the turn of the 20th century had become a time for our nation to remember all of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  On this Memorial Day 2015, I am spending a relaxing day off with my family.  However, on Memorial Day 2012, my family had an awesome privilege that we will never forget.  On this day three years ago, we were here…

166061_4195062757651_1277612009_n

Yes, we had the privilege of visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. If you have never been there, pictures and words cannot describe it. If you have been there, you know what I am talking about!  All of the ceremonies had taken place earlier in the day, and we arrived in the late afternoon and enjoyed a couple of wonderful hours there with light crowds.

Later on our trip to Washington D.C. we visited the Vietnam Memorial.  I had always wanted to see it particularly because I have a family member whose name is one of 50,000+ inscribed on that wall.  My mom’s brother, Royce Hall, was drafted during the Vietnam War and died there.  My mom was pregnant with me when that happened, so I never had the privilege of meeting my uncle Royce. It was a great privilege to take my boys there, find his name, and spend a few minutes remembering him.  Below is a photo of Daniel tracing his name on the wall.

208933_4195114438943_728429388_n

On this day, Americans often say that “our freedom isn’t free” but three years ago today my family was reminded of that in a very tangible way. On this (and every) Memorial Day, we remember and we say, “Thank you” and “May God bless America.”