Friday, April 28, 2006

The Importance of Christ and the Cross

Dr. Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has written a great article on the importance of Jesus' death on the cross in the month's Christianity Today. I hope you'll take time to read it and really think about it!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Encourage One Another

As a pastor, when I walk up on conversations, they often stop. It leads me to wonder if someone was sharing a dirty joke or if the conversation was just not "spiritual" enough for me to hear. Now, as we work through this week of sorrow I find people struggling, even more, with how to deal with me. Several times I've walked up on people that were laughing and when they caught sight of me they stopped. When our eyes locked it was as if they were saying, "I'm sorry that I was laughing." I know they are trying to be kind. And I know that this is an awkward time in some respects, but it saddens me because the last thing I want to do is to steal someone else's joy.

Really, their joy actually helps me and brings me encouragement. Even if I don't know why someone is laughing, it helps to hear that joy. This week, Monica and I have tickled Maddox, Isaac and Eliza until we thought they were going to explode just because we needed to hear those sweet, little voices laughing.

Paul thought it was important to encourage people that were grieving and hurting. He thought it was important to the point that he offered some suggestions as to what Christians should say to one another. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he says that we ought to encourage one another with the knowledge and hope that one day there will be a real, bodily resurrection of the dead because of the power of Jesus Christ. Christ has so much power. That's one thing I have thought about at least a thousand times this week. I'm so glad I know the One with ALL authority. I trust Him and I love Him with all of my heart. I hope you know Him and love Him as well.

So, when you see me...don't stop laughing...even if you're laughing at me. And, don't just say, "It will be okay," instead, say, "It will be okay because one day Jesus will raise His children!" Let us long for that day when our faith will be sight!! Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hope for a Broken Heart

We buried our 25 week old son today. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But we did it. My wife, our families and our church family leaned on each other and cried our way through the graveside service to close the longest weekend of my life.

How did we do it? Where did we go for strength?

One place we went was Romans 12. There Paul says, among other things, "Let love be genuine...rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer...weep with those who weep." The weeping was the key that led to hope. The tears helped us to know that the love was genuine. This may seem odd, but there was great encouragement for me in the tears of others. I knew they were feeling this pain with us and for us. I knew they were crying out for God's help for us and for themselves because of their tears.

More than that though, I know they are rejoicing in hope. Let's think about real hope for a moment. You see, even non-Christians can weep with one another, but rejoicing in real hope is reserved for Christians only. I don't rejoice only in the fact that the pain will get better over time. I don't rejoice only in the belief that I'll see my son again some day. No, I rejoice in the hope that is rooted in Jesus Christ. It's not even the "faith" that I trust. It is a person, Jesus Christ, that I trust. Because He has made a way for me to have a relationship with God, I can find hope in knowing that God will pour out grace upon our broken hearts.

Don't get me wrong, there is still much pain and sorrow in my heart. I fear it will be here for some time so please do not think I'm talking about a quick fix. That is not what Christ has promised us. He has, though, promised that He will not leave us. And, He has called us to love one another. So, I will rest in His faithfulness and in the trust that His people, the church, will be obedient to Him in being patient with me while in tribulation.

He is, after all, a God that keeps His promises to His people.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Prayer Request

Please pray for my family as we mourn the loss of an infant son, Benjamin Wood Porter. He passed on Saturday morning after 25 weeks. You can read his obituary here in our local paper. We thank God for his short life and the grace that He has poured out on us in these difficult days. We are especially thankful for our parents and immediate families and the church family of Smiths Grove Baptist Church. I hope to write more about the lessons I've learned and blessings I've received over the next few days.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cleaning Up the Church

There was a time when I thought that churches were "cool" if they had leaders who looked a certain way or if the congregation was made up of pretty people. I thought churches that were successful would use the greatest technology and the latest, cutting edge songs that sound like something you would hear on the radio.

Don't get me wrong, I think technology is great. And, I love music. But over the years, I've changed. I've thought many times about buying several of the same black suit so I would fade into the background when I was preaching. I don't judge music by the cool riffs anymore, but by the content of the lyric and whether it is centered on Scripture.

I've come to the realization that those things I mentioned above are what the world finds attractive at the rock concert, ballpark, designer runway, and it's what they are looking for in the church. Unfortunately, the church has been sucked into culture, largely, instead of making a dent in it. Don't believe me? Look at how LIFE magazine defines coolness when it comes to church.

Now, before we being throwing stones at the churches in that article, let's look around our own city and county. Most likely, there are churches that would fit perfectly into that magazine article that are in our own zip code. And, before we start throwing stones at other churches in our zip code, let's start thinking through our lives together in the local church we attend. We will probably find some pretty convicting evidence there. You see, there's a lot of cleaning to do within the church we attend to begin so that we will look like the disciples in Mark 1:14-20 who left everything to follow Jesus. This means there is some reorganization that we need to allow the Holy Spirit to do within each and everyone of us to make us into the radiant bride of Christ.

This Lord's Day, when you are joining with other believers to worship, ask yourself, "Why am I here?" If the top-of-your-list answer is anything other than to glorify, enjoy, love and grow in my Savior, then you need to ask God to reprioritize your reasons for attending.

Also this Lord's Day, listen carefully to what your Pastor says. Listen to hear how he is calling you, as Jesus does, to belief, repentance and the new life in Christ. Even if you are a Christian, you need to hear week in and week out...I know I do!

Then, why not compare notes with a friend that goes to another church next Monday?

A Christian's Response to Immigration Crisis

Everyday it seems there are stories about new demostrations, threats, arrests and calls to action concerning the influx of illegal aliens in the United States. How should a Christian respond? Joel Belz of WORLD Magazine offers a suggested response in this article.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Caring for the Body

I am struggling to get a practical grasp on a passage that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. The passage is found 1 Corinthians 12. It is there that he talks about the church as a body. He says everyone in the body of Christ is needed so the church may work together in a productive and coordinated way as we bring glory to Christ in this world. I understand that part. I don't always do a good job at it, but I understand it.

I'm having a hard time in verses 22-26. Here's what they say...
22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

I'm working on those phrases that I underlined. That is very contrary to the way an organization works in the world. For the most part, in the corporate world, if an employee is slowing down the company or hurting the image...they are let go. As for the church, though, Paul is saying just the opposite. The folks that are struggling should receive greater attention than the ones that are average or above.

I asked someone yesterday that does not attend Smiths Grove Baptist Church, "What does that look like in your church?" This is a very real issue that we need to get right. Paul has people in mind here, not just parts of a body that make up a nice analogy.

How many times have I given someone a smile as passed on Sunday, but in my mind I wasn't really valuing them. I was pitying them, but I wasn't interested in showing them "greater honor" and I certainly did not believe they were "indispensable".

Who are those people in your church that you would put on a list of being dispensable? Are they the weak? Are they the aged? Are they the physically handicapped or disabled? Are they people who have falled into public sin? Who? Who? Who?
If they are truly part of the body, we are called to cover them in love and "greater modesty". I hope you think about this the next time you take your seat in the place you gather to worship with fellow church members or pass some of these unsightly people in the hall. I wonder if you'll go out of your way to speak to them and get to know them? I wonder if I will?

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, we all rejoice together.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How Jesus Is Mocked

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word, be ready in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

Throughout the Gospels, the call of Jesus Christ is, “Follow me.” It is not, “Get saved and I’ll see you in Heaven.” Often we live that way. It’s as if Heaven will be about Jesus and this life is about us. That is not the way God calls us to live. He calls us to live our lives with Christ in full view every day. Jesus died on the cross so that we might live this way. He came and gave His life so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit and include Him in every thought, decision and activity in life. When we exclude Him, we mock Him. When we replace Him, we mock Him. When we don’t hold Him as our supreme treasure, we mock Him.

Paul tells Timothy, that by the power of Christ:
-- Because He is the judge
-- Because He has come
-- Because He has established a kingdom
that we should constantly be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We should have a constant knowledge of what is true and what is consistent when it comes to the Christian faith. We should find our joy in turning to the real, authentic Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.

How then will we know Christ? Through teaching. Whether that comes in the form of hearing God’s Word preached in a local church through a teacher, studying the Bible with a small group, studying God’s Word with your family, or simply studying God’s Word on your own – we have been called to value Christ by learning. When we do not value Jesus enough to learn about Him and His ways – we mock Him.

Paul says a day is coming when man will turn to whatever they want to hear – that is, their itching ears will exchange the real truth for one that is comfortable for them. We live in a day like that. From:
-- The DaVinci Code
-- The Gospel of Judas
-- The Story of Jesus walking on ice
-- Churches that would close on Christmas Day
-- Preachers teaching from a man-centered view of the life instead of a God-centered view of life.
We live in a day when there are ample supplies of teachers that will give you what you WANT to hear instead of what you NEED to hear. Jesus Christ came with hard sayings:
If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back if fit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62

There is a quote in the Chronicles of Narnia that refers to of the characters asks, “Is he safe?” and another character responds, “No, but he is good.”

When we try to take the edge off of Christ, we do mock Christ.

When we try to sanitize Him, we mock Him.

When we try make Him comfortably fit in the box of our life, we mock Him.

When we try to shape Him into the image we desire, instead of asking Him to shape our lives, we mock Him.

Are you mocking Christ today? Just as the soldiers tried to command Him, “Prophecy and tell us who hit you!”, are you mocking Christ by trying to make Him conform to your will instead of submitting your life to Him and His kingdom?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hey kids, what does watching too much TV do?

Check this story out! This is what happens when you spend way too much time in front of the television set.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Living In the Light

The Puritans of the 18th Century had a wonderful saying, "Love the Lord and use the world." Think for a moment about how that works out. It really should affect your life. Too often we find ourselves "loving the world and using the Lord", don't we? This short phrase seems to be the essence of 1 John 2:1-17.

In 1 John 2, we are told that Christians are passing out of the darkness and the light is already shining within us. That means our sinful desires should be less and less and the light of Christ should be brighter within us each day. Practically, we should be more forgiving and less bitter. We should be more encouraging and gossiping less (if at all). We should be more giving and wanting less and less based on selfish desires. (ex: "I just gotta have it!") We should love God more and love the things of the world less. We should love God more and hate our sin.

How do you know if you are a Christian? This would be a great test. What is fueling that fire in your life? What drives your desire to get up in the morning? What do you find yourself thinking about when your mind slips into neutral? Love the Lord and use the world.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Preparing for the Day of the Lord

My life revolves around Sunday. It seems that everything happens in preparation and reflection for the Lord's Day. I like that. I hope that if I am ever in a position where I am not preaching every Sunday my life will still revolve around Sunday. It is the day to gather with God's people to worship the One we all commonly love. What a joy!

Today is Friday, though. Fridays are spent in intense preparation for Sunday. This is the day where I try to put the meat on the skeleton of the sermon. It is also a day I try to spend praying often for the preparation of my own heart for corporate worship. And, I try to pray deeply for those that will join me on Sunday to worship our King.

How much time and thought do you spend in preparation for Sunday?

There are two ways to think about Sunday and they are related.

One is from Psalm 29. In this psalm we hear the psalmist talk about the fact that God is worthy of our worship. He is sovereign and holy. He is in control of the heavens and the earth. There is nothing that happens that He is not aware of and there are no surprises to Him. He is the Lord of the sunshine and the Lord of the storm. We are limited, but He is unlimited.

Because He is so worthy, we should realize how desperately we need Him. Psalm 84 teaches us this. There the psalmist says, "My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord..." When was the last time you felt faint because you longed so deeply and urgently to be in the very presence of God? Oh, may we not be distracted away from seeing and longing for our sweet God.

I will glory in my Redeemer,
Who carries me on eagle's wings,
He crowns my life with lovingkindness,
His triumph song I'll ever sing...

Wherever you worship this Sunday, I pray that it will drip with the glory and joy of God!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is Prayer Effective?

You may have heard about a recent study on prayer that was featured on major TV networks and some major newspapers. In essence, the study says the "experts" have found and can prove that prayer is ineffective. How should a Christian respond? Read this article from Dr. Donald Whitney for some ideas.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Dying American Church

There is an interesting article from Dr. Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway Christian Resources, concerning the current condition of the American church. May God help me to not fall into this condition and may He lead Smiths Grove Baptist Church in a different direction than this trend!

Intense Patience

It seems too often that I hear people waiting on God in the wrong way. First, when many people wait on God, it seems that they are only doing it because they have been forced to wait. There are circumstances beyond their control that have forced them to the side of the road for a while. Waiting on God was not their first reaction, but, instead, their last resort. Then, when they do wait on God they do not do it well and it ususally leads to worry and anxiety. This type of waiting leads to behavior that is contrary to the behavior Jesus calls His people to live in Matthew 6 so it must not be right.

How then should we wait?

Read Psalm 130.

There are, at least, three key ways to wait in this passage.
1. We wait by crying out to God. That is, our waiting should drive us to deep and constant prayer. (Ps 130:1-2)
2. We wait by confessing our sins and asking God to search our hearts for impurity. (Ps 130:3-4)
3. We wait by hoping deeply in the Lord. (Ps 130:5-8)

What tremendous power in eight quick verses!

Times of waiting are times for purification. In these times we can more clearly see who or what we are depending on and where we have placed our trust. The writer says we should place our hope in God, watching as the watchman waits for the first light of morning. In the day this was written, the night watchman was very important. He was responsible for making sure that no enemies were able to pull off a surprise attack. There is little doubt that he took his job seriously and did it intently. In the same way, we are to be waiting and watching for the deliverance of the Lord in our lives.

Sometimes God waits to deliver us so that we will have time to look deeply in our hearts to see the sin that is there. Praise God that He does not work on the merits of our righteousness, but He is still concerned about the purity of our hearts. If you are in a time of waiting in your life, why not spend some time asking God to show you wrongs that need to be made right in your life?

Oh, that we would constantly live this way! We would know greater joy!

What are you hoping in today? Only God can deliver you from the pit!

Shouldn't you be waiting intensely on Him?